LIVING WITH SLEEP DEPRIVATION – ELLIN CURLEY

Sleep is very important to me. I spend a good deal of my life not getting enough of it. During those times, it was a struggle to get through each exhausted day. I’m glad I don’t have to live that way any more.

My problem is that I need more sleep than most people in order to feel rested and energetic. In high school, I realized that I needed ten hours of sleep to function at 100%. That’s the amount I would sleep when I didn’t set an alarm and let my body tell me when to wake up. In reality, I was getting around five to six hours a night on school nights.

There was a Tonight Show interview with Johnny Carson that resonated with me. Johnny was interviewing a comedian, actor, producer and also physician, named Jonathan Miller. He was part of the British comedy troupe Beyond The Fringe with Dudley Moore in the 1960’s.

I was struck by the fact that he said that he needed to get twelve hours of sleep every day! I was thrilled to know that I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t get by on the proverbial eight hours sleep a night that was thought to be the optimum for adults. Jonathan Miller was very accomplished in many different fields, so I stopped worrying about my own ‘excessive’ sleep needs.

Jonathan Miller in 1986

As a young lawyer and then a young mother, I rarely got more than six hours sleep. I could catch up a little on weekends but not enough. I was perpetually depriving my brain and my body of the sleep they needed. I was usually running on fumes. I was always trying to find twenty minutes during the day when I could close my eyes and nap. I counted the number of hours left before I could go to sleep. As in “ You only have to get through five more hours before you can get some sleep.”

I’m amazed that I functioned as well as I did. I was very determined and highly motivated. I must also have had an ample supply of adrenalin. But I usually felt like I was hanging on by a thread. My body felt battered and my mind was struggling through the fog on most days. This didn’t help my anxiety and depression either.

When my kids went to high school, they had to be in class at 7:20 AM. I thought that was way too early. I’ve recently read articles that say that teenagers actually need more sleep than adults or younger children. Studies show that it would make a big difference if starting times for high schools were even one hour later. Grades would improve, behavioral problems would go down and kids would have a more positive attitude to school. I think that the major obstacle to pushing starting times forward, is that after school programs would run too late. If that is the case, then teens’ performance in school and enjoyment of school suffers because of the importance of sports in our schools. This makes no sense to me.

Teenagers need the extra sleep so their bodies and brains can grow properly. It’s not just ‘beauty sleep’ at their age. The teen years are difficult enough for most kids. It’s cruel to add to the emotional and physical issues of the teenage years by making them function through a haze of exhaustion.

I’m retired now so I can make sure that I get the amount of sleep my body needs. For me now, that’s closer to twelve hours than ten. But whatever it is, I plan my schedule around my sleep needs, not the other way around. I can’t get the most out of my days if I don’t. And at my age, it’s all about quality of life over quantity of time awake.

14 thoughts on “LIVING WITH SLEEP DEPRIVATION – ELLIN CURLEY

  1. Sleep, I also have problems with falling into sleep and getting the amount my body needs to function best, I believe 8 hours are best for me, I have difficulty falling asleep, and when I do, I wake up about 2-4 hours later, and have problems falling asleep again, I’ve tried melatonin, valerian root, and other medications or herbals. What works best in reality is, for me, a stress less untroubled mind, things whirl around in my head, what ifs, and what will happen tomorrow. Once those problems are resolved, ahhhh! the bliss of good sleep comes, and I do enjoy a good night’s sleep, one of my favorite times….to bed, to sleep all night, and awaken when I want to, no alarm clock, the horror or early morning, and alarm clocks, the early morning working crowd, the half dazed drivers, and all of the BS that goes with it……awful. I prefer my 3-11 PM, or even 11-7 AM shifts much more……we stroll in with our coffee, ready to take on the task at hand, I slept until 10:30 – 11 AM, leisurely had a cup or two of brew. showered leisurely, makeup, and dressed, Hi Ho Hi Ho, off to work I go…still can’t sleep when I get home though, I am pumped up from the drive home at night, and fast pace of my job, (nursing) I always think, well, at least I can stay in bed until noon, if need be. Better yet, retirement, I look forward to that time, lucky you. I will think of you when I am awake tonight, wishing you sweet dreams.

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    • Trouble sleeping can be a nightmare, excuse the pun. But your nursing schedule can’t help. You always seem to be working at night, so you have to go to sleep at odd hours for the rest of us. Being ‘off’ from the usual time schedule must exacerbate your sleep issues. And in nursing you dela with life and death issues every day. It must be hard to shut your brain off to go to sleep!

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  2. I think I’m one of those people who hates wasting time by sleeping. I’m too busy for sleep. I’m also pretty sure the last really LONG sleep I had was after heart surgery when they put me into a chemical coma for three days. I didn’t even wake up refreshed!

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    • Some people are just not sleepers. My grandmother woke up at 6 AM no matter what time she went to bed. My ex needed very little sleep. I think you’re lucky if you can function on small amounts of sleep. I just don’t feel well and don’t do well at all on less than optimum sleep for myself. I can handle a day or two of less sleep, but after a few days, it catches up with me.

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      • I always thought there was something wrong with me because I don’t seem to need much sleep. I have since learned that not everyone needs the same amount of sleep and some people don’t need much. Garry needs at least 8 hours … more if he can get it.

        Not worrying about not getting enough sleep improved life a lot. It wasn’t, it turns out, getting inadequate sleep that was the problem. It was all the fretting I did feeling that there was something wrong with me because I didn’t sleep and apparently didn’t seem to need it all that much.

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        • You’re lucky that you don’t need a lot of sleep. I went through so much of my life in a fog, focused on when I could take a nap instead of living my life. People today get so little sleep it’s becoming a national crisis. It affects mood and brain function as well as physical well being. Our whole country is functioning on fumes.

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  3. It would make sense that we all have different needs for various amounts of sleep. Also I can see why it would change over certain periods of your life. It’s up to us to find those things out for ourselves.
    Leslie

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    • The trick is figuring out what your body needs at any given time and trying to get your body what it needs. I’ve stopped questioning why my body works this way. I just go with the flow and do what I have to do to feel good both pyhsically and mentally.

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        • It changes more with age than with stress. Not everyone needs more sleep due to stress, but younger people always need more sleep than older people. Pregnant women need more sleep (and don’t get it because they have to pee every 10 minutes). Nursing mothers need more sleep, but they don’t get it because well, they’re nursing mothers. Sick people need a lot of sleep but often being sick makes sleep very difficult. Pain makes sleep difficult. Worry makes sleep difficult, but also excitement, involvement in projects — all of these make sleep difficult because they make your brain run faster.

          But I think above all, the electronics in our life change our sleep needs the most. The blue lights from our devices are known to disrupt sleep. Leaving the TV on or the computer (or any computer-type thing) running disrupts sleep. I finally got sleep blindfold because Garry has the TV on late and the flickering really bothers me. Noise doesn’t, but light does.

          Modern life, that is what disrupts sleep!

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            • Modern life doesn’t care about quality of life for anyone anymore. It’s how much you get done, how many tweets you write or answer, how many Facebook likes you get, etc. I have friends in their fifties who are still working nights and weekends on their jobs. When does it ease up on people who have been working for thirty odd years?

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          • I didn’t realize that the lights on our devices can disrupt sleep. I can sleep through anything. I like falling asleep to Tom watching TV. It keeps my mind from running off into stressful places. I used to put records on to help me sleep when I was in high school and college. Anything to focus on other than the negative thoughts in my head. I don’t have that problem any more, thank goodness.

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