ELDER MUSIC: Romeo and Juliet
The Terrible Consequences of Sleep Deprivation – Part 2

The Terrible Consequences of Sleep Deprivation – Part 1

There is a reason sadists keep sleep deprivation in their torture arsenal. As Dr. Kelly Bulkeley writes at Psychology Today online:

”...prolonged sleep deprivation is an especially insidious form of torture because it attacks the deep biological functions at the core of a person’s mental and physical health.

“It is less overtly violent than cutting off someone’s finger, but it can be far more damaging and painful if pushed to extremes.”

For the past four months or so I have rarely slept more than two, sometimes three hours a night and often fewer. It is only for the past week that I have been able to return to a normal amount of sleep and can now make some sense of the distress I have been living with since January.

It is hard to overstate the misery one suffers during the other 21 or 22 hours of the day with only two or three hours of sleep at night.

During those months, it took days, even weeks, to work up the energy for the normal chores of daily life. Mopping the kitchen floor, vacuuming the carpet, doing the grocery shopping required such effort that I skipped them for long periods of time.

I shortened fitness workouts from 45 minutes to 30 to 15 and then none although I did manage the shortest time once or twice a week. I stopped walking any farther than the car and trash bins. Physical exhaustion along with a deep, aching ennui was ever present.

The mental fatigue was even worse. It did not seem unreasonable to me when I found myself thinking (frequently) that every news writer online had lost the ability to put a coherent sentence together.

My brain was so foggy that I couldn't always follow a simple news story on television and it was hard to pick up the thread of what I was reading after turning the page of a book.

Writing this blog came to feel impossible; I thought about quitting. There is a growing list of stories I have wanted to do that take a good deal more research and other work than, for example, writing something like these descriptive paragraphs of a personal event.

But I could not concentrate enough to gather the information, let alone organize it along with my own thoughts into a coherent form to write it. Even keeping track of the URLs of links to include with the stories seemed unachievable.

None of the above symptoms are news to sleep researchers. Here are some of the consequences of sleep deprivation from WebMD's section on the topic:

Significant reductions in performance and alertness
Memory and cognitive impairment: inability to think and process information
Inability to sustain attention such as to watch movies

And those are just the short-term effects. Here is WebMD's list of some of the long-term consequences of chronic sleep deprivation:

High blood pressure
Heart attack
Heart failure
Psychiatric problems, including depression and other mood disorders
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
Mental impairment
Injury from accidents

In regard to blood pressure, throughout my life I have sometimes been rejected from donating blood due to low blood pressure. Now, for the first time in my life, it is higher than normal.

Certainly my attention has suffered, there is no doubt my cognitive ability has waned and although no one would label me a happy-go-lucky sort of person, my world view has been much darker than usual.

Even the obesity consequence has affected me. Without changing my diet (exercise has next to no impact on weight), I've gained eight or nine pounds since January. That doesn't sound like much unless, as with me, it is tacked on to my 120-125-pound average.

Further, according to WebMD,

”Studies show an increased mortality risk for those reporting less than either six or seven hours per night. One study found that reduced sleep time is a greater mortality risk than smoking, high blood pressure, and heart disease.”

Having lived with another, less destructive sleep disorder, I'm not unfamiliar with this information but only as research material until now.

Here is what happened:

One night in January, I was shocked out of a dead sleep by a huge, loud noise that sounded like it was next to me in bed. For a few seconds, I was frightened that someone was in the room with me but no. It was thunder-like snoring coming through the wall from the apartment behind mine. The best I can describe it is that it's what walruses sound like. As it turns out, that's a close match which you can listen to here.

I've lived in this apartment for six years. In that time, never once – not ever – have I heard a peep through that wall. Not music, not TV, not people talking, nothing. Suddenly, it was as though someone had torn down the wall – it was that loud and felt that close to me.

After 15 or 20 minutes of the din that night, I dragged my blankets to the living room to the sofa. I discovered sleeping there might work when you're 25, but maybe not at 75; I woke in the morning unable to turn my head to one side due to a pain - probably from sleeping crooked – that took two weeks to heal.

Meanwhile, I returned to my bedroom. Not a single night went by that the snoring did not wake me. I tried sleeping in the guest room but even with the doors closed, the godawful snorts and groans wakened me.

I began to go to bed each night in a mental crouch, waiting for the roar to begin. It never failed. I tried to get to sleep before it started, which was usually about 2AM, but the rescheduling didn't work because my entire circadian rhythm was now screwed up.

I no longer had a wake/sleep schedule. Mostly, I had an awake schedule without a sleep section to it and as far as I could see, no recourse.

