Sleep has always been a passion of mine.
I’m always a bit grumpy when I have to leave my pile of blankets and start the day. It’s the most comfortable, comforting place I know. Like comedian Jim Gaffigan said to his bed, “You were wonderful last night… I didn’t want it to end.” My high school friends knew not to call my parents’ house after 9 pm because we would be asleep. The weirdest part is that as children, my siblings and I would put ourselves to bed at a reasonable hour. My parents would have friends over, and instead of trying to stay up with the adults, we’d wander downstairs in our pajamas to bid everyone goodnight. My brother and sister have become night owls, but I’ve always needed more time in bed because of my chronic injuries. As such, I was never an early bird or a night owl. I guess I’m sort of a late-morning angry bird.
So imagine my surprise this week when I started waking up — truly waking up — at 4:30 am. I thought it was a fluke at first, and now we’re on six days of early rising. I am going to bed at the same time (early), and I have always needed nine-plus hours of sleep. I’d fall asleep around 9:30 pm and wake up around 6:30, 7ish. Even after all those hours, I could still fall asleep again. I’ve always wanted to get up earlier. Think of all the great things I could accomplish if I had more hours in the day! Like writing this blog post at 5:30 in the morning! For God’s sake, the sun is rising as I type this!
It’s been great to get some work and chores done before 7 am. There’s a certain pride to it, a sense of accomplishment when you’re alone in the early morning darkness. And recently I’ve been very cognizant of the fact that I need more time to complete things, though it seemed impossible to change that situation. “You have the same number of hours in the day as Stephen King and Beyonce. You either need to get up early or stay up late,” I said to myself. I’d tried napping consistently, but my body rebelled. I knew that staying up late wouldn’t happen. I needed a midday nap just so I could see The Force Awakens at 11 pm.
Now it’s a matter of figuring out why I am waking up at 4:30 in the morning. The first four times, all I noticed was a strong sense of “I’m awake, I’m ready to go!” Yesterday and today, my mid-back injury to T-11, T-12, and L-1 felt splintery and angry. You ever have that feeling like your bones are scraping and grinding together? That’s how I felt. No matter what position I tried, I wasn’t comfortable. It’s easier to get out of bed at that point. I’d wondered if my nighttime medication had abruptly worn off, prompting the internal alarm, but I’ve always managed to sleep through that.
The only change I can think of is that I cut out processed sugar last week. I started waking up early two days later.
Why did I cut out processed sugar? Because it’s an inflammatory substance, and chronic pain patients need to eradicate as much inflammation as possible. I’ve been debating this for ages, since I already cut out so many foods because of my autoimmune disorder and didn’t want to deprive myself further. But sugar makes me feel physically awful. Don’t get me wrong, I love sugar. I love sweets. I love cake. I love it all — while I’m eating it.
But I always regret it afterward when my pain levels start creeping upward. My spine lights up after eating a cupcake. It occurred to me that by eating sugar, I was feeding my pain. I needed to do all I could personally do to make myself better. That meant no processed sugar. I suppose I could’ve also cut out fruit for the initial phase, but I only have so much strength. I went cold turkey about seven days ago. I didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms, which can actually happen with sugar deprivation — no headaches, no crabbiness, no cravings, nothing. Just this sudden, early-morning insomnia.
Cutting out sugar is the one part of my life I’ve changed since suddenly needing less sleep. My brother told me to go to bed later so I wake up at a normal human hour, but I love getting up early now. It’s breathtaking. It’s calming. I start my day on a slow, gentle note instead of feeling rushed and harried (though working from home, I’m not feeling rushed these days anyway). I do yoga in the darkness. I write stories. I water the plants before my neighbors even wake up. I get so much work done before breakfast. And, oddly enough, I haven’t crashed in the afternoon. Yesterday I did, but that’s because it was almost 100 degrees and 95-plus percent humidity, which always does a number on me. Even so, when I tried to take a nap, I couldn’t. I was too awake.
I don’t know if this is sustainable or if my body will crash soon. All I know is that I’m enjoying this while it lasts.