Intimate Details of the Sleep Habits of the Author of the Insomnia Apocalypse

I wrote a book about what would happen if everyone on earth stopped sleeping.

Every night I sleep with an app on my phone which records my movements and translates them into neat data about my sleeping habits.

I’ve always been fascinated by sleep.  I’ve had bouts of insomnia, usually to go along with hugely stressful times, and periods of anxiety and depression.  It laid the groundwork for a lifetime of being fascinated by, and appreciative of, sleep.

Being a movie-theatre Film Projectionist for over a decade let me see a variety of sleep cycles, both in myself and in others who worked in the whacky world of a Grindhouse; closing the booth one summer had me on 17:00-01:00 shifts, which wreaked havoc on my sleep schedule.  When I took over as Head Projectionist I got to make the schedule for the booth, and set myself up with 10:00-18:00 shifts that better fit with ‘having a normal schedule’.

I watched as coworkers and managers were sick constantly.  I saw many become slowly crushed by the job.  I’m sure some of it was at least partially due to the abuse they inflicted on what should have been their ally, their treasured companion in life: sleep.

Seeing people close-open (close the threatre at 1 or 2 in the morning, and have to be in to open the theatre the next day at 9 or 10) was totally crazy to me.  When people are tired, they get sick more often, are less happy, and, from a business standpoint, cost money in the form of mistakes.  In the projection booth, these mistakes could equal big bucks.  Scratched prints, dropped prints, mistakes when splicing reels together (in the correct order, please), adverts and trailers put in upside-down and backwards… the list of things that can go wrong in a booth is long.  And when you sleep-deprived people, mistakes cost customer satisfaction and money.

We know that sleep deprivation can cause impairment.

My fascination with sleep bled into the career I’ve been working towards my whole life: being an author.  It seems inevitable that sleep was going to be the focus of a book at some point.  All my past experiences aligned and I got a bolt-from-the-blue idea that set me off on the wildest journey of my life: writing a book about an insomnia apocalypse.  “What if the whole world stopped being able to sleep?”  I set about crafting a book to explore just what would happen.  I wrote it in the style of World War Z, so every chapter could showcase some new element, a new character, a new location.  This let me produce a book with many windows into an apocalypse, and effectively illustrate just how badly we need sleep.

Spoiler alert: we need sleep a lot.  Like, so, so much.

Here’s where I can share some nifty things about sleep: I have been sleeping with an app on my phone that records movement and translates it into sleep data.  For two years, I’ve been tracking my sleep.

I have data that spans the most massive changes in my life yet:

  • going through a divorce
  • moving to the other side of the world
  • publishing my breakout novel, fulfilling a lifelong dream

I feel like my sleep data is personal.  It clearly shows the ups and downs of my life.

Also interesting are the periods where I’m on meditation retreats, contrasted to the times when I’m living in town, in ‘regular society’ and not in the peace and quiet of a meditation centre.

By far my favourite data is The Longest Night.  To celebrate my book launch, I stayed awake for as long as possible, live on a Twitch stream.  I made it 80 hours before I called it due to safety concerns.  After those 80 hours, I slept for a whopping 16 hours and 43 minutes.

It was amazing.  The days following it are also interesting.

Want to see some neat graphs about all this?  Hold onto your butts, here we go.  I give you:

Intimate Details of the Sleeping Habits of the Author of the Insomnia Apocalypse

First, everything all at once. Check it.

And here’s each individual graph so you can see the appropriate values:

But wait, there’s context.  My life during the past two years has been WILD.  Lots of ups and downs; ups from living a beautiful new life, downs from processing the end of a marriage.  Here’s the data with a bit of timeline:  

My sleep quality has been very closely tied to stress.  Moving out on my own for the first time was great; it alleviated the crushing weight of a failing marriage and I slept so much better than I had in ages.  The dip in January was me nearly dying of a broken heart.

But hey I’m still here, thanks in no small part to some Epic Meditation.  It totally changed my life, and I’m so grateful to have it.  It really helped get me through some rough times.

You notice that green line of sleep quality dips as it approaches January of this year.  You may know that I’ve been working my whole entire life to become an author, and my first book, Sleep Over, was released on January 16th.  The stress leading up to that was enormous, and you can definitely see my sleep affected by it.