If there were a loud party disrupting my sleep, I tried to reason, I would let it go for one night. If it continued a second night, I would say something. But what do you say about someone snoring? It's not something they can control.

Twice in the ensuing months, I knocked on the door of the apartment without a plan – just hoping I would figure out what to say when I met the neighbor. No one answered the knock.

You may ask why I did not take further steps and I ask myself that question now. This is a condo, after all, and there are rules but I don't know why it took me so long to act.

It's certainly possible the problem was my cognitive impairment from so long without sleep. It was difficult to concentrate on anything, I was easily distracted and I know now that throughout winter and into spring my brain, even on simple tasks, was not working properly. Most of my days were spent in a hazy mental cloud of distraction.

Although I tried hard to compensate, I wasn't successful and for four months, I dragged myself through every day like a zombie. Only now that I am recovering nicely, can I see how debilitated I was.

Part 2 is here.


This is what I do when my husband's snoring gets to me: sleep mask (accupressure points on the forehead), ear plugs, xanax, deep breathing. Works every time.

Oh Ronni, I am so sorry to hear you suffered with this for so long. I had no idea, from your posts, which always seemed as excellent as ever. Not knowing what may have changed recently, I am looking forward to part 2 to hear that explanation.

As you have described here, sleep deprivation, especially on a prolonged basis, typically results in a number of effects that adversely affect one's physical and mental health. I have a son who has been working nights at a UPS facility for nearly twenty years, and is just now beginning to display some behaviors that cause me much concern. I'm not sure what to expect going forward for him. It's a well-paying job with a good pension and benefits, but how much should a person be expected to trade for these things? I suspect that a lot of erratic behavior we're seeing in people these days may also be connected to sleep disorders and exposure to things he's been coping with for years, like repetivite motion, heavy lifting, artificial lighting, noise and airplane exhaust. It's hard to be human and work in some of the conditions that exist. Glad to hear you're recovering from your bout with this.

There are reasons I cannot use earplugs but mostly I want to be certain everyone reading the first comment understands that Xanax is a seriously addictive drug and that withdrawal can be dangerous. Used carefully under a physician's close direction, it can be safe but I've seen the results of Xanax addiction. It is dreadful.

Ronni, I hear you! I have suffered identical reactions to bouts of under sleeping (lasting from weeks to months). I have my theories and remedies...I'm hoping the second part to your post will cover the loud noise behind the wall, and how (I HOPE) the mystery is solved and the sound extinguished or muted well. I'll save further experiences/wisdom till I learn more from you. By the way, the sound instantly reminded me of John Cheever's outstanding short story "The Enormous Radio" (free online reading, listening, etc.).

Hi Ronni,

I agree with you about the Xanax addiction. The only time I take it is for snoring episodes. A 30 day prescription can last me 5 or 6 months. Different brands of ear plugs fit differently. I've always had a problem in in-ear ear buds for music listening, but most of the foam ear plugs work for me. The secret is twisting them before you put them in, then they expand once they're in your ears.

So very sorry to read this. I could sleep on a clothesline as the old Irish saying goes. But I never ever take it for granted as I had nightmare downstairs tenants who robbed me of it for 3 months one time while the slooow court process hindered evicting them.
keen to read Part 2 and your return to normalcy.

How you were able to continue with this blog -or function at all- on so little sleep is commendable. I don't know how you did it! The walrus sound is all too familiar...not funny when you're living with it.

My first thought was that your neighbor had changed sleeping arrangements, since you hadn't noticed it earlier. Another thing is-if the snoring is so loud and prolonged perhaps it is a problem they should seek help for.

I'm looking forward to Part 2 for your solution.

Ditto to there being a problem with the loud snoring. As a result of it, my husband went on a C-pap machine, which for the most part has solved the loud snoring problem. Initially I used the recorder on my I-phone to record his snores so he had an idea of what it was like.

I too am amazed you continued to write the blog--I did not notice a problem. Anxious to hear part II!

If your neighbor lives alone, he or she may not even be aware of the snoring. There are lots of things that can be done for snoring if the person is made aware and wants to do something about it.

On my side of the wall I'd be turning up the sound machine and reaching for 1/2 zolpidem. Or some benadryl. I'm so sensitive to noise interrupting my sleep that I had to move my coffee machine off the kitchen counter so I couldn't hear it through the wall when it started up in the morning. I don't use ear plugs because they make me claustrophobic, afraid I won't hear something in the house at night. If all that didn't work, I might try moving my bed away from that wall. Perhaps suggest neighbor do the same.

