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I'm Fairly Certain I Have DSPS

by Brittany
(Washington, DC)

I have struggled with sleep problems my whole life. In childhood, my main problem was falling asleep. As a teenager, I went to bed on a summer night, around 12 am, and even in my own dark, quiet bedroom, with nothing to disturb me, it took me 6 hours to fall asleep. On a normal night, I could fall asleep in 30-60 minutes.


When I had been at college for a year, things started to get worse. I had difficulty sleeping at night (uncomfortable dorm mattresses, noisy neighbors, and chronic back pain often disrupted me), and a terrible time getting up in the morning. I got a lower grade in one of my classes during my second year at college because the class was at 9 a.m., and I was late too many times because of my inability to get out of bed on time. By my final year of college, I had a professor who would actually call me in the mornings because she knew I had difficulty getting up for morning classes, and the course was required for my major.

Now, it's been 5 years since I graduated from college. I've been without a steady paying job for the majority of that time, and am currently unemployed. If I had a job interview, I could always be there early, and I didn't have a trouble being late for work, since the possibility of making money seems to be the only thing that makes me not want to hit the snooze buttons on my two alarms over and over again for at least half an hour, which is what I often do. I position the alarms so that I have to get out of bed to turn them off, but I'm so tired when I wake up that I hit the snooze button and get back in my bed. If there is no snooze, I'll turn the alarm off and maybe get a few more hours of sleep. I'm always tired except between the hours of 10 pm and 2 am, when I'm most awake. During the winter, if I don't have to be anywhere during the day, I can just sleep from dawn until dusk, like a vampire.

However, I'm in graduate school now. My trick to getting to a required course offered only at 8:30 in the morning was often to stay up all night the night before, so I wouldn't oversleep and miss the class, which ended at 10:30.

This sleep problem isn't helped by my ADD, or the fact that it takes me 2 hours to get ready for bed for some reason. I take showers at night, which I have always done so I don't have to get up as early. Now, I also have OCD, so washing my entire body is a must if I don't want to be kept awake thinking about other people's germs or chemicals or odors lingering on me while I'm in bed. I don't take nearly as long to fall asleep anymore, but that's because I go to bed late, usually no earlier than 3 a.m. My sleep schedule is highly erratic, but I typically sleep best between 4 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Because of my sleep problem, I've been late to or missed too many morning and afternoon events and appointments to count. Once, I told friends from my Bible study I would meet them at noon to celebrate a friend's birthday. My alarms, for some reason, didn't sound or wake me up, and I awoke several hour afterwards to find a distressed message from a friend on my cell phone left at perhaps 12:40 wondering where I was. I had been sleeping so soundly that the ringing phone hadn't woken me up, as it sometimes does ( when that happens, I usually stay in bed and let it ring, because I'm mad at the caller for waking me up.) I was so embarrassed that when I called my friend back, I told her I was sick, and that's why I never came to the restaurant where everyone else was.

Most people buy it when I tell them I have a health problem, because I consider my oversleeping to be the result of a health problem. It's easier than dealing with the confused and angry responses from people who don't understand why anyone would be late to an afternoon event because they overslept. They think it means I am lazy or a bad person.

It's so hard to get anyone to take my condition seriously. I've had a psychiatrist tell me he thought it was a behavioral thing. Friends and relatives who know how bad my problem is think I can control it. I've tried training myself to go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier. I might get on a more regular sleep schedule for a few days, especially while visiting relatives, who wake me up in the morning with their noise and talking, but those instances never last long. I'll revert to my old patterns. I don't know if there's anything that can help.

I use a sleeping mask to block out the street lights shining through my curtains (I rent a small, urban apartment that was furnished and decorated by my landlady, and also, I'm poor, so I can't just replace the curtains with blackout curtains.) I wear earplugs to block out urban noise. I've tried prescription sleep aids, which gave me a terrible taste in my mouth the next day and didn't fix my problem. I've tried melatonin, lavender pillow mist, and just about every sleep and wake-up resource in my budget, but it hasn't been much help. I don't know how I'll function in my future career, or if I'll be able to solve my problem.

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