Falling asleep with media

And without

Photo by Dead Air via photopin under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I used to fall asleep to The Silence of the Lambs playing in my laptop next to me when I was in my early twenties. I find horror movies especially comforting to fall asleep to. But even earlier, in high school, I would fall asleep to Yanni’s piano album, In My Time. It helped sequence my brain, and calm me, take me from chaos to order, then to sleep.

I asked a former girlfriend if she noticed any signs of mental illness when we dated around 22. She said no, but I was a bit eccentric and liked to fall asleep with the movie adaptation of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time playing on the television. I asked her if she minded. She said no.

More recently, for a few years until a few weeks ago, I’ve been sleeping with my iPad, playing mental health videos off YouTube or movies from Netflix. I like to pick one movie or playlist and stick with it, watching the same thing every night like a lullaby.


But before that, in a sober period preceding this one, I remember I had a sequence of visualizations in which I would start by being a clownfish dropped into the ocean, and I would swim along through a garden of coral until I came to my sea anemone, and I would go through a ritual of looking around the anemone until I felt safe, and then I would fall asleep.

Actually before I got to the clownfish visualization I would say a series of prayers to the everything, saying what I was thankful for, making positive wishes for others, and asking for long life and good health, which I visualized as the Earth revolving around the sun many times (long life) and the variety and bounty of animals and plants on our planet (good health) as if the Earth was my body and its heath was my health and its trips around the sun were my life.

I have gone back to falling asleep without media. My thought ritual is simpler now: I think about what I was grateful for in the day that just happened. I say thank you for the gift of having been able to live that day and I ask for the gift to live another. I also feel my body, non-sexually. I have TD and so arm position is very important in becoming still overall. If I can, I cup a hip bone in each hand, as a way to connect to my body, to assert the right and the joy of touching myself.


Whether I fall asleep with media or without has a lot to do with how comfortable I am with my own thoughts, with my thought self, my spirit self. Sometimes I just cannot bear to be alone with my own thoughts, and The Silence of the Lambs is more comforting than my own mind. Sometimes my thoughts are so busy that they need music like Yanni piano to slow them down and regulate them so that sleep is possible. Otherwise, I’ll stay up for hours, thinking, and sleep will never come. Periods like now I am comfortable with my thoughts—with my self. I am not afraid to face what is within me, because what is in me is at peace. If I drink coffee too late and it takes me an hour to go to sleep, it is a wonderful hour, not a torturous one, spent with myself. Usually I fall asleep in a few minutes.

I am not making this judgment for anyone else, but for myself, I
 sleep better without media. When it is possible for me to be at peace in the darkness and silence with myself, I sleep sounder and longer than when I sleep with my iPad. I suspect the day will come again when my life is chaotic enough that I need to sleep with media, but for now I am enjoying this wonderful period where the idea of being alone with myself doesn’t scare me, where the action of letting go into sleep is not a chore, but a joy—and where my own company is not something I want to drown out, but company I welcome and feel comfort with.

I realized my body is doing segmented sleep

And that’s..like..a thing.

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images via Foter.com. No known copyright restrictions.

I have schizoaffective disorder, which is like having schizophrenia and bipolar disorder at the same time. For everyone, and especially for bipolar people, sleep is a big deal. When you’re manic, you sleep less or none at all. When you’re depressed, you sleep tons. Sleep is a major indicator of overall health. And for a while now, my body’s been doing this weird thing.

My plan was to go to sleep strictly at nine and wake up at six..to try to regulate my sleep into that pattern so that I got regular sleep and everything was ok on the bipolar front. But what’s happened, for the first time in my life, is that my sleep has become polyphasic, or segmented. I go to sleep at nine, wake up at twelve, write for an hour, listen to music for an hour, then I go back to sleep and wake up between five and seven.

I told my mom about this and, lucky for me, she didn’t try to fix it, she didn’t suggest we schedule an emergency visit to the psychiatrist. In fact, she was knowledgeable enough to know what I didn’t: that this is a historically established sleep pattern that is getting a surge of attention within the current culture.

Segmented sleep, also known as divided sleep, bimodal sleep pattern, bifurcated sleep, or interrupted sleep, is a primarily biphasic sleep pattern where two periods of nighttime sleep are punctuated by a period of wakefulness. Along with a nap (siesta) in the day, it has been argued that this is the natural pattern of human sleep..

I’ve even been doing the siesta part—with no planning or research of these concepts—from 2pm to 4 or 4pm to 6, something like that. I’ve felt guilt about this nap, believing due to my culture that “I should be” able to work and play throughout the day, as an adult, with no naps.

