Sleep, sleepwalking(!), narcolepsy?

Ah sleep.  And me and sleep.

Once upon a time I was normal.  Err, uhm, well, okay, much more normal/typically on the sleep, anyway.  But that was then.

“Now”, and most all my adult life, is quite a different matter.  I’m probably about 2 standard deviations off the “norm”, for sleep.  How do I sleep and how much?  Well, it goes about like this.  In not necessarily any particular order.  First of all, I don’t need much sleep.  I can get by fairly well on a continuous average of only 4 hours sleep per 24 hours.  However I do fair bit better with average of about 5 per 24.  But doing any running average of more than 5 per 24 doesn’t really do anything for me in terms of additional benefits or advantages.

And besides amount of sleep, how do I sleep?  It varies quite a bit.  Not only does the amount in any given 24 hour period vary a lot (even all the way down to zero, or pretty close, and not all that uncommonly), but timing and how contiguous – or anything but – varies a lot.  By nature I tend to be a night owl, but I’m not at all consistent on that.  I can really work or otherwise be awake, and sleep, pretty much to any schedule that’s not too insane.  For the most part, as feasible, I sleep when I’m tired, and don’t when I’m not, and that generally works rather to quite well for me.  Rather typical sleeping patterns for me, may be anything from mostly contiguous sleep, two or three “chunks”, or much more broken up than that.  E.g. one “night” (/day/morning) may be up ’till very late/early … e.g. 4:00 A.M. or well beyond – even, not too uncommonly, well past 2 hours before I need to get up “for real” (to get ready to go to work and all that, or whatever).  Other times I’ll fall asleep rather to quite early (e.g. 8:30 P.M.), but often not sleep long (an hour or two), and then be up most (or even all) the remainder of the night.  But more commonly I’m up rather to quite late (e.g. well past midnight, often past 2:00 or 3:00 A.M.).  Naps – sometimes I do naps.  Can be from exceedingly short (5 minutes, or even less), to quite long (hour or more – not sure if it still counts as “nap” if it’s that long).  Oddly/interestingly – something I discovered way back in college – I often find my sleeping to be much more restful/relaxing/recuperative if it’s not contiguous – e.g. most notably if it’s in two “chunks”, with a restful but awake period (e.g. about 20 minutes) between.  I don’t know why that is, but seems to work rather to quite well for me.  Perhaps wakeful mind and subconscious/dreaming mind/head, each want to get their time in and “process” stuff, etc., and neither wants to be “deprived” and not get “its” own time, for “too long” – for somewhat different definitions of “too long”, for each. Anyway, for example, back in college, I often found, that if I set an alarm for about 2:00 A.M., woke up then, but didn’t get up, but just rested, and slowly went back to sleep (typically in/after about 20 minutes time), I’d find that when I did get up for the day, that I felt much more relaxed, rested, and “better slept”, than if I just slept straight through, without that “break” in the middle.

And how quality of sleep?  Pretty dang good.  It’s not about being stressed, or unable to sleep.  Heck, sometimes I’ll sleep quite a lot – like sometimes I might do so on a day on the weekend, or if I’m away on a (boring!) “vacation” or the like – with little to do or hold my attention/interest.  Stressful bad dreams or nightmares or the like?  Nope, at least not generally.  Sure, when under stress, worried, etc., sometimes the dreams may run on the more sucky side of things, but not too bad, and certainly not nightmares.  Heck, don’t think I’ve had any nightmares since I was 10 years old.  Matter of fact, I think the very last nightmare I had was ended by my first lucid dream.  At least for me, I find, with lucid dreams – or at least head quite capable of doing so – zero need to tolerate any dream that’s “too unpleasant”.  If dream ever gets towards too sucky, my head just goes lucid on that, and fixes it up one way or another – tweak or modify the dream, significantly alter it, or totally break it off … on to totally different dream, or wakefulness, or lucid non-awake state and then probably on to other levels of sleep then – if not to dream or wakefulness.  So, yeah, pretty good sleep, dreams pretty good generally, or at least not too bad, anyway – and “challenging” dreams can be a good thing.  I think sometimes those are quite “trial balloons” for subconscious to explore trying to work something through, or rework and try again, e.g. a “how bad could it get?” exercise of sorts, typically with conclusion, “Oh, … not that bad.”

