The Conundrum of Sleep

The Conundrum of Sleep

August 31, 2017

The conundrum of sleep

Thank you Maurice Sendak. What a magnificent book, the words and illustrations just export you to another world. The world of sleep and dreams. A land where you can be king and play with amazing creatures. The movie is also excellent. One of the best screen adaptations I have ever seen. Different from the book yet had the feeling of a familiar friend. Really well done.

Before this turns into a book and movie review I wanted to move onto sleep and the underappreciated impact on my life. I am awesome at sleeping but terrible at starting it. When I say awesome, I mean I can do it in great quantities. I sincerely doubt the quality is very good though. I imagine I scratch a marathon during sleep. When I say I am terrible at starting, I mean I have about a 20 minute window after going to bed to fall asleep or I am up for hours. 

It has been this way for as long as I can remember. My mother would call the school and say “Michael will not be in until 10 as he had a broken night scratching”. I needed a full 12 hours. I still do need a lot, but life forces some boundaries around it that frequently cut this short. Back when I was a student, I could sleep till 4.30 in the afternoon. Right now, my natural body clock thinks 10.30am is the perfect time to wake up. Unfortunately, work, sporting, and family commitments often burst this bubble.

Sleep and I have a love hate relationship. I love to sleep and I am not even awake to enjoy it. I feel safe and secure in bed, esp with the rain on the roof and my wife sleeping near me. But I fear sleep for the lack of control it presents. My subconscious takes over and often scratching wins. A day of moisturising and resisting rubbing and scratching undone and back 20 steps in a night. Blood on the pillow and look like the walking dead before the morning's shower and moisturiser routine tries to hide the damage and return some form of normality so I can face the world. I feel like I have been wrestling with the creatures from Where The Wild Things Are and have the scratches and tiredness to prove it. I also hate sleep because I see it as a period of wasted time. I want to get more done or eke out the final juices of the day before it ends.

Yet, as the day wears into tiredness I begin to rub and scratch my face like a little kid. I get irritable, my mind does not think clearly and eyes get weepy. An extra 4 hours at night can right off the next day. still, I am up till 2am aware of the fact but not wanting to let go yet.

Lack of sleep has been proven to reduce the immune system, making you more vulnerable to colds or virus attack and reducing the ability to fight bacterial infections. Lack of sleep can also be a contributing factor in obesity, diabetes and heart disease. 

From a skin perspective, when we are awake, the body naturally keeps more blood to the core for digestion, increased muscle use, and increased organ function. When we sleep, the repair team goes to work. The body naturally opens the blood vessels to the skin allowing greater removal of fluids and toxins plus collagen production boosted, free radicals destroyed and cell damage repaired. Research shows that skin cell regeneration almost doubles at night. Wearing mitts appears to convince my body there is less point scratching as it doesn't do anything and tend to have a more restful sleep, increasing healing with out the damaged.

Sleep it appears is a double edge sword when you can't sleep and have a scratching condition like me. Don't sleep, become tired and scratchy, don't get as much healing done and this then cycle can flow on to the next day. It can create a spiral. One thing to note is not to stress about sleep either. This becomes another factor that can stop you sleeping and also cause scratching. Ironic eh!


My big personal big tips for an hour or so before bed: 

Avoid food, esp sugar. This is often your body saying I am tired, I need a pick me up.

Try not to stimulate your brain. Don't get into thinking about something you can't put aside to sleep.

Dim the lights as a signal to the brain night/sleep is coming.

Don't use phones, tablets etc for reading, games etc. for both the light and brain activity reasons.

Go to bed when you feel sleepy, even if earlier than normal or you haven't finished that Netflix episode.


Below are some tips from the Sleep Foundation.

  1. Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body's clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
  2. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.
  3. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can't fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
  4. Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.
  5. Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees (15 - 20 degrees Celcius). Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner's sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, "white noise" machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
  6. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep but also free of allergens that might affect you and objects that might cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up

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