Voluntary Sleep Deprivation

March 2, 2007 at 5:33 am 14 comments

This is by way of being a confession. I like sleep deprivation. Not long term, and not when I actually have to do things. But staying up stupidly long hours makes me feel good. (It’s not really so much of a confession, I think I mentioned this before). Currently I’m in my 31st hour awake. Given my sleep problems, doing this to myself is what one might venture to call ‘fucked up’. When I was a kid, I always used to run down the stairs two at a time. This is the same thing, but with days.

There’s a point on the edge of tiredness, where you float. Things take on a weird unreality. The lack of emotion, the cotton wool fuzziness of the world is delicious and calming. Even the grittiness you feel behind your eyelids doesn’t really get to you. The trick is to maintain. Occupy the mind with words, methodical tasks. Don’t slip into exhaustion.

I used to do this as a kid. Did that fuck up my sleep patterns for life? I’d be reading, usually. I’d hear my parents get up. They used to check on me to make sure I was asleep at a reasonable hour. So while I’d head the flushing of a toilet, or voices muffled behind walls, I’d get up, turn out the light and put my book under the covers. I controlled my breathing, slowly in, slowly out. If I hadn’t had time to turn out the light, I’d just lay there, pretending to be asleep.

And then, count to 300, turn the light back on. Idiots and carry on reading.

Was I tired? Could I have slept? I don’t remember. But when I was 8 or so, I stayed up right around the clock, counting off the hours until dawn, just to see if I could do it.

Did that screw me up? Am I dealing with the fallout of some 8 year old’s weird ambitions?

And I’ve done it occasionally, throughout my life. Sometimes accidentally, because I was too wrapped up in something to notice the hour when the alarm would go off fast approaching, but sometimes, just for the hell of it.

I love the night. I always have. It causes an emotional reaction I don’t think I’ve ever been able to explain to anyone satisfactorily. But let’s try. Hell, what else am I going to do?

Summer evenings cause a deep ache inside me, especially if the air is right. It needs to be relatively cool, but with high atmospheric pressure, so that sounds seem to carry far into the distance. The sounds of traffic can be heard everywhere you go, and there’s a faint taste of petrol in the air. Music comes from open windows, behind the glow of closed curtains. It feels like the beginning of something. A bit like the way you feel before a thunderstorm, but different. Emotion carries easily, the busy feel of people living. A subtle hint of sex, teenagers with nothing better to do but drink and fuck in graveyards. The sky is never going to be truly dark, the lights of the city bounce off a haze high above. And there is limitless possibility, sucked into the void of the night, and I want to escape, just pick a direction and run, and only the knowledge that there’s nothing new over the horizon stops me.

In the middle of the night sometimes, I’d sneak down into the kitchen – this is when I was thirteen or so – and steal a cigarette from the packs that my parents had tidied away. The sill of my bedroom window was wide enough to sit on, so I’d sit on it, with the window open at 3am, lights off, blowing smoke into the night. I never really smoked properly then, I didn’t suck the smoke down into a lungs like a real smoker does, so the most I got was a mild buzz and the taste of tobacco. I lived near a motorway and some major roads, and you could hear the cars passing by. And in those dark hours, I never once considered that the people in the cars were driving to work, or 24 hour locksmiths, or plumbers, or doctors on urgent call outs. They were always going somewhere, slicing through the emptiness into lives I could hardly imagine.

I love the night, but all its secrets turned out to be lies.

When I went out into the garden of my parents house at night to smoke at Christmas, my mother warned me not to go down to the gate, because there were big cats roaming the countryside. One might attack me. A puma, too dark to be seen until it pounced. There were too many damn stars, out there. I’m most comfortable in cities with the dirty pinkness of light pollution and maybe a couple of stars visible if you’re lucky.

It’s been a while since I did 48 hours. I’m going to see a band Saturday night. Staying up that long might actually get me in phase with the people I’m going with. (justify, justify).

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14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. edelweiss  |  March 2, 2007 at 8:56 am

    Hi, I’ve read your blog. Can’t exactly say I enjoyed it, but I have found it very interesting. I think I know someone a bit like you, and I wish I knew what I could do to help him. Perhaps you could advise? His personal history is pretty much the same as yours, even down to the fatness during early adolescence. He’s about the same age as you and one of the cleverest and funniest men I’ve ever met. But as dark as dark on the inside – he’s shut down all emotion. Currently he won’t talk to anybody – well, he won’t talk to me anyway. Should I leave him alone or nudge him every so often? What would you like someone to do?

