For all my grumblings about disliking the weather in the Pacific Northwest I have to admit to one thing that I do like about it, during the winter it is very dark in the morning; a critical element to my very survival.
Starting at the beginning, because I often prefer to jump in the middle, or tell a story in reverse, I think like all children I started out as a sound and decent sleeper. I remember waking up in my bed some mornings, wondering how I got there, since I had fallen asleep in the car or on the couch. I remember waking up Christmas morning when I was nine finding a new comforter on my bed. I hadn’t felt the old one carefully being folded back and untucked; the new one being carefully spread and retucked.
Somewhere along the way, that all went “South.” I started noticing in high school that I had bionic hearing, because I could hear people walking around on carpet on the floor below me and it drove me to distraction. Initially I would go downstairs and ask the silently seated television viewing audience to please keep it down. They’d look at me like I was insane. Returning to bed I would wonder what was wrong with those people. Eventually all it would take would be me opening the bedroom door and I would hear, “We’ll turn the TV down.” I’m guessing the attitude and glaring had become a little aggressive.
Eventually I started running a white noise machine in my bedroom and that solved the bionic hearing issue. Then came the shards of piercing light. I began to notice that when the sun rose, so did I, and I lost the glorious haze of dozing off and on all Saturday morning. I would wake up and lie there wondering, as Frasier Crane would say, “What fresh hell is this?” So, the worlds of blinds were explored and I added those to my heavily draped windows. It turns out that the light that shines on the floor at the base of the curtain, and squeezes out the sides or bounces out the top can be an issue as well.
The wonderful world of sleep masks made their way into my life. This was a fabulous solution when I remembered where I’d put it, If I remembered to pack it, or if I could buy one when I had failed at the previous two issues. One of the many ways that I know MacGyver loves me is that he now has a sleep mask that he packs in his toiletry bag when we travel, just in case.
Speaking of MacGyver, by the time we were married my sleep nuances were reaching a fever pitch. We spent the week or two before we got married painting the master bedroom a lovely dark shade of bluey-green. We then had black out curtains made, and Mac built a cornice to go over the curtain, painted the inside dark bluey-green. There were even pieces of trim added to the side of the window frame that the curtains sat inside so that light that tried to squeeze out was contained. Mac created for me a sleeping nirvana.
I had just finished my degree at the UW when we married, so between the exhaustion from school, the ideal bedroom and a loving spouse that was not working, it wasn’t unusual for us to sleep ten hours of deep, peaceful, comatose sleep. Months of pure sleeping joy.
Leaping down the path of life, different houses, jobs, and children entered our lives. My sleeping issues were brought completely to the foreground with two baby monitors, a white noise machine, two waking children and a mostly comatose husband in my life every night. One particularly exhausted night as I drifted off to sleep, I was startled awake by a sound coming from one of the children’s rooms. “Who’s that?” I asked Mac. We sat quietly for a minute and listened, and heard nothing. As we were letting ourselves fall asleep I woke up long enough to say, “Which monitor is which?” I couldn’t remember I was so tired. Mac said, “Fluff Balls is ‘Sshh’, and ‘Little Mac’s is Woo’.” We laughed so hard. To this day when there is confusion about something or we hear a strange noise we look at each other and say, “Sshh-Woo.” We laugh really hard all over again. It’s one of those many moments that weld you together as a couple. You have to laugh.
Waking up to take care of the kids wasn’t a challenge because I was barely asleep. Eventually I sought out medical help and tried various naturopathic and pharmaceutical remedies. My doctor had me journaling how many times per night I woke up, how long I would stay awake, and how long I would sleep. At some point I was down to an hour or two of sleep, several hours awake, and then catnaps for a few hours. It was horrific.
Why it took so long, I truly cannot remember – sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on your memory- but I finally made my way to a sleep disorder doctor.
Now, I have to share something really funny. I show up to the standard looking medical office and fill out my forms, have my blood pressure taken and get asked a few questions, and eventually make it into the exam room. Well, inside this room is a queen sized bed with the most inviting white, super fluffy, comforter and pillows. I imagined climbing underneath that comforter and taking a short nap while I waited for the doctor to wake me up. As I sat there contemplating the idea, the doctor walked in, and he was gorgeous. I have to tell you there are fewer things that are funnier to me than to discuss my sleeping habits, my partners sleeping habits, with a gorgeous doctor next to a scrumptious bed.
After a lengthy discussion I leave the office with a survey, a prescription, and a scheduled return visit. I dutifully filled my prescription and that night took my little pill. I woke up the next morning and it was like the world was a kinder, friendlier, more inspiring world. Gone was the morning despair. I felt like leaping out of bed and singing a song. I reported to any and all who would listen how fabulous I felt, how I now understood how most people felt in the morning, I was truly elated.
For a few years that one little pill did the trick. Along the way I made my yearly trips to the sleeping clinic for annual checkups and bedside discussions. I learned quite a bit. For example, elderly men start to lose the ability to produce the hormone that prevents them from physically acting out what they are dreaming. So, they are more likely to strike/kick bed partners in their sleep. I learned that a hormone is released while you sleep that clamps your jaw shut while you are in R.E.M. sleep so that you cannot harm you tongue or lips. What I didn’t learn was why my sleeping troubles were rearing their ugly heads again.
