Who Needs Sleep?

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jan 22, 2008

Filed under: Personal 45 comments

Ah! So here’s where I left my blog! I knew it was around here someplace.

This is the first time I’ve had a four-day gap on my blog in a long, long time. I realize this isn’t a big deal to most people, but not posting at this point feels really strange.

Part of the gap was caused by a week long stretch of strange sleep. My internal clock was convinced, with a zealous and unwavering certainty, that 9am was was the right and proper time for sleep. I was unable to to convince it otherwise during a miserable week-long struggle. I’d fight to stay awake during the day. Work hours were long stretches of bleary-eyed stumbling and staring. As soon as quitting time arrived, I’d run to my bed and pass out the moment I hit the pillow.

And then I’d wake up three hours later.

I’d find myself wide awake at 8pm, unable to sleep further. I’d shuffle around the house for the next twelve hours, feeling oddly tired but not sleepy. Once the sun rose, the hammer would fall and I’d be up against yet another day of fighting sleep, even harder than the preceeding one.

I tried exercise before sleep. No effect. I tried a sleeping pill before going to bed. Little effect. I tried the usual folk remedies involving food / showers / body temperature, regulating light intake, and the like. No measurable effect. By Thursday I was still getting four hours at a stretch, and by that point I needed ten or twelve just to catch up. My internal clock didn’t want me to sleep unless it was time for work. By Friday I found myself wishing that my internal clock was a physical object onto which I could visit my vigorous displeasure. Certainly if I owned a conventional clock that caused this much misery I would have smashed it to pieces by now.

My sleep is sort of fixed now. I go to bed at 4am and at 4pm, and on both occasions I sleep for four hours. This is stupid and inconvenient, but at least I’m getting enough sleep.

My boss was a really good sport about my low output last week, although I’m really pushing to make up for it now.

What a strange thing to have happen.


From The Archives:

45 thoughts on “Who Needs Sleep?

  1. Christian Groff says:

    I know how you feel. I’m typing this at 7 am, but I had been up all night! I tend to stay up all night, especially on days I know I need to sleep because I have classes. My mom really worries a lot about my sleeping habits.

  2. Thijs says:

    That sounds terrible, I’m glad i never have any trouble with sleeping.

    Perhaps your body is telling you that you need a vacation? Perhaps it has already adapted itself to life in a sunny country on the other side of the globe… :D

    btw, work was boring without your distractions.

    p.s. I’m writing from holland, so it’s not nighttime here (around 3 pm)

  3. Dana says:

    Not having a job with set hours (and working from home), I just sleep when I feel like it and don’t when I don’t. This has led me to the conclusion that I am, in fact, nocturnal, as my body seems to want to be up all night and to blissfully snooze the day away. It can make it hard to get “life stuff” done (like grocery shopping or getting to the bank), but I find I revel in the physical and psychological solitude of being awake when few others in my hemisphere are.

    I’ve been up for most of this night, and I know that I have things to do today, so I’m hoping to accomplish them by early afternoon and turn in again. If I had any advice, it would be to dive into this strange new sleep pattern you’ve been experiencing and try to see what it might be telling you or where it might be trying to take you.

    It may be that an outright rejection of when your body wants to sleep that is causing the sleeplessness. I would suggest that you try to adapt to where you are at (as you seem to be), accept it, and once it feels natural (and you are rested again), try to gently steer it back into more familiar territory. :)

  4. Lynx says:

    Heh. If this is the quality of writing you turn out with insufficient sleep, maybe you should consider getting into writing. :)

  5. ChattyDm says:

    Maybe you’re like me and got hit with a strong bout of the Seasonal blues.

    I know I’m starting to yearn for sunlight to come back!

    It’ll pass soon enough.

  6. Rich says:

    I also work from home and my body seems to prefer this sleep cycle:

    6:00AM to 2:30AM
    12:00PM to 7:30PM

    Now I don’t prefer it that way, but without outside stimulus this would be my sleep cycle. Go figure.

    Of course my girlfriend and my parrot don’t let this happen very often. On the weekend it is stopped by my girlfriend instigating my parrot.

    GF: “Come on Scooby, let’s wake daddy up.”
    Scooby (three inches from my ear): “ACK-ACK-ACK-ACK-ACK-ACK!”

  7. Mari says:

    Based on the purely unscientific evidence of “most people I talk to say the same thing” I’ve begun to suspect that the “natural” sleep cycle of humans is two sleeping periods broken up by the better part of the day. My own is 4PM to 7 PM and then 4AM to 9AM. If left to my own devices, that is when I will always sleep. And even when I have adequate sleep, the desire to sleep during those times is almost overpowering. Which is a really bad thing as I’m driving when the drowsiness for my afternoon sleep period hits most of the time.

