I got 99 problems, and sleep is one…
On the surface, everything seems fine. Take a closer look, and my puffy eyes and sagging face tell the story of a guy with sleep troubles. It’d be easy to blame my (almost) four year old son for my nocturnal woes, with his occasional cries in the middle of the night or those flus that turn the apartment into an alternative universe filled with snot, fevers, and projectile vomiting. But, no, that wouldn’t be an accurate depiction of why I can’t sleep.
I’m four and a half years in. Before that, sleep wasn’t really a conversation piece for me. I’d have good sleeps and bad sleeps, but, when needed, I’d sleep in or take a nap (or both!) and balance would quickly be restored. But I remember distinctly that sleep went off the rails around the time I found out Lara and I were pregnant (well, she was pregnant, and I watched intently). I was super excited about becoming a dad, but I think unconsciously I was scared shitless, too, about what it meant for my life path (as a happy but cash poor traveller and writer), as well as the new financial and emotional responsibilities. In the beginning, I would startle awake at 4am and stare at the ceiling for the rest of the night. Later, I simply couldn’t fall asleep at all. Was my body/mind preparing me for those opening years of fatherhood?
Quite predictably, the days following a crappy night’s sleep are unpleasant for anyone within 40 feet of me – including me. I just can’t keep my stress levels at bay, even with the yogic breathing and mindfulness practices. I even have to explain to my son that dada didn’t sleep well and please be patient and don’t scream in my ear.
The thing with sleep is that the lack of it doesn’t just make you grumpy, it can be dangerous to your health. According to Dr. Dan Siegel, sleep allows your active neurons to rest, while the supporting cells, (called Glial cells) are cleaning up the toxins that the neurons produce. And if you don’t regularly get 7 to 9 hours sleep (a small minority of people don’t need that much, the rest of us do), then the toxins remain there. Sleep deficits affect attention and problem-solving, impair memory, and impact insulin levels, so you are more likely to gain weight. And sleep deprivation is toxic to the cells themselves and is connected with higher blood pressure, premature aging, and heart attacks.
My sleep issues got so bad that last month I booked in for an overnight stay at a sleep clinic where they ran a battery of tests on me to try to understand what’s happening and the potential risks to my health. I’m still awaiting results, but I will say that trying to sleep while wired up (see photo) made for a long night and a terrible sleep.
If a good sleep reduces stress and inflammation in the body, as well as improves focus and immune system function, then I’ll do whatever is required to make sleep a non-issue once again. For now, I’m trying to turn off all electronics an hour before sleep, read a book in bed, and listen to some mellow music to let my body know that I’m ready for sleep.