(Lack of) Light at the End of the Tunnel

A sleep story

Today we had the pleasure of interviewing one of our own, Eric. He’s a skilled mathematician and AWS developer here at Arcascope. Everyone has their own unique experience when it comes to catching Zzz’s, or in Eric’s case, NOT doing that. We wanted to chat with him and learn more about these troubles and, more importantly, how he overcame him.

Let’s jump right in. How has your sleep been lately?

“Right now, my sleep schedule is pretty good, but this has changed over time and pretty dramatically over the last eight months or so. I feel like I have finally figured out some other things that my body needs for me to be able to fall asleep quickly. I have struggled to sleep for a lot of my life. I break it down to two components: One, once I was asleep, staying asleep, and two, also falling asleep to begin with– this has been the hardest part for me. I’m still not to the point where I can fall asleep straight away, but I have gotten it to under an hour.”

So, your sleep has improved recently?

“Yes, It’s a lot better. Much more regular in schedule, and it’s pretty easy to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.”

You mentioned having trouble falling asleep your whole life. What has it been like, and what are the specific problems you’ve had?

“It’s been both issues my whole life, falling asleep AND staying asleep but more on the end of falling asleep. I would try to lay down and I would just lay there for hours a lot of times, until I would finally fall asleep. And, late teens through late 20s there would be one or two nights a month where I wouldn’t fall asleep AT ALL. I would struggle until about 4am and finally give up completely and get up and do other things.

As far as staying asleep, I’ve never been diagnosed but I think I have sleep apnea. Just based on feedback I get from my wife about my sleeping. Both of these issues have improved over time, I don’t know if it’s partly an age thing or the fact that I also made some pretty big adjustments to my diet in my late 20’s. For example, I learned that any sort of alcohol seems to really affect my ability to sleep and also makes my sleep apnea much worse.

I feel as though, when I was in my early 20s, Alcohol would wake me up early in the morning and I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep. Then it shifted to the middle of the night around 3-4am, and I would wake up for no apparent reason, and it would be hours until I could fall back asleep.”

You mentioned you made some lifestyle changes in the last eight months that have helped your sleeping. Can you expand on what those are specifically? Is that just a result of eating better or exercising?

“So, I had already made the eating and exercising adjustments a few years ago, and that really helped me to STAY asleep, but falling asleep was still a problem. The main improvement was related to me joining Arcascope and starting to think more about how light exposure can directly push my internal clock around. I was sort of under the impression that if I could just turn off the lights, a fixed time after that my body would just fall asleep. As I’ve been developing our algorithms I’ve realized it’s not just time after darkness, it’s actually the point when darkness is occurring relative to your internal clock time. So, the main adjustment is just really carefully blocking all light to my eyes. For example, I put a shirt or something over my eyes, even if I’m still awake. I do this around 10-11pm for when I need to wake up around 6-7am. It seems as though, if I can get in total darkness around that time, I can fall asleep pretty easily (within 15-30 minutes). However, If I stay awake looking at my phone for another hour then it will push me back, and I can’t fall asleep until around midnight.

Just being more cognizant of my light exposure and incorporating different things I’ve learned, both through using our app and developing the app.”

Does your sleeping pattern change on the weekend?

“Great question. I try to maintain a very similar schedule during the weekends, I guess just because it’s much easier. I really value the regularity of my sleep during the week because I struggled for so many years, and I finally feel like I have it figured out. On the weekends, I don’t want to push that around because I want to be able to stay where I am. I might stay up a little bit later and wake up a little bit later but it’s only a total of 30 mins or so.”

I used to think that I could stockpile my sleep on the weekends, but now I know it doesn’t work like that.

“Exactly, It’s not as though there is a counting piece of your brain that’s saying “oh you are 3.2 hours behind on your sleep and we just need that to get that on the weekend and you’ll be back on track.”

Do you have a goal sleeping pattern or have you already achieved it?

“Yeah, you know honestly, I feel like I’m already at it. My answer would be I want to maintain it, I feel like I have a good thing going right now and I want to keep that. I’m in a spot where there aren’t some external pressures on my sleep that may disrupt other people. I’m pretty free to choose my work schedule, and currently don’t have kids, so the only thing that can happen is my cat says “It’s 5am, uh, what do you want to do?” And I’m like “…I’m sleeping” and she continues with, “Well what ELSE do you want to do?”. Funny story, I keep books on a nightstand and she tugs them out on the floor and kind of pulls the pages to make noise and wake me up. So to answer your question, my goal is just maintaining my current sleeping pattern.”