    The best I can tell you, Shamus, is to practice good sleep hygiene and hope you can reprogram your body back into the sleep pattern you want eventually. Either that or quit your job and go into some business or line of work that lets you go with your new sleep habits. Yeah, I didn’t think you wanted that.

  8. roxysteve says:

    Intolerable laziness.

    You should be fired.


  9. Visi says:


    An interesting read, and it looks like fun! Sleeping only 2-3 hours a day, but still being more energetic and awake than most people. Makes most of the time spent sleeping seem like a waste…

    Shame it would be difficult to fit around most normal working days.

  10. K says:

    If one uses RSS to keep updated on your blog, it’s not much of a bother. I only check when there is someting to see.

  11. Ryan says:

    Sorry to hear about this. My wife had similar sleep problems for years. She’d been very sick with mono for a while, and while/after recovering needed lots of sleep (12+ hours/day). Eventually, her cycle got so off track that she would go to bed around 4 or 5 in the morning and not wake up until 2 PM.

    What finally “fixed” the problem? After 2 or 3 years of this, we moved halfway across the country to Washington state. Neither of us got much sleep on the 4-day-drive out here, and once we unpacked and zonked-out on the floor, she’s not had an issue with strange sleeping hours since.

    What I’m saying is you need to move Shamus. :)

  12. Shamus says:

    Polyphasic sleep looks interesting, and I remember a blog from someone who tried it. You could sort of see the thing deteriorate.

    * First week: This is great! So much more free time!
    * Hmmm. It’s getting hard to wake up.
    * It is niegh-impossible to wake up now.
    * Oops. I slept 12 hours.
    * Blog ends.

    It’s an interesting idea, although I’ve never heard of anyone doing it for a prolonged period of time with success.

  13. its my fault, shamus. i went on a trip to Colombo, Sri Lanka last week (proof!) and apparently I accidentally got your timezone mixed up with mine.

  14. Ben says:

    Actually, the idea of half your sleep in the afternoon sounds remarkably like Spanish siestas. I don’t know more, sadly, but there’s a lead you could try to follow up on.

  15. lplimac says:

    It’s quite simple really. Your cyborg parts need replacing. Visit your mechanic soon. ;)

  16. Maddy says:

    It’s not terribly unusual for people to fall into a weird, two-phase sleeping habit if given half the chance.

    Besides the aforementioned siestas, there was also the deal in Ye Olden Days where people would go to bed not long after sundown, exhausted after the day’s work, then wake up around midnight or so. Then they’d hang out for a while, then go back to bed for a few hours until sunup. The same thing happens to me when I’m overworked and overtired.

    It’s probably normal to get your sleep patterns screwed up once in a while. Unfortunately, the working world can be pretty unforgiving. I’m glad your boss isn’t a dick about it.

  17. My sleep schedule has all been shot to hell the last couple of months, too (I blame Frayed Knights and Galactic Civilizations 2, besides crunch-mode hours at the ol’ game development factory day job). I’ve learned over time to just kinda roll with it, suffer through some low-productivity days, do my best, and eventually the body WILL get back on a schedule that works best for you. I just try and be as productive as possible during the hours that I am awake. (Productive, for me, also means “playing video games.”)

    But I’m also pretty used to living on five hours of sleep per night. Maybe that’s something that’s going to be on the tombstone of my early grave… but it’s been working for me.

  18. Dave says:

    Startup transients would make this polyphasic nonsense completely impossible for me: I can’t just lie down and go to sleep for 30 minutes whenever I want! Every time I go to sleep, it’s a major battle, so I’d spend as much time *trying* to sleep as I spent actually sleeping.

    Your summary of the progression of the blog posts of someone trying it was beautiful, Shamus. I’ll bet that’s exactly what happens to a lot of people!

  19. Blackbird71 says:

    A few people have commented about two-phase sleeping patterns, siestas and the like. There’s a reason for all of this: the human body functions on a 24-hour cycle. Think of this cycle as a rythm with points where you are at your most alert and peak ability, balanced by low points when the body is least responsive and active. It varies from person to person, but the low point typically occurs between 3 and 5 o’clock (both AM and PM). Thus it is natural for the body to want to sleep in the midafternoon, and often a short nap at this time (20-30 min) can greatly improve alertness and energy levels.

    This is starting to stray from topic, but an interesting bit of info from personal experience: I spent a few years woring in the medical field, and you would be surprised how many emergencies we encountered around 3-4 in the morning. When an already sick or weak body hits the low end of its rythm, problems start to happen. A very large portion of deaths I encountered occured during this timeframe. As I worked mostly nights, I can’t comment much on the afternoon part of the cycle, but I’d expect to see a similarity.