    I’ve read a lot about Human Givens too. I am not a therapist and am not in your situation, but I have found the idea of auditing your life, checking out whether some of the eight givens are not being met, and then trying to do something about it, helps me. It has also been good for my early teenage children. I do find it difficult to imagine that someone one would be unhappy if they were fulfilled in all the eight areas the HG approach describes … and little steps in filling some of the areas lacking definitely do improve my own sense of wellbeing. New interests, challenges, feeling connected and giving back to the community (volunteer work at the CAB) all really make a difference to me and my daughter became a different person when she found a passionate interest.

  • 2. gloomferret  |  March 2, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    what many people don’t realise about depressives/obsessives/whatevers is that they are pretty much incapable of achieving the happiness everyone seems to think is the goal in life. I speak for myself only now, but even if for a time I achieve something that I thought I wanted, the fact that I have it makes me not care about it any more. I don’t really know what happiness is. I don’t have the emotional capacity for it. I know contentment for periods. Not unhappy is also known to me. I can laugh and experience physical pleasure, but a sense of well being and happiness over a period of time? Never.

    Even if someone gave me a list of things that would make me happy for the rest of my life, I would be incapable of doing it. To do that you need constant motivation, you have to care enough about yourself and life, you have to be able to focus on something for longer than a day or two. A situation that many people would be happy with I would find boring. I can’t succeed in business because I find most people shallow and tedious and stupid. I can’t succeed in personal relations because, well, as above, plus I have mood and emotional issues that make me often unbearable to live with.

    There are people out there who are unhappy because they haven’t found what they like yet, or haven’t found a routine to settle into. There are also people who by their very nature will never be happy for any period of time.
    No program in the world is going to change that.

  • 3. Tom Dandy  |  March 2, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    I second gloomferret.

    -Tom Dandy

  • 4. Tom Dandy  |  March 2, 2007 at 9:07 pm

    Ooooh, I know.
    Buy him some scotch! I’ll bet he’ll talk to you then.
    I know I would.

    -Tom Dandy

  • 5. Jeremy  |  March 2, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    Hi Chimp,

    I never did put my therapist’s hat on with you, as you’re not my client. Toys out of the pram…lol…yes that means laughs out loud to me…You have made your, albeit sleep deprived psychotic, mind about things you clearly do not understand. My diagnosis is as accurate as any of the others you will recieve, it describes behaviour and attitude, however I realised it was incomplete, it should have read ‘Anal Tosser’. Now I’ll leave you to enjoy all the attention you crave for being a sad and confused bi polar, depressive, schizo, Psychotic, narcissistic, paranoid, insomniac bla bla and every other badge you want to wear…I leave you with this challenge… actually taking off your self obsessed bi focals and reading my posts again, if you still fail to grasp any of it, you’re not as smart as you think.
    Bon voyage old chimp!

  • 6. Tom Dandy  |  March 2, 2007 at 9:22 pm

    “Anal Tosser”
    Ha! Ahahaha!

    It just gets better and better.
    Nothing’s more fun than reading a therapeutic flame session.

    Jeremy, your childish insults bring me much joy. I think you may be curing me of my depression at your unselfish expense.

    -Tom Dandy

  • 7. ian  |  March 2, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Hi EC,
    just wanted to show you some support re: the er… bizarre therapist you had along earlier.

    cor blimey, don’t you love the Caring Professions?
    warms the cockles of my heart
    😦

  • 8. experimental chimp  |  March 2, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    edelweiss: It’s difficult to advise. I wouldn’t take myself as an archetypal example. It rather depends on the person trying to ‘reach out’ to me. With some people, them doing so is a good thing, with others, it’s an annoyance to be tolerated and ignored. So I’m not sure I have hugely helpful advice for you. Have you tried asking him?

    Jeremy: I thought I wasn’t worth your time or effort? Frankly, you’ve got to the stage where I’m bored, so any further comments from you will be deleted, unless, of course their entertainment value is high or they’re actually relevant to the post they’re made on.

  • 9. edelweiss  |  March 3, 2007 at 10:21 am

    Thanks, EC. I know it’s difficult to suggest a course of action that will be positive for someone else, but I am at my wit’s end. I think I’d fall into the “tolerated” or “ignored” category which presumably means I should back off and stop trying to prevent his slide into self-destruction, but it goes against the grain to give up on someone so completely – or be complicit in them giving up on themselves. I also find it impossible to initiate, to make overtures, gestures to him without at some level wanting something back, though I can manage it for a few months at a time. I’m not a saint. So I always end up getting hurt because he says he has nothing to give. Over and over again. He has no hope and I think it’s part of his goal – to prove to me that I should not have any either and to sabotage any improvement. I still have hope, despite him. It feels like a war of wills, neither of us willing to give in to the other’s world view. Giving up on him feels like agreeing “There is no hope”. And there is hope. Always.

