Thursday, March 6, 2008

Firsthand Experiences of the Effects of Sleep Deprivation

A friend told me that I should document the effects of my all-nighters and generally terrible sleep regimen.  Interestingly, one of the first effects is the loss of one's desire to spend time documenting the hell they are living.  However, for the edification of my peers, here are the effects that I have personally experienced due to a lack of sleep.  I should note that these effects came after long periods of insufficient sleep, not periods of no sleep (which tend to be shorter and force me to sleep afterward).  My all-nighters, even the ones that span over 48 hours just make me tired, and hungry.  The really interesting stuff starts when I've had less than 5 hours of sleep a night for a good week or so.

My first experience with the ill effects was at the end of high school, when I was a staffer for 4-H Camp over the summer.  We went to the bed an hour or so after the campers, and I generally woke up around sunrise.  At most I was getting 6 hours of sleep a night for six nights.  The tiredness became noticeable towards the end of the week; however, with so much going on, and being active all day, I was still alert.  Fatigue really hit me as I was driving home.  I was still lucid, but dog tired, and eventually started hallucinating.  Since the hallucinations were consistent, and I realized I was hallucinating, it wasn't a huge deal.  During this I thought that I was being followed by a large dark cloud the flickered around the edges of my vision, and once a woman was walking on the highway.  She was moving at walking speed away from me, and cars were driving through her, giving her a very surreal, ghostly aspect.  She didn't persist as long as the cloud (no more than 30 seconds to a minute) and I only hallucinated her once.  In contrast, the cloud lasted several minutes at a time, and reoccurred several times.  Stopping and walking around for a few minutes cleared my head for the remainder of the drive.

My freshman year of college I ended up suffering physical more than mental consequences.  My earliest classes were at 12pm and 2pm on alternating days; I would generally stay up to about 8am and then sleep till class.  This actually suited me really well, and was a fairly good quarter academically.  If I had a few more hours of sleep a night, I could have continued that indefinitely as I really enjoy working late at night.  As it was, I came up a few hours short a night for ten weeks or so, and when I went back home for the break I came down with a roaring case of mono.  While this can't be blamed entirely on lack of sleep, I feel that combined with my poor nutrition it weakened my immune system significantly.  Since then I haven't been physically ill, or at least not long enough to notice, but mono wiped me out for several weeks.

More recently, my class and work schedule have been such that I have to wake up between 6 and 7am Tuesday through Friday, 8am Monday, and 10am on Sunday.   I have determined empirically that this, plus the length of my days, is the worst schedule ever for my sleep.  On average I'm on campus till 6pm and do all my school work after dinner, which has resulted in a consistent bedtime of about 3am.  Being at school precludes my normal nap times, which does not help the situation.  As a result I was accumulating sleep dept that I was unable to recoup on the weekends.  This has led to an ongoing state of misery that is both interesting to study and terrible to live.  I have noticed that in classes maintaining and an active focus on the class is paramount even beyond that required to take notes.  Once my attention slips, or even a  secondary train of thought develops I am far more prone to falling asleep.  This was not too huge of a problem, as I could catch this, and prod myself into wakeful attentiveness again.  Sadly, I have been tired enough to go directly from being slightly distracted into full sleep, without feeling my eyes close or having a noticeable change in train of thought.  I only know that I'm asleep when my train of thought dies out in the dream, and I come to looking at my desk or with my eyes closed.  During a particularly bad series of these over the past week or so, I also lost color vision briefly several times.

The first time this happened, I didn't realize that I was losing my red vision.  I woke up, tried to focus, and my professor was a striking shade of green-yellow.  I fell asleep again shortly after that, and then realized that I couldn't see red, which accounted for the green tinge.  Further study, as these symptoms occurred repeatedly, has shown that this occurs mainly just after waking up, or when trying to remain awake.  The former is far more common then the latter, as it is increasingly hard for me to determine when I am falling asleep.

In addition to the more drastic effects listed above, I also need to eat more often, write more evocatively and tend to have fewer inhibitions when I am very tired. Thankfully, these effects are temporary, and are relived by getting more sleep.  However, getting more sleep is often easier said than done. 

Robert Alverson


1 comment:

Russ Henmi said...

Jeez, Robert! It sounds like we should take you out to dinner once a month or so (since the "not eating" part is the only thing we can help with. :)