Treating Sleep Deprivation Part 2- Light Therapy

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As I explained in Part 1 about caffeine in this blog series, living with the daily consequences of a sleep disorder is harsh. The sleep disorder causes chronic sleep deprivation as well as a host of cognitive and physical ailments. I also have a Circadian Rhythm Disorder, which makes things worse.

I use a variety of techniques to treat the daytime effects of sleep deprivation and reset my circadian rhythm. This blog discusses the ‘Light Therapy’, also known as ‘Phototherapy’ that I use every morning.

A circadian rhythm, also known as the body clock, runs on a 24-hour cycle, controlled by light and darkness. When this is out of sync, my physical and mental function is impacted. It can be treated with bright light, though, which helps my brain register that it is daytime.

I use a Litebook Elite for my light therapy. The lamps are also known as ‘light box’. I use it to expose my eyes to intense light for 30 minutes immediately after I wake up (45 minutes in the winter). Then again, 2 hours after I get up, for another 30 minutes.

candles-492171_1280The light from this box is 10,000 lux which is the equivalent of 10,000 burning candles, and it mimics outdoor light. The lamp sits to the side of me, at an angle so it isn’t shining
the light directly into my eyes, but it is still hitting the optic nerves.

The light therapy is predominantly to reset my body clock by activating the relevant hormones and chemical messengers that tell the brain it is time to wake up. The lamp also helps treat the daytime sleepiness resulting from the sleep deprivation by providing stimulation. It isn’t anywhere enough on its own, though, which is why I need to use several techniques at the same time to treat the sleep deprivation. (Which I will cover in separate blogs throughout this series.)

These bright light lamps are often called SAD lamps, as they are commonly used to treat SAD or the Winter Blues, but they are used to treat many other disorders too. If you are considering purchasing one of the lamps, I recommend you do some checking up first as not all lamps are the same quality or provide the same protection for your eyes. The SAD.org.uk has helped by compiling a list of recommended manufacturers whose products are supported by genuine medical research. The lamp I use has been discontinued now, but there are plenty on this list.

Light therapy comes with possible side effects and a warning for people suffering from bipolar disorder, as it can trigger a manic episode. I have been using the lamp for seven years, but I have never experienced any side effects. It is important to check with your doctor first if you have been considering using light therapy, though, particularly if you are taking medication. Some antibiotics, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and St Johns Wart can increase your sensitivity to light, resulting in eye damage. If you already have eye damage or an eye condition, the light therapy could make the problem worse. Always consult your doctor first!

Most people can use light therapy safely. The medical recommended light boxes have filters that remove harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, so there’s no risk of skin or eye damage by UV exposure, they also provide at least 10,000 lux which is the recommended strength.

I couldn’t get through the morning without light therapy; it does make a difference in resetting my body clock – one day at a time! I do feel confident in recommending light therapy for people who have a circadian rhythm disorder, or other relevant sleep disorders. I can’t stress strongly enough, though, to consult your doctor first. Feel free to ask if you have any questions.

Part 1 in this series of treating sleep deprivation

 

Featured Image Photo Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo

Master of Misery

Delving into the deep, dark dungeon, depression
creeps in, clinging tightly.
You are not alone; I am with you now
I will hold you tight and won’t let go.
I will squeeze the colour from your soul
and steal the love from your heart.
I am draining your mind of happy thoughts
and replacing them with my ruminating voice.
Can you hear my criticism?
Look into my eyes,
I need to take your sparkle.
Let me hug you tight so your muscles ache
and let me weigh you down.
I will hold you back from life.
I am depression; master of misery and creator of gloom.
I laugh in the face of happiness and light
and stamp all over love and joy.
I may leave you for a while,
but I will always come back.

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Treating Sleep Deprivation Part 1: Caffeine

Living with the daily consequences of a sleep disorder is harsh; the sleep disorder causes chronic sleep deprivation as well as a host of cognitive, and physical ailments. I have two choices; give up and die – which sometimes in my dark place, I find myself wanting to. Or, tackle it face on to give me a fighting chance. I can’t have a normal daily life; this the best I am going to get, so I just need to put up with it and find a way to keep going.

I have written two previous blogs explaining what the sleep disorders are that I live with and how I deal with the morning sleep inertia.

First thing after waking up, I kick my senses hard with stimulation using taste, sight, sound and smell, as explained in the sleep inertia blog. I am going to break down my treatment into a series of blogs to explain each treatment in more detail. Hopefully, these will be helpful to others suffering from similar problems.

