Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Five Personal Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Welcome back. Me, I mean. I took yesterday off because I spent 13 hours driving south from Maine to Washington, DC, and am posting late today because the cumulative sleep deficit of the past month caught up with me, and I spent most of today sleeping.

I do this to myself, I admit. I came back from Bouchercon to multiple deadlines and external commitments, and even pulled an all-nighter about a month ago. Between the all-nighter, the shift to standard time, the change in the seasons and the ongoing list of commitments, my sleep cycle hasn't been right since.

Some people I know claim to be able to get by on six hours of sleep or less. I can't, not for any length of time. These are five things that happen to me when I go too long without at least seven hours a night. What happens to you when you get tired?

1. I lose all sense of proportion. When I am very tired, everything feels urgent. I cannot distinguish between true emergencies, pressing tasks, and minor inconveniences. Thus it becomes impossible to prioritize, and I am overwhelmed.

2. I get extremely irritable. A world without sleep is a world of overstimulation; everything is too loud, too hot, too cold, too big, too complicated, too needy, too spicy, too smelly, and too dang much in my way. This is related to but not exactly the same as #3 . . .

3. I lose my filter. Okay, I'm not the most tactful of people at the best of times, but I was trained in diplomacy, dammit, and most of the time I can manage to be polite. Without sleep, I say what I mean without regard to other people's feelings or goals, and can be not only tactless but unkind. I'm sorry about this. Sleeplessness is no excuse.

4. My memory fails. At extreme levels of sleep deprivation, my mind stops being able to retrieve any information it considers less than essential. Names, vocabulary words, historical facts, directions, street addresses and phone numbers all disappear. I lose the memories of what I read last week or what I had for breakfast this morning. When it gets really bad, I lose my ability to string words together in coherent order.

5. I start to cough. I don't know why it happens, but it always does, and has since I was 11 or 12. Long-term fatigue makes me cough, a deep, booming cough that feels like something in my chest is tearing loose. Nothing comes up, and I don't think it's asthma; I just cough. Anyone have any theories about why this happens?

Sleep. It's not just a good idea, it's the law. I plan to get eight hours tonight.


Anonymous said...

The cough is a form of asthma.

When the muscles in your respiratory tract become fatigued, they lose elasticity, meaning your breathing becomes shallower. The oxygen depletion eventually becomes so great that your body, essentially, kick-starts your lungs and diaphraghm by spasming them.

This is how exercise-induced athma works, too, to some extent. Except with EIA, there is also an overuse and irritation of the aveoli component. The coughing is your body's emergency response to needing to expel carbon dioxide and leave your airway temporarily expanded to drawn in more oxygen.

You may or may not know, but you probably snore more, too, when you do sleep after being sleep deprived. Your respiratory tract is, again, working overtime to make up the oxygen deficit.

-- Ed

Anonymous said...

BTW: My first comment verification word was, no lie, "dersher." Or, phonetically, "Derrr, sure!"

-- Ed

Anonymous said...

Many years ago, I broke down in uncontrollable tears for no reason during shift change at the end of my one and only overnight shift at 7-11. I can make it ok until about 4 AM with no sleep. After that I start to lose my mind a little.