Ahh Sleep, Perchance to Dream

“…Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go. Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.” —Writing 101, Day Nineteen: Don’t Stop the Rockin’

“The body craves order,” said Dr. Morpheus.

I was at the Stanford Sleep Center seeking help with my sleep disorder. I knew that it was coming before I retired in April. Conversations with retired rotating shift workers gave me a head’s up to what challenges lay ahead. The problem was that no one had a plan, or a solution, to cope with the phenomenon.

Now there’s your problem

15 years of changing work schedules on a weekly basis greatly skewed my internal body clock. Circadian Rhythms? They might as well be Cicada Rhythms as my waking hours encompassed all 24 hours of the day during the month.

My schedule looked something like this:

  • Swing shift 3pm to 11pm—start on Tuesday, end on Monday.
  • Day shift—7am to 3pm—start on Thursday, end on Tuesday.
  • Graveyard shift—11pm to 7am—start on Thursday, end on Thursday.
  • Repeat.

If there was a saving grace it was that every twelve weeks—when we had completed 3 cycles of the above shift rotation—we got three weeks of straight Monday to Friday, 7am to 3pm, Day shift. It was a chance to get semi-rested, take time off and just blend in with the permanent Day-Trippers (the fortunate ones who worked M-F Day shift every week).

Now what?

Over the years my body built up a tolerance, perhaps a certain antipathy, to this schedule. I am certain that my body has an inertia to its course these days because it seems to be shadowing my awake/sleep cycle that would be in effect if I was still working.

As I write this post, I would have finished my first night of Graveyard shift this morning. I got to bed late last night, almost midnight, and I had to force myself to do it even then. Normally I would have been starting my work day.

Normally—now there’s a relative term. If you are in a group of people and find yourself trying to spot the normal ones, there is an above average chance that you are not among them. At least that has  been my experience…

This tendency of my body to continue to mimic my old rotating schedule is something that I have learned not to fight. Earlier this month I tried something new and asked for help. Yeah, wow, what a concept.

Seek Competent Medical Advice

Enter Dr Morpheus, my new hero. I explained my problem to her and sketched out how I was dealing with it by establishing a consistent bedtime, which ranged from 10pm to 11pm and, like last night, occasionally close to midnight.

Dr. M has an easy smile and a twinkle in her eye and when she talks I listen. She gently explained that I was doing the right thing, establishing a consistent pattern, but I was looking at the wrong end of the sleep cycle.

“The body craves order,” said Dr. Morpheus, “and now that you are retired the best way to get it is to begin your day at the same time every day. Pick a time to get up every day, weekends included, and your body will tell you when it is time to go to bed. You will get the amount of rest that you require and it will be easier on your body.”

Damn, She’s Good

I have followed Dr. Morpheus’ advice for just over 3 weeks and I am already seeing good results. I have progressed from sleeping ± 5 hours per night to an average of 7 to 8 hours per night. Friends have been commenting on how rested I look lately, and I actually agree with them.

Thursdays are still a problem for me—I still wake up before my established time and it is still a problem getting to sleep that night. I think that it has to do with my old pattern of starting Day shift and starting/ending Graveyard shift on a Thursday.

I am a “morning person” and to that end I have incorporated some advice from a trusted friend, “Make use of the time, write in your blog, exercise…”

Guess what part of her advice I listened to first?


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