24 03 2012

In my twenties I worked overnight for a medical locum service. We sent doctors out on the road to visit people at home overnight. Not quite medical emergencies, but at least in theory, things that couldn’t wait until morning.

Because I was studying at university at the time, and possibly because I was quite fond of a certain quality of life, I worked the weekends. Half of Thursday night (3am to 8am), all of Friday night (10pm to 8am), all of Saturday night, All of Sunday night and half of Monday night (10pm to 3am).

It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. It paid very well. (Very well.) And there is an entire community out there that works weekend nights and we got to know each other and had chats and sometimes met up for breakfast at the Hilton or the Hyatt in the morning. And it was nice driving home when rush hour was heading in the other direction. Every so often, I actually had a social life on the weekend and I would swap with the woman who worked the weekday nights.

Which is where my full moon story comes in.

It was a well known fact for we night workers in the medical industry that full moons were weird. Not in an astrology way, in a literal sense. And sometimes really bad. And the worst of all full moons was the Saturday night full moon, probably because it combined with a major drinking / partying night.

Full moon nights would be characterised by:
• Pubs – more fights and more injuries
• Police and Ambos – more call-outs for drunks and disturbances
• Hospital EDs – more bizarre cases, more injuries from fights and falls
• Nursing homes – patients restless and wandering, falling
• Prisons – more disturbances amongst the inmates

So the whole full-moon-thing is a fact, not a fiction.

Of course the reasons might be different – less the “lunatic” and more the fact that additional light means people sleep less deeply, are more likely to be out and about on the streets, etc. Either that, or the tide has gone out on their brains. Present company excepted of course.

So back to the story. I used to comment on how completely bizarre some of my Saturday full moon nights were, and the lovely woman who worked the week nights used to sympathise.

Until one day she did a swap with me and actually worked the full moon Saturday night.

And swore she would never swap with me again.

So yes, Virginia, there is a full moon syndrome. And everyone working those shifts knows about it – medicos, nurses, police, ambos, publicans, wardens. And I have to say, the bizarre stories in the media (and particularly social media, which I monitor) come thick and fast at the full moon.

So don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The next full moon at time of writing in Australia is 6 May 2012. You have been warned.

The Advantages of Insomnia

10 12 2011

photo credit Sadie Hernandez

I am a world-champion sleeper. Having spent much of my 20s working shift-work (hello to those in the health sector and other 24hr businesses), I trained myself to go to sleep very quickly on certain cues. Unfortunately one of those cues is turning onto my stomach, which now results in neck pain the next day, but still, I usually go to sleep within about 30 seconds of going to bed. If I am awake for five minutes I think something is wrong.

However, every so often I go through a bout of insomnia. For me this means I go to sleep as usual but wake early – really early. One REM cycle (4hrs) is about it. Those of you who suffer this affliction on an ongoing basis, have my sympathy. We all know about the impact of lack of sleep on daytime activities, concentration, energy levels and body sensations.

However when, as I do, your insomnia is short-lived, there can be an upside.

1. I am incredibly productive at 4am.

2. There are no distractions. No phone calls, few emails coming in – I can concentrate on the task at hand.

3. Even Social Media is slow at this hour of morning. Of course the internet being worldwide, there is still movement but it tends to be the newscasts and newsblogs I have subscribed to, not personal messages. Less compelling.

4. Procrastination seems pointless when you have time to kill, hence I am getting uni assignments in before their due date. Yes really, I find it pretty stunning as well.

5. The peace and quiet gives you head space for thought (and not just the thought “why can’t I sleep”). Longer, non-interrupted thoughts that allow you to think about larger topics.

6. This is an excellent time for planning.

7. You know pretty much how long you have got to achieve whatever it is before the rest of the house begins to rise / you have to start preparing for the day. This helps to focus on tasks.

8. Enforced quietness (so you don’t wake anyone else) is good for thought and relaxation. It brings you much more “inside your head” instead of focussed externally.

9. It is quite nice hearing the birds rise in the morning and sing. I haven’t quite got to watching a sunrise yet.

10. At about 5.30am a few of my friends and work colleagues appear online and suddenly I start getting answers to emails. It is like a secret early-morning club.

What do you do when you can’t sleep?

Tactics for getting teenagers out of bed

17 11 2011

photo credit: Alan Cleaver

Remember when they were small? The excitement when they started sleeping through the night?

My children are champion sleepers. They could sleep for Australia. They slept through the night at 4 months (after having been born over a month premature) and had two hour-long naps a day until they started kindergarten and I regretfully had to cease one of the naps. (Oh how I missed my second nap of the day!) Starting school of course meant the end of the other nap as well. As a former shift-worker, I so appreciated that they would sleep.

Now of course we are at the other extreme. They don’t want to go to bed, they don’t want to get up in the morning.

At the school play the other day, this was a featured skit. One son, played the alarm clock. (He is particularly good at making loud annoying noises.) The resolution of the skit was that the teenager’s baby brother in dirty nappy crawled onto his bed and the teenager shot out of bed.

