Because life is a series of edits


In Family, Health, Places & Spaces, Science, Seminary, Young Ones on April 17, 2010 at 6:55 am

In the past week, I've coached five baseball games, the last of which counts almost for two as it went 12 innings (high school games are seven innings). The good news: we won every game (even the 12-inning one); the other news: by the end of the week (or really by Wednesday) I was completely exhausted.

When I got home Friday night after school, a seminary class, and a reunion dinner with my family to reintroduce myself as husband/father, I was so tired that I was in bed and asleep by 7:30…that is, until Megan came to bed at 11:30, which is when I woke up and couldn't go back to bed. I knew I was still wiped out, but I could not for the life of me fall back asleep. And now it's early morning. Nuts.

I remember taking a psychology class my sophomore year in college and reading about sleep deprivation experiments done on mice. Somehow, before taking that class, I had honestly believed that one's need for sleep was simply mind over matter; we didn't really need to sleep, but it was a good idea to do so anyway. I'm not kidding: I honestly thought this (in the words of Bugs Bunny, "What a maroon.")

Then I read about experiments in which researchers filled an aquarium with four inches of water and placed a long triangle-shaped column the length of the aquarium floor. The edge of the triangle jutted up out of the water by an inch or so, and the mice would perch themselves on the edge so as not to fall in and get wet. However, when the mice fell asleep, their grip on the edge relaxed, they fell off, woke up, and scrambled back onto the edge, newly awakened but increasingly sleep-deprived. This went on for days and weeks until they finally died from sheer exhaustion.

Maybe it's my farm background, but I've never been a real night owl; even in college, I was usually in bed by 9:30 and up before everyone else in the dorm. This all changed 8-10 years ago in Colorado, as I started getting up in the middle of the night multiple times – sometimes because of crying kids, but often because I just kept waking up and couldn't go back to sleep. I began to notice that I didn't dream anymore, and I needed naps more than I used to because I was just so tired all the time. I also snored, which along with my constant getting in and out of bed,
kept Megan up at night.

This sleep pattern continued when we moved to St. Louis five years ago, but it didn't make sense because we were through the crying-kids-at-night stage, yet I was still waking (and getting) up. Studying in seminary became especially difficult as I couldn't read anything even early in the evening without falling asleep 20 minutes later. Then, when I started teaching full-time in addition to everything else, I would come home from school and have to lay down for a good hour, as I was so wiped out from the day.

At Megan's request, I finally did a sleep study at St. Luke's Sleep Medicine and Research Center and found out that I woke myself up approximately 100 times a night due to sleep apnea. Apparently, I have very narrow nasal passages that hinder my breathing and keep my brain from dropping into REM sleep because it's too busy making sure I don't stop breathing altogether by causing me to gasp for more air. Yet because I had been kind of asleep, I never really noticed (though Megan did, especially the gasping part).

For the past couple of years now, I have been sleeping with a mask that's connected to a ventilator of sorts and pushes air through my nasal passages to keep them from collapsing during the night. The mask took some getting used to (I'm a tummy sleeper, so I've had to learn to sleep more on my side), but the change has been remarkable: I sleep harder, I rarely wake up enough to get up in the middle of the night, and best of all, the dreams are back and that really makes me happy (I have cool dreams).

Except last night, when there were no dreams because there was no sleep. I was afraid this might happen going to bed so early, but I had little choice – my body just wouldn't stay up any longer. So, I'm a little tired this morning, but as this is my last clear Saturday to work on my seminary capstone project, I need to resist the urge to try to go back to bed. Thankfully, I have four alarm clocks with legs who will do the trick when they get up pretty soon, but for now, I'm glad a night like last night is the exception and not the rule anymore.

(Note: I'm not paid to endorse sleep studies, but if you're constantly tired, give some thought to whether it could be because of poor sleep. As was true in my case, you may not know what you don't know.)

  1. Check out this link from the New York Times: The Stay-Awake Men. Interesting.

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