Tuesday, 31 August 2010

day 21: sleep

each day i've been adding a paragraph at the bottom of my posts listing groups or organisations people could support in relation to the topic i'd been covering. obviously this adds up to a big long list, and there's still more to come. i look back at these causes myself, and think how each one is worthy of my support. but of course it's not possible to support each and every one.

that's the thing with thinking about privilege. once you really set out to think about it, the problems are so varied and so many that it all seems overwhelming. and for our own peace of mind and the need to function effectively every day, we end up putting these things in the back of our minds. and i know the dangers of doing too much, because i've ended up feeling pretty burnt out over the last year or so. i guess the trick is to find that happy medium of doing enough but not too much, of caring but not caring so much that you become unable to function. i'd love to give you some advice as to how to find that happy medium, but i'm still looking! i'll let you know when i get there, if i ever get there.

the topic for today is dear to my heart: sleep. when i'm asked what my favourite activity is, i invariably answer "sleep". this isn't just out of laziness (though that may well play a part) but it's because i'm notoriously bad at sleeping, and the slightest thing will wake me up. i have trouble going to sleep & i have trouble staying asleep. a stretch of 4 hours sleeping without waking is an unusual occurrence for me.

in fact, to tell the truth, i can't remember the last time i woke up after a night of sleep and felt refreshed. many days i feel almost as tired as when i went to bed. other days, i feel much less tired, but just not fresh & ready to face the day. i'm almost always dragging myself out of bed.

still, i'm doing much better with sleep now than i've done in the past. i remember when i went through a period of many months when i was averaging 3-4 hours sleep a night, sometimes less and sometimes a little bit more. i'd lie awake most of the night in frustration, eyes wide open & thoughts scrambling around in my head at hundred miles an hour. i've tried herbal sleeping tablets, i've even had some more serious stuff for short periods, but have been managing without anything at all for some years now.

being without sleep just makes everything so much harder. concentrating at work becomes a struggle, and any work that requires complex problem-solving becomes almost impossible. relationships get strained because lack of sleep means a short fuse and quickness to irritation and anger. when i'm extremely tired, i'm less interested in being around people and having to make the effort to have a conversation when i'd much rather just not think at all. i remember days when i used to be so tired that i could hardly sit up straight at work, and every few minutes have to put my head down on the desk.

it would be fair to say that sleep and me have an uneasy relationship, but it is improving. i find going to bed late really helps. if i go to sleep early (say 10pm), i will almost definitely wake up around 2am and that will be about it for the night. reading myself to sleep also helps. i've also stopped all coffee and tea drinking, which seems to help.

sleep is such an essential part of our lives that sleep deprivation is one of the most effective torture techniques. it is also a tool of war, used in the iraqi invasion of 2002 and has also been used in gaza, with constant shelling ensuring that a significant portion of the population gets no rest. lack of sleep is also associated with various physical and mental illnesses.

so if you are one of those people who gets to sleep easily and who stays asleep all night and who wakes up feeling rested, that is a huge privilege. not only does it mean that you're not living in a war zone, but also that you're not living in a poor suburb with a train station or airport nearby, nor near noisy factories, bars or heavy traffic. you're unlikely to be living in a situation of overcrowding, nor suffering from ill health.

it's also likely that you have a roof over your head, a decent bed and enough blankets to keep you warm, or a fan/airconditioner to keep you cool in extreme heat. it's pretty likely that you aren't suffering from severe stress such as the death of someone close to you or a serious accident. it's unlikely that you're suffering from abuse or severe harassment. it is likely that you've had enough food during the day.

there are a couple of groups that support poor sleepers (i should probably get in touch with one of them, and i would if i wasn't so tired!). there is the narcolepsy support group, and the sleep apnoea association. this depression support group would probably also be helpful. as is the one advertised by john kirwan.

if you are a person who has trouble sleeping for any of the reasons i've mentioned above or others i haven't been able to think of, then my thoughts and prayers are with you.

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