This will probably be a very long post. I wanted to write something about my experience with sleep management and thought this might be the place to put it. This will probably not be interesting to many of you.....but for some, it could be invaluable. I will touch on many subjects under one heading, including insomnia, depression, anxiety, fatigue and well, spirituality. I originally posted this subject 2 years ago, looking for anyone who had experienced positive change using sleep management techniques. If the journal section had been here then, I probably would have documented my journey from the beginning. Instead you get to read it all at once in condensed form. I'm writing this in chapters so you can skip all the background stuff if you want to.
WHERE I CAME FROM
A little background about myself lifestyle/diet related. I grew up in Boston and I grew up a little young. I was a functioning adult living on my own at the age of 15....not that uncommon in those days, but I mention it because it makes sense of the time frame. I read something when I was 12 that inspired me to never eat meat again. I also gave up dairy and eggs for many years. A year later, my family (mom and 3 siblings) lived in a communal household. There was a range of diets among household members but we all ate from the same table. Most didn't eat meat, many were vegan, and a few were macrobiotic. This is where I learned to cook. It was a large, fluctuating household, members were free to come and go, so there was anywhere from 12 to 25 residents at any given time. We had to almost mass produce our food.....big pots of brown rice, lined up dishpans of bread dough and vegetables, 3 kitchens and something was always cooking. This was at the height of an exploding natural foods movement....with an emphasis on whole unprocessed foods. If it came in a box or bag with a list of ingredients, we generally didn't eat it. Then I moved into the real world and, though I maintained my way of eating more or less, I have had a lot of confusion and not a lot of support where food was concerned. Every few years I would worry that my diet was deficient and add a few animal product "just to be sure". Inevitably, I'd start feeling bad and I'd get rid of them again. Where I live now, I don't even know other vegetarians, never mind McDougallers....we just don't travel in the same circles. I've met a few vegans but they're all like under 25 (and seem to live on cookies).
HOW I GOT HERE
Three years ago, a friend lectured me about ageing and bone loss and how I was damaging my health with my diet. Not the first time this has happened to me and, as usual, it was unnerving. I was shook up but couldn't find any clear answers. But have you ever had a burning question and the universe suddenly laid the answer in your path? A few days later, I was shopping in a thrift store and found a copy of The McDougall Plan. I read it and was absolutely astounded! O.k, I don't know how I missed this book back when it first came out, but I did. Dr. McDougall certainly didn't invent this way of eating but he has documented and validated it in a way that I don't believe anyone else has. I am so grateful to him for that. Information is a powerful thing. Armed with this one book, I told everyone to back off and set about fine tuning my diet. I threw out the bottle of olive oil. I was more careful about what I ate away from home, avoiding anything processed. The changes didn't seem huge....but the results were still measurable. I was dubious about giving up oil because the rest of my diet was so low fat that I blamed it for my very dry hair and skin....plus I had read lots of reports that too low fat was dangerous. Instead my hair became glossy and my skin healed. Who knew? One day I was shocked to notice how pink my skin had become....at first I thought I had a rash. Then, looking in the mirror, I realized it was exactly the color of a healthy toddler....I just wasn't used to it.
WHY I CHOSE TO REDUCE MY SLEEP
Here is where it gets a little confusing but I will try to keep it simple. I was reading McDougall newsletters, when I came across this one:
http://www.nealhendrickson.com/mcdougal ... ession.htm
(later, I also found this one http://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2005nl/ ... 0sleep.htm
Specifically the part about sleep management jumped out at me...for several reasons.
Reason 1) Although I did not consider myself to be depressed, I was already aware that, if I slept more than 8 hours in 24, it effected my mood. No, that's a gross understatement. If I slept for more than 8 hours, my day was destroyed! I would wake with a headache, fatigue, depression and mental impairment. I had difficulty focusing and remembering simple things. I also had a high frequency of seizures, so I blamed the whole thing on my epilepsy which is just bad enough that I don't drive a car. I don't know if there is a name for this syndrome so I will just called it "sleep induced depression". According to Dr. McDougall, I'm actually normal but just to humor the medical establishment, I'm giving my condition a name.
Reason 2) I fit Dr. McDougall's description of someone who doesn't feel great when waking but feels progressively better as the day goes on. I would drag myself out of bed after 6 or 7 hours of sleep and sit there in a stupor for an hour trying to wake up. I often needed a cup or two of strong coffee as starter fuel. I thought this was normal.
Reason #3) I frequently suffered from "insomnia", nights when I slept little or not at all. I'm putting "insomnia" in quotes because I didn't seem to suffer that much from the lack of sleep and ironically, some of my most productive days were after nights when I slept little or not at all.
