health · sleep

Christine Goes Medieval On Her Sleep

When my kids were babies, they never quite got the knack of sleeping. For 5 years of my life, I was awake every 90 minutes (or less) until they both were finally (mostly) sleeping through the night.* Ever since then, it takes only the smallest interruption in my sleep pattern to throw my mind back to that time when I was doing the best I could, managing on very little sleep, and just feeling a little out of it all the time. Even a single night of weird sleep sends some part of my brain into a spin about getting stuck in that situation again.

A few years ago, I was having trouble sleeping and I figured out that using a sleep mask was the solution to getting better sleep and feeling more rested. I’m still using a sleep mask but I’ve been through a few different ones since then. My current favourite is an Alaska Bear sleep mask which is not shaped like a bear, covered in a bear print, or made of bear fur and it neither transports me to Alaska nor does it turn me into a bear but it does, despite all of that, it help me sleep.

I’ve been having a good go of it with my sleep since the sleep mask discovery. The occasional bad night, like everyone has, but no recurring issues. Until the last month or so when an external factor has been weighing in.

A gif of Dean from the TV show Supernatural leaning in between two people having a conversation and asking ‘Am I interrupting something?’​
A gif of Dean from the TV show Supernatural leaning in between two people having a conversation and asking ‘Am I interrupting something?’

The Situation

One of my family members semi-regularly needs my help with a minor but persistent health issue at some point between 1am and 2am. It’s not every night but it may be a few nights in a row, or every second night for a while, or a couple of times in a week. You get the idea.

Technically, I *could* let them deal with it on their own and just get my sleep. But it’s really important to me to be able to support the person who needs my help. And the whole thing is temporary so I’d really rather be there to help and just figure out how to minimize the effects on my sleep until the situation passes.

Solution Attempt #1

Since, under normal circumstances, I go to bed at 11:30 or 12, I tried just staying up later and just managing with less sleep.

That was not ideal.

A GIF of a baby sitting on a pink couch, the baby falls asleep and tips forward to ​land on their face on the cushion. (There is an adult next to them, don’t panic!) text at the bottom reads ‘I’m sooo sleepy.’
A GIF of a baby sitting on a pink couch, the baby falls asleep and tips forward to land on their face on the cushion. (There is an adult next to them, don’t panic!) text at the bottom reads ‘I’m sooo sleepy.’

Apparently, I need at least 7 hours sleep to be relatively human the next day and for my ADHD meds to work the way they should. My meds do make things better even when I am sleepy but the sleepiness is an added obstacle that I do not need while I am trying to focus on the work of the day.

Solution Attempt #2

Then I tried taking what I was calling ‘a nap’ from 10:30 or 11:00pm and getting my family member to wake me when they needed me.

This worked a lot better. I was getting enough sleep overall but I was finding it challenging to get back to sleep once I was up. (I think this is a carry-over from when the kids were small. 99% of the time, once I am up for more than a few minutes, I am AWAKE and I could stay up for hours.)

A GIF of a lemur (or marmoset?) with huge eyes who is chewing on a snack while facing the camera. Text beneath reads ‘WIDE AWAKE.’​
A GIF of a lemur (or marmoset?) with huge eyes who is chewing on a snack while facing the camera. Text beneath reads ‘WIDE AWAKE.’

Even with being fully awake shortly after going to sleep, it was still better than staying up extra late. And I figured out how to optimize that nap – doing some of my before bed routines earlier in the evening so I could shorten the time between ‘I should go to bed’ and actually lying down, making sure that I had the right weight and texture blankets, using my mask but leaving a small light on so I slept well but not too deeply and so on.

Basically, I was using one of my most useful skills – making the best of a tricky situation – and applying it to a temporary challenge.

All The Feelings, Damn It

But, I was still finding it a bit tricky. I didn’t love the fact that, when I settled in at 10:30 or so, I was going to be interrupted so soon.** It didn’t often stop me from falling asleep but it made me feel a bit cranky about the whole thing, even though I have willing signed on to support my family member. I didn’t want to feel cranky and I certainly didn’t want them to think that I resented their need for help.

Obviously, my feelings are valid and I can feel however I feel about the situation. But I didn’t want to get so caught up in those feelings that I generated any extra distress – not for me and not for my family member.

A GIF of a small child banging on a window and looking overwhelmed with their feelings. The word FEELINGS is in red text below.
A GIF of a small child banging on a window and looking overwhelmed with their feelings. The word FEELINGS is in red text below.

After all, I can’t choose my feelings but I can choose how I act on them. I knew I needed to reframe how I was thinking about the whole situation so I could act more effectively.

Samantha To The Rescue

On Saturday, Samantha saved the day by posting this BBC article about bi-phasic sleep by Zaria Gorvett: The forgotten medieval habit of ‘two sleeps’

The funny thing is, I have read about bi-phasic sleep before. If *you* had told me that you had to sleep in two chunks and that you felt weird about it, my brain would have tossed enough facts from that old article at me that I could have used them to help you reframe your thinking.

My brain did not choose to cough up those facts for me until I saw Samantha’s post.

But as soon as I read ‘bi-phasic’ sleep, I thought ‘OH! That’s what I’m doing!’ and my brain immediately began to reshape the story I have been telling myself about how I am sleeping.

Suddenly, I wasn’t having interrupted sleep, I was having bi-phasic sleep.