But gee, isn’t all that lack of sleep bad for one?  Well, there’s lots of literature, research, etc., all about how lack of sleep is rather to quite bad.  However, at least short of quite extreme cases (e.g. chronically well below 2 or even 1 hr. per 24), I’ve not yet seen anything which shows relatively low amounts of sleep (e.g. 4 per 24) as itself being rather to quite bad, if certain other variables are eliminated.  E.g. stress.  In many cases, when folks are getting relatively little sleep, it’s on account of stress.  And the evidence is clear that stress (the negative kind) is quite bad.  But what about where there’s less sleep, but not on account of stress?  Probably not nearly so bad – if at all.  The other key bit is how much sleep any individual “needs”.  That varies a lot person-by-person.  E.g. 8 hours (per 24) is pretty typical “need”.  By the time one gets about a standard deviation away, it’s about 6 or 10 hours.  Probably around 2 standard deviations away is 4 or 12 hours.  But, how much does one need – how can one tell?  It’s fairly straight forward.  Too tired/sleepy when one “ought” to be awake? Probably too little sleep.  Get more sleep – if that “fixes” that, one wasn’t getting enough sleep.  What about “too much”, or more than needed?  Too much can create grogginess.  Try less sleep.  Grogginess goes away?  Don’t end up sleepy when one wants to be awake (e.g. middle of the day)?  Then probably didn’t need that sleep that one trimmed out.  It also varies by other factors, e.g. age.  E.g. teens typically need significantly more sleep.  Anyway, I think, if one is getting adequate sleep – per one’s own individual sleep needs, and not missing sleep on account of stress, I think – and as far as I’m aware it’s the case – I think there’s somewhere from zero, to negligible/moderate downside health risks on getting relatively little sleep.  Anyone got any research that shows otherwise – after eliminating stress factor, and allowing for folks that just need less – even much less sleep?  I’d be curious to see such – if any such research exists.  Anyway, I’m already over 50, and remain in quite good health – have been so essentially all my life, and, most all my adult life, I’ve probably been averaging around roughly 5 hrs. sleep per 24.

So, … how’d I end up at around 5 per 24 – and being able to do ongoing 4 per 24 fairly well.  Well, as I stated, at least for sleep, was normal/typical – at least through my teens and bit beyond.  A ways into college, though, I was testing/pushing some limits, to see what I could do, and reasonably do, etc.  So, anyway, first time I tried to see how little sleep I could get by on – in college – I found that, over “trial period” of about 3 days, that down around 5 hrs. sleep per 24 I was about falling asleep on my feet.  So, that seemed a practical “lower limit” – and fairly extreme one for me – at that time.  Anyway, by about a year or so later, though, I found I could push that all the way down to 4 hrs. per 24 on running average, at least “indefinitely” in theory – did it for about 30 days straight, and rather accurately tracking all my sleeping to see exactly how much sleep I did in fact get – and the average was right around 4 hours per 24 (though ranged significantly for any given 24 hrs., the average was also quite close to 4 per 24 if averaged over any period of 3 or more days).  Pushing/holding it to 4 per 24 wasn’t easy, though.  And I do significantly better with a 5 per 24 average.  At least at the time back then, holding it to around 4 per 24 was a bit tricky.  And no, didn’t do drugs or anything like that.  Key “tricky” bit with holding it to around 4 per 24 (at least then), was, since I was effectively at least somewhat sleep deprived all the time – and thus somewhat sleepy, to stay awake, I had to keep my mind going all the time that I was awake.  E.g. no resting of the mind while awake – had to keep thinking of something all the time to keep my head busy and occupied.  Why?  Because if head went idle, it would drift off into sleep.  So, “had” to keep it busy to stay awake – only exceptions being when I actually went to sleep.  Was also kind of interesting coming off that “experiment” of about 30 days at that time.  The “habit” established of essentially not letting head rest – to stay awake except when explicitly going to sleep, turns out that “habit” wasn’t a thing I could instantly switch off – it persisted for a while.  I think it took me about 3 days to quite fully stop doing that, and (re)adjust to “normal” (or normal for me) again.  However … I guestimate as matter of “conditioning” and that “testing” and pushing those limits back in college.  I’ve found that ever since then, I really just don’t need all that much sleep.  In my (approximately) mid-teens, I was more like 8+ hours, … 8, even 10 to 12 or so – when I could get away with it.  Could use all that sleep fine, didn’t get groggy.  But that all changed, mostly slowly, other than some explicit “experiments”, somewhat into high school, but much more so when I went away to college.

