Tell me if this sounds familiar. It’s sometime early in the morning and you are roused from your sleep by the alarm blaring at your head. A quick snooze will give you that extra ten minutes of sleep. Maybe a few more snoozes before you have to wake up. Perhaps your body “just wakes up” right before that infernal alarm starts up, so you can proactively hit it. While you start off dragging ass a quick jolt or two, or ten, of caffeine gets you wired up fine. Maybe a little sugar high too can be used to push you on your way. The rest of the day can be fine or an exercise of chasing one caffeine or sugar high to the next. Sound a bit familiar?
That question is pretty much rhetorical. For most of my life that was how I operated. Based on conversations I have with people around the water cooler, or Starbucks, or anywhere else people are talking about, or making fun of, their persistent need for stimulants to get the day started. It didn’t take yet another article on how sleep deprived our culture is to remind us of that. I spent several years working to escape it but with the “life events” I’ve been dealing with recently I have had to get a lesson in what it feels like all over again.
It wasn’t until I was in my early 30’s that I finally decided that enough was enough with waking up zombified to an alarm clock. I had long before convinced my self I only needed five to six hours of sleep, not the usual seven to eight that the pointy headed health experts claimed. I don’t know why but I decided that the grating sound of an alarm as a ritualistic part of my daily startup was just no longer tolerable. So what did I do? I stopped using it.
If a person wants to quickly throw their life into disarray they should try this exercise when things are really buzzing. If instead a person wants to have some modicum of success with this it’s best to try it when you know you are going to have a few weeks of relatively slow schedules. Then, start off assuming you need eight hours of sleep and try to go to bed eight hours before you are supposed to wake up. If you are as sleep deprived as I was you will find that initially eight hours isn’t enough and you may need nine or even ten. Eventually though your body will adjust to the fact it isn’t chronically sleep deprived and you will find your natural rhythm, which will probably be between seven and eight hours. If you want to keep the rhythm going just be sure to go to bed and wake up about the same time on most days. Your body will just do the rest. Obviously people with kids are going to have greater challenges in getting this working.
Once you have your sleep cycle nailed down then you can, if you wish, attempt to cut out stimulants from your diet. That would be things like coffee, tea or sodas. It’s not that a person should never have these, but the question is if you can get it so you don’t need to have it just to get the day started. While I was able to get to the point of naturally waking up about the same time every morning and feeling refreshed, it was several years later (just last year actually), when I finally got off all stimulants. Thankfully that last step has proved extremely useful to me right now.
My sleep schedule at this point couldn’t be more jacked up if you tried. I’m essentially sleeping every other night. On my “no sleep” nights I’m actually getting anywhere from thirty minutes to three hours of sleep, usually more like ninety minutes though. On my “sleep” nights I’m getting on the order of twelve hours of sleep. I intentionally stay awake until between 7 pm and 8 pm and then crash pretty hard until I wake up at my usual 7 am to 8 am wake up time. This is obviously less than ideal but unfortunately necessary. What is also necessary is the caffeine to make this process go.
If it was this time last year that comment would have made me chuckle. The concept of caffeine successfully keeping me a wake would have been a joke. I would literally down a Coke Zero right before bed and sleep like a baby. In fact one of my biggest disappointments with my sleep tracking once I got off caffeine was that my sleep cycle didn’t change noticeably. That said, now that I’m off caffeine it most definitely can wire me up. Just as I feel a lull coming I can start sipping on Coke Zero and I will soon spring back to life like a withered flower that has just been given some water. I can consistently do that over a period as long as twenty four hours straight before my body just wants to give up and crash. Which quite honestly, after twenty four hours of being up it definitely deserves.
The caffeine stimulation isn’t entirely without side effects of course. I do need to time my dosing correctly so that I will go to sleep at 7-8pm like I want. I therefore don’t have any after mid-afternoon if I can avoid it. I do however need it to get me started in the morning now that I’ve built up a good sleep deficit. Even if I did manage to get fourteen hours of sleep every other day, the math on sleep doesn’t work out quite so neatly. As it is I’m really only getting twelve plus a little. It’s just not enough for my body. You want to see me in a really crabby mood, come talk to me before I’ve had my morning caffeine. Want me to have the mental acuity of a dementia patient? That’s a good time for that too. Just give me some time to get a few Coke Zero’s in me and everything fixes right up though! Of course it’s not completely fixed up but I’m at least noticeably more functional.
The sad thing is that while I find this dependency and these cycles irritating although necessary, I used to live this every day of my life for no particular reason. I didn’t give any thought to the fact that the cycle I was in actually sucked and that I was performing sub-par for where I could be if I could just get enough sleep and not be dependent on caffeine to “wire me up.” For this period of time I need to do what it takes to get over this. Hopefully that won’t be for more than a couple of months. However the idea of going back to this sort of lifestyle voluntarily just seems completely ludicrous now that I’ve liberated myself from it. If I’m looking for silver linings to dealing with this life event it has been a great reminder of the misery of the chronically sleep deprived lifestyle.