So finally an overnight sleep observation appointment was scheduled. Given all that I had learned about sleep disorders, I have to admit I wasn’t surprised when I showed up at the clinic at 7 pm on a Sunday night and the four other patients were elderly gentlemen. I chuckled to myself, got checked in and found my way to one of those delightful rooms with the super scrumptious looking beds. Finally I was going to sleep in one!
So, the nurse proceeds to measure my head, write on my head, face, neck, and body with a black grease pen. She glued electrodes all over my head, face, neck and body, plugged them all in to a computer that was hung from my neck and resting on my chest. At some point a belt was strapped around my torso and air flow tubes were taped to just below my nose. By the time we finished doing all this, with a trip to the bathroom, it was around 8:45. I then was given a few minutes to settle in and the study would begin.
Problem number one: I don’t go to bed at 9 pm. I go to bed around 11 pm. I got a sharp knock on the door at 9 pm and a nurse enters. She tells me to take my medication and go to sleep. I don’t do that at 11 pm. I take my pill, read for ½ an hour, and then go to sleep. So, I take my pill and lay in the dark. An important note to make here is that the data gathered needs to be based upon 7 hours of sleep. I laid there a very long time.
Problem number two: I have wires and electrodes all over me. I cannot just roll over and get into a more comfortable position. Imagine Pinocchio sleeping. When he rolls over he has to move his strings with him. So I was wide awake and trying to stay still because after moving the first time I realized it was too much work.
Problem number three: People who are observing you are wide awake. At some point the nurse comes in, flips the lights on, and tells me in a normal voice that the computer monitoring my electrodes isn’t working. So she checks the computer in my room, my electrodes (which requires pushing, pulling, and pinching me), announces she is done, says goodnight, turns the light off, and shuts the door. I endeavor to sleep.
Problem number four: Just as I am dozing off, the nurse walks in, turns on the light, talks in a normal voice, announcing the computer still isn’t registering me and rechecks everything. I lie back down and endeavor to sleep.
Problem number five: I’m awake, the nurse walks in, turns on the light, starts grabbing my bags and noise machine, and a male nurse comes in to help. They tell me in normal volume voices that they are moving me to a new room because my computer still isn’t working. I Pinocchio my way out of bed to stand exhausted in front of these people in my pj’s that seemed appropriate at one point but now feel revealing.
We stumble down the corridor, and find another room, hook my computer up, fling my stuff in a chair, and the male nurse goes to find a cd player to play some white noise because the machine I had been using is no longer working. Lights are on, people are talking, and I am tired. Everything gets hooked up, set in place, lights are off, people are gone, I am alone, tired, and have to pee. I decide to ignore the fact I have to go to the bathroom.
Problem number six: I-405 is just outside my room, the curtains have a crack allowing street lights to blaze in, and I wake up from a twenty minute nap because I have to go to the bathroom. I barely make a move to get up when the nurse comes in, turns on the light, and asks in a normal voice if I have to go to the bathroom. She helps me stumble into the bathroom, and then helps me get back in bed. I pass out from exhaustion.
Problem number seven: At 5:30 in the morning I am woken up because the sleep study is over. Critical reminder: they only need seven hours of sleep time, and so I’ve been in (and out) of a bed for seven hours. I look at the nurse who has turned on the lights, it is dark outside, and she correctly interprets my facial expression and tells me in a normal volume voice that they let me sleep an extra half hour due to all the problems.
I stumble home with globs of wax, black grease pen marks, and dark rings under my eyes. Mac is waking up, I share the story of my night, we laugh hysterically, wake the kids up to go to school and I stumble around the house the rest of the day.
I go to the follow up appointment and sit next to the once longed for bed, turns out they aren’t all that comfortable, and wait for the handsome doctor to come in and tell me the results. Upon arriving and going through the pleasantries, he announces that they didn’t really find anything out. I laughed until I snorted. He smiled and asked me what was so funny. I asked him if there was any documentation about the computer failure, the moving of the rooms, the lack of seven hours of sleep. He flushed a little and said, “Actually no, there isn’t any data about that here.” He proceeds to show me the data gathered and it does show intermittent sleep, it shows measured sleep cycles, and that my air intake and carbon dioxide output are all normal.
I looked him dead in the eye and said, “Okay.”
Now, he knows me “well-ish” at this point, I mean we’ve been meeting annually for six years. He says, “If you aren’t convinced, we can do another study.”
I recoil into my chair and stammer, “No, nope, I’m good.”
After a little discussion he tells me that I don’t stay in Deep Wave sleep quite long enough. At which point I snort, because of course I didn’t because I never slept long enough. However, having blown off the opportunity for another sleep study, I realize I must put my polite cap back on and listen to what the man has to say. In the end, I decided to stay on the same medication, slightly stronger prescription. Go home and tell the story to Mac. We laugh pretty hard once again.
For many years I have pondered a hypothesis with Mac. Initially when I shared it with him he didn’t just laugh, he laughed until there was no sound and tears streamed from his eyes. Finally I brought it up with my sleep doctor two years ago. Sitting face to face in metal and plastic chairs next to a new bed that looks like it could be super comfy, I say in all seriousness, “Has there ever been any research done on whether or not people have varying thicknesses of eyelids.”
His response was, “What?” There was an initial smile which quickly was swiped away and a serious mask replaced it. Without my restating my question he ponders it and taps his chin thoughtfully with his pen while he stares at the ceiling. After a polite amount of time he looks at me and says, “No, I don’t think so. That’s a fascinating idea. I’ll have to look into it.”
If you hear of any research into eyelid thickness, you’ll have to let me know.