Insomn-iscent: The What’s and Why’s of Insomnia

I’m having an affair.

It’s been going on for quite some time.  You see, 4am and I, we’re inseparable.  And you’re saying: “How could you? Don’t you love your sleep?”  Well, certainly.  Because even after all the mistreatment, I go back to sleep eventually.  And just like the manipulative ex it is, it’s always waiting for me.  It knows I can’t live without it, the sly bastard.

But in the cherished time I spend with my beloved insomnia, I always have a few options to consider.  I could:

  1. Sulk, complain, and dramatize it by pretending that no one understands my “suffering”, thus romanticizing and trivializing a rather serious medical condition, or
  2. I could attempt numerous, prescribed relaxation techniques with varying degrees of success, or
  3. I could actually use this time somewhat productively.*  Go figure.

This would perhaps be an opportune time to point out that I am currently writing this at 02:23, in pitch-darkness, using the app on my phone.  The screen settings are set to “Invert Colours” for the sake of my exhausted retinas, and the way things are going tonight, it seems my brain will be content to while away the hours in this fashion until the sun violates me by shoving it’s irritatingly cheerful face in my window.  I will hiss menacingly at its arrival.  Nevertheless, I am being productive in my own way.  Because what better time to get any kind of work done than in the wee hours of the morn?

No, really.  Here’s a list of people who felt the same way:

  1. Sir Isaac Newton
  2. Robert Burns
  3. Winston Churchill
  4. Napoleon 
  5. Albert Einstein
  6. Charles Dickens
  7. Mark Twain
  8. Vincent van Gogh
  9. Margaret Thatcher
  10. Marilyn Monroe

(Granted, Einstein didn’t really believe in eating either, as he felt it was a waste of his time.)  Aside from that, however, these people shared a few key personality traits; high levels of creativity, divergent thinking, ambition, and motivation are among them.  Moreover, the observance of anecdotal evidence of this kind has spurred further research into sleep.  According to UCLA’s Sleep Disorder Center, humans spend about a third of their lives sleeping, and yet very little is known about why we do it, or what occurs in our brains while we do.  Brain-mapping has aided researchers in determining which parts of the brain are active during sleep, but the question remains: why are our brains so active during a period of “rest”, and why do insomniacs seem to need less of it to adequately function?  Psychologists have devoted a staggering amount of time to studying work and play, the two other main activities in our lives, while exponentially less effort has been invested in learning about sleep and sleep disorders.  I would have engaged in studying the phenomena myself if I didn’t find the idea of practicing science as abhorrent as Stalin found democracy.  Seriously, I’ll read about it until I burn lettered imprints into my sockets, but I wouldn’t don a lab-coat for all the vintage wine in Western Europe.

But I have digressed.

Apparently, there is substantial evidence to show a relationship between creativity and insomnia.  After a few Google searches, and the perusal of a number of academic sources from my well-stocked campus library (which I shan’t cite here because I am not pulling direct facts from them), I have come to the conclusion that while the effect is certainly not causal, there is a direct correlation between levels of creativity and insomnia.  It could be that creative people are natural insomniacs; conversely, it could also be that insomnia induces an elevated state of creativity.  Either way, the sleep-deprived appear to involve themselves a little more in the ways of messy thinking.  Sleep is proven to be a time when neural pathways are created and strengthened; but I would argue that I’ve made more tangible neural connections as a result of staying up for hours at a time and thinking constructively.  At a certain point, sleep deprivation takes you to another, rather elevated place in your brain, and once you get used to that alternate way of thinking, it almost becomes a comfortable and meditative place to return to.

Unfortunately, though I’d like to say I always opt for door number three and “get stuff done”, as it were, I tend to rotate through my above-listed options.  This is mostly because I’m lazy, and often far too weary to commit to doing something at 3am.  A common misconception surrounding insomnia is that those who have it are never tired.  This is entirely false.  Insomniacs are just accustomed to being perpetually exhausted, and lack the ability to “shut down” and sleep.  And depending on the individual, this can be caused by anxiety, restlessness, or creative impulse.  Now, I should also mention that there are consequences to extended sleep deprivation that can be somewhat disastrous.  Heart-related conditions and maladies, memory loss, decline in cognitive ability, weight gain, depreciation of muscle mass, and constant depressive states are but a few of the most noticeable effects of chronic insomnia.  But please. If you are not an insomniac and you take nothing else away from this post, take this: we know that not getting enough sleep is bad for us.  Don’t be the generation Y, self-loving, supplement addicted, rooibos-matcha-infused-tea drinking, yoga-doing, yuppie that tells the chronic insomniac to try his latest blend of herbs and spices that he “swears will knock you right out, man”.  I’m not a chicken breast, I don’t need your herbs and spices.  We’ve tried the melatonin, and the meditation, and just about everything that you could never think of, because you probably haven’t done much research on the subject.  So unless you’d like an ill-aimed punch to the jaw (lack of sleep = decreased motor ability + diminished hand-eye coordination), please never tell an insomniac that they “just need to sleep more.”  We know.

