Finding My Rhythms
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Tilt.
The body’s natural rhythms should be discovered and respected, whether it’s sleeping, eating, ovulating…whatever.
I’ve had problems with insomnia for several years but always just dealt with it. During the break-up of my marriage, I had to resort to sleeping pills—something I’d never done before—because I couldn’t get my mind to stop grinding long enough to get any sleep and after two weeks of nothing more than nodding off, I was a basket case. After the divorce, I slept more restfully and needed much less sleep to get through the night but I’d still wake up frequently, probably because I was getting used to sleeping alone.
These days, the insomnia is on the early end of the night—between midnight and two a.m.—and it’s most likely because I’ve disturbed the patterns and set some new ones that aren’t good for a person who must be up and at work and at least appear to be alive in the morning.
A friend of mine, also an insomniac, once explained the REM cycles, and I’ve thought quite a bit about that over the years. He used to tell me that the human body needed only 3 hours of sleep a night. Hmmm. Maybe his human body. But then, I do recall that he liked to nap in the evenings and on his days off. I can’t get by on 3 hours a night, even with a nap during the day. I can do 4.5 and I adore 6. Why the odd intervals? Blame it on what he told me.
If deep sleep occurs in 90-minute intervals, then I need to finish a 90-minute interval before I wake. That simple. I’ve tested this out to find out what works for me, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Not that he was right, but that it was a much simpler way of managing my time and energy.
I found that I was much more rested and ready for the day at 4.5 hours (three 90-minute cycles) than if I got 7 hours (four 90-minute and a broken fifth cycle). More hours asleep, yes, but waking in the middle of a cycle left me lethargic and—since my early to mid 30’s—nauseated.
So last year, I began planning my sleep-time. I used to stay up after the family had gone to bed and work, work, work until my body decided in my early 30’s that it was going to force me to sleep by becoming suddenly nauseated so I’d have to shut down and crawl into bed. Nausea will shut me down faster than anything else. I can work through pain, but not through nausea. Then if I didn’t sleep deeply for enough hours, I’d wake up nauseated until I did get enough sleep. My answer to this was to plan about 15-30 minutes to fall asleep and set my alarm for four sleep cycles later for a full 6 hours of sleep. I found I could fall asleep at midnight and still be fresh for work at 7 the next morning (I can be dressed and out the door in 30 minutes, or less time than it takes to drive to the office.)
The flaw in my plan? “It’s only 5 and you don’t have to get up yet, but have you seen my algebra book?”
Now that we’ve got that worked out, the blame is all my own. Since summertime, I’ve been staying up a little later with the girls, who don’t have the same bedtime schedules as before, even though Shannon’s working full- time by the time I leave for work every morning.
So I’m often settling in to do some serious me-time on the computer and on my writing at 10:00 at night. And at midnight, I’m thinking, I’m not sleepy yet, so I might as well be up. And at 1:00, I’m telling myself the same thing. And at 1:30…. I’m falling asleep at 2:00 or, heaven forbid, 2:30 and finding myself waking up at about 4.5 hours later, before the alarm goes off and telling myself, no, no, no, it’s too early to get up. So I got back to sleep for about 30 minutes or so and feel like crap when the alarm does go off.
So I’m either going to reset my sleep time and get to bed at a “decent” witching hour or I’m going to start get- ting up when I wake up before the alarm. I didn’t learn to count in 90-minute intervals for nothing!