Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sleeping & Fun and Games with Parasomnia


I am an early morning person. Furthermore, with rare exceptions, I never use an alarm clock. I just decide what time I want to get up in the morning and I wake up. In those rare exceptions, I use the alarm clock if the consequences of being late (such as a missed flight or a missed teleconference) are high.

I have parasomnia disorder (sleep walking, sleep talking, loud noise syndrome) so for a while when I was younger I went to a sleep specialist. They could not do anything about the parasomnia (it is just is), but they did help teach me how to go to sleep and how to wake up. It seems strange, but they taught me a couple of things that really made a huge difference. I will share them with you.

First, when you are going to sleep, lie down, close your eyes. Breathe deeply and count backward from ten with each breath. As you do this, tense and release the muscles in your body, starting with your extremities (feet, calves, thighs, hands, fore arms, upper arms). Just tense them, hold for a few seconds, and release them. For whatever reason, it makes me fall asleep and sleep deeper.

Then, when you awake (regardless of how you wake), just lay there in bed, and count upward from ten with each breath. Then, get up and lightly stretch your entire body - and then start the day.

The really big thing I learned was to respect your own natural rhythms. Go to bed when you are tired. Get up when you wake up. Nap when you want to. We live in a hugely complex and demanding society that presents us with all sorts of unnatural tempos, many of which are subtle and complex. Part of re-learning to sleep well is simple learning that it is okay to ignore those unnatural rhythms.

We humans invented time, so anything that has to do with a clock is an unnatural rhythm. Now, of course, we have to concede to some of the demands of modern society - but, we can structure our lives in such a way that we can minimize those distractions.

Fun and Games with Parasomnia

Of all the assorted symptoms of parasomnia, the strangest (to me) is loud noise syndrome. Basically, what it means is when you are just about to drop off to sleep you hear a loud noise. In my case, it sometimes sounds like someone shouts right in my ear, other times it sounds like a fast gaggle of voices, and still other times it sounds like the roar of a jet or the cascade of a crash. The first couple of times it happened (probably in my twenties) it scared the heck out of me, especially when it took the form of someone shouting or the gaggle of voices. For me, it generally happens when I am over tired.

The other thing that I frequently do is sleep talk - sometimes one side of what is apparently an entire conversation, other times just random phrases. The sleep talking may or may not coordinate with any dreaming events.

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