The theory of circadian rhythms is that we have an observable pattern of behaviors we experience each day, the two most obvious of which are being awake and being asleep; being sleepy during your wakefulness is part of that, but not as obvious. There are also rhythms to our sleep: we go through, or attempt to go through, multiple three-hours cycles of dozing, light sleep, deeper sleep, R.E.M. sleep, and then back to light sleep. If you wake up in the middle of the night, you probably just came out of one of the cycles, and you’ll repeat it if you allow yourself to fall back asleep.
I have recently been getting by with six hours, or less, of sleep. It’s been going on for a while, and I’m not particularly sleepy during the day, so I believe it’s enough for me. I’ve been able to put this to a more controlled test because I am traveling and sleeping in a comfortable bed without distractions, and I have consistently woken up before my alarm in under six hours and feeling awake and refreshed. I am also not waking up in the middle of the night.
But what if some internal alarm is awaking me, and I’m not consciously acknowledging it? What if I simply have to pee, and although I don’t wake with a strong urge in place, my bladder is quietly signaling my brain that this is going to have to happen soon, and you may as well stop sleeping now, rather than go for a third cycle?
I’m in a hotel room. I have exact control of the room temperature, and it is comfortable–exactly the way I want it. I have a large, comfortable bed, and a pillow I would fight to keep. The room is dark (although I do leave the bathroom light on, and the door closed, so there is a small amount of light at the crack of the door along the floor; it’s basically a night-light–I don’t want to get scared). I requested an interior room away from street noise, and there are no obnoxious, drunk salesmen on the floor with prostitutes throwing parties (or if there are, I wasn’t invited and they are quiet about it).
At home my sleep is assaulted by the following: my spouse using her laptop, her discomfort with the covers/pillow/temperature, the dogs moving about, the cat climbing on top of me, the dogs barking because a car drove past, the temperature out of whack because the kids adjusted the thermostat, or the kids themselves dealing with bad dreams by waking me up. For now, all of that is eliminated.
What’s left is the reality that a few minutes after I wake up, I need to pee.
Well what of it? The only way I can imagine removing this from the list of possible interruptions is to insert a catheter and a drain bag. Those items can’t be terribly expensive, but inserting the tube might be a trick (note to self: check YouTube for video on inserting catheter).
Even if I could eliminate the bladder issue, there are other, natural biological needs that might also signal the brain to wake me up because the inevitable is going to happen; as far as I know, there is no equivalent catheter for that. (Note to self: do not, I repeat, do NOT check YouTube for a video on that subject, because I’m sure it’s there!)
I think I’m okay with six hours of sleep. I don’t think I’m risking heart disease, and I’m not staggering into traffic, and my cognitive performance seems fine (but, then, how can I trust myself to judge that if my thinking is clouded?). My only dilemma now is sneaking the pillow out of this hotel.