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I am starting the series off with caffeine, as this may be the most attractive and readily available to everyone to try. Caffeine is a psychoactive drug that stimulates the nervous system, increasing wakefulness, alleviating fatigue, and improving concentration. The length of time it takes to work is variable from person to person and strength of caffeine intake. The average length of time may be around 45 minutes, so it isn’t a quick fix sadly. The lasting effect of one cup can be 4 – 6 hours, though.

canstockphoto13163370The lasting effect, can, however, be a pitfall, as it could interfere with sleep if the caffeine is consumed too late in the day. Take your average bedtime and count back at least 6 hours to work out when you can have your last cup. It is worth nothing, though, if you smoke, this reduces the lasting effect from around 6 to around 3 hours. It explains why I needed many more cups of coffee to make it through the day when I was still a smoker!

Different types of drinks have different strengths of caffeine and the best resource I can find to help you work out the strength of your preferred drink is on the Mayo Clinic Website Caffeine is a mild diuretic, so it is important to drink a glass of water during the period you are consuming your drink, as it can cause dehydration. Dehydration itself can cause fatigue and lethargy, thus counter-productive!

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I need to consume my first cup of coffee within minutes of waking to reap the benefit as soon as possible. I then drink another 3 cups of coffee over the first 3 hours of the morning. If only it took 45 seconds instead of 45 minutes to work!
Although the effect of these cups of coffee will last up to 9 hours of my day, I still can’t stay awake and need to add other sensory therapies to my morning treatment to combat the sleep deprivation symptoms. Even after all the caffeine and additional therapies, I still need a 30-minute nap after 3 hours have passed to make it through the first half of the day!

In part II, I will discuss light therapy (also known as phototherapy) that I do every morning. Light therapy is excellent, but it does pose potential problems for people with depression and bipolar disorder.

Some helpful information about caffeine is available on the MNT website here: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/285194.php

Sleep Disorder Part 2 – Light Therapy

Photo Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo

When Depression Starts to Lift

My previous blog ‘Depression Steals My Zest For Life‘ was about the feeling created by a depressive episode moving in and taking over my life. This blog features the feelings that happen when depression starts to lift and life flows back in again.

For me, depression is always an episode rather than a permanent state of being. The episode can last days, weeks or months, but it will lift eventually. That’s the way bipolar disorder works.

When the depression does start lifting, I feel a gentle tingling on the surface of my skin and a tickle in my belly. My once numb skin can feel the touch of clothing, the warmth of water and coolness of the air.

My eyes widen and my mouth starts to smile. The frozen, lifeless feeling starts to melt and life creeps back into every cell in my body. The ugly sisters of darkness and death are banished and my zest for life returns from her visit to Great Auntie Anne.

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One of the beautiful aspects of this recovery is being able to see properly again; to see a flower appearing out of the darkness and appreciate its depth of colour, pumps the zest through my arteries. I can see the beauty of nature living in my garden; the robins and squirrels, the swaying trees, flowering shrubs and the richness of the grass. I close my eyes and imagine the feel of the cool grass beneath my bare feet. I experience a sense of comfort, reassurance, and a sensation of wholeness.

Life has, at last, returned to the once empty shell that was weighed down by the lead suit. Nature, in all its glory, has restored my zest for life and is feeding my creative mind. Flowers; their delicate, vibrant petals and pleasing aroma, tickle my senses. I feel it in my belly. I can see, hear, smell and feel nature in my soul and it feels wonderful. I am alive.

Zest for LifeI am back to my usual cheerful, creative and curious self and I can continue living again. I know it won’t last, though. That is the way it is with bipolar disorder. I don’t know how or when, but I know there will be another depressive episode. Until then, may the zest live long and prosper!

Depression Steals My Zest For Life

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I describe depression in combination with darkness a lot and often liken this to living on the edge of death. It’s not because I always sit without the lights on or want to die. It’s because that’s how an episode of depression leaves me feeling inside.

It’s common for people to use the darkness metaphor when describing depression because it is a realistic way to represent the loss of feeling that depression causes. The loss of ability to feel the usual range of human emotions instantly sucks the zest for life out of my heart. These emotions such as joy, happiness, humour, sadness, frustration, or anger are replaced with a numb, nothingness. It is this sudden lack of feeling that lets me know an episode of depression is teetering on the brink. There are self-help techniques I use to try and ward off the looming episode, but all too often, these don’t work.

