It’s been a long couple of days. For one reason or another I’ve been having some trouble sleeping. This happens from time to time and there’s really nothing I can do about it but grit my teeth and get through it. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a borderline narcoleptic as well as Bipolar II. Both of which are affected by the amount of sleep I get every night. Thankfully, I didn’t have to work yesterday and so I was able to just relax and hang out, try not to stress my mind too much and just rest. Today was another story. I had to call into work as stress just makes everything worse and I’m way more irritable when I haven’t slept, if you can imagine such a thing. Since I’m sort of an expert on sleep deprivation, let’s talk about insomnia.
There are stages, really, to a night or your first night without sleep. They’re a lot like the stages of grief, actually. First there’s the denial stage where you tell yourself you’re not having problems falling asleep, you’re just not tired yet. There’s no way that you would ever have any problems sleeping because you have slept like dead weight since you were fresh out of the womb. Your parents thought there was something wrong with you because you slept through the night the first night you were home. You’ll fall asleep any minute now and every thing will be just dandy. You hope.
Second is anger. You ask yourself why you thought it would be a good idea to drink that energy drink an hour ago while you were busy working on a paper, playing video games, etc., only to realize you still had a week to work on it or looked at the clock and realized the time. Then you ask yourself why you didn’t read the syllabus because it clearly states that the paper is due next Friday or that last mission really wasn’t worth the loss of sleep. Or, even worse, you start hearing every noise that everyone or everything in your house is making and you are consistently running out of your room to telling people to turn down the TV they’re wearing noise-canceling headphones. Then you start yelling at your brother for having the TV on, despite that it’s muted. But you can hear the electronic whine that it makes and it’s making you just a little bit crazy just like every time you hear the water rush through the pipes above your room every time someone flushes the toilet. You just want to go in there and take the well-used plunger and use it on their face and then stick their head in the toilet… Haha… let’s move on before I start having PTSD flashbacks of my first night in the dorms.
Onward to the third stage, which is bargaining. I don’t know if it helps or hurts to have a clock when you’re in this stage. Basically, this is the part where you try to sleep, not looking at the clock. Then, at irregular intervals you’ll check to see what time it is and calculate how much longer you have until you have to get out of bed. You try to coach yourself through this process as best you can telling yourself that you’ll be fine as long as you get seven hours of sleep. Then you’ll roll over, toss and turn a little, assault someone with a cleaning implement, come back and tell yourself that you’ll be fine as long as you get five hours of sleep. As if somehow, somewhere, the Sandman is hovering around watching you and listening like God when Abraham tried to bargain for Sodom. The point isn’t the number of hours you’ll get, it’s that you’re not getting any, none are going to be spared. So, stop asking. But, you’ll bargain and you won’t get what you want and that leads to the next lovely stage of our process.
Welcome to depression. Number four in our stages of grief and this is probably the most interesting one, really. As I stated, there comes a point when you realize that your bargains are not getting you anywhere and you give up. This is when you realize, for certain, that you are not going to be getting any sleep tonight. If this is your first night, this can be the most brutal (maybe second most brutal but only to anger) stage in the process. You might whine, you might cry a little bit and say, “Woe is me! For I will not be getting any sleep this night at all. And I need sleep because I’ve got that stupid final in the morning.” I sympathize, I do. But anyway, depression just makes the time you’re still awake even longer. It roots you to the moment and makes it very difficult to see that the sun will eventually rise. You will not have slept, you will feel like garbage the rest of the day and you will likely be investing in another one of those energy drinks like the one that may have gotten you here in the first place. Funny how that works. You’ll stare at the ceiling and you will go into “the zone”.
The zone is a place the mind goes when it refuses to shut down and sleep but doesn’t really feel like doing any heavy lifting either. You’re depressed, of course, and this slows down your cognitive processes a little bit, so you retreat into your mind and you stare at things for hours at a time. You’ll imagine what your day is going to be like sans sleep and you already know you’re going to hate yourself all day because of it. You start to wonder if this will be a trend and this makes you even more depressed which makes you think maybe you’ll never sleep again and the gyre continues to spin out of control… That is, until you look at the clock and you have maybe an hour until you have to get up and get ready to leave.
At this point, you’ve reached the final stage. Some reach it faster than others, usually seasoned veterans to the insomniac life. You know, the ones with scruffy beards and long hair. You don’t know anyone like that? Okay, so maybe those are just people I happen to know. No matter, we are talking about acceptance.
Now, that you’ve escaped “the zone” you realize fully and are mostly comfortable with the fact that you just went through an entire night without sleep. You’ve got school or work in a couple of hours so sleeping now would only mean you miss your class and possibly mess up your sleep schedule. Hey, everyone has trouble sleeping once in a while and you’re no exception, right? Right. So, a little earlier than usual you go into your normal morning routine and everything sucks and is going to suck, you’ve convinced yourself already. You’ve accepted this fact. You have successfully completed stage five. Congratulations, the next 14-16 hours of your life before you get back to your bedroom are going to be hell.
So, there you have it. The 5 stages of grief as they pertain to the wonderful experience that is insomnia. If it happens to you once, you trudge through it and you usually survive without any severe psychological symptoms. If it happens for a second consecutive day you still go through the five stages but you go through them a lot quicker with long rest periods in anger and depression. If you’re a seasoned veteran like me, you just accept the fact that sleep is illusory sometimes and hope the next night you won’t have as many troubles. Kind of like I’m hoping for tonight.