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Kady's blog

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  • Writer's pictureKady Potter

I've been having trouble sleeping lately.

Updated: May 24

Okay, I admit that title isn't entirely accurate. I can sleep, and I do sleep - a lot. The bit I'm having trouble with is that I never feel fully rested. No matter how much sleep I get, for some reason it isn't enough. I've felt like this for months now.

I think we've all been there, at some point, for whatever reason. But you have to know the reason to be able to fix it. After months of crappy sleep quality, I think I finally understand why my head feels clouded with the wool of (several hundred thousand) counted sheep.

Spoiler alert: there's something wrong with my brain! Again! (Go read my post about finding out that I have epilepsy. That one was a rollercoaster...)

Both sleep, and a distinct lack of it, happen in stages

At first, I just felt sluggish and grumpy on a few mornings. No big deal, right? I just needed to gulp down some more coffee and get on with it. Coffee never lets me down. Coffee would see me through this rough patch.

It soon became clear that coffee was no longer touching the sides, no matter how strong I made it or how much I drank.

The grumpy mornings got grumpier, and more frequent. Eventually, instead of sitting up in bed and spending 10-15 minutes shaking off the fog, I was turning over and going back to sleep for an hour or more.

I've tried so hard not to let added fatigue levels affect my work, and so far so good. I haven't slept through a deadline yet. What I do know is that brain fog makes proofreading that bit slower - I can always call it 'being more careful' (the perks of being a creative writer).

It's amazing what our brains can come up with, isn't it?

Once I noticed (even through the constant tiredness) that there was something wrong, it was hard to work out exactly what.

Seeing as this gradual onset of fatigue had coincided with a bout of Covid-19, it was only natural to assume 'long Covid' as the first option. It seemed logical, but I've never hoped to be more wrong. After all, there's no cure for that. I'd have to live with that level of constant exhaustion for the rest of my life.

What if I'd developed sleep apnea, and I was waking umpteen times in the night without ever knowing about it? That'd do it for sure. And at least that can be fixed.

But then, the tiredness could also be the result of a much more sedentary lifestyle working from home. As convenient as having my office in my kitchen has been, I don't get nearly as much natural light or exercise on a daily basis as I used to. And I know that's not a good thing, of course. So maybe I needed to take more walks in the sunshine to reset my circadian rhythm?

Or... talking of work... there had been a lot going on at the time. Hectic days that turned into hectic weeks. Was I just more stressed that usual, or finally burnt out? Would taking a few days off to rest sort me out?

When they call it a 'sleep test', they really aren't kidding

After discussing my issues with a few different doctors, I was referred to a specialist sleep clinic in Osaka. I lucked out - it's in a central location and had time for me.

They booked me in for an overnight sleep test. Y'know, the one where they cover you in a mess of wires, glue and heavy monitoring devices with twinkly lights all over them. The perfect conducive environment for sleep...

I digress. (I do appreciate how thorough the tests are, as you'll discover...)

I went in, they stuck a lot of wires to my head, and I tried getting some sleep. I did sleep, of course. It was far more difficult than usual, because the pillow they provided felt like a cold lump of rock. That's just me being picky.

Because I was being monitored all night, the clinic team were able to come in and wake me up exactly as one of my sleep cycles ended. That just happened to be 6am. I haven't had to wake up at 6 in over a decade (my sympathies to those of you who do). I dragged myself home and tried getting on with the rest of my day, which was several hours longer than usual.

A couple of weeks later, I got my results.

It really isn't that deep, yo! No, seriously, that's the problem here

Notice I mentioned my sleep cycles above? Yeah, it turns out that my sleep pattern is pretty regular. I don't have sleep apnea - there's nothing wrong with my respiratory system. I don't sleepwalk or move around too much in the night (apart from getting up to use the toilet, maybe).

The test identified a significant problem - my sleep stages.

So, as you know we all go through different stages of sleep during every cycle. I definitely spend plenty of time in the 'dream sleep' stage. I have weird dreams. The curse of being a creative, I imagine. (I imagine a lot, as well.)

When it's time for the 'deep sleep' stage - the time for restorative sleep, the proper good stuff that helps you wake up feeling refreshed - it just isn't happening for me.

As a general rule, around 15-20% of the total amount of sleep you get in a night should be deep sleep. On the night of the sleep test, I clocked in at only 3%.

Put another way: where most people are getting 12 minutes of deep stage sleep per hour they spend asleep, I'm lucky to get 13 minutes of deep sleep in a whole night.

Yep. That'll do it.

I'm not getting anywhere near enough restorative sleep, so duh I never feel fully restored. It makes so much sense. My brain's like an iPhone battery that's spent the last 6 months in Low Power Mode.

That first step is the hardest - and it's even harder when you've stayed indoors for weeks on end

Alright, what's the best way to fix that? Well, it isn't an overnight thing... (if only!)

Apart from ruling out the sleep apnea, I still don't 100% know why this is happening to me. But by having eliminated one option, the majority of other potential causes are to do with my health and stress levels. So we're starting there.

(Any kind of investigation into long Covid will be much further down the line. It isn't the kind of thing a sleep clinic deals with, naturally. Plus I don't have multiple other symptoms, which you'd think would be a relief but is mostly just confusing.)

When your stress levels are screwing up your sleep cycles, what do you do (or try and stop doing) first?

1) GET REGULAR EXERCISE. The horror! It was the first, main, and only thing the sleep clinic doctor suggested to me. Looks like the sedentary lifestyle is, in fact, part of the problem.

We've gone through Japan's 'it's too bloody hot to be outside' season of every year, so I need to get some of this work in before 'actually, it's kinda cold to be outside now...' season kicks in.

2) GET OFF MY DAMN PHONE. I'm not as much of a doomscroller as I used to be, I swear. But I'm not giving my brain enough of an opportunity to switch off at night.

Time to dig out some books and switch to a bit of bedtime reading. Unfortunately for me, I'm a fan of crime and thriller novels. Not exactly what you want to have in your head when it's time to start dreaming.

3) NO MORE LIE INS. An actual routine of going to bed and waking up at the same times every single day. No naps, no matter how sleepy I feel.

This one's going to be rough as hell. I almost don't want to talk about it.

Apparently, overnight success is for other people

Like I said, one night of better sleep isn't going to make all of my problems instantly go away. I've got to - gasp - make an effort, and stick with it. One of the worst things you can ask someone who constantly feels tired to do...

I don't know how long it'll take, and I don't know how well I'll manage the changes. But if this is also a great excuse to buy more comfy pillows, then I'm ready to get started.


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