The next increase in sleep quality was relief from Sleep Over hitting the shelves, in print, from a bonafide New York publisher.  I was so happy to have it behind me.  This started off a two-month period of intense meditation retreats to help process this massive life event.

Here’s more recent data in the same detail:

And again with some life events in the timeline:

And again, the separate charts for values:

The most interesting sleep, by far, is this one: The Longest Night, the night after I stayed awake as long as possible (80 hours!) for Sleep Over‘s release.  Check it.

Time in bed: 16 hours and 43 minutes baby!  Holy WOW.  Interestingly, I dipped into The Deep (deep sleep) my usual 5 times.  It was so good.  No sleep is ever going to top it, not unless something goes drastically wrong haha.

My previous Longest Night (and also one of the BEST ever) was the first night after I arrived in New Zealand, fleeing a life on fire and into the loving arms of so many helpful people.

Sleep is so helpful!  When things are hard it just makes life much easier and better if I can get the sleep I need.

Now, some nights in detail, just to show off what I know about my sleep cycle now, after observing it for 2 years.

My ideal night has 4 or 5 dips into deep sleep.  Whether I need 4 or 5 depends on how well rested I’ve been leading up to that night.  If all is well, I only need 4.  But if I’m totally knackered, I need 5, over 8 hours.

This is a recent sleep.  I’m super pooped from a new job.  As you can see, I have to be up really early, but it’s okay because I was in bed just after 7, leaving me enough time with my head on the pillow to dip into deep sleep those 5 times I need.

Now look at this one where I only need 4 dips and 7 hours:

Fun fact: on deep meditation retreat, I can be totally knackered but I only need 4 dips into deep sleep to feel well rested.  And I need far fewer hours with my head on the pillow.  The graph above is from an intense day on a 10-day vipassana retreat.  It was the hardest I’ve ever focussed and was totally in ‘the zone’.  (Absolutely MASSIVE days chockers full of sitting and learning vipassana).  4 dips woo!

Now a typical one from the heart of my month-long retreat:

I needed fully one hour less in bed than normal, and I was waking up naturally between 4 and 5.  I was often having a lay-down after lunch to get another hour with my head on the pillow, so some days when I only got 4 I was actually needing 5 (but it was too exciting to stay in bed, not when I could have the meditation hall all to myself haha).

Just to contrast these pretty great sleeps, here are some truly terrible sleeps.  The plateau leading up to the first dip means it took ages for me to fall asleep, and the plateau on the tail end means I was super restless coming out of sleep and didn’t want to get up, hoping I’d get another dip into good sleep, but not getting it.  This was the night after moving my things into storage and preparing to leave my friends and family.  A very disruptive time, and it definitely shows!  Only 3 dips into The Deep as I’ve come to think of it.

Here’s another bad one, where I wake up with anxiety twice in the night.

Nearing the end of my post, here’s a 100% quality sleep, from when I was helping do good in the world and feeling generally awesome.

So there you have it, some sleep data.  I always love sharing it in the hopes it gets people thinking about their own sleep health.

In conclusion, sleep is really important to me.  Its quality is critically linked to what’s happening in life, and how much stress I’m experiencing.

Questions?  Comments?  Have a gander at this reddit thread where I’ll be interacting to answer and chat!

And if you’re interested in a book about an insomnia apocalypse, Sleep Over is part of a Book Bub promotion this week- the eBook is only $1.99 across all U.S. platforms!

Or if you want to just toss me a gold coin, hit up Patreon.

Thanks for hanging out.  Cheers!

-H.G.

P.S. Sleep well ^_^

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Sleep Related Research, Glass, Prop Hunt

Well dear readers, I hope you are well.  I have had the flu for the past several weeks!  For a few days, it was that kind of sick where you can lay on the couch in silence and not even feel bored.  Your body wants you to be laying down and it makes you not care that you don’t even want to watch Netflix.

When I got better (after a solid week of eating like a maniac and napping every afternoon), I got Prop Hunt.  I have played it for the past 5 days (not all day… not today anyway haha), and it is incredible.

