Sleep disorder explains worthless state

How many times has someone (beginning with your mother) asked in exasperation, “What in the world is wrong with you?!” and you truly didn’t know. I hated those moments and still do, wishing I had a better answer than my usual, flippant, “I don’t know. Maybe I’m just stupid” response to what I recognize as a facetious question.
When I have serious cause to ask the “what’s wrong” question of myself, I usually go back to the HALT acronym I learned at the beginning of my counseling career: Don’t ever let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. I mentally add Thirsty to the checklist, making the acronym HALTT, but it’s still pronounced the same.
They all make a lot of sense. Think about it. How good can you feel or how straight can you think when you’re trying to function famished, ticked off, rejected, fatigued and under-hydrated? Yet many of us frequently walk around in a combination of those states (sometimes more like countries!), wondering what’s wrong. Maybe we’re all stupid.
Of the five HALTT physical and mental health stabilizers I mentioned, “tired” is the one I most often run afoul. I’ve long suspected a large part of what ails me is I don’t get enough sleep. Not necessarily my fault. While most people identify themselves as belonging to either the “morning person” or the “night person” camp, my tent is permanently pitched in the Extreme Morning section. Let me illustrate.
When I was five years old, I spent the night with my recently married cousin Carole and her husband, Ralph. Carole and Ralph reported to my parents that at 5 AM the next morning, they heard the pitter-patter of little feet in the guest bedroom where I’d slept. They investigated and found me already up and dressed, making my bed. And it was still dark outside.
Forty years later, I still make my bed and cannot sleep beyond 5 AM without a strong sleeping pill. It shouldn’t be a problem, right? Lots of people get up early. Except that extreme morning people are hard-wired to not only get up at 4 or 5 AM, but also to retire prematurely because their system chemically shuts down early, putting them out of synch with the rest of the world.
This fascinating rhythm (or crazy rhythm, in my case) is circadian rhythm, the roughly 24-hour cycle in the biochemical, physiological, or behavioral processes of all living things. It’s got a beat we have no choice but to dance to.
Circadian rhythmicity is important in regulating and coordinating internal metabolic processes. It’s responsible for the sleeping and eating patterns in human beings, plus influences core body temperature, brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration and other biological activities.
For the most part, circadian rhythms are endogenous (originate within the body, itself) but can be altered by zeitgebers, or external cues, the most basic one being daylight. But not mine. My circadian clock refuses to budge. No amount of dawn, caffeine, naps or alcohol can coax it into step with the rest of the world.
Self-pattern mapping suggests I am part of the rare 1% of the population afflicted with Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder (ASPD), an extremely strong natural circadian rhythm tendency to both go to sleep and awaken earlier than the norm. Not a problem, if only I could honor that natural tendency. But I can’t simply check out when the clock strikes eight, with family, friends and reponsibilities still requiring active engagement.
So if you talk with me after 8 PM, recognize I am on seriously borrowed time. I’ll sound slurred, strokey and un-focused, like you probably would sound if I spoke with you at 4 or 5 AM. If I remain awake until 9 PM, I should not be allowed to drive or operate power equipment, not even an electric toothbrush. After 10 PM, I am certifiably worthless.
Sometimes I resent how my bodily timing has doomed me to a lifetime of matinee movies, early dinners and missed New Year’s Eve toasts. But the early to bed, early to rise routine truly works for me. Provided I pop a melatonin supplement and honor it.

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