Sleep… the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together
Nobody ever feels like they have enough – but even when you spend half the day in bed, it still isn’t enough for me.
I’ve always needed a good ten hours of sleep, but that’s grown lately as pain interrupts my slumber and stops me getting a good run of deep, good quality, sleep. Now, I spend 12-14 hours with my eyes closed, either dreaming or hoping to be.
It’s not 14 hours of blissful sleep – the last 3 or 4 hours are spent dozing in pain, even dreaming about it. From the moment I lie down, my lower back is conspiring against me. When I wake in the small hours, the pain is bearable, but by the time my husband and dog wake at 6.45am it hurts to move, so much that I have to hold the bed frame and lift myself between positions, rather than daring to roll from one side to another.
Other people just don’t get it. When I hand my phone number to people I ask them to note “afternoons only” next to it. The response is usually envy “Lucky you, I’d love to be in bed for that long!” – missing the point that only I’m in bed because I need the extra sleep. I can’t function without it. I certainly struggle to get out of bed any sooner.
My friend Anne lives with a sleep disorder, so she knows how I feel. “Basically I am sick of people saying they wish they could sleep anytime (er, no they don’t). I think people don’t understand because it’s a more extreme form of something that affects us all – just as people don’t get that depression isn’t just feeling a bit sad, they don’t get that sleep disorders aren’t just being a bit tired, and I can’t just try a bit harder to get up.”
Needing so much shut-eye is a real inconvenience. Because I’m only up for 10 hours, I have limited ability to work. I certainly couldn’t fit in an 8 hour day. Like everyone else I need time to eat, and to relax – and what about commuting time? Even being self-employed and working from home, the shift in working hours is unhelpful. By the time I start work, I only have three hours before the clients I’m chasing will clock off.
Anne’s situation is more difficult: “I spend mornings in a fog. I don’t want my workmates to know because I don’t want them to question my capability, or think I’m lying when I say the train was late. People do think it’s funny, and it’s hard to explain that it’s not. I sleep a lot at weekends to catch up…”
I can sleep through all sorts. Doctors’ appointments, meetings with friends…. alarms, the dog barking, the doorbell… I have to arrange that I will only meet up with people if I’ve already sent them a message to say that I’m awake. Otherwise, I’m dead to the world while they are patiently waiting in a cafe. Sounds amusing, but it’s frustrating to have to plan.
Of course I use alarms! I do want to get up, and I try to. This morning the first alarm went off at 10.15 – I have a vague memory of fumbling with my phone until it stopped sounding. The second alarm followed at 10.35, and I turned my bedside light and radio on in the hope of staying awake. No joy, because when the final reminder sounded at 10.55 it was all I could do to wake enough to turn it off. From there I dozed for two hours, through hazy memories of Queen, Elbow, an interview with the Pet Shop Boys, and news about bombing Libya. Frequently, the pain grew, and I hauled myself over to lie on my other side for a while, my body needing to get up but my brain refusing to wake.
Eventually, the thoughts became less hazy and more realistic – when I realise I’ve started planning some gardening in a coherent manner, it’s time to get up. I sit up, and discover that I’ve missed a call from my father which I really wanted to take, and it’s already 1pm. Yet again, I’m starting the day on the back foot.
I love the few hours a day when I really feel alive – but I can’t help thinking that this is how I used to feel all day, every day… I really need to function fully for more than a couple of hours, because I’m having to choose between activities – grocery shopping? Exercise? Or work?
So next time the alarm sounds and you groan at the thought of starting another day, think of me, and all the other people who would like nothing more than to be able to join you in it.