Other interesting sleep bit with me.  How long – continuously – can I stay up?  Not all that long, really.   Sure, I’ve done many all-nighters.  No big deal.  But, I’ve never made it up 48 hours (or more) straight.  Somewhere around 36 (to perhaps as high as 40?  Haven’t tracked all that closely) hours, I quite “hit the wall”, and just cannot stay up.  Haven’t really “experimented”/tested pushing that limit much, … and don’t really care to, as it’s not particularly pleasant/fun at all.  Perhaps if/when there ever were extreme need for such, … whatever, but otherwise, … I think no thanks, I’ll pass on that one.

Other interesting sleep bits/history with me.  :-)

Sleepwalking.  Yup, once upon a time did that fair bit, and fairly regularly.  Most notably under conditions of extreme psychological(/psychiatric?) stress.  Pretty interesting and fascinating.  I didn’t even know, at all, that I’d been doing it.  It was a damn good – and quite intelligent – friend of mine, that figured it out.  So, among all the sleepwalking bits, and it was many years ago – never since or before – that was in the 1983–1984 timeframe, some quite fascinating stuff.  So, some key bits of what happened then, and with the sleepwalking (certainly not going to detail everything).  Most all, if not all that sleepwalking, was done with eyes open.  Not only that, but much of the sleepwalking involved pretty advanced tasks, and long (multi-hour) excursions outside of my domicile – and most commonly in the middle of the night – though sometimes too in daytime (my sleep patterns were also generally pretty messed up in that particular timeframe).   So, e.g. I would go for a walk, or bicycle ride, for up to hours or so, and including negotiating signals and non-trival amounts of traffic, over miles, even many miles or more, and without any incidents of note – nothing like crashing into anything, or getting run over, or even any particularly close calls.  All, amazingly, while asleep.  And, dreams, … talk about a way to get some really messed up memories impressed into one’s head.  Think of how strange, odd, and bizarre dreams can often – even commonly – be.  Now, think too of clear-as-day reality – walking around with one’s eyes open – hardly dream like at all in the perceptions when one is awake, right?  Well, mix together the clear-as-day perceptions (eyes open, after all – not at all dream-like in perceptions), and add to and mix in with that all the oddness of dreams and a dreaming mind.  And, one ends up with dreams, so incredibly real in their appearance – uber crisp, clear, detailed, that, … well, one would certainly not think, believe, or even really so much as suspect they were dreams, but rather reality.  Uhm, … except for the fact that they were “impossible” – could not possibly have occurred – e.g. violated various laws of physics relatively common, and other stuff that just plain could not have occurred.  Yet the memory was that such did occur – as there was clear, plain-as-day (eyes open, including some in fact in daytime) recollection of “exactly what one observed” – or, … so one thought such was the case.  And, … the answer to that impossible irreconcilable riddle/puzzle – of highly clear memories clear-as-day of the “impossible” – sleepwalking … with eyes open, and even including sometimes during broad daylight.  So, yes, the memory impressions for such were quite the mix of clear-as-day (as sometimes it even was day) observations/memories, with all the oddness and impossible happenings of dreams.  Anyway, it was a very good – and quite intelligent – friend of mine, way back then, that, just based upon my descriptions over phone call(s), that quite figured it out, and told me very directly, “You’ve been sleepwalking.”  Bingo!  That was it.  Almost instantly it all made sense.  And with that, also, I think it quite the case, realizing consciously, the hazards/dangers, that my subconscious also immediately picked up on that, and “instantly” shut that down cold – never at all any sleepwalking whatsoever since that day.  Other interesting bits with/about the sleepwalking.  I could, at least sometimes, and quite did, often transition quite seamlessly from awake, to sleepwalking, or vice versa.  Typical sequence/scenario might be from awake, but relatively relaxed, almost trance-like state, transitioning into dream – and then (if not immediately) sleepwalking.   And in the other direction, from sleepwalking, slowly transitioning into more contemplative wakeful state and on to fully awake.  Anyway, uhm, “interesting” times.  Learned a whole helluva lot.  Wouldn’t want to have missed out on all I learned – even if I could have skipped all the bad/painful, I wouldn’t skip all that pain to give up what I learned.  But also, I sure wouldn’t want to repeat anything like that again.

