Thursday, August 23, 2018

How Contacts Ruined My Sleep Cycle

Warning: There's no deeper meaning to this post. No metaphor, no life lesson. It's literally just an explanation of why I've been going to bed ridiculously late even as I've largely aged out of that life stage. I'm not even sure why I wrote it. But it's done now, and up on the blog it goes.

I've always been a bit of a night owl. As I've aged, though, that quality has mellowed -- at least a little bit. Instead of going to bed at 3 AM and waking up at 1:30 PM, I think my natural sleep cycle is closer to 12:30 AM and 10:30 AM (as I said: a little bit).

But one change in my life has thrown this mellowing process for a loop: Contact lenses.

For most of my life, I didn't wear glasses or contacts. The former I picked up only in my mid-20s. After moving to Berkeley, my vision kept getting worse, and I assumed I needed a new prescription. But it turns out that I actually have a degenerative eye condition (that sounds way worse than it is) called keratoconus. Long story short, instead of having nice round corneas, mine are football shaped.

Keratoconus can't be corrected effectively by glasses. Indeed, it isn't really corrected by normal contacts. So a short while after arriving in Berkeley, I was prescribed new, specialty contacts called scleral lenses. They're larger than regular contacts, and basically function as replacement corneas. In fact, for insurance purposes scleral lenses are technically characterized as a prosthetic. That's right: I have cyborg eyeballs. Fit a Google Glass into those puppies and I can go full Terminator.

Anyway, I digress. By and large, I love my contacts. Aside from being able to talk about my robot eyeballs, scleral lenses are amazingly comfortable, surprisingly easy to put in and take out, and they correct my vision all the way back to 20/20 (my naked-eye vision right now is ... well, it's not 20/20).

There's only one downside: They're ruining my sleep cycle.

The reason is straightforward and almost obnoxiously banal: You don't sleep in scleral lenses. You take them out each night, put them in a cleaning solution (which neutralizes over the course of six hours or so), and pop them back in every morning. It's not a hard process, but it does require that I be in front of the bathroom mirror and do a bit of manual finagling. And once I do it, I pretty much can't see anymore, so I'm done for the night. I can't read, or watch TV, or do anything that requires more than a modicum of sight.

In practice, that means I can't drift off to sleep while doing other things. I used to like reading in bed until I got tired, then just drowsily placing the book on my nightstand and falling asleep. Now I can't do that -- I have to physically get up, walk to the bathroom, pry two pieces of glass out of my eyes, place them in the cleaning solution, and then go back to sleep. That peaceful drift off to sleep is ruined.

As a result, going to bed is a commitment. When I take my contacts out, I am basically locking myself in to not doing anything but sleep for at least the next six hours. Which means I better be done for the day. If I crawl into bed and I'm not feeling tired, well, I can just sit and stare at the blurry ceiling.

As a result, I stay up until I'm absolutely, positively sure I will want to do nothing but fall asleep. And that mentality comes pretty late in the evening. The time when I might feel ready to wind down with a nice book or some light television is considerably earlier than the time when I've got nothing on my agenda but passing out immediately. So I end up staying up much later than I otherwise would have.

And that's how contact lenses ruined my sleep cycle.

1 comment:

Erl said...

Feel free to ignore if you're not interested in solutions—and I know this one wouldn't work for me!—but audiobooks seem like they might meet this need. Medium-commitment, available for slow-drifting, and entirely non-visual.