Reason # 4) I was terrified of sleep. When it was time to sleep, I would have such bad anxiety that I had fallen into a routine of "fooling" myself into sleep ..... "I'm just going to read or watch a movie, maybe rest my eyes". Many of the usual recommendations for healthy sleep were worthless to me. The idea of laying in a dark, quiet room inviting sleep would have just kept me up all night. Although I have listed this last, this was my main motivation for sleep reduction....I wanted to see if it would decrease the anxiety, thinking that depression and anxiety are related. In retrospect, I find it curious that I picked this motivation when reasons 1 through 3 were more debilitating.
MY TWO YEAR JOURNEY
Believing that I was sleeping between 6 and 7 hours a night, I eagerly set forth to reduce my sleep. If you want to read my original posts, here is the link, but I don't really recommend it because I think that post was even longer than this one and only covered a few days instead of two years.
http://www.drmcdougall.com/forums/viewt ... sc&start=0
After a week I was sleeping 5 hours a night and began noticing positive changes in anxiety levels, mood, and fatigue, but this didn't last. My sleep became erratic and I was all over the place, sleeping 7 hours one night, not sleeping at all the next, falling asleep early the next night, waking up 3 hours later, not getting back to sleep until morning. etc. So I had to stop, take a deep breath and ask what is going on here? I decided to take a more methodical approach. When I kept track of my sleep time I discovered that I was already sleeping less than I thought. I had not taken into account how often I woke during the night and went back to bed later, or how often I only slept 2 or 3 hours or not at all. I was sleeping less than 7 hours and possibly less than 6 when I averaged it out. I also realized that although I couldn't tolerate sleeping more than 8 hours in 24, the sleep induced depression actually kicked in at 6 hours. After that, the more sleep I got, the worse I felt. So I tried sleeping 4 hours. It wasn't until I cut my sleep back to 4 hours that I really felt a difference....and the amazing thing was that the effect didn't take time. It was immediate. Where I used to have "foggy" days and "clear" days, I now only had clear days. The fog had lifted and the fatigue was gone. I didn't realise that I was depressed until I wasn't. The bedtime anxiety was much less but I think this was only because I would fall asleep so quickly that I didn't have time to get anxious about it. I stayed on the 4 hour schedule for several weeks, the whole time thinking, "this can't last. At some point, I'm going to crash." Eventually I developed a mild headache and felt sleepy in the afternoon, but the sleepiness subsided by evening. Then the afternoon sleepiness started to increase. Rather than take naps, I increase my sleep time at night by 1/2 hour. So I was now sleeping from 11 to 3:30. At first I had to be rigid about this sleep time, but as time went on and it became habitual, I was able to relax a little....variations in sleep time didn't throw me off as long as I made a rule of not sleeping more than 6 hours. I still had a sense that this was just too good to be true.....elevated mood, alleviated anxiety, more energy and more time. I was still waiting for the crash. After a while I realized the crash wasn't coming. In the meantime, I no longer required a "waking up" period in the morning and I no longer drank coffee. I simply didn't need it. Just as bad things can compile and snowball, so can good things. Better mood and energy levels have lead to all sorts of positive things which have lead to even more positive things. I won't bore you with the details because I don't want this to sound any more like a sermon than it already does....but there is a very spiritual element to the way that I am sleeping and living now.
Exploring sleep restriction has given me a lot to think about. In my efforts to glean information, I waded through acres of conventional wisdom that said lack of sleep is dangerous. It will make you age faster and be more accident prone. It causes heart disease and mental impairment. You need plenty of sleep to restore and maintain physical and mental health. Nobody mentions that too much sleep can be debilitating for some individuals or that more than half of all depressed folk can be completely relieved of their depression simply by sleeping less. I found only two mass produced books on the subject of sleep reduction: Sleep Less, Live More by Everett Mattlin dispels many of the sleep myths. A later book called The Sleep Management Plan by Dale Hanson Bourke, echos the first book. Compare these 2 tiny paperbacks with the mountain of books devoted to getting more sleep.
How can I not notice the parallels of my quest for good dietary information and my quest for good sleep information? To say that a McDougall newsletter changed my life would be an understatement. It simply opened up a new world for me that I didn't even know existed. I now have the gift of emotionally stable days and boundless energy. I have undergone a personality change that borders on a spiritual awakening. When you feel alert and happy and energetic, you are free to take interest in the world around you. I notice so much more than I used to. I am interested in so many more things than I used to be. I handle stress better and have an easier time solving problems. There is that feeling that every day is a gift and I don't want to miss a minute of it. I don't know if I should even mention this, because this is starting to sound annoying cheerful, but I also have more time. David Allen, move over! I've gained at least 5 hours a day between reclaimed "sleep" time and "recovering from sleep" time. That's 35 hours a week! Now in addition to working two jobs and caring for home, I also have time to read, sew, go for long bike rides etc.
I am eternally grateful to Dr. McDougall for all of the work that he has done in his quest to get information into the hands of the public.
P.s. If you are reading this and know of any more books on the subject of sleep reduction, please post the titles for me. Thanks.