Narcolepsy?  What is it, and do I have it?  Well, secondly, I probably do have a slight/weak case of narcolepsy.  And firstly, what it is.  Most notably, it’s probably not – or at least not for the most part – what you think it is.  Heck, upon learning fair bit more about it, I certainly found out it, at least for the most part, wasn’t very close to what I thought it was.  So, narcolepsy – what does one think of?  Folks falling asleep – suddenly, without warning, in, e.g. middle of the day, and not for any lack of sleep.  Well, that certainly can be an example of narcolepsy.  But, it’s far from an accurate or complete descriptor.  Relatively generically, but not particularly at all accurately or completely, narcolepsy can be thought of and described as: “excessive daytime sleepiness”.  Namely person is rather to quite tired/sleepy during the day, even when they get quite ample sleep at night.  But that’s not a particularly full and accurate description either.  More specifically and accurately, and part that’s used in clinically diagnosing and confirming narcolepsy, is it is a very particular sleep disorder/disturbance.  “When tested, people with narcolepsy fall asleep rapidly, enter REM sleep early, and may awaken often during the night.” “In narcolepsy, the order and length of NREM and REM sleep periods are disturbed, with REM sleep occurring at sleep onset instead of after a period of NREM sleep. Thus, narcolepsy is a disorder in which REM sleep appears at an abnormal time.”  Anyway, I very definitely, transition highly quickly and regularly, when going to sleep or waking up, from wakefulness to REM sleep and back to awake – sometimes in as little as 5 minutes or less.  Anyway, among other sources, Wikipedia has a quite good entry on narcolepsy.  Fortunately, I don’t have all that much of a problem with falling asleep when I don’t want to or shouldn’t.  E.g. I’m not going to be falling asleep while driving and smacking into anyone or anything.  Most notably, if I’m moving at all – driving is more than enough, but likewise, e.g. walking, eating, even relatively minor movements, I don’t fall asleep while I’m moving (notwithstanding a period of sleepwalking in 1983 and/or 1984).  For me to fall asleep, I need to be quite still – e.g lying down, or sitting quite highly still.  Otherwise it just doesn’t happen – certainly at least in any narcolepsy manner.  But, if I’m sitting very still – say reading something, a meeting that’s just not engaging me and holding my attention, or watching a video that likewise just isn’t engaging me, I can slip off into sleep, and sometimes briefly happens, and regardless of how many hours sleep I’ve had earlier (e.g. 1o to 12 or more hours sleep earlier, even over multiple days, and it’ll still happen).  So, yes, most likely at least some narcolepsy going on there, but, problematic?  Not especially.  If/when my attention slips away like that and/or I sleep suddenly like that, it’s generally very short (e.g. 30 seconds or less).  And yes, I can go from awake to REM and back very quickly … not only definitely in well under 5 minutes, but perhaps as short as 30 seconds?  I think it’s always been the case that my attention would slip off.  E.g., even as young as 9 or 8 years of age, teacher would call upon me, I wouldn’t know what was going on, teacher suspected maybe I had hearing problem, got additional testing on that – nope, hearing fine.  No, rather, if it didn’t sufficiently hold my attention, my head would wander elsewhere.  Sometimes even happens when I’m quite trying to pay attention, but not as much then, but again, how engaging the material is makes a big, if not huge, difference.  Regardless, though, it’s at least semi-random.  Even when quite engaged, interested, wanting to and trying to pay attention, and regardless of how much sleep I’ve gotten, sometimes attention slips off.  And sometimes slight bit of sleep can slip/sneak in.  But again, does not happen if I’m moving – even in quite slight bit (e.g. chewing, eating, walking, driving, talking, …).  Maybe best to keep a move on ;-) … well, at least as feasible and where it might otherwise be problematic.

Heh, and one of the things that will most quickly cause me to drift off?  Reading my own writing – especially to repeatedly edit such.  My head tends to jump to and presume what I intended to communicate, rather than what I actually wrote.  It also tends to get very bored very quickly, as it generally already quite knows what I intended to communicate, and usually is pretty uninterested in reading – especially repeatedly, some close approximation thereof, so, … that can often put me out like a light real fast.  So, yet another reason/excuse why I often don’t do much more, and a much better job of, editing my own writing.  It can take a lot of time for me to do so, and be a very slow process, as, among other things, often my attention highly repeatedly slips away from reading what I actually wrote, and sometimes and not too uncommonly, will tend to put me quite to sleep (even if the writing might itself be quite exciting … not so to my head, being already quite familiar with the originating source).  So, yep, writing something out, once, for me, not all that horribly hard or time consuming, relative to the volume.  But, reviewing and editing it?  That tends to easily push the time up by a factor of 5 to 10 or more.  So, maybe somehow, I should still manage to learn how to write much better on the first pass, because those subsequent passes are highly inefficient for me.  Or maybe I need to be walking around while reading and/or editing my own writing. And yes, I fell asleep while reading and editing draft of this blog posting.



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