I had a new year’s resolution this year. As part of my current crisis (i.e. having to become responsible), I am trying to get my notoriously bad sleeping pattern in order. Amazingly, I have stuck to the first part of the resolution.
For the past three months, I have been keeping a log of my sleeping patterns. It’s quite detailed. Every morning I open up my big Excel spreadsheet and record the time I went to bed, when I think I fell asleep, when I woke up and when I actually got my lazy arse out of bed. I also note when I set my alarm for. From all of this I work out how long I am unable to sleep, how long I sleep in and… well, how lazy I am.
Obviously it’s not an exact science. I obviously can’t tell exactly what time I fall asleep at, but I think I have a good idea — often because I end up listening to the radio (with its regular half-hourly bulletins) because otherwise I just get frustrated at not being able to fall asleep which makes the problem even worse.
So I am three months in. My excellent maths skills tell me that this means I am a quarter of the way through the project. A good time to look over the data. That can mean only one thing: graphs.
This first graph shows rolling seven day averages for the five variables that are measured as clock times. The labels are probably self-explanatory enough.
This second graph shows the variables that are measured in lengths of time. ‘Insomnia’ is the length of time it takes for me to fall asleep (i.e. the difference between the time at which I fall asleep and the time at which I go to bed). ‘Asleep for’ is self-explanatory, and ‘Lazy’ is the length of time I spend in bed after waking up. Stacking these shows the amount of time I spend in bed per day, which you can read off the y-axis.
One thing that I have noticed is that my sleeping patterns appear to be in cycles. There are fairly distinct peaks and troughs and it doesn’t look quite as ‘random’ as you might expect.
I will spare you from the boring details that led to every peak and trough. What I have learned from generating these graphs is the fact that even the slightest disruption to my routine can have massive effects on my sleep.
For instance, the pronounced peak that happens in around week 3 of February came about because I had a reading week on just one of my courses. This small change led to me falling asleep one hour later than normal and sleeping a further hour longer than normal.
The broad trend, though, had been good. The lines were going in the right direction (of course I am trying to sleep earlier in the day). But since the middle of March it has all gone wrong.
It started when I travelled up to Dundee to attend a friend’s birthday outing and opted to take the first train home (so I didn’t get to sleep until a disgusting 8am). This was exacerbated by the Australian Grand Prix which, of course, I had to watch live (you have to get your priorities straight, you see). Later that week I (almost) inexplicably woke up hours earlier than I expected to.
All of this left me rather more sleep-deprived than normal. Ironically, of all the variables, the most important one — length of time spent asleep — is fairly stable at 8 hours, which is said to be the recommended amount of sleep. But this week it fell through the floor to a seven day average of 6 hours.
It felt okay at the time, but I know from experience that this situation can only last so long until it catches up with you. Combine this with the Malaysian Grand Prix (which I also had to watch live) and the fact that I no longer have any classes, and the result is the mess you see towards the end of the graph.
So now I am at a situation where the earliest I have to get up all week for the next few weeks is 4pm. With no incentive to get up, I just don’t. A hefty dose of self-discipline is clearly in order, but more than once in the past two weeks I have slept straight through four alarm clocks without having any recollection of switching them off.
The result is now that I am falling asleep at around 5am if I am lucky, and waking up at around 2 if I’m lucky. Smart alecs might point out that I should maybe try going to bed earlier. But if you look at graph 2 you will see that I am already spending an average of 3 hours in bed without being able to get to sleep.
These seven day average graphs are nothing though. I have also generated separate graphs for each of the variables showing daily changes (in blue, of course). The red line is the familiar seven day average, and there is a grey trendline (though in this particular graph is is almost indistinguishable from the gridline marking 8 hours).
As you can see, it fluctuates wildly during my ‘routine’ weeks. Despite the ‘overall’ consistency of the seven day average, and the reassuring fact that the trendline is almost parallel to the x-axis, the fluctuating blue line is alarming. I suspect that this is the root of most of my problems.
In extreme cases, I will get little more than 2 hours. This obviously has to be offset sometime, so a night soon afterwards I will be knocked out for 12 hours. Those two days alone would be enough to send my entire sleeping pattern askew, never mind having a similar pattern repeated several times in a matter of months.
The silver lining is that the end of this graph actually looks quite good. As you can see, I have not emerged from this peak yet, but it looks as though it is a peak to compensate for the previous trough. And the wild fluctuations have stopped — mostly because I don’t have any early starts for the time being.
The problem is that once it all settles down it will almost certainly be into a routine something along the lines of sleeping from 4am until 12 noon. This has been the way of it for years now. The difficult part is shifting this so that it is, say, midnight until 8am.
Why am I a nightowl? Well, one possibility is the fact that I haven’t had anything resembling regular early starts since the distant days of school. But even then I stayed up late and was seriously sleep deprived. According to my mother, I was even a nightowl when I was a baby. It looks like I was born this way.
Now, the task is working out how I can adapt this inconvenient personal trait into something that I can manage in my adult life. (Can you tell that this is a stressful period for me?…)