Sleep deprivation

People who have been reading this blog for a long time may know that I have often had difficulty getting to sleep. It is not unusual for me to go around the place feeling a bit sorry for myself because I feel tired. And I like to think I have become a bit of a master at coping having had just a few hours of sleep on the odd occasion when I have to get up earlier than normal. I don’t often get ill. But these past couple of days have been terrible.

I had an exam yesterday. That is the reason why I haven’t been able to blog so much over the past couple of weeks, in case you were wondering. Unfortunately, the exam was at 9:30am which meant getting up before 7am.

I know that lots of people have to get up at worse times and more often. I think it is easier to get up if it is just part of your normal routine though. I had to get up at around 7am more often in previous years and it felt like just a minor inconvenience rather than a full-on nightmare.

I am a night-owl as it is. Nowadays my lectures tend to be in late afternoon rather than early morning. I usually work in the evenings. So normally I don’t get to sleep until around 3am or 4am — and I don’t get up until around noon.

This is perfect for my normal routine, but when I am given one day — just one day — when I have to get up four or five hours earlier than normal, it is full-on panic stations time. Normally I try to get up a bit earlier every day, but it doesn’t really work. If I don’t have to get up early, I don’t get up early. I have tried all sorts of things like giving up coffee, but they never work.

Although I have done it before, I felt like I couldn’t afford to get to sleep at around 4am before having a vital 7am start. So I decided to get up at 9am on Tuesday morning, hoping that it would make me tired earlier in the evening.

Of course, that didn’t happen. I had awful trouble falling asleep, and in fact I finally dropped off at around my usual time — 4am. For a 6:45 start. The upshot was that in two days I had around 8 hours of sleep.

At first it felt okay. Not great, but capable. I suppose when you have an important exam you don’t really have the time to feel tired. You just have to get on with it. I felt that mentally I was fine, so I had no problems dealing with the exam in that regard, although my writing hand was tired, so it was a bit of a scrawl.

It started to hit me on the way back home. Ever since then, I have felt just about the worst I have ever felt. It was hunger, shortness of breath and a flying heart rate at first. Since then it has been indigestion, strange aches all over my body (particularly in my upper arms at the moment), a headache, loss of appetite, dizziness and — my favourite — inability to sleep properly.

I felt like taking a nap yesterday afternoon and ended up staying in bed until around 8pm. I got very little sleep during that period and when I did get to sleep — at around 11pm — it was the start of a highly uncomfortable night. I must have woken up six or seven times and my duvet felt like it weighed a ton.

I have often felt tired and lethargic, but everything that has happened to me before feels minor. Now I know what real sleep deprivation feels like.


  1. Sounds a lot like illness either coming on or being fought off by your system, probably because it’s upset by so little sleep. Snarf some extra vitamin C and some echinacea and get plenty of rest. Which you can do, because you’re finished with the semester. Gah.

    I’m not bitter…

  2. [science nerd on] Duncan, you’re at the stage in your life when your “clock” is running closer to 25h/day than the 24h you’re forced to live in. A sudden early start as you described, what we nerds call a phase advance, is the most difficult thing for your body to cope with. The next time you have to do it, I’d suggest trying to get up later and later until you’ve gone right round the clock and are able to get up at your new “later” time… [/nerd off]

    My sympathies… I’m permanently sleep -deprived too. As an owl, I really hate the days when I have to get up for 6am experiments. And yes, I get sick shortly afterwards too…

  3. Thanks for the advice akatsuki. Yeah, I did consider just getting up later and later. I’ve done that before. But I thought it would be worse for me in the long run, especially since I have to start work at 5pm — that would just be another early start / very late finish!

    I am considering experimenting with the 28 hour day over Christmas, because I know that I just can’t cope with 24 hours. If I don’t have any commitments I find myself staying up longer than 16 hours and I am asleep for more like 9 or 10.

    Right now I’ve got a chest pain. It’s quite scary. I was listening to the radio last night and the medical guy came on. He said you are at risk from a heart attack if you have: shortness of breath, fast heart rate, indigestion and a chest pain that feels like it is pressing down on you. I thought, “I’ve got all of those symptoms!” Then he said, if you’re under 50 it’s not much to worry about…

  4. Sorry to hear you’re struggling, you have my sympathies – I’m at the point where I need to fit about 27 hours of “stuff” into every actual 24 hour day – including 11 hours at work, 7 hours asleep, household chores, cooking, etc – and the sleep is what’s taking the knock for me too (also why I’m not blogging much, nor am I on IM much either) – ‘cos I’m not making time to wind-down in the evening, I’m not sleeping properly for the 5 hours or so I’m actually in bed!

  5. We were discussing just this this week. Every day I’d front up and the students would make me physically ill from all their winter diseases. Then it would be home and 11 hours sleep, back again next day. Not good. Feel for you.