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Night Owl Syndrome

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I spend a lot of my waking hours thinking about sleep.  I have to be vigilant about getting to bed at a reasonable hour, which for me is before 1 am.  This is difficult because I am a night owl, and I have to make myself go to sleep during the part of the day that I most enjoy just because the world revolves around the early bird’s schedule.  Plus people judge me for staying up late and waking up late.  I consider this a form of prejudice and discrimination that Ben Franklin is at least partly to blame.

I read recently that night owls are more prone to feeling depressed because they are forced to conform to an unnatural sleep cycle.  I would have to agree because four out of six of the people in my family are night owls and we all have mood disorders.  To make matters worse, people with mood disorders are sensitive to disruptions in sleep because they can trigger a depressive episode.

It’s a lot of work trying to make myself sleep early.  I have to take at least 1 mg of Ativan every night, sometimes 2.  I am also prone to anxiety, and at night I’m rushing around trying to do all these things to minimize my stress for the next day like take a shower, dry my hair, pack my lunch, set the coffee maker, pick out my clothes, pack my tennis stuff, stretch, etc.

The problem is that doing all of this stuff to reduce my stress is also stressful, so I end up being wired before going to bed.  Kind of like when you have an exam and you’ve spent all night studying and by the time you go to bed formulas and vocabulary words and theories are still running through your head.

So then I have to do all of this stuff to try to exhaust my brain–usually some kind of mind game.  I used to do Minesweeper, but I get so pissed off when I make a mistake that I have to keep playing until I win, or at least have to guess 50/50 on the last square, which means I end up staying up later than I intended.  Lately I’ve been doing the expert level of Sudoku because it’s still challenging and doesn’t take as long and you can make 3 mistakes and still win.

But it’s hard to get myself to stop playing even after I win.  I am really competitive, and I have this need to train myself  to concentrate even though I’m exhausted.  Like it’s some kind of military mind exercise or something.  I have to talk to that competitive part like it’s a child and say something like, OK we agreed that you can play until 12:30 so you have to put the game away now.  I’ll tell you more about my internal family in another post.

I also need more than the average amount of sleep–more like 9 or 10 hours–which makes getting enough sleep a challenge.  Usually I can squeeze in a cat nap in at lunch, and sometimes I can get in another hour or so if I have an opening in my schedule.

But then I feel guilty because I’m sleeping at work.  And even when I have the time to sleep late, wake up late, and take a nap and have permission to take the Ativan as needed I still feel guilty because I feel like I’m not living life correctly or something.  I’m not doing what normal people do.

My job has really picked up in the last few weeks, and it’s only going to get busier from here, so I have no choice but to try to be an early bird, at least during the week.  So far so good, though. Even though I had two tennis matches last night, I was in bed by 12:30.  And because I didn’t have a 9 or 10 am appointment, I was able to sleep until 9.  And I don’t feel guilty about it.  So I’m feeling pretty good at the moment.

About Christy Barongan

I didn't know it at the time, but I wanted to be a psychologist so that I could figure out how to be normal. I think many people come to counseling for the same reason. What I've come to learn is that feeling good about myself is not about trying to be normal. It's about trying to be me. But it's a constant struggle for me, just like it is for everyone else. So I thought I would approach this task with openness and honesty and use myself as an example for how to practice self-acceptance.

5 responses »

  1. Christy! On your I-pad get amazon/Sweethome Alabama. Watch it every night, the same part every night….after ten or so night, you guaranteed to fell asleep in 10 minutes.


  2. How cool! Your blog was born on the same day I was!


  3. Pingback: One Year Progress Report | Normal in Training

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