Prop Hunt is the modern day video-game-age equivalent of Hide-and-Seek.

The “Hunters” are “it” and they are blind for 30 seconds while the “Props” take their preferred form (or hastily-chosen-in-a-panic-form [A CABBAGE NEXT TO THE TOILET OH HOW INTERESTING]), and hide.

Once released, the Hunters must find the Props and kill them.

Hunters have health, and every time they attack an innocent object (I swear that lamp looked suspicious) they take damage.  An ill-placed grenade can be lethal.

Props have health directly correlated to how big they are.  That honkin’ vending machine is sitting pretty at 200 health, but is way out in the open.  A tiny pop can is able to hide in small spaces, but only has one health.  A nearby grenade can take one out, even if they weren’t the intended target.

So for the past few days, I’ve been a filing cabinet, a bottle, a lamp, a hula girl figurine (the hardest thing in the game to shoot!), various boxes, all sorts of junk.  It’s been a lot of fun.

When I get sick, I watch Youtuber “Seananners” play Prop Hunt, so I already knew what it was all about.  I’m glad this time I was able to play it myself.  Here he is in action.

Seananners. Pretty fun.
Onwards!

There is sleep research showing up on my feed nearly every week!  I always get excited to see how interested people are in it.  I think my novel will strike at just the right time.

Here’s some neat things, if you’re interested:

Discovery of a sleep node in the brain could lead to treatment for people with sleep disorders, such as insomnia.

How your brain actually makes decisions while you sleep

Scientists find evidence that narcolepsy, a chronic sleep disorder, may in fact be an autoimmune disease.

So yeah, interest in sleep and sleep research is high right now.

Here are some amazing things made of glass. I may have posted a few of these before… they continue to amaze.






Source is the very talented Paul J. Stankard.

I’ve always loved watching glass blowing.  Some day I’ll have a setup to play around with.

So that’s all for now!  Everything publishing-related is still hush-hush.  Though I can say, I have another manuscript waiting to be looked over by my fabulous agent, Beth Campbell, and as soon as she can give me notes on it I can get to work.

I’ll leave you with these: pictures of ink dropped in water.  Cheers!

Full album here!
 

Method Writing Experiment: Preparing for 100 Hours Without Sleep

As you may remember, I have been known to engage in something I’ve decided to call “Method Writing”.

If you’re unfamiliar with Method Acting, basically it’s a technique employed by actors to put themselves in the psychological state of the character they’re portraying, to convey a more realistic sense of that character.

Robert DeNiro drove a cab on twelve hour shifts for a month before filming Taxi Driver.

Daniel Day Lewis has gone to extreme lengths to get inside the minds of his characters, spending months learning new skills and getting into their heads.

You get the idea.  Doing things in real life that your character would do.  Living as they would.  Amassing their experiences, so you have the emotions and memories of those experiences to draw on for your performance.

Writers are portraying characters as well.  We have to portray them all.  Every single entity in a book is characterized by a single individual.  Just take a moment on that.  Every single entity in a book is characterized by a single individual.

Good writers will have a cast of stock characters that they can draw from to make things easier.  You change details, mannerisms, speech patterns; the surface stuff that makes us different from one another can be changed as easily as a costume, and is about as effective at characterizing someone.

But the core of characters, the very heart of what makes someone tick, how many of those do we know?  How many people do we understand, really understand in their heart of hearts?  A good writer will have a few.  Enough to get by.  Great writers have more.

Thus, the more people we can understand, inside and out, and truly know, the more effective we can characterize the plethora of people needed to populate our work.

And Method Writing is one of the ways to do that.  You try new experiences, go to new places, learn the things that your character will know, so you understand them better.  Do you think I’d’ve guessed that a good Projectionist in a new building would have a roll of micropore tape in their pocket?  No.

So: getting into the mindset of a character is key to portraying them realistically.

And yes, having similar experiences to that character helps us draw on genuine emotions and thus aids in achieving a level of realism that will translate into a more rich and lifelike individual.

Of course, we are writers; our job is to imagine these things.  But we cannot work in a bubble.  We’re always using our own experiences, the people we know, the things we do, to insert realism into our work.