    Anyway, I’d recommend trying to get a little sleep in the afternoon. Don’t let yourself sleep too long, just a brief nap, and you may find it helps you sleep normally at night.

    Also, as a bit of fun reading on the biological clock: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circadian_rythm
    Check out DSPS under the “Human Health” section, and see if that sounds anything like what you are experiencing. It may be that there’s an underlying medical condition at work here, and if so, you may want to consider getting some treatment.

  20. Lunafysh says:

    BNL – Stunt – Track 04
    Great song!

  21. Robin Z says:

    4-8 am and pm? Seems like you’ve become anti-crepuscular!

    (Yes, I made this comment purely to abuse a SAT vocabulary word. I hang my head in shame.)

  22. Ian says:

    I was wondering what happened to you. :)

    I’ve been in a bit of a state as far as my sleep schedule is concerned. I blame a radical change in working hours (9AM-??? to 5PM-2AM; thankfully temporary). Last night (this morning?) I went to bed at 6:30AM and was tossing and turning for at least 45 minutes. Blah.

  23. Dan Morrison says:

    Wierd. This creeps into my RSS now, as I’m sitting here at 7:30 AM, having been up all night. :-\
    Wierder – I’m sure I checked my blog feeds every 10 minutes :-/ but this is half a day old already?

  24. MSchmahl says:

    I’ve been sleeping in two shifts for as long as I can remember; at least eight years. My current schedule is to sleep 4am to 8am and 1pm to 5pm, approximately. This is flexible, and I often sleep less in the morning and more in the afternoon. I currently work nights (7pm to 3am), but I used to work an early shift (6am to 2pm). For a few months, I even worked two nights and three days per week, and it didn’t bother me at all.

    As you’ve probably already guessed, I’m single. I wouldn’t recommend this regimen to someone with family obligations, but you’d be surprised how refreshing a thirty-minute nap can be.

  25. roxysteve says:

    This odd sleep pattern couldn’t have enything to do with sitting up ’til three am playing “Escalator” (or whatever the damn thing was called) every night for a week, could it?


    Steve the Prosaic.

  26. Viktor says:

    Don’t sleep outside of normal hours. If you can’t sleep, pull an all-nighter and do the work that you won’t be doing tomorrow because you’re too tired. Don’t sleep(I use sodas for this) until after you get off work. If you still have problems staying asleep when you are on 36 hours awake, you need to talk to your doctor.

  27. GEBIV says:

    Sheldon just had a comic about that 2 hours of sleep a day thing.

  28. DarkLadyWolf says:

    Welcome back. I was getting worried about you. Ok, I wouldn’t know you from a bar of soap if I met you on the street, but I worried anyway. So there.

    (Lack of sleep makes me even more childish, it seems).

    I hope the sleep thing is sorted out!

  29. Chris Arndt says:

    I’ve had moments like that.

    And in middle periods of it, during the middle of the day I’m popping stimulants, caffeine mixed and matched, and I’m left shivering, uncertain, wrecked.

    But that was after 30+ hours of wakedness.

    I’ve had times where I have reversed my sleeping patterns. I did that completely in college once. I went to bed at six and woke at 12. I considered it wrong at the time.

    Now, since in unemployed days I often go from 2 to 8 or 2 to ten I find myself missing the days of quasi-irresponsibility. Now I need to sleep earlier and keep it to six hours.

    I need to get employed.
    Any Devout Believers want to field the prayer?

  30. Chris Arndt says:

    Where is my friggin gravatar?

  31. ArmySyko says:

    I love the Barenaked Ladies song titled “Who Needs Sleep” and it fits me most of the time when I can’t sleep. It’s a beautiful thing when it happens.


  32. scragar says:

    hey, welcome to the rythm of sleep I had about a month ago, the solution was 2 fold, firstly I tried everything I could to stay awake during the day, while forcing myself to do nothing during the night(just lie there).

    After the first day I felt funny, but by the second I was already sleeping more at nights, and not feeling so sleep midday. By the end of the 5th day I was back on your standard sleep distribution, 7 hours at night, awake for the rest of the time.

    Intrestingly, I tried many things to cure it before, including setting an alarm clock to go off every 30 minutes, unless I set it forwards in advance(forcing myself to stay awake, or get a rude waking up a few mins later), but this didn’t work, after 3 days of trying I eventualy just crashed and lost 9 hours one afternoon.

  33. NRD80Y says:

    I suggest buying World of Warcraft so you can fill those sleepless hours (you have resisted too long, come to the dark side, you know you want too)

  34. RPharazon says:

    I have weird sleep habits as well. Not as weird, but still.

