No I Am Not Lazy, I Am Just A Natural Night Owl

Hello, my name is Valentin and I am a night owl.

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve always been struggling with my sleep schedule. I was one of those teenagers waking up around noon (sometimes later) and my parents would always storm in my room in attempt to wake me up and prevent me to be late for school again. 14 years later, this hasn’t changed. I am still struggling every single day to wake up on time for work or life events.

I have asked many doctors about this, I have seen countless sleep specialists, but most of them would relate it to depression or anxiety. After a lot of research and discovering the U.B.C Centre for Complex Sleep Disorders, in Vancouver, British Colombia, I finally learned to accept it, embrace it and decided to talk about it more, hoping to raise awareness.

So… What Is It Like Every Day?

Well first, take a look at this infographic to try to project yourself into my skin:

There are multiple ways these conditions can affect my daily life. I talked about the physical symptoms above, but Circadian Sleep Disorders also affect psychologically in many ways. They are stressful in themselves and, in addition, people can have misperception about them, leading to social misunderstandings.

“Social Jet Lag”.

Maintaining a social life when you don’t know when you’ll be awake or asleep might be difficult. And it is.

When I was a teenager, I was often considered a bad student, due to my tardiness. Despite having decent grades.

I have missed a lot of good times with friends, just because I wasn’t able to wake up on time or because I slept through. And people sometimes get mad at me for it.

I like exercise and I would like to join. But imagine how it feels like if I woke you up at 3am and asked you to play a soccer game… No way!

I am not even talking about maintaining a day job… Being on time for these 8am meetings can be challenging. I usually don’t sleep at all to be on time, which is not the best way to go about it!

“You are just too lazy”

This one hurts. A lot. No I am not lazy. I consider myself pretty productive actually; working at night has its perks!

I always have to prove myself everyday, laugh when people make fun of my tardiness, and so on. I learned to accept it and embrace it (and knowing a little bit of the science about it helped me be taken seriously). But it can really do damage to oneself. One can experience depression, loneliness or other feelings of anxiety.

Maintaining a strong mindset is already a challenge for everybody — please be mindful of these comments that may seem inoffensive — they can hurt.

“Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep!”.

Because we all have to sleep, everybody has advice on sleeping better. Some of it does work, some don’t.

- “Why not just go to bed earlier?”
- “Try to exercise to be really tired and you’ll sleep earlier”
- “Did you try yoga? Sleeping pills? Avoiding computers and smartphones before bed? Apple Watch to understand your sleep phases? Drink a lot of water before going to sleep? Or just go to sleep early, that’s all!

Believe me: any sleep advice you might have, I’ve already tried them all!

How Can I Help Then?

It is okay, I know people mean well by giving me advice. But there are better ways to help:

Don’t blame me.

…when I am late. I already know it, I warned you, I already feel guilty and there is nothing I can do about it (particularly if you planned a meeting at 7am!).

Don’t make fun.

Don’t call me lazy, party guy, etc. I already heard it every so often and it does not help with self-esteem, stress or anxiety. It is okay to laugh in life, but make sure I am willing to laugh about it too. Ask me how to support or notice the good things about me instead.

Be understanding.

When I say I am “tired”, this is not like being a “little tired” and wanting to sit on the couch and watch TV. I mean it, I am exhausted. And the worst is that sometimes I can’t sleep and rest, even when I want or need to!

Trust me.

Try to let me work on my schedule. It is not because I sleep on a different schedule that my work will be affected!

Reach out.

If you can’t sleep, try to reach out to me. I mean it can help sometimes having somebody to talk to at 3am on a Monday night! Or anytime, since I mostly live at night, I only share a few hours with the rest of world before being alone at home. Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely, but it can happen. So reach out! I am not a werewolf, I promise I don’t bite.

Be progressive.

Some jobs can easily be done even on a delayed schedule (like mine, Web Developer). Accommodations could easily be made, the 9-to-5 is “torture” anyway, right?

What Should I Know About CSDs?

Definitions.

Circadian Sleep Disorders are neurological disorders in which the sleep-wake cycle is out of sync with the day-night cycle. They include two major types:

  • Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS), characterized by an inability to fall asleep until very late at night, with the resulting need to sleep late in the morning or into the afternoon (a delayed body clock).
  • Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder (Non-24), a condition in which a person’s day-length is significantly longer than 24 hours, so that sleep times get later each day, cycling around the clock in a matter of days or weeks. While this is a primary disorder in non-blind people, this is also a secondary disorder to blindness in blind people.

After many tests and treatment attempts, I have been diagnosed with both of them. The Non-24 disorder was a result of living with DSPS, and going un-treated for so long.

These disorders affect 1 out of 600 people in the world, that means more than 12 million people, even if it often goes misdiagnosed.

Symptoms.

The symptoms may vary for different people, but there are common symptoms, such as (and not limited to):

  • Difficulty falling asleep at a “socially acceptable” time.
  • Chronic tiredness, especially when trying to follow a daytime (or social as I call it) schedule.
  • Sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, ADHD, fibromyalgia (widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in localized areas) etc.
  • Hormones such as Melatonin, Cortisol and others are usually not secreted on a normal day-night schedule.

Causes.

Circadian Sleep Disorders are neurological disorders, they are not considered mental illnesses.

These disorders are not simply due to a lack of self-discipline (and believe me, I tried!).

Diagnosis.

There are multiple ways to diagnose these disorders:

  • A sleep specialist will look at a sleep log, possibly supported by ActiGraph monitoring.
  • An overnight sleep study to rule out other causes (though they might be complex or impossible to schedule, as they have to happen at night!).
  • Many doctors are not aware of these disorders nor trained to recognize them.

Treatment.

Circadian Sleep Disorders are chronic, lifelong conditions. There is no cure. However, there are a few treatments that might improve the symptoms:

  • Light therapy, which consists of avoiding bright light at night and promoting exposure to bright light in the morning.
  • Prescription of evening melatonin supplements, to help regulating the bedtimes.
  • Chronotherapy, which is an attempt to “shift” bedtime and rising time later and later each day, around the clock, to try to restore a normal sleep schedule. Though this therapy should be avoided, as 20% of the people diagnosed with DSPS later developed the much more debilitating Non-24 disorder (myself included).


Sources.

The scientific information and data contained in this article was found on Wikipedia & The Circadian Sleep Disorder Network.

Thanks.

Thank you for my friends and colleagues for supporting me in writing this article. Thank you for my proof readers and the awesome information from the Circadian Sleep Disorder Network.