Short Sleeping

Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer. Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Inadequate sleep—even moderate reductions for just one week—disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic. Short sleeping increases the likelihood of your coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle, setting you on a path toward cardiovascular disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure. Fitting Charlotte Brontë’s prophetic wisdom that “a ruffled mind makes a restless pillow,” sleep disruption further contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety, and suicidality.

“Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker

I’ve been a little paranoid about my sleep ever since reading this book. I’ve never been a good sleeper, but it seems my sleep is getting worse over time. I mean, that appears to be the natural trend if I recall correctly, but I think I’m way too young for that decline to be happening. That being said, I haven’t been able to figure out what could be causing my sleep to be getting worse.

Here’s a sample of my sleep data from Spring 2017 versus Autumn 2019:

Sleep data from Spring 2017
Sleep data from Autumn 2019

I know I’ve experienced some of the above in the past, though I don’t know which has been related to my sleeping patterns. I’m also terrified of what the future may hold if my sleeping continues on this track.

I remember watching Still Alice and how sad I found that movie. The movie follows a linguistics professor as she navigates how her life changes with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. I think this is one of my greatest fears, and learning that not sleeping enough can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s spooked me.

In the past year, I’ve tried varying things for sleep including acupuncture, total darkness, no caffeine, socks, room temperature, aromatherapy, meditation, medications, adjusting bed times, removing blue light, and probably others. Unfortunately, there’s so many variables that seem to be related to sleep that it’s hard to figure out what’s actually having any effect and what’s just coincidence.

But I find sleep to be so weird and multi-faceted.

There’s falling asleep and staying asleep. Sometimes I struggle to fall asleep, but sometimes I fall asleep super easily. And then sometimes when I manage to fall asleep, sometimes I wake up a few seconds/minutes later, and other times I can sleep for a couple hours.

And then there’s REM and NREM sleep. It’s been years since I’ve remembered a dream (not that I ever remembered them regularly). But at the same time, my sleep tracker says I’m not getting much deep sleep. Unsure if those are related at all.

I guess I should go back and do a more structured experiment with some of the tips from Why We Sleep. I just wish I knew more about the different variables and how to control/measure them so it was easier to see what is (in)effective.

For instance, I’m not very aware of my anxiety levels let alone knowing how to measure them in any meaningful way. The quote mentions that “a ruffled mind makes a restless pillow” but at the same time, sleep disruption further contributes to anxiety. So it’s a positive feedback cycle, and I have no clue how to tell how far down that rabbit hole I’ve fallen on any given day.

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