Posted tagged ‘Napping’

Finding your best sleep pattern and napping

January 26, 2010

It’s useful to know that a sleep cycle is 90 minutes long, and it’s best to be sleeping in multiples of 90 minutes, as this means that you will be waking up at the right point in your sleep cycle, rather than feeling horribly groggy because you were woken out of deep sleep and going straight back to sleep. Some people do best on a siesta pattern, which is commonly practised in hotter countries.  I fall into this pattern occasionally myself, but I find it too difficult to keep up.  I’ve spent enough years telling people not to call me in the mornings as I may not be awake, I know how disruptive it is to sleep during the working day.  In addition, I want to be going to bed and getting up at the same time as my partner, and I find it easier to control my sleep if I’m having my night’s sleep all in one go.  Sleeping in the day is more likely to cause my sleep cycle to end up askew, for instance getting stuck at falling asleep at 4 am.  It may work for you, though.  Try 1.5 or 3 hours for a siesta.

The 90 minute cycle also affects when you will feel sleepy in the evening.  The Myhill article above talks about “sleep gates”, which usually occur at intervals of 3 hours, and while she advocates an incredibly early bedtime, it’s still useful information no matter what time you go to bed.  I often get sleepy around 9 pm or 6pm, and it’s useful to know that I should make a special effort to keep awake and it will pass.  It’s also made me aware that missing my usual bedtime is really not a good idea, as I then may end up lying awake for hours.

I do nap occasionally when I really need it.  The sleep specialist advised me not to nap for more than one hour, as after that you get into deep sleep and it will disrupt your night’s sleep.  This advice was excellent.  I don’t fall asleep immediately, so I set a timer for one hour and ten minutes.  I also make sure that I nap with the curtains open and the light coming into the room.  No one suggested this, but I reckon it will help my circadian clock realise that this is not nighttime, and I do find napping easier now that I’m following these two rules.  If for some reason my sleep has been totally messed up and I need to catch up on several hours, I may draw the curtains, but thankfully this is rare.

Over the years, I’d heard a number of suggestions about how I could try to change my sleep patterns.  Some have been from books or doctors, some have been from well-meaning friends who knew nothing about sleep disorders.  None of them worked, and most of them sent my sleep pattern completely haywire.  Here are the techniques I don’t recommend for ME or circadian rhythm disorders.  If you have DSPS or Non-24 Sleep-Wake Cycle, you’ll most likely have tried some of them already.

Don’t bother with:

  • Going to bed earlier (unless it’s for a short period where sleeping tablets are used, probably in conjunction with light therapy).
  • Forcing yourself to get up earlier.
  • Staying up all night in the hope that you’ll fall asleep at a more reasonable hour the next night.
  • Going to bed three hours later every night until a suitable bedtime is reached (called chronotherapy).

No doubt these may work for some people who are experiencing a mild one-off problem with sleep, but for entrenched circadian rhythm disorders they are not only pointless, in my experience, but can exacerbate the original problem while causing very unpleasant sleep deprivation.  You are of course welcome to try going to bed or getting up earlier to see if it works, but I don’t think there’s a single person out there with DSPS who hasn’t tried this over and over again.  If that was all we needed to do to cure DSPS, the sleep disorder wouldn’t exist!

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