For more than a decade I thought I sucked as a person and failed at life. I was met with confusion and anger by my parents on a constant basis — they couldn’t understand why I would waste the day sleeping as late as 11am. In university, I got half my sleep during daylight hours, in the middle of class, or on the science lounge couch. I’m sure it contributed to my low grades and eventual dropping out.
As an adult the situation got worse, and my natural sleep cycle developed to mean going to bed at 4-6am, and getting up past three. Mornings have even been known to make me nauseous. I’ve only worked one day job, and I was often late coming in. It lasted for less than three months before I quit.
Despite the frustrations involved, I feel way more at peace since being diagnosed with Delayed Sleep-Phase Syndrome nearly a year ago. My doctor was one of few who are familiar with it, so I was lucky. Delayed sleep-phase syndrome is a sleep disorder characterized by having a different circadian rhythm, one often completely backwards from that of most people and leading to a more or less nocturnal lifestyle.
Now that I know there’s a specific reason for the way I am I can be fully accepting of it. I don’t pressure myself to conform to a day schedule anymore because I realize that this is not my fault.
Since then I’ve worked second and third shifts at a hotel, an online moderation company, a personal care home for the mentally disabled, and now I work in a call center for a large bank. Late shifts are unpopular, so I’ve not only gotten these shifts easily, but often couldn’t have escaped them if I tried. Although, considering the health issues associated with living contrary to your internal clock, why would I?
Living on a day schedule would mean facing the same health risks that most people face when being forced to work nights. Depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and generally poor performance are just some of many. Industrial and traffic accidents are often caused by sleep-deprivation.
This doesn’t mean that life has been particularly easy…
There’s still the issue of trying to navigate relationships and a social life when everybody else is asleep. It’s lonely.
And running errands and going to doctor or dentist appointments often means getting up relatively “early” to rush out before businesses close. Thank science and the flying spaghetti monster for 24-hour markets.
Then there’s the lack of understanding sufferers face from those around them. We’ve heard it all: “You’ll eventually adjust like everybody else.” “Just go to bed and you’ll fall asleep.” “It can’t be that hard, why would you want to waste the whole day sleeping?” We don’t! And yes, it is that hard. It just doesn’t work, and we’re much better off when we don’t have to constantly fight it, when we can be good to our bodies and live according to our natural rhythms.
For many years now, if work doesn’t mean having to get up to make it in for my evening shift, I find myself eating breakfast at four or five pm, in front of my very expensive photo-therapy lamp. In the winter this sometimes means going days at a time, not getting any real sunlight at all. And you know what? It sucks.
There is no cure for delayed sleep-phase syndrome. All we need is some understanding, and maybe a shift-working friend or two to keep us company during the long, lonely nights.