April 25, 2011

Reducing Fatigue by Sleeping Less, Not More

I have had a lifetime of experiencing sleepiness and general fatigue. I don't know if it could be officially labeled chronic fatigue, but it has been there forever. Generally, I need 9 or more hours a sleep a night, and still often felt fatigued throughout the day. Waking up is hard for me. As a kid I slept more than the other kids. In college, I couldn't do the all-nighters that my friends could. As an adult, I sleep as much as my kids do.

Some days, I am tired when I wake up, and stay tired the rest of the day.

After giving up caffeine, alcohol, and high fructose corn syrup, which all helped for a while, I still struggle with fatigue. High fats and high carbs probably also contribute. Although I don't think I generally eat enough fat or carbs to warrant the amount of fatigue I experience.

For a while, I shifted my sleeping schedule, thinking that if I slept in, and stayed up late, I would be on more on target with what my body wants to do. Still, I slept 9-10 hours a night (or wanted to) and felt groggy throughout the day.

So, I decided to just accept it. I sleep a lot.

But boy, sleeping a lot, and being tired a lot, means not getting a while heck of a lot done. I would find that the glorious days I wasn't tired, I'd try to cram all the things I didn't do during all those days I was tired. Again, accepted myself and this was how I worked. Although I have to admit, every once in a while, would be annoyed with myself for being so tired.

Then, I read about the Sleepless Elite. These are people who only need a few hours of sleep a night, and have a ton of energy. A friend of mine in college was this way. I was secretly jealous of him.

It got me curious, and I started looking into different sleep patterns and research (mainly trying to see if long sleeping and furiously vivid and emotional dreams meant that I had a brain tumor or if I should expect an impending heart attack. Despite my earnest attempt to find this connection, none could be found, even on the internet.)

Through this research, though, I discovered something better - polyphasic sleep. The theory goes, that REM is really the only kind of sleep we need. Normally, a sleep cycle takes about 90 minutes to get into and through a REM state. If we can train our bodies to go right into REM sleep, we'd only need 15-20 minutes of sleep 6 times a day. This is the most extreme version of polyphasic sleep, called the Uberman's Sleep Schedule.

Polyphasic sleep was not something I could try, seeing that I have kids and responsibilities and all, and apparently I'm not the only one. People indicated that finding times to take regular naps in a typical American life, is next to impossible. In addition, making the transition to an Uberman's sleep schedule is taxing on the body. What about considering a milder form of plyphasic sleep, sleeping 3-7 hours a night, and adding naps? If Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson could do it, so could I!

Apparently, a lot of people have successfully adopted a biphasic or triphasic sleep pattern, reducing their sleep needs by 1-3 hours a night. There is even a Google group dedicated to talking about sleep patterns.

After much research, I decided to try the "easy" biphasic sleep pattern - 7 hours a night, and one 30 min. nap. That would reduce my sleeping by about 2 hours. And what's the worst thing that could happen? I'd be sleepy? Well, I was already sleepy.

I've been sleeping this way for about three weeks now. I sleep from about midnight to 7, and then generally stay in bed for another 30 minutes to an hour, but I'm not sleeping. Meditating, thinking about my dreams, generally getting mentally ready for the day. But some days, I do wake up at 7 or soon after. Then, in the afternoon, I take a 30 min nap, whether I'm tired or not.

Overall, I'm less sleepy and fatigued during the day. And I am awake and out of bed a solid hour longer than before. I'm also learning, slowly, how to wake up with the alarm by the daily naps I take, so it's easier to get up in the morning, too.

I'm slowly going to work my way to being in bed only 7 hours. Now that I have the nap as part of my daily routine, I know that if I wake up and I'm tired, that I can take a nap later, and it's easier to get going.

I like this new schedule better. In general, my dreams are less intense, I have less insomnia during the night, and I'm not as tired during the day. It's not an enormous difference, but a noticeable one. And, even though I'm sleeping less, I'm not any more tired than before.

So what have I been doing with that extra hour or two? I've been able to find time to meditate. I couldn't find time before, and didn't want to, because I was too fatigued. Now, I get a nap and a meditation in most days - and a workout, several days a week, too. So far, this schedule is working out great for me, and I'm slowly starting to feel like I'm no longer a "long sleeper."


Karen Gibson said...

The first thing I thought of when reading about your fatigue was Omega-3 oils. Fatigue and insomnia can be an indication of a deficiency in Omega-3s.

So glad that you are finding a successful way of dealing with your problem. I recently went through several months of sleeping no more than an hour or two at a time and discovered I had a thyroid issue. Nothing replaces good sleep!

Tom Armstrong said...

I am wondering if the greater [whole of?] the benefit to your sleep rhythm is as a result of you spending the time to meditate for an hour. Taking up and sticking with a meditation practice is mightily beneficial with effects that ripple out to all areas in your life.