To Sleep, Perchance To Dream
As I concluded in yesterday’s post, the combination of melatonin and light therapy seems to be working. I started it all last Friday night, and though I could have stayed up late since it’s a weekend I wanted to get things moving towards my weekly schedule right away. So at around 9:30 I took a melatonin and laid down to listen to a podcast and catch up on my RSS feeds. After a half hour or so, Stephanie wasn’t up to bed yet but I was pretty tired, so I put everything down and went to sleep, with the sunrise setting on the Dia2 turned on but no alarm set. I was surprised by the result.
First, a little about the sunrise “alarm” on the Dia2. There’s an audible component which you don’t have to turn on (I did on Sunday night, as well as my iPhone alarm) but the main part is the lights on the device. If you set it for 6:30 with a 30 minute sunrise, that means it turns on at 6am at the lowest brightness setting. Over the next 30 minutes, it ramps through its steps until it is at full brightness at 6:30. For some people, that’s sufficient to wake up, and in fact Stephanie woke up to it the first morning and said it was quite pleasant. When David came into the room a little while later, she didn’t at all feel groggy from being awakened in darkness. I didn’t wake up to it, though I did see it a couple times, but rolled over and slept a bit later; I think I got out of bed around 8 or so, which is a good hour and a half or more earlier than I normally would have. But how well did I sleep?
For one thing, I don’t remember Stephanie coming up to bed. Normally she’d lay down next to me, and like me take a few minutes to look at things on her iPhone before going to sleep. The act of her coming to bed would wake me up a bit, and the light from the phone would keep me awake – sometimes to the point that I’d pick mine up and go back to looking at stuff knowing I would not be able to get back to sleep until hers was also put down. This time, I didn’t even stir. I may have woke up once or twice in the night, but went back to sleep shortly thereafter. And to answer the question of how tired I was when I went to sleep, look no further than Saturday morning as I prepared to mow the lawn and turned on the podcast I started listening to the night before. It was about 10 minutes into the show, and like I do many times when I pick up on a previously paused episode I backed it up about 30 seconds to remind myself where I was. Only nothing sounded familiar. I hit the 30 second back button again, and still nothing sounded right. Twice more, now going back two minutes, and I don’t remember any of this. I finally gave up and just restarted the show from the beginning, and some things were familiar. I was definitely groggy when I put the phone down.
I wasn’t at all concerned with how I’d feel on either Saturday or Sunday, since I know from previous shift work it took me a couple days to swing from day to night. But Monday morning was to be the big test. Sunday night I set the alarm, and turned on the audible bell as well (unsure what it even sounded like yet, so I also set the iPhone alarm). Settled in to sleep, and woke at 6:30 to the faint beeping of the clock, and my wife’s eyes as she said, “Gee, that’s a lot nicer than your old clock.” Time to put everything I’d done so far to the test of a morning routine; I did my 15 minutes of light therapy as I checked email and had a cup of coffee, showered, dressed and then headed off to work. So far, the day didn’t feel much different – except for the fact that I actually got out of bed at 6:30 instead of mashing snooze buttons until 8.
It wasn’t until I got to the parking lot at work, unloaded my stuff and walked towards the building that I realized the effect everything was having on me. I was awake. Not just walking around and interacting, really awake. I felt walking across the parking lot how I would if I was doing it later in the day. The world seemed more vibrant. Things didn’t seem to be as fuzzy in my head, and I was perceiving everything as I do when I occasionally go for lunchtime walks – or more importantly, like I would if I stayed up all night and was going for an early morning walk when I’m in my more “awake” phase of the day, first thing in the morning before bed.
The feeling carried over throughout the day, too. I didn’t spend an hour and a half drinking coffee and staring at my monitor before being able to concentrate on anything work-related, in fact I dove right into a couple projects first thing in the morning. At lunchtime I was hungry, which isn’t much different before, but I didn’t feel that after-lunch haze that tended to set in from not sleeping restfully the night before. I left the office and got home, had dinner, put the kids to bed, and was starting to feel tired by around 9pm. This is good, I thought, since before I would sometimes stay up downstairs until 10:30 or later just because I wasn’t tired yet. Around 9:30 I took a melatonin and went up to bed, passed out within an hour after a little time reading, and repeated the process Tuesday morning – with the same level of success. Wednesday I felt a little groggy, and got out of bed at 6:40 instead of 6:30. Heavens me, I needed an extra ten minutes – but that was all. Thursday and Friday I took an extra ten minutes too, and was a little tired when I got out of bed Friday but that cleared up pretty quickly as I had the light shining on me while I checked email.
It seems like the whole plan is working nicely, and without adverse side effects too. I’m waking up feeling refreshed, I’m falling asleep without taking sedatives at night, and the process isn’t disturbing my family or home life either (in fact Stephanie has said she likes the light in the morning – assuming David doesn’t come in at 5:30 and want to play). The Dia2 was a little more expensive than most alarm clocks, but cheaper than other remedies I’ve seen, and if Wakemate ever ships their device to me then I’ll use that instead of the audible alarm and iPhone alarm since it should be able to wake me at the most opportune time based on actigraphy. Meanwhile, I’m quite pleased with the results I’ve had, and wrote all of this up for the benefit of others who might suffer sleep problems as well. Of course, I’m not a doctor, you should consult your physician before breathing, blah blah blah.