Sunday, 4 June 2017

Time for Bed, Zebedee said: asleep on the Magic Roundabout

Now my new car is full of digital marvels. It parks itself, it maintains a safe distance from cars around it, displays incoming emails, texts and even telephone message. Everything is voice activated and at night it lights up like a space ship. One of the things it does is to warn you when you stray over the white line in the middle of the road. The steering wheel tugs you back into lane, a series of warning beeps are sounded and it is both irritating and reassuring. If you happen to wander over the white line more than half a dozen times in quick succession – something difficult to avoid on the narrow country lanes up here in Scotland, the car tells me to pull over and take some rest!

Being told to take a nap by a car is one thing, when your body tells you it needs to sleep that is a different thing altogether. Some 15 days into my antidepressant therapy course, most of the early side effects (dizziness, nausea and so on) have faded. The one side effect that has remained has been an almost overwhelming need to lay down and sleep. I have never slept so much in any one day as I have over the past 15 days. It is strange, as I don’t feel constantly tired, but still find myself closing my eyes and drifting off. I am becoming like Cello, who can doze all day if not out running on the beach or in the woods.

Although my excess sleeping is a side effect of the medication, deep sleep therapy was once a very popular treatment for mental health problems, particularly during the 1930s and 1940s and then again during the 1950s and 1960s when in the UK it was used alongside ECT and medication. At that time ECT was a rather crude intervention and often terrified those being given it.  Using sleep therapy ECT could be administered and the patients seldom remembered this. Thankfully the practice largely fell into disuse as other more effective treatments were developed.

Imposed sleep is not without its risks. My PhD supervisor, the late and great Professor Joel Richman developed sepsis resulting in a 5 month stay in hospital, 7 weeks of which were spent in an induced coma in ICU. When he eventually ‘awoke’ he was for some time extremely paranoid, delusional, depressed and angry, often lashing out at those he loved and cherished. Being the great medial sociologist he was, Joel wrote up his experiences in a wonderful paper called Coming out of ICU Crazy: Dreams of Affliction – worth a read if you can gain access to it.

Anyway, and in a lighter vein, in-between naps, I did look at what was being said about sleep last week. It seems that many people are ‘under-sleeping’ by 60 mins every night, which is the equivalent of whole night’s sleep over a week (the average healthy sleep period is 7.7 hours a night). The Royal Society for Public Health found that people believed getting enough sleep was the 2nd most important activity for keeping themselves healthy – something that was behind not smoking, but in front of getting their 5-a-day, exercise and not drinking too much alcohol. They noted that a lack of sleep has resulted in 30% of people becoming depressed or stressed. The cause of not getting enough sleep can be complex and will often reflect life choices such as long commutes, parenting and socialising (late nights out). 

Somewhat ironically I guess, good sleep can be the result of people engaging in other healthy behaviours – those who eat healthily and get plenty of physical exercise often sleep better – and getting better sleep will often mean people are more likely to stick to those healthy behaviours. I’m sure my excess sleeping will begin to fade just as the other side effects have done – but as my friend and fellow blogger June told me last week, ‘keep taking the tablets’, which I fully intend to do. And finally if Cello could speak, I am sure he would say, ‘sleeping doesn’t make your dreams come true, waking up does’. So now this weeks blog has been posted, he and I are off out to explore the early morning sights and sounds of our beach. 

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