Of course this issue of getting teenagers out of bed is not unique to our family. Here are a few of the options that have been suggested to me. I do not particualrly recommend them – but some of them are particularly imaginative and worth sharing!

1. Alarm clock. Yes, let’s go for the obvious. The average alarm clock takes a teenager on average two night to get accustomed enough to, to sleep through. No matter waht sort of alarm clock, how close to the bed. Some are even able to get up and cross the room to hit the snooze alarm without waking. on the other hand, they are perfectly capable of setting it to go off at other hours, say 2am, or even the middle of the day, to drive everyone else insane.

2. Screaming, shouting, nagging, yelling. Another obvious one. I am very very good at this one. it usually doesn’t work.

3. Bargaining. Not possible if the teenager is deeply asleep, but worth a shot if they are drowsy and you have something really good to bargain with (say, a mobile phone with no credit). Can be expensive though.

4. Removing the bedclothes. Can be effective if it is winter and cold. After a while the teenager starts holding onto their bedclothes a little tighter though.

5. TV / radio. I have one teenager who is psychically attached to the television. Despite being unable to hear the television from his bedroom, if the TV is turned on, he will get up and wander towards it. Something to do with electro-magnetic radiation perhaps? Or just a severe case of TV-addiction?

6. Water pistol. One mother told me that her friend (a friend of a friend, don’t you know!) used to stand in the doorway and once the child hadn’t got out of bed after a certain number of reminders, she would squirt him on the face until he got out of bed. Doesn’t work if the child pulls covers over their face – you just end up with soggy bedclothes that you have to dry.

7. Frozen peas. Yes, here is where it gets interesting apparently “a friend of a friend” used to put a bag of frozen peas in the teenager’s bed. Certainly would wake them with a shock (probably closely followed by a teenage tantrum! And with some justification I feel.

8. And along the same vein, another “friend of a friend” used to freeze marbles (a remarkable feat of lateral thinking) and put them on the teenager’s bed if they did not get out of bed. Apparently unlike the peas, there were a number of them to throw out of the bed, rather than one packet of peas. I presume said parent then also collected (dodged) the marbles and re-froze them.

sleep, wonderful sleep…

24 09 2011

licensed under creative commons from peasap

In my twenties, I worked shift work for the best part of a decade. I started most nights at 10pm and worked overnight until 8am. My body clock entirely adjusted to being nocturnal – except for those times when I also did part time work in the daytime, or I studied full-time at the same time. I was young, energetic, fit and determined. Sleep deprivation was something to be overcome. And I got paid very well for my inconvenience.

This really wasn’t so tough because prior to starting my night-shift job I had been known to stay out all night clubbing and still manage to go to work the next morning. Ah, the energy! The committment! The insanity!

In my early thirties I had children. Not for me the logical “have them one at a time” plan. I had mine all at once. I do not remember their babyhood, I was so tired. I do remember falling asleep standing up in our hallway. I woke up when I toppled sideways into the wall. Yes, I literally hit the wall.

The children are older now, and go to bed at a reasonable time (complaining all the way “but I’m not tired!” before immediately lapsing into slumber as soon as the lights are out).

But sleep for me has become the elusive dream. Not for nothing is sleep deprivation considered a form of torture. While I could happily nod off in the early evening, when the lights go out, I am awake. I must sleep at some time during the night, but I am awake by 4.30. Awake but not refreshed. Awake, but desperate to be asleep for another two hours before I need to get up.

Sleep, oh sleep, whereforeart thou?

The various psych and health facebook pages I subscribe to keep sending me information on the latest studies linking lack of sleep with weight gain, high blood pressure, memory loss, ageing, etc. Add to that the physical pain of a body that has not relaxed and remained horizntal for long enough. So I went and did a sleep study to see why I wasn’t sleeping.

It was possibly the worst night’s sleep I have ever had. First they cover your scalp in various electrodes sticky-taped or glued to your head (the glue does seem to peel out of hair quite easily in the morning.) Then then stick an airflow monitor around your head so the tubes sit just outside your nostrils. Irritating.

Then there are other monitors stuck onto your chest and velcroed on with a strap. As you turn over during the night, the velcro strap will rip open (cue velcro ripping noise in your imagination) and you will have to semi-wake up in order to reafix the strap.

Add to this that you are trying to sleep in a strange environment, and the usual noises of a hospital as people, trolleys and (it would seem) herds of elephants clatter up and down the hall all night, and I am surprised they got any readings from my sleep at all.

However, they did, and they said everything was normal. I guess they have a different standard for “normal” based on people tossing and turning in hospital beds with wires and straps all over them.

So I am back to my own devices. And of course complaining to anyone who will listen.

Thanks for listening!

If you liked this post you might also like Reasons I Should be Exercising (which might also help with sleep) and This germ-ridden life.