    I sleep from 11 or 12 PM, wake up at 6:30 AM.
    But! If I get more than 7 hours of sleep, I feel amazingly tired, and it takes me 5 hours to wake up.
    Any less, and I’m bright and energized.
    Less than 3 hours, and I’m tired again. I only sleep 3-6 a day and that’s enough for me.

    But the hell of it is that sometimes I wake up at 5:30 in the morning feeling great, check my watch, find that I can sleep for another hour, and when I wake up an hour later, I feel as if I’ve run 5 kilometers. I can’t force myself out of bed without falling off the bed.

  35. Lord ZYRK says:

    You could always try something from I-Doser, it just uses soundwaves, and they have a thing to help you sleep, or wake up. Good stress reliever, too.

  36. Jen says:

    I had that same problem a few weeks ago. Lasted for about a week all up, and more or less ‘ended’ when I woke up one morning after about 5 hours sleep feeling too dizzy/nauseous to read or look at a computer for very long. That morning I went back to bed, that night I went to bed at about 5am, slept till 9 and then forced myself to stay up until about 8pm, and after that the sleep problem disappeared.
    It remains one of the weirdest and most disturbing things my body has ever done to me.

  37. Arun says:

    Hi Shamus, Steve Pavlina was actually successful in his attempt at Polyphasic sleep. You could probably check out his entries on his experience – I think he recommends it to all people who work from home.

  38. Namfoodle says:

    My wife has become somewhat nocturnal of late as well. She is supposed to work 8 to 5, but her workload is so high that she spends a lot of late hours on her laptop logged in to her VPN. So she starts staying up past 3 or 4 AM routinely. Then she can’t drag herself out of bed before 10 or 11 in the morning. So I usually fly solo getting the kids up and ready for school. She sometimes asks me to make sure she gets up after a late night, but half the time I can’t get her out of bed. It’s not like I’m going to dump ice on her or anything. So if she absolutely has to be at work early in the morning, her only choice is to not sleep the night before. She sits up all night chain smoking and reading para-mormal romance novels in the bathroom with the fan on.

    And the transformation to creature of the night is complete.

  39. Namfoodle says:

    Oh, and I had to do the shift sleeping thing for a few months when I was in my 20’s. I had two part time jobs. One job was first shift at coffee place that opened at 4AM. I had to be there at 3:30, so my alarm went off around 2AM to give me time to shower and walk several blocks to catch the “owl” bus downtown. Then I would sling lattes and mochas for about 6 hours. Head home around 10:30 am and catch about 4 hours of sleep. Then it was time to get up for my other job, which was also downtown. After four hours of telemarketing from 5:30 to 9:30, it was back to the appartment I shared with 3 other guys, also in their 20’s. So my 10PM to 2AM sleep period was rarely quiet. But I did catch some full frontal of my roomates girlfriend when she walked naked past me to the bathroom. She didn’t remember I would be up that late.

  40. Insanodag says:

    Now that we have been through sympathy, advice and general sleep discussion, let’s move on to something much more important: Will this affect the Schedule for Chainmail Bikini?

  41. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Maybe Eschelon Book I put a spell on you? I mean, the correlation is perfect. EVERYBODY STOP PLAYING THE GAME!!!

  42. Annon says:

    After reading about Polyphasic sleeping, it seems perfect for my college schedule. Sleeping is like an art form I have mastered, from power napping to sleeping for days at a time to speed recovery times from sickness. All-nighters are likewise a piece of pie–I have gone three full days without sleep and still managed to fend well enough for myself during finals week. Polyphasic seems like the next step in my evolution.

    I’ll e-mail you after I successfully switch over spring break, to inspire to you think it can be done. Naysayer =p

  43. Lancewithabee says:

    Since high school I have been able to get through a whole week with 4-5 hours of sleep, as long as I could crash one day on the weekend, for weeks at a time.

    The trick seems to be that if I can’t get at least 7, get fewer than 5. Anything between 5 and 7 is worse than none. 1/2 hour power nap on the days closer to 3 hours at night.

    I’ve been on the 4-5 hours for the last 2 weeks, without feeling like sleeping in on the weekend. Feeling your pain snore.

  44. TalrogSmash says:

    They have recently released a study stating that cell phone radiation does something to the brain that scrambles its ability to enter and maintain normal sleep cycles. The effect of a 5 minute cell phone call can last for up to 4 hours. So have you been using your cell phone more, or have you been leaving it near your bed? It still sends and retrieves signals even if not actively on a call.

  45. TalrogSmash says:

    why did my wavatar change? I liked the old one…

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