I mentioned in a previous post about my oldest son’s journey with understanding his anxiety and depressive nature. About a year and a half ago, it escalated into a full blown crisis. Ever since then, we’ve partnered together as I support him as he tries to understand how to get it under control, first of all, then learn to understand it, and finally how to manage it. We finally got the “under control” part accomplished just this past December. Now, we’re at the understand it stage.
One thing we discovered at the same time everything else came together was how his crazy right-brained sleep patterns negatively impact his depression, anxiety, and mood. A right-brained person tends to be a night owl. This is because creativity often is heightened in the evening hours, for some reason. However, when puberty hit for this young man, his traditional night owl sleep patterns didn’t seem to follow his normal predictability. At the same time, puberty is when we first noticed his mood differences at a larger scale. Now, I see the correlation.
To describe how my son’s sleep patterns didn’t follow a traditional night owl pattern, I will delineate. I am a night owl. I enjoy staying up until about 1:00 a.m. and sleeping in until 9:00 a.m. Over the last five years or so, my oldest son would stay up until 1:00 a.m. one night, 3:00 a.m. another night, stay up all night yet another, and back to any ole time he felt like. Waking up was the same. One day it might be noon, another 3:00 p.m., and yet another he might sleep the entire day away. That was red flag number one.
Red flag number two was his inability to wake up when he wanted to. I remember for the year he was 17, he joined a Kendo class that met two days a week. This is a Japanese sword fighting martial arts, and it was something he had thought of doing for some time. One class time was in the evening on Wednesday. That was never a problem. But, the other was a Saturday morning, at 9:00 a.m., and the class was 1.5 hours away. As much as he wanted to participate, half the time, he just couldn’t get himself functioning to awaken. This part of the equation particularly started at 16-17 years old and continued until now, at 22 years old.
The last red flag that got him wondering what was wrong with him was the fact that he was tired all day long. He might sleep 13-14 hours, and he would yawn all day and feel wiped out. He suspected sleep apnea, so we had him tested. Although he did test as mild, and we were able to obtain the machine, he quickly realized it was not impacting how tired he felt all the time.
I had tried to encourage him to create a predictable sleep schedule for his body in order for it to function properly, but he just hadn’t developed a testimony of it yet. Frankly, I thought it might help a bit, but didn’t think too much about it. However, when depression and anxiety hit so hard that he had to be hospitalized, it was time to get really serious and do anything and everything I could think of that might impact him positively.
The first thing I did was ask him to trust me for at least a month with his sleep patterns. That included first moving him up out of the complete blackness of the basement and into a well-lit upstairs bedroom. Once I committed him, he has really enjoyed it now, and the natural light from the four windows helps his body’s natural “feel good” chemicals emit from exposure to light. Step Two was to collaborate with him about what time might be best. We decided 2:00 a.m. until 10:00 a.m., but then switched it to midnight until 10:00 a.m. Sometimes he fluctuates to 2:00 a.m., but shouldn’t go past it. But, for that month, it was midnight until 10:00 a.m. Step Three was taking melatonin. My oldest son always had a harder time falling asleep, but it escalated to 2-4 hours during his depression/anxiety times.
It seemed to help along with everything else we were doing, so we didn’t think a whole lot about it. That is, until he decided to do what he used to do, and that is take 3-4 days in a row and keep pushing the bedtime and the awake time. Suddenly, his difficult mood appeared, depression kicked in seriously, and he became very tired again. It became evident that his sleep patterns effected his body negatively in a serious and immediate way. What was more important is that he “got it”!
Interestingly, one of the main things he likes to do in the middle of the night is his art. A right-brained learner is usually engaged in one or more creative outlets in a big way in their lives. My oldest son’s choice is drawing. If he is not engaged in his drawing outlet in some way in his life, then he only half lives. In fact, it was by his renewed interest in drawing, which had been dormant for a year or more, that prompted us to realize he was becoming more healthy. He decided since he was actually feeling like drawing again, that it was a positive sign, so he could do more of this good thing late into the night. Not true at all! What I helped him understand is that even a good thing has to be put in balance with everything else. In other words, drawing is a positive thing in his life. But his sleep pattern is an important balance need in his life. One good thing cannot override the importance of another thing.
So, my son is taking his sleep pattern needs seriously these days. Sometimes, for one reason or another, he starts to push it. Midnight is ideal, so finding himself near 2:00 a.m. means he will start to feel the effects. He is now taking responsibility for the consequences of these choices. He understands it is not fair to those he lives with, and he certainly cannot complain about being tired or not feeling well emotionally if he chooses to alter his healthy sleep pattern. He now has full knowledge of its importance in his life.