Sunday, November 27, 2011

Circadian Rhythm Disorder: Delayed Sleep-Phase Syndrome

It's been a long time since I've discussed my sleep disorder in detail. This is partly due to the fact that I do not wish to complain, and by writing this I do not meaning to go back on that desire. I am writing this because many people are unaware of just how complex our sleep cycles are and the existence of disorders pertaining to these complexities. At one point or another, I'm sure everyone reading this has had sleeping trouble. Maybe you're the type who can't sleep when you have too much on your mind. Maybe you have certain rituals you have to perform before going to bed such as taking a shower, putting on pajamas, and then tucking yourself into bed. When you don't get perform those sleeping rituals, you may find yourself having difficulty getting to sleep. In addition to the problem of staying asleep, there are a number of sleep disorders which encompass the problem of not being able to stay asleep. There are also disorders which are not directly inhibiting your sleep, but are symptomatic of sleep issues. Sometimes, issues with sleep point doctors to other issues like Sleep Apnea.

What is colloquially known as an internal clock is a series of chemical processes which the brain and body use to regulate when we wake up and when we go to sleep. These processes are called the circadian rhythm. My sleep disorder is directly effected by my unusual circadian rhythm. When I do not manage it, or when something throws off my regimen which I use to keep my disorder in check, my internal clock basically inverses the AM and PM. What is 22:00 for the rest of the Midwest feels like 10:00 in the morning. That is where the specification "Delayed Sleep-Phase Syndrome" comes in. There are numerous kinds of circadian rhythm disorders, but mine pertains to my phases of sleep and wake-time. Interestingly enough, one of the symptoms of a person with my specific type of disorder is that the required numbers of hours for sleep is greater than average for my age bracket. If a normal person of 21 years of age needs eight hours of sleep, a person of my age with my sleep disorder is going to need somewhere between 10-12 hours of sleep.

Treatment for such a disorder is a combination of herbal pills containing doses of natural chemicals like Melatonin, Retina UV light exposure, and a highly ritualized sleep regimen. Patients diagnosed with sleep disorders such as mine are advised not to watch television, smoke, drink alcohol or caffeine products, or engage in cerebral-intensive activities within a certain period before attempting to go to sleep. In the morning, the first 20-30 minutes of the day are spent exposing the eyes to UV light through a light box (known by patients treated for depression as a "happy box"). Medical science suggests that this particular disorder is not really a "disorder" at all, but rather a very calculated evolution of the human species to accommodate for the small percentage of people who were in charge of nightly fire watches. In today's society where life doesn't just end at 21:30 and resume again at 08:00, there is always a need people who are physically capable of handling working the odd night hours. Make no mistake, I'm not talking about your 24-hour convenience store clerk; I'm talking about police, doctors, medics, pilots, fire fighters, and then some.

For me, this has been great struggle. In my final year of junior high I nearly failed in part due to my inability to sleep properly. I had to see a specialist that was able to identify the symptoms and derive a diagnoses. Throughout my high school career it was always an uphill. Between trying to excel in my studies, I also wanted to have something of a social life, but in the end I would stay up late one night and that would break with my sleep regimen. I would then spend the week trying to balance school, my extracurricular activities, and regulating my sleep schedule. Frankly, I have always taken offense to people calling my condition a disorder to begin with. I only use it in this blog to help you wrap your head around how the medical world talks about it. Regardless of whether you believe in God, evolution, or a synthesis of both; I believe that I am the way I am and that they're is nothing wrong with me. I never wanted to be "treated", there's nothing to treat! I may not be a superhero, but I do have a special ability which makes it possible to do things which can cause other people serious health complications. I've digressed, my point in saying that was to say that I never really gave the whole "adjusting and adapting to normal people sleep schedules" a lot of effort. Sure, when it was in my best interest to do so, I'd make a fair effort, but I never really wanted it to stick. My condition is not a disorder.

Now I'm in college and the institution seems to encourage nearly every unhealthy choice in the book (except for unprotected sex, we get free condoms just by asking or knowing which book is really a secret storage unit). College is strangely very forgiving to someone of my disposition. The trouble is finding the perfect schedule that allows me to get enough rest when my body and brain is ready to rest. I am fortunate to have found a very accommodating job that allows me to pick my hours. The difficulty comes down to my class times. It's very hard for me to get just the right classes. This semester I have class at 11:30, 13:45, and 15:15. My 11:30 class seemed like it would be late enough in the day since last semester my 10:30 class was just killing me... On the contrary, I often struggle to be awake in time to go to class and on days when I don't have my 11:30 class I often sleep right through lunch and make it to the 13:45 class with just seconds to spare. This is really unfortunate because my 11:30 class is Natural Sciences 1, and I love science. I think it's really sad how, for whatever reason, throughout my entire educational career my science classes have been at the worst time for me. In the end though, I know that I must make sacrifices if I want to get the most out of my education.

Perhaps in the near future I'll write a follow-up entry about the misguided perception that my condition is a disorder and how everything our culture holds true is in my favor.

Hoc est verum,

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