Before long, it’s like my insides are being hollowed out and replaced with a sticky, churning darkness and my vision has been inverted. This darkness is all that I can see; it’s just churning over and over, sucking the energy out of me. Life as I know it has gone for the duration of the episode. Feelings and emotions have packed their bags and gone to visit Great Auntie Anne, leaving the ugly sisters of darkness and death behind in their place.

canstockphoto8653196I sometimes obsess with death when I am in this type of episode. Not about taking my life, but about mourning the loss of my zest for life and my bubbling emotions that accompany it. It feels like I am sitting on the edge of death, no matter which direction I look. It is just a numb, dark, empty void that is already death, just without being dead.

Sometimes I feel I have to die to restore my life back to how it was before the depression took hold. Sometimes I just want to curl up and die to bring an end to the numbness. These are dangerous aspects of depression, and I need supervision to get me through these times. Thankfully, I have an excellent support system through NHS primary and secondary health care.

The depressive episode comes with fatigue; it’s like I am wearing a deep sea diver’s lead suit. The simplest of tasks are too difficult to do. Showering, washing dishes, doing laundry and at times eating a microwave meal is just beyond my capability. They say ‘take care of yourself’ but in reality, this is next to impossible. The shame of this does make me feel like I want to die. Thankfully, the lead suit prevents this, as to take my life would need more energy than I have to spare.diving-suit-405730_640

Moderate to deep depression is dangerous; it is a lonely place to be and at times more miserable than I can find words to describe. But the one thing about bipolar depression is that I will recover from it. I don’t know when or how, but I know will. Until the next episode …

The Blackbird

This is a poem I wrote as a young soldier 28 years ago while serving in the British Army. It’s not quite on the theme of mental health, but it represents the emotional impact that training had on me.

There it goes again: bang.
The blackbird killed.  In bloody war
there is no innocence, just death.

The wind is up.
Death grows. The heat is dancing
to the devil’s tune of screaming lungs

The dust settles, creeping, searching
moulding. Flesh is burning, melting
corroding. Pain is long forgotten.

Death is alive. Darkness
is the king. Time ticks on and on
to nothing, from nothing, going nowhere.

Photo of military cemetery

Our Relationship With Gadgets

As part of Mental Health Awareness week in the UK, I have blogged about the relationship we have with ourselves, with our partner and with our pets. Today I want to talk about the relationship we have with our Gadgets.

Gadgets can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, our gadgets, gear and social media can bring us much closer together and make the world a smaller place. Our family and friend relationships benefit from this, which can have a positive effect on our mental health.

On the other hand, we can become so obsessed with the gadgets in our hand, that we can forget our friends and family are in the same room as us! This oversight might not be good for the relationship we have with them.

When It’s good to tech-talk

There is no doubt, today’s technology is an incredible communication tool. Not only does it help us keep in closer contact with family and friends who are not in our local area, but it can also help us build upon these relationships through sharing stories, photos and messaging. I adore seeing pictures of my great-niece making achievements, from taking her first steps to starting school. I would have missed out on all of this if it were not for today’s technology and our gadgets.

Being stuck at home all the time, I would feel isolated and cut off from the larger world, if it were not for my gadgets. When my mental health is suffering, I get much solace from engaging with social media and messaging. Without it, I fear I would decline even further into a deeper depression. My iPad is my means of speaking during these times.

When it’s not good to tech-talk

I am amazed by the number of times I have been in a restaurant and seen people sitting round a table together having lunch, but all of them are busy looking at their gadgets. Nobody is actually talking to the people they are sitting with! Or, groups of young adults out together, but burried in their phones. I do wonder if fulfilling relationships can be maintained when such time is spent consuming technology, rather than chatting with each other. Who knows, maybe they are talking to each other on Facebook rather than in the room!

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When our gadgets can kill us

Our gadgets have become so embroiled into every aspect of our lives, to the point they could be risking our lives when we use them without thinking. Augsburg in Germany has recently introduced traffic light crossings with lights embedded in the pavement, to protect people who are so engrossed in their gadgets, they might walk into the road without looking.

It is tragic that so many thousands of deaths in traffic collisions around the world have happened while people have been using their gadgets at the same time they are driving a vehicle. Gadgets make it easy these days to glance quickly at a status update and this action risks causing a collision – this is definitely not a moment to be having a relationship with a gadget.

Do no harm

Gadgets – they bring us closer together, facilitate joy and laughter, fill our heads with data, and make the world a smaller place. But, the way we use them can not only harm our human relationships – they also can harm us. Perhaps we can get more from the relationship with our gadgets by doing more of what is good which will boost our mental health, and resist doing the harmful things that can damage not just our mental health, but our human existence!

 

Photo Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo