I have what is called “non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder.”
Basically, this means that my body’s internal clock operates on a non-24-hour day. The exact day length is somewhere between 25.8 and 26.1 hours.
How it Works
I get tired and go to bed two hours later every day, and wake up two hours later the next day.
(My actual wake-up time seems to shift less readily than my sleep time — I assume this is because our wake time is partially set by when we eat our first meal of the day, and that makes the previous day’s wake time “stick” a little. If I eat a late breakfast, my wake time does seem to move forward with my sleep time.)
From that, I have a graph of the last year or so of my sleep. The shaded area of the graph is time asleep, and the unshaded area is time awake. Left to right are the days, top to bottom are the hours in each day. Times are UTC.
You can see that my rotation stopped near the end. I got a job that required I be awake at the same time every day of the week. Normally, I just work for myself (I’m an independent contractor, and I have a shared hosting DBA that brings in a few dollars), but tough times called for drastic measures.
This job’s long hours and no days off had a bad effect on the amount of restful sleep I got. Here is a graph of the hours of sleep I got per night from the first day I worked until a few days ago. The blue line is amount of sleep at which I feel rested all day.
Prior to this, I was averaging around 8.5 hours of sleep per night.
Every day, my body would not be ready for sleep until two hours later. As I had to wake up at the same time each day, that meant I got two hours less sleep, until I simply couldn’t rotate forward any further. At that point, I would just get a few hours of sleep every night once I was exhausted enough to sleep regardless of the time.
The spikes on the graph are from when I was so tired that I immediately went to bed after my shift. In the last few days, you can see that I set up a kind of hellish oscillation wherein I slept 12 hours one day and then 2 the next. Despite my best efforts, that seems to be continuing.
Benefits & Workarounds
It’s not all bad. I get to experience each part of the day. This has a few benefits:
- I get to talk to people around the world with equal frequency.
- I am able to perform staff duties on IRC networks at any time of the day.
- I am awake longer hours at a time than most people, so I seem to get more done in one day.
I have had this problem since I was in middle school. I managed to work around it back then, but it was not easy:
- Middle school: tired every day, barely slept.
- High school, grades 9 through 11: slept through some classes.
- High school, grade 12: half day at school, concurrent enrollment at community college with on-line classes. Slept after school, did college work whenever.
- First job: slept the whole time I was not at work. No, really.
- University: too tired to function. Slept through many classes despite four alarm clocks and lots of caffeine.
- Life until now: work for myself, sleep when I want, feel better than ever before.
I have tried sleep aids, but those are not useful long-term and had no lasting effect on my sleep pattern. Wake-up aids (such as caffeine or some fruits) are insufficient. Bright lights or sunlight don’t change anything. I have given up trying to treat this.