I had gone medieval and I didn’t recognize it!

A GIF created to look like a ​medieval tapestry. A group of people in medieval clothing are dancing in a jerky fashion while the words’ frolic hard’ flash on and off at the top.
Okay, so I’m not thinking of being awake at 1am as a party but recognizing it as a possible sleep pattern is helpful. Image description; A GIF created to look like a medieval tapestry. A group of people in medieval clothing are dancing in a jerky fashion while the words’ frolic hard’ flash on and off at the top.

I was getting up after my first sleep to support a family member and perhaps do a little reading or drawing before starting my second sleep.

That reframing puts a whole new slant on things.

It takes away the idea of the interruption as a problem and makes it a structure for my night’s sleep.

And, as mentioned in the article, it removes any anxiousness about being awake in the middle of the night. This is probably not how I will sleep forever but it is one way that people *can* sleep. I’m not sleeping ‘wrong’ and I am not doing something detrimental.

I’m just practicing bi-phasic sleeping at the moment and, by framing it that way, my brain can settle in around the pattern and stop trying to solve the ‘problem’ of being awake at 1:30am.

A GIF representation of my brain since reading the article. Image description: a small white dog sleeps in a red hammock as the hammock rocks slowly back and forth over some green grass dappled with sunshine.​
A GIF representation of my brain since reading the article. Image description: a small white dog sleeps in a red hammock as the hammock rocks slowly back and forth over some green grass dappled with sunshine.

*If you are warming up your fingers to type some advice about what I *should* have done back then, save your energy because I won’t play. I tried everything. I did all kinds of research. There are all kinds of things you can do to encourage sleep but sleep is neurological thing and sometimes all you can do is wait for the situation to change or a baby’s brain to mature a bit. If you know someone whose baby is not sleeping, don’t give them advice, give them support. Zip over there early in the morning so they can get back to sleep before they fully wake up for the day. Stay late at night so they can grab a nap before the evening circus starts. Run errands for them. Take the baby for a walk so they can do some yoga nidra. Just don’t offer more damn advice. They have tried it already and all the advice is starting to feel judgmental and aggressive. Trust me on this.

**I imagine that everyone hates interruptions and I can’t speak for how the neurotypical brain deals with them. For someone with ADHD, knowing that you will be interrupted (whether that interruption is scheduled or just impending) can put you into the dreaded ‘waiting mode‘ which prevents you from immersing yourself in what you are doing because you know that you are going to have to switch tasks.

6 thoughts on “Christine Goes Medieval On Her Sleep

  1. Just chiming in to say I also had 5 years of no-more-than-90-minutes of sleep at a time! My babies are now 16 and 19 and only recently did I start truly sleeping well again (of course stress and menopause and pets all contributed to issues in the years in between). I was anxious about sleep for quite a while, but now my only lingering feeling is anger at the childless men telling me it “wasn’t possible” I’d been frequently wakened for years and that I should stop exaggerating. A few more years of good sleep and I’ll let go of that anger too, lol.

    I’ve had periods where bi-phasic sleep was the best option for me and I think back on those mid-night times with fondness. Good luck with yours 🙂

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    1. Thanks for reading, thanks for your comment, and thanks for the empathy!

      My babies are 17 & 20 now so we must have had overlapping 90 minute sleep times. Too bad we couldn’t have kept each other company.

      People believed that I was awakened so often but my lingering anger has to do with how many people assumed that *they* would be able teach my children to sleep, that I was too weak, too soft, too lacking in discipline to do what needed to be done.

      Thanks again for your comment, it really does feel good to know that I am not alone in having these experiences and that this too shall pass.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It would’ve been lovely to know I wasn’t alone at the time, and it’s still lovely now 🙂 I share your frustration with others’ certainty that it was your fault your baby didn’t sleep. With our first, I tried all the suggestions everyone and every book gave me (no shortage there), but it made things worse because I “failed” and was always highly anxious about getting him to sleep. I was in a desperate f**k-it mode by my second and did my own thing. She didn’t sleep better, but I wasn’t anywhere near as upset or self-flagellating about it.

        I know what I went through, what you went through, no matter what others say. It’s kind of laughable, if sleep deprivation hadn’t made it impossible to see humour, to think that we had the power to somehow make another human being stay asleep.

        Take care, and sweet dreams 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks, Karen. I had the same experience with my second, no extra sleep but much less self-criticism.

        It really is ridiculous how much crap we had to take about the whole thing and I agree, it’s funny to think of having that power. Well, it’s funny *now.*

        Wishing you ease and rest. 💚

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know how people survive the kid years. I slept with one of mine for years as that was the only way to guarantee sleep.

    A big reason I got sober was the lack of sleep. Alcohol just ruins the rest. I looooove my sleep.

    Do you get up every night, even if not needed? Sorry, I missed that part. Does it get easier? It must be kind of nice to be awake in the stillness of the night.

    Anne

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a mystery how we get through it, isn’t it?

      I’m glad your sobriety brought you better rest, especially since you are big sleep fan 🙂

      I don’t get up every night, pretty much only when the person needs me. It has gotten easier overall to be awoken and the change in perspective that the article brought made it easier again. There is something lovely about being awake at that quiet time, just me and my book and my slightly sleepy thoughts.

      Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting! 💚

      Liked by 1 person

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