    Thanks anyway.

  • 10. experimental chimp  |  March 3, 2007 at 11:46 am

    edelweiss: That actually changes the situation. If he’s actively courting self-destruction and feels the need to prove the hopelessness of his situation to you, then my guess is that you matter to him. My advice isn’t terribly positive, but here it is: Make it clear that you’re not willing to hang around to watch him self-destruct. It sounds like you’ve already tried your best to reach out to him and are getting hurt in the process, so for yourself, you need to back away, make it clear that you’re not willing to hang around to watch his self-destruction. If you care for him enough, then also make it clear that if he does need somebody, then you’ll be there for him when he needs you.

  • 11. edelweiss  |  March 3, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    Thank you :). I’ve been dealing with a lot of poor parenting c**p from my childhood with the help of an excellent Relate counsellor (using Bowen Family Systems Theory which really works for me), so I know change is possible (even if I could only cope with it in two chunks several years apart) and that hope is justified and that it feels much better the other end – I can even get to the point of being amused at how family patterns have been played out in my life. The counsellor’s words today were almost verbatim what you have written at the end of your comment – though she usually shrinks from giving any advice and lets me hang myself. I still almost need permission to let go, to give the responsibility back to the adult who should shoulder it. It will take a great deal to back away, but I’ll do it, trusting that when my friend bottoms out he finds hope his companion down there.

    Thank you for replying to my comment: I’m glad that you are making progress with your situation and have enjoyed (that was the right word actually) reading all that you have written. Lots of good luck.

  • 12. puddlejumper  |  March 5, 2007 at 12:05 am

    Hi there,

    I have to confess I do the staying awake thing too. I like the floaty feeling it gives me, I kind of feel supercharged. I’ve never worked out either whether I just stay awake “because” I’m going a bit manic or if I get manic because I’ve stayed awake.

    The bottom line is though. Sometimes I just can’t sleep. And not in a way that makes me feel tired.

    BTW- Jeremy? Is he for real. Keep his posts though. It is funny in an entertaining way. He seems like a bit of a wanker.

    c

  • 13. Anton Dolinsky  |  August 14, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Ah, so wonderful. Yes, I am the same way. There are more of us out there than anyone would have suspected. I too love the effects of moderate, controlled sleep deprivation. The dawn after a night of no sleep… the way the colors look so vivid in everything, the soft cotton brain feeling… It happens when the chattering ‘worry mind’ falls asleep from exhaustion, but consciousness, perception, and creativity keep going… a state of greater awareness attained through a pursuit most would consider detrimental to awareness. And then there are the deeper realms of voluntary sleep deprivation… after a couple of nights with little or no sleep, one retains the ability to think to perceive, but begins to literally fall asleep every few seconds. Bursts of dream come into ‘waking’ life and confuse the boundary between the two. The mind actually does not lose its sharpness. The high pressure imposed on the mind by sleeplessness eradicates the ‘worry mind’ aspect, as I said before, and leaves all other functions intact.

    Some of my best memories are of being a teenager, staying up all night listening to The Doors or Led Zeppelin on my headphones while surfing the Internet and smoking my mom’s Virginia Slims. A delightful, juicy trance state would result, subtly suggesting in its contours deeper mysteries pressing on our ‘everyday’ consciousness from all sides.

    We are out here, o people. Yes. We exist. We are the sacred brotherhood and sisterhood of voluntary sleep deprivation.

  • 14. Anton Dolinsky  |  August 14, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    P.S.

    And as for the emotional reaction that is so difficult to explain, mentioned in the original post, I suggest giving these a read:

    http://theteemingbrain.wordpress.com/2006/10/16/autumn-longing-cs-lewis/

    http://theteemingbrain.wordpress.com/2006/10/30/autumn-longing-hp-lovecraft/

    I believe that these are related phenomena.

    I have also experienced the ”muggy summer night’ effect, and feel that it is closely related to the ‘adventurous expectancy’ mentioned often by H.P. Lovecraft, the ‘Sehnsucht’ of C.S. Lewis, the ‘autumnal longing’ of Matt Cardin, and the ‘sleepless roaming’ sensation.

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Hi, I'm James. I'm a 26 year old guy from England with bipolar disorder (currently well controlled). I also have a circadian rhythm sleep disorder (not so well controlled). This blog has charted my journey from mental illness, through diagnosis and, recently, into recovery. It's not always easy, but then, what is?

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