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The human mind is endlessly fascinating and I never tire of learning about its various quirks and mazes. I just wish I didn’t have to live in one all the time.

Geologists don’t have to live in caves, and ichthyologists don’t have to publish their papers from within the bellies of giant sharks. All I want is the same kind of distance they and people in so many other scientific fields enjoy.

My latest interesting observation is that my brain has arbitrarily decided to separate all attempts to fall asleep into “sleep mode” and “nap mode”.

Any attempt to fall asleep after 1 AM is “sleep mode”. In sleep mode I want to sleep for about 8 or 9 hours, and when I wake up I’m still pretty groggy and could easily sleep for 2 or 3 more if I let myself.

Any attempt to fall asleep before 1 AM is “nap mode”. In nap mode I want to sleep for about 3 or 4 hours, and when I wake up I feel incredibly refreshed and alert (I also feel a weird but pleasant tightness in my abdomen, which I relate not because I expect anyone to understand it but just in case someone else has had the same experience).

This has somewhat interfered with my attempts to be virtuous. I think “I will stop going to bed so late, and introduce myself to a normal bed-time so I can get stuff done bright and early in the morning. And so I go to sleep at 11 PM. And then I wake up at 3 AM more alert and refreshed than I’ve been in weeks. And then by noon my body is like “Hey, so, I just noticed you only got four hours of sleep last night, I think I’m going to crash and be miserable for the rest of the day.” And then I have to stay up until after 1 AM, or else the cycle repeats itself and I get my sleep schedule completely screwed up.

This seems completely incompatible with working a job that has normal hours, let alone a job that starts unusually early. I survived medical school because my body was grudgingly willing to adjust downward to about 11:30 PM for its “sleep mode start time” after weeks of misery, but that’s still not optimal.

Melatonin seems to shift me further into nap mode, which is the opposite of what I hoped it would do. I know all about f.lux and “sleep hygiene” and progressive muscle relaxation and things along those lines, and to the degree that they work they promote sleep for me but don’t favor one mode over the other. I’ve tried just lying in bed after waking up from “nap mode” and after three hours just lying there I usually think “Okay, this is dumb” and count that as a failed experiment.

Has anyone else has a similar experience? If so, has anyone else been able to solve it?

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17 Responses to Sleep

  1. Joe says:

    You should try more manual labor. Try to find a physical activity that exhausts your body not just your mind. I think it will help with your pursuit of virtue if it is something constructive rather then just exercise at a gym.

  2. jimrandomh says:

    I have no idea what’s going on there, so I suggest acquiring more data with a Zeo, which is an alarm clock combined with an EEG headband that distinguishes types of sleep.

    • Army1987 says:

      BTW, there are apps for smartphones with accelerometers that can guess what sleep phase you’re in by how much you move in your bed, and as far as I can tell they’re kind-of reasonably accurate (so long as you aren’t on a memory foam mattress), and way cheaper than a Zeo. (OTOH I’ve never used a Zeo myself.)

  3. Douglas Knight says:

    It sounds like you are using melatonin before bed. Have you tried melatonin in the middle of the night to get back to sleep?

    Have you ever managed to establish a regime of two naps? Have you tried? It sounds like you might easily establish a regime of 12-4, both AM and PM, which is not compatible with many jobs, but you might be able to move around the naps if you’re not fighting them.

    Historically, people often woke for an hour in the middle of the night. Have you tried getting back to sleep, but only after an hour of not trying to sleep? It seems natural to me to try this, but you put everything in terms of such stark choices, seeming to exclude this kind of middle ground, though I suspect that is an affectation.

    • Nestor says:

      Yeah biphasic sleep seems like a good idea. Try having a siesta! 10 minute naps seem to help me when I’m sleep deprived.

  4. suntzuanime says:

    Does “get a job that starts unusually late” count as “solving” this problem?

  5. trippdup says:

    Using a sleep monitoring app on my smartphone really a lot with morning grogginess, much more so than the absolute amount of sleep I got. Waking up in the right phase is crucial for me.

  6. ari says:

    You mean that if you sleep three hours one night, and then go to sleep at (let’s say) 9 PM the next, you wake up after three or four hours again?

  7. VNKKET says:

    Is this pattern stable after trying to keep to a regular (and ideally diurnal) schedule for many days and avoiding daytime naps? That’s what the sleep doctors suggested after I complained about daytime sleepiness and insomnia.

  8. ShardPhoenix says:

    If you set your alarm for the same time in the morning every day you will get used to it soon enough and start feeling sleepy earlier. Then it’s just a matter of actually going to sleep when you feel the impulse instead of stifling it to read “just one more blog post…”. That’s what I found anyway. Exercise will probably also help.

  9. Army1987 says:

    I think a comment of mine got blocked by the spam filter or something, probably as a result of including an external link and/or of mentioning alcohol. (I know I didn’t just forget to submit it, because when I tried again to post it I got a “duplicate comment” warning.)

  10. Fnord says:

    Do you still need 8 hours of “sleep mode” sleep if you get decent “nap mode” sleep, too? If you take a 2-3 hour siesta in the evening and sleep 6 hours from 1 am, that could be compatible with a normal schedule. If it works for you.

  11. MugaSofer says:

    I had this EXACT PROBLEM. It mysteriously cleared up recently, when I started taking resperidol, an atypical anti psychotic, for (presumably) unrelated issues. One of the potential side-effects was sleepiness, which I got, but it also more-or-less regularized my sleep pattern. Still not sure if it’s worth the general tiredness, although it probably is, and I have no idea whether sleeping pills would have the same effect or taking respiridol would have this effect on anyone else. Hell, it could be psychosomatic or even coincidence. Still …

    • MugaSofer says:

      Clarification: it seems to have moved the “sleep mode” time back to nine/ten. I still get “nap mode” on the rare occasions I sleep earlier.

  12. thuddmonkey says:

    This describes me exactly. I haven’t found a solution, but then I haven’t really tried very hard. I like how the world is in the middle of the night, and the things I do then, and don’t actually want to trade for more time awake (or more alertness) during the day. I have found that my inability to sleep earlier and longer is worst when I am particularly interested in something I’m doing with my free time; I suspect the desire to do those interesting things instead of sleep (and then wake up and do things I like less) drives much of the behavior.

  13. Andrew Crawshaw says:

    Hey, an interesting article. I have similar problems with sleeping. I have heard a few tips about getting your sleep in order, there is something about how food helps in maintaining a good sleeping pattern, something to do with cycles of digestion. I increasingly find that if I fall asleep for a short time during the night that I will not be able to sleep at all, even if it is say for 10 mins – very frustrating. there is this website:
    it is quite detailed but it has some interesting information.

  14. Andrew Crawshaw says:

    Ignore the above link, which is just a rundown of how to use the guys software to track sleep. the information is on this page;