Recently I developed a mild-to-severe sleep disorder. A night owl since birth, I still remember my first almost-sleepless night around the age of 5, watching a rerun of Leonard Nimoy’s “In Search Of…” on earthquakes. My father had recently moved to a Naval base in California, which according to Spock was officially the worst place to be in America if you’re afraid of falling through cracks into hot magma.
That was the first night I couldn’t sleep, worried about my dad dying about every day for a whole year until my mother convinced me he’d be OK and that I should start reading about earthquakes more so I would understand and not be afraid. And so I pulled my Encyclopedia Britannica out and read until I passed out.
From that night forward, I was always up late reading, then sleeping. Going to bed at 9, 10, 11, 12…that just wasn’t who I was for the next 40 years. Even at 45, I still spend most of my time reading and the vast majority of it is encyclopedic stuff.
Nearly aligned with my 45th birthday, I suddenly started having trouble sleeping through the night. I developed first what appeared to be Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), followed by what appeared to be Central Sleep Apnea, which is far more alarming because it suggests a brain disorder. If you can imagine waking up 10-50 times per hour, every hour during the night, that was me.
So, I did what was recommended and began exercising more during the day, avoiding caffeine and alcohol at night, and trying to get to bed earlier (ie breaking a 40 year old habit of letting myself naturally fall asleep at 3am).
Then came the HYPNIC JERKS which is that little shake you sometimes get with the fear of falling at the sleep-wake border. Sometimes these wake you up, sometimes they don’t (and anyone with a bed partner knows when their partner is doing it). They are harmless, benign, and brief in most people.
Of course, I am one of the lucky few who now experience constant, chronic hypnic jerks, preventing me from falling asleep at all now. Imagine always being on the verge of sleep and your body goes “NO SLEEP FOR YOU”. This was me the last 5 days. Hundreds of them until the sun comes up. Zen training sure comes in handy in these situations, to avoid the anxiety that has been known to cause heart attacks and strokes, but I needed more.
So, what do I do? I Decided to take a short vacation, start writing a novel, and read all about neurotransmission. What I discovered is a γ-aminobutyric acid imbalance in my brain, probably brought about by my lifestyle changes (sleep schedule, nutritional and dietary gaps, skipping exercise, allergies, sans stiff drinks on the weekends, etc) as well as the already existing sleep deprivation from the OSA/CSA.
If you’ve read this far, thanks. Next post, I will tell you about the concoction I made (using legit medical advice) that made me sleep like a newborn last night. Sure, still took me 2 hours just to fall asleep, but about 4-5 dream cycles later, I woke up refreshed and ready for dealing with the day.