Trouble Sleeping

Writing on a non-twenty-four-hour body clock.

Since my mid teens, I’ve had a non-twenty-four body clock. In summary, my sleeping hours don’t line up with the movement of the earth: on a planet that took an extra hour to rotate, I’d go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, but because my circadian rhythm is longer than it’s meant to be, my natural pattern is to fall asleep an hour later every night and wake later in the morning. That’s a cycle, which means my sleeping hours rotate, normally taking about a fortnight to realign. For a few of those days, I’m keeping the same hours as everybody else; for a different few, I’m a vampire. It comes and goes to an extent: I was like this continuously from GCSEs to the time I left university, and while I’ve slept normally through spring and summer over the last three years, it kicks in especially hard once the days get shorter. (The core of the problem, apparently, is that my brain doesn’t interpret daylight properly, so it doesn’t help when there’s less of it to begin with.)

At its most aggressive, non-24 is debilitating; in some places, you can claim disability if affected badly enough. If you’ve had jet lag, think about what having it all the time would be like. Missing out on hours of sleep you need and going to work exhausted; struggling not to collapse throughout the day; injuring yourself due to not being alert; feeling dizzy; living with a permanently upset stomach from eating at—for you—the wrong times. When your body clock works the way mine does, that’s what straitjacketing yourself into ordinary sleeping hours is like. (Because it’s unsustainable, it also doesn’t help. When I need to be awake in the day, I’ve learned to rotate my sleeping hours faster, so I’m at the right point in my cycle. Of course, that doesn’t work for long.) There’s a considerable subculture of people with non-24, which is known to be underdiagnosed; when people are told about it, they often realise they they know someone who exhibits signs. Lots of writers are sufferers—or rather, I suspect, lots of sufferers are writers—and references pop up now again in different texts. In one popular work of Harry Potter fan fiction, the hero travels back in time an hour every day to negate the effects. I can’t say I’m not envious.

At the moment, I’m sleeping from early morning to early afternoon. I’ve been missing midnight these last few posts because my brain is wrong about what time it is. (It’s currently approaching 1am, and this week that’s late afternoon.) It’s not the end of the world missing a deadline I imposed on myself, but I’d like to get back on track. Either tonight or sometime soon, I’ll be publishing two of these within the small hours—one for the day before, one for the day ahead. After that, I’ll be more on top of things.

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