And now, feeling replete with creative satisfaction, I must end my nightly affair and return, stumbling and belligerent, to sleep.  But I will leave you with my favourite quote concerning this eve’s subject of honour:

“He would lie in the bed and finally, with daylight, he would go to sleep. After all, he said to himself, it is probably only insomnia. Many must have it.” – Ernest Hemingway, A Clean Well Lighted Place

I am, insufferably,

 

WildeAboutWords

*It would be prudent of me to note that the term “productive” is used very liberally here, considering I do procrastination better than George RR Martin.


 

I have included a few of the sources I pulled from for this article, should you wish to do further reading on the subject of sleep and sleep disruption.

http://www.journalsleep.org/Articles/110604.pdf

http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/8557549

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1087079201902035

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11910-009-0078-6

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11065-011-9156-z

Book: The Neural Control of Sleep and Waking by Jerome H. Siegel

The Importance of Not Being Earnest

Don’t tell me you’re in love.  I’m not impressed by it.  If anything, I feel a little worried for you, and depending on how well I know you, I’m slightly worried for myself.  Because at some point, I’m either going to receive a wedding invitation, or a leading text that turns into a night of strong alcohol, a loaded-up charcuterie board,* and a repetitive chorus of choked sobs — but let’s be honest, I’ll probably get both within a two-year period.

Now, this is probably my own fault, as my general demeanour somehow seems to beguile my acquaintances, and often the general public, into thinking that I am an apt and willing recipient for their bullshit.  The reality is that I am probably the least useful person to profess your strifes to, because in my head, you’re being illogical.  Or perhaps the better way of stating it is that I think you were illogical, past tense being the focus here.

The way I see it, you fell for it.  Not for love, no; you can’t fall for that because it isn’t a trap.  Love is [insert archaic/poetic excerpt here], and I don’t think you silly or superficial for having it.  However, what you’ve fallen for, and what I will openly lambaste you on, is an inability to separate this love from literally any important portion of your life.  For clarity, here’s an analogy:

After hacking through dense thorns and brambles, dodging fire swamps and ROUS, you find a person you’d like to annoy for quite a long period of time in the future.  Then, as the momentary feelings of euphoria pass, the other person eventually mentions that they’d like to escape this underbrush, and wouldn’t mind doing it without you.  And this is where you realize that you’ve been clinging to them so voraciously that you physically couldn’t hold on to the tools that brought you here in the first place.  Now, not only will the other person continue on their journey with their own tools, but they will leave you standing amidst dead leaves, cobwebs, and oddly alluring, neon-bright fungi that seem far too tempting to be safe to eat.  And you have no tools.  You lost them, you see.  Forgot about them.  Let them dissolve and disintegrate unceremoniously into the forest floor at your feet.  So what now?  You have two choices.  You can wait for someone else to come along while you wither in this dead place; or you can get creative and forge a new set of tools.  But be warned: this option takes an excessive amount of both time and effort.  The point is, had you never dropped your tools in the first place, you wouldn’t be trapped in the doom-and-gloom woods for nearly as long as you will be now.

Alright, so that probably provided little-to-no clarity.  Let me try again.  One sentence this time:

Love is neat and everything, but it isn’t everything.

Outside of this other person, keep your life.  Your hobbies, your passions, your friends, and perhaps most importantly, your values.  If you discard these in favour of filling yourself almost entirely with another person, you will invariably feel an emptiness.  If they suddenly feel unfulfilled with themselves, the chain reaction dictates that you will feel this just as intensely as they do, placing you in a relatively useless position where being of help is concerned.  And if they suddenly leave, whether by choice or fate, the expanse that they occupied in your existence will now be characterized by a gaping void that you will have to laboriously re-establish using existing, scarce materials.  It’s like trying to rebuild a burnt house using leftover wood that was salvaged from the rubble.

The alternative is to be a catalyst in your relationship.  Speed up the reactions, excite the chemicals; but avoid being entirely used up in the process.  Do not be so earnest in your advances that you forgo pieces of your world in exchange for someone else’s.  They won’t satisfy you, and when you’re willingly abandoning the instruments that compose you, the person that loves you back may not even have the ability to bind you together.  Do not accidentally rip yourself into fragments, only to notice when the reason you’ve done so has left, and then subsequently blame him or her for making you feel this lost.  Be fair to each other.  Be respectful of yourself.

Learn to be alone.  It really is quite lovely.  It’s a chance to expound upon the inner workings of your soul.  Tinker with your thoughts, examine your opinions, engage in a little introspection.  You might really like what you find, and realize its worth hanging on to.  It will inevitably give you further insights about the person you love, and help you appreciate what you offer to each other instead of focusing on how you rely on one another.  Reliance is a dangerous word, so I’ll say it again: learn to be alone.

So, you’ve fallen in love.  Remind me to pat the person on the back who has managed not to repulse you in some way.  But for the love of [insert applicable deity of worship here], please keep your head on straight after the part where you feel like rainbow, marshmallow fluff has subsided.

