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How to Manage Relentless Waking

Most people that know me are aware that I’m a night owl. My college classmates knew me as being insanely productive at times. My best ideas find me late at night. I love the quiet of the calm, dark hours. At night, there are fewer disturbances to send my paranoia or delusions haywire. Sometimes, I love the night a little too much. I had to find ways for how to manage relentless waking.

There is so much allure to staying up late, and, for me, staying up late almost always runs the risk of staying up all night. My love/hate relationship with going to sleep has been ongoing for several years now. It began over a decade ago when I started taking Zyprexa (aka Olanzapine) to treat my schizophrenia. This medication had horrific sedation effects that rendered me a zombie most days.

On Zyprexa, I could sleep up to 24 hours straight if I didn’t set the alarm to wake me up. I was sleeping so much that I was missing out on a massive chunk of my life. Over time, I began to compensate for this lost time by staying awake for 24 hours straight. Sleep for 24, wake for 24. I regained some of my lost time, and it didn’t feel hard on me because of how much sleep I was getting.

Later on in life, I switched to taking Risperidone to treat my schizophrenia, and my sedation issues were drastically reduced. All of a sudden, I was able to wake up after sleeping 8 hours with a lot less struggle (though still a significant battle, I would often sleep for 10-12 hours at a time). Though my lost time had been regained, old habits failed to compensate. I would still stay up for 24 hours straight.

As I enter my 30s, staying up late and staying up all night is beginning to take its toll. If I stay up all night, I end my day in agony. The more I do it, the more painful it is. Even staying up late is problematic to my professional life. When I stay up late, I often do it ignoring meetings I have the following day. It hurts my professional appearance and shakes my confidence in myself.

These days, I’ve found myself wanting to stay awake when I am in a heightened state of excitement or anxiety. Right now, I am living paycheque to paycheque, and not knowing if I can keep up with my credit card payments is a continual stressor. I have recently concluded that I need to manage this anxiety and excitement. I also have to prepare for the moments where I can’t help myself and stay up late anyway. When learning how to manage relentless waking, it’s not necessarily about stopping it. You may just have to settle for mitigating its damage.

My playbook for how to manage relentless waking

Do Tomorrow’s Work Tonight

Thanks to my field of work, I can bring my work home with me. When I have those moments of an uncontrollable urge to stay up late, I spend that wakeful energy on doing the work that needs to get done the next day so that when I finally wind down, I can sleep for as long as I need to without getting behind on work.

Consider/Cancel Appointments Before Deciding to Stay Up

One of the best ways to stop me from staying up late is to double-check my calendar before deciding to stay up late. If I have a meeting the next day that will interfere with me sleeping in, I will usually force myself to bed. Sometimes the anxiety is too much, in which case I cancel the appointments via email. I really don’t feel great about it, but the anxiety needs to be dealt with, which leads me to the next management tool…

Journal About Why You’re Staying Up

About 6 months ago, I discovered the wonders of journaling. It’s been an extremely powerful tool in self-discovery, self-reflection, life planning, and so much more. One of the best ways to get myself in a place to go to sleep is to journal why I’m staying up. When I make those journal entries, I often feel immediately tired after getting my frustrations out on paper.

Create Incentives To Go To Bed

Recently, I’ve been developing my own personal life game where I sort of turn aspects of my life into a system similar to a video game with tasks and rewards (think experience points in a roleplaying game). I give myself points for doing all sorts of things, including doing a daily sketch, completing a full day of work, calling my grandmother, etc. Because proper sleep is important, I also give myself extra points for going to bed on time. If you’re not a gamer like me, you could reward yourself with something more tangible, like a cookie or extra TV time.

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Photo Credit: Alexandra Gorn

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Life is an ongoing series of lessons. Because I live with schizophrenia, my hope is that the lessons I learn and the solutions that come from those lessons will help you and anyone else dealing with schizophrenia or mental illness/mental health issues.

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