I have two sleep disorders that originate in the hypothalamus within my brain. Both disorders cause me to be chronically sleep-deprived on a daily basis. I can’t have one disorder – no, my bonkers brain is greedy and must have two sleep disorders!
Firstly, I have a circadian rhythm disorder, also known as ‘Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome.’ Our body clock resets every day and adjusts to shifting daylight hours; this is called our circadian rhythm. Mine resets broken, stuck in the same pattern each day. The hormones and chemicals that tell the brain it is time to wake up can happen as late as 10 pm in the evening, just when it should be time for sleep. Then, the sleep hormones signal to the brain that it is time for sleep as late as 6 or 7 am in the morning, just as it is time to get up and start the day. It sounds perfect for a night-shift sleep pattern, but unfortunately, I have been informed by the neurophysiologist that doing this will exacerbate the problem and threaten my health even more.
It is common for people with bipolar disorder to also have a circadian rhythm disorder. For me, both disorders appear to have developed around the same time. In some people, the circadian rhythm disorder is a temporary problem that arises and often happens during late teens. It can disappear as quick as it starts. For others, there is no cure, but it can be treated through strict management using a treatment plan created by a sleep specialist.
Secondly, I am deprived of sleep phases when I am asleep. I miss out on Stage 3 and 4 sleep architecture. I get a fraction of the deep sleep that is needed and sometimes none at all. I spend much of the sleep period drifting in and out of stage 1, the lightest of the sleep phases, which is pretty much just napping with lots of wakeups. As a result, I have much less sleep time than I should get as well as missing out on the deep sleep which is often referred to as ‘quality sleep.’
For the brain to do its job cleaning out toxins and waste products, we need around one and a half to two hours of deep sleep. My brain doesn’t get long enough for this cleaning process and it has a significant detrimental effect on my cognitive function the next day. It is similar to the ‘foggy brain’ effect of jet lag affecting my speech, memory and thinking process. There is not much documented about the stage 3 and 4 sleep deprivation and my neurophysiologist couldn’t offer any type of treatment at all.
The two disorders leave me battling through the day to try and stay awake. The sleep deprivation causes tremendous fatigue. Some days I am better than others and many days I don’t properly wake up until the evening. I need a morning nap and an afternoon nap just to get through the day. And, that’s without taking the bipolar symptoms into consideration!
So, at least I know my enemy; I know exactly what is wrong, and what I am dealing with. Sometimes the sleep deprivation is so severe, I struggle mentally and lose the will to fight my way through the day.
I was thinking to myself; all you lovely people out there with children – your children are our future – they are our neuroscientists and brain surgeons of the future. It is them and the people of their generation that will be discovering radical new ways of treating disorders of the brain. That gives me hope and I wish them well on their journey through education and into the science labs. Until then, being a ‘sleepy Laa Laa’ every day is as good as it gets!
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