So check this out:

Historian A. Roger Ekirch has argued that before the Industrial Revolution, segmented sleep was dominant in Western civilization. He draws evidence from documents from the ancient, medieval, and modern world. Other historians, such as Craig Koslofsky, have endorsed Ekirch’s analysis.

Wikipedia continues:

According to Ekirch’s argument, adults typically slept in two distinct phases, bridged by an intervening period of wakefulness of approximately one hour. This time was used to pray and reflect, and to interpret dreams, which were more vivid at that hour than upon waking in the morning. This was also a favorite time for scholars and poets to write uninterrupted, whereas still others visited neighbors, engaged in sex..

Etc. etc.

Ekirch suggests that it is due to the modern use of electric lighting that most modern humans do not practice segmented sleep..

And further:

The brain exhibits high levels of the pituitary hormone prolactin during the period of nighttime wakefulness, which may contribute to the feeling of peace that many people associate with it. The modern assumption that consolidated sleep with no awakenings is the normal and correct way for human adults to sleep may lead people to consult their doctors fearing they have maintenance insomnia or other sleep disorders. If Ekirch’s hypothesis is correct, their concerns might best be addressed by reassurance that their sleep conforms to historically natural sleep patterns.

Not only that, but..

..prolactin, the hormone associated with the surreal hallucinatory pre-sleep state..is also the hormone produced when nursing mothers lactate, as well as during orgasm.

!!

So how exactly were we robbed of the pleasures of segmented sleep? The first demons to disrupt our ancient sleep patterns were artificial lighting and clocks. That old saying about burning the candle at both ends is evidence that as soon as people had the means to eat away at the night, they did. But time, or rather, the keeping track of it, was the more powerful enemy. Before mechanical clocks replaced sundials, the night was a mysterious realm which could not be subdivided into minutes and seconds. Clocks and personal timepieces went hand in hand with industrialization and quickly became the instruments which undid sleep as it has been practiced for millennium.

Clock-time introduced the concept of “wasting time” and what could be more wasteful than lying in the dark doing nothing with no explicable reason to do so? Tiredness and the need for sleep increasingly became a sign of moral lassitude. As the popularity of street lighting grew, the night retreated.

Paris was the first to light its streets, using wax candles in glass lanterns in 1667, followed closely by Lille, Amsterdam and eventually London. By the time the candles were replaced with gas, people had lost most of their associations of night with thieves, fierce animals and witches.

As bedtimes grew later and later, references to “two sleeps” began to fade and to be seen as a bad thing. Parents were even encouraged to purge their children of any night-waking tendencies. An article in an 1829 British medical journal instructs parents that, “If no disease or accident there intervene, they will need no further repose than that obtained in their first sleep, which custom will have caused to terminate by itself just at the usual hour. And then, if they turn upon their ear to take a second nap, they will be taught to look upon it as an intemperance not at all redounding to their credit.”

I don’t know if it is because I do not have a job job, but have had flexible hours for so many years now, that my body has arrived naturally at a segmented sleep cycle, but now that I’m doing some research on it, it reinforces the practice and helps me feel good about it. And it really is perfect for writing: when I wake at midnight there is nothing I want to do more than open up my laptop and write the next section of my novella. For a while, many months ago, when I was manic, what I was lacking was the second sleep. But I find, now, that after I write for an hour, then listen to music for an hour, I can feel perfectly happy getting back into my bed and sleeping again until dawn.

Funny how something that could so easily be seen as a problem, when studied scientifically by A. Roger Ekirch, Thomas Wehr, NASA, the military, and others, is revealed as probably the way humans slept for the bulk of our history.

Orange glasses help sleep/mania

Blue-blocking glasses improve sleep, reduce mania


What? Yes, my friend Berit Ellingsen told me about this.

  • Can Orange Glasses Help You Sleep Better?—“ ‘My girlfriend thinks I look ridiculous in them.’ But Mr. Nicoletti insists that the glasses, which can block certain wavelengths of light emitted by electronic screens, make it easier to sleep.”
  • Bipolar Disorder, Light, and Darkness“Recent research has shown that one particular kind of light is the key to regulating the biological clock: blue light. The bottom line: blue light is a powerful signal telling your brain ‘it’s morning time, wake up!’ For an explanation of that research, see Blue Light is the Light That Matters.”
  • Blocking blue light during mania“The transition to the blue-blocking regime was followed by a rapid and sustained decline in manic symptoms accompanied by a reduction in total sleep, a reduction in motor activity during sleep intervals, and markedly increased regularity of sleep intervals. The patient’s total length of hospital stay was 20 days shorter than the average time during his previous manic episodes.”

You don’t have to tell me twice. I went out and bought a pair. I just got them today, and I’m wearing them all the time, including during all computer use—except when retouching a photo or doing other graphic design work. We’ll see what happens—I’m optimistic!

Thanks, Berit!