I’m currently writing a book which requires me to know a lot about sleep.  And insomnia.

I’m already having to invent dozens of people.  I can’t really go be a paramedic, or a sound mixer for Skrillex, or an artist working in Paris.  But I can understand what it would be like for them to be sleep deprived.

My next experiment is to remain awake for 100 hours.

During this time, I will periodically measure five things:

My blood pressure and heart rate.

My mental acuity, using simple math and reading comprehension tests.

My ability to see and sort colours.

My reaction time.

I’ve been taking readings on all these leading up to my experiment, so I have a baseline.

I have excellent blood pressure.  🙂

I see colours pretty darn well.  (Seems by biggest weakness is in the blue area of the spectrum.)

My reaction time is pretty constant.

My math skills are pretty good (always been quick to do basic math in my head, except, for some reason, the eight times-tables, which is apparently the blue of single digits).

My reading comprehension is good (the test itself had errors in it).

So I have a benchmark, because I want to have actual data points to compare to when I’m doing these things on no sleep.  I’ll try to do them every twelve hours.

What do I hope to gain by staying awake for 100 hours?  A better understanding of what my characters would be going through.  I could fake it.  I could probably write a good approximation.  But having lived it will bring an air of authenticity to the work that I will feel much better about.

Understanding people is key to writing realistic characters.  

I’m not going to enjoy doing it, but I will enjoy having done it.

Sometimes I can’t experience what my characters are going through.  But these rare times when I can, I feel an obligation to at least try.

Thanks for reading.

Heidi out.  

P.S.: (I will report back in one week, when I’m just at the tail end of my 100 hours.  I apologize in advance if it is riddled with insanity and/or is generally a mess.  I will of course do a followup with a more articulate account of how it went.)

P.P.S.: It’s different from Gonzo Journalism, or Gonzo Writing, in that I’m not inserting myself into the narrative.  It is a technique which serves only to help me understand and bring realism to characters in a story.

P.P.P.S.: I’ve been reading up on sleep and sleep deprivation a lot.  I’m not going into this blind.  It is the last step in my understanding, not the first.

Adventures in Anemia

I suddenly understand the Boiling Frog Story.  The way you’ll sit in water as it heats to boiling, because you don’t notice and the change isn’t sudden enough…

So over the past few years I’ve been getting more and more lightheaded.  I noticed it more when I drank coffee and was dehydrated.  I’d stand and my vision would go black around the edges.  Lately I’ve been woozing, to the point where I grab the bathroom doorframe in the morning after getting up.  Big problem, right?

Turns out it isn’t, if it happens gradually enough.  Darn it brain, we’re supposed to be on the ball for shit like this.

But that’s just it; my brain hasn’t been working great either.  I’ve been sluggish.  Can’t focus, can’t concentrate.  Can’t think half the time.

I got some blood tests done (hurrah for finally having a family doctor!) and they called me in to discuss the results asap (cancer oh god it’s cancer, said my stupid brain).  Nope; anemia.

Iron levels are normally from 50-500.  Women start to feel tired at 30.

My iron is at 10.

I bought iron pills.  I’m taking 100-150mg of elemental iron a day, starting today.  I actually took a bit more than that to kick it off.

I have been an avid blood donor.  Turns out I kind of need that blood.  Hopefully I can get my iron up and be able to donate again, but in the mean time, popping iron twice a day, and vitamin C to help uptake.  At least it’s an easy fix.  And spinach, steak, edamame, and other iron rich foods will be eaten more.  Wait, who am I kidding, my diet is pretty iron rich already.  What the heck, body?

Well, we’ll see.

Glad to have that sorted out.

Sharing health things is a little iffy; I only wanted to because this crept up on me so gradually, and my brain was getting more sluggish and too stupid to realize there was a problem, that perhaps if I had read all the symptoms I’d had, I may have been able to put it together.

So I guess, iron: we need it.  Do you have enough?

Ho ho ho, a little iron humour.

And now I’m thinking about Iron Man again…

Isn’t that gorgeous?

Speaking of…

But enough of that.  The artist that did the above painting is Sam Spratt.  Eh kills aliens and doesn’t afraid of anything.

Thanks for reading.

Heidi out.