And with all that said, do be earnest sometimes; it can be quite endearing.

Jack: “Gwendolen, wait here for me.”
Gwendolen: “If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.”

I am,

Insufferably,

WildeAboutWords

*Ice-cream is cold, and melty, and sugary to the point of tooth-ache.  It is the anti-Christ of true comfort food, and so in this case, I present my savoury, comfort alternative that is simple to prepare for all you non-cooks out there.

Why Post-Secondary is a Futile Venture – and Why You’ll Do It Anyways (Part 1)

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not the angst-ridden kid that sat at the back of the room during middle school, or high-school, or what have you.  We all know that guy, the one who boasted about how many shots of vodka he could take in five minutes, grunted a lot, and would enthusiastically oblige to show you exactly where that sixth piercing was located if you were naive enough to ask.*  Thankfully, none of those people that I knew would ever willingly browse WordPress, so my lunch money is safe for now.  But the constantly peeved kids are another topic entirely.  There were also the people that simply never showed up to class, handed assignments in late, and were just generally irresponsible concerning the last few years of their education.  I’ll let you in on a little secret though:

I was that girl.

Let’s begin with a little story.  In my graduating year, my final transcript showed that out of 191 school days, I was marked absent for 98 of them: just slightly over half.  My only regret now reflecting upon this number is that I didn’t at least make it an even 100.

I know what you’re thinking, because its what all my frustrated teachers attempted to iterate to me time, and time again:

“You simply won’t do well if you don’t attend class; you cannot expect to learn the material without instruction.” – every teacher, ever.

This was possibly the best thing they could have said to me, (for me).  You see, while their constant badgering and blithering phone calls never inspired me to attend, I viewed the wording of this statement as a challenge.  How few classes could I attend throughout high-school, and still manage a grade point average high enough to get me in to post-secondary?  I was, and still am, one of the laziest people I know.  And not only that, I was bored.  Going to class was a chore, and I didn’t even feel like I was accomplishing anything.  If I could achieve the same thing as many of my peers in half the time, I didn’t see what was wrong with that.  And I did.  On that same transcript, the grades column showed a GPA of 4.0.

This is not meant to be a brag; I am attempting to illustrate, using relevant, anecdotal evidence, a very serious point here.  After the fundamentals of learning have been established, school is essentially pointless.

And yet, knowing this, I went on to complete a year in a Bachelor of Arts program at a well-established university before calling it quits in unadulterated disappointment.  So as it turns out, I’m not very smart after all.

I was told what everyone was told, that “university is different.”  No, it isn’t.  In class sizes?  Yes.  In terms of mandatory attendance?  Yes.  In expectations?  Sometimes, yes.  But these things are so trivial that they function as selling points instead of useful information when considering post-secondary.  If you really stop to think about it, how different has your post-secondary education been compared to the education you received in high-school?  The teaching methods are nigh upon exactly the same.  We are taught to attend, look up, read, look down, take notes, look up, listen, check phone, check Facebook, tune out the Professor, (its fine he doesn’t care), read more, memorize, terms, terms, terms, flashcards, get sick, stress, regurgitate on the exam, you got 50, stress, its fine you’ll do well on the report, just remember to leave out your insights because those are worthless, and let’s face it, probably wrong.  This was my university experience when I attended, and after speaking to many of those who have since continued in that same program without me, I find that they corroborate it.

If you truly want to know something, you will learn it.  A few of the most successful people I know to date taught themselves photography, multiple languages, programming, and much of what’s considered business.  And they encourage others to teach themselves, too.  They learned a majority of what they know by taking it upon themselves to go out there and find the resources they needed, and the result is that they’re doing exactly what they wanted, in a quarter of the time and money it took the person with the degree.

Some would argue that critical thinking has been abandoned in our education, but I would counter that it was never introduced in the first place.  They don’t teach us to be engaged with what we’re learning; to challenge; to critique; to be the dissenting voice; to avoid “group-think”; and then they wonder why we’re bored to tears.

Those same students I mentioned earlier not only agreed with me, but went on further to complain about how they feel they’re wasting their time and money on their education.  How can we expect to learn anything if we find no value in what we’re doing?  No one is enchanted with education at the post-secondary level, but they should be.  We are given the choice to study whatever we like, but not how to study it, nor even the knowledge that there are other methods of study, and the result is an underwhelming, predictable, and stagnant system.

And yet, you might be reading this while you should be studying for that midterm tomorrow.  Or perhaps, god forbid, while you’re in that three-hour lecture you were forced to take at eight in the morning because all the other time slots were full.

I told you you’d do it anyways.  And despite everything, I am too.  Keep an eye out for part two, and I’ll tell you why.  As always, I remain,

Insufferably,

 

WildeAboutWords

*Disclaimer: This is not to say that all people who have piercings, or can handle substantial amounts of liquor are under-achievers and delinquent rabble-rousers.  I know of at least ten multicoloured mo-hawk sporting individuals whose grades in high-school were significantly better than mine, and who consistently showed more initiative than I will ever be known for.