"But what do you say about someone snoring? It's not something they can control." I think it's incumbent on people who snore to recognize the problem and participate in finding solutions to it ~not~ the other way around which, in my experience seems to be the case.

I'm happy you are sleeping again. Sleep deprivation is the worst.

Ronni, I must echo the readers who say they did not notice a decline in the quality of your posts. It was apparent to you , but not to your readers. so sorry to hear about the lack of sleep. I have had insomnia my entire life and can absolutely testify what poor sleep does to one. I am anxious to read Part 2 and I am hoping to learn there has been a solution.

Whoa. Whoa.

Can't wait for your next piece, in which I hope and assume you tell us how it got resolved. (And I haven't noticed you being off your game either, FWIW.)

I agree, sleep deprivation is fiendish. I'm reminded that, when I first got sober in 1971, there was a popular saying aimed at newcomers for whom early sobriety included insomnia. it was, "Nobody ever died from lack of sleep." The purpose of the saying, of course, was to calm down the new person, who was going through enough changes already without panicking that s/he'd never sleep again. And in fact, that kind of insomnia is normally pretty short-lived, and freaking out about it would certainly make it worse. But--the fact is, as you point out, extended sleep deprivation is serious business.

Can't wait to hear the other shoe drop. Oh, and have a hug!!

Ronni, I'm going to be a bit of a Mom to you and anyone else on this list. Don't let any change, physical or mental, go on beyond two weeks without consulting your physician. As you noticed, the longer you go the more debilitating it is until you don't have the competency to do anything about it. It also just takes us longer to heal at these ages. Have a couple of friends intimate enough that you can run something like this passed them for a sanity check. If you can't make the decision to see someone about your condition, give them permission to tell you they think you need to and to take you if necessary. Stepping down from my soapbox now.

Insomnia was never a problem for me until I was somewhere in my 40's and serious problems kept me awake.

Even now I usually fall asleep as soon as I turn off the light, but in 2 or 3 hours I wake up unable to fall back to sleep. After trying to do so for an hour with no results I get up and come to the computer, eat a snack and when I begin feeling sleepy I go back to bed. I am usually able to sleep several additional hours. They call this a second sleep and some cultures live this way on purpose.

I find that I suffer from sleep deprivation on those nights that I have a second sleep and concentration really suffers.

I am so sorry you had this problem, Ronni. No one would have guessed from your writing.

I hope your neighbor will do something about the snoring for his/her sake as well as yours. There are solutions, so if it continued I hope you found one. Can't wait for part 2.

What incredibly vivid writing and use of the video. They helped so much to give me a sense of how much you were suffering.

The point about the continued noise screwing up your circadian rhythm was quite significant. My husband who travels a lot often speaks of his circadian rhythm being messed up for a time when he comes home.

Like all the other commenters, I can hardly wait to read your next post. The ending of this one reminds me of the silent movies my mother saw when she was young--movies like the Perils of Pauline where the last scene shows the young girl tied to the railroad tracks.

Ronni..I'm with the rest of the crowd..didn't notice any change in your posts and, at times, you showed exceptional good humor considering what you were going thru.

Your neighbor..needs a sleep study. Not your problem BUT it is your problem! I hope you recorded it so he/she can hear the resounding snores thru the walls. I'd also print up studies on sleep apnea and C-PAP's. They work wonderfully! My husband had awful snoring until he got his C-PAP. Both of us slept much better after that. I realize this sounds like a Nosy Parker thing, but if the neighbor lives alone, as was mentioned, he/she might not be aware...in fact I imagine that the snoring is the reason for living alone!!

Take care of you, Ronni..and if you're up to it, go to the Rose Festival..I spent the weekend there and the amazing weather, so unlike Rose Festival weather usually is, made it great fun..I even went on a couple of rides after my volunteer time was over.

Gentle hugs....Elle your neighbor in hot hot Beaverton

We lived in an apartment when first married. Our bedroom wall shared that of the next door neighbor's. A new tenant moved in, older man, and his snoring was terrible. For me. My husband could not hear him. (I have excellent hearing, which my students always hated)

I tried earplugs, but I could still hear the old duffer. (I was 22 at the time) I moved into the guest room, but his snores still reached me through 2 more walls.

Finally, I found his phone number (way before cell phones) and I would call the number every night when he started snoring. Would wake him up and as soon as he stopped snoring, I hung up. That worked until we moved!

What a cliffhanger! I'm impressed you managed so well. I'm wearing earplugs at night because the fellow in the condo next door showers at 4:30am. I couldn't figure out what was waking me up so early until one week when I really wasn't sleeping well and precisely at 4:30am...there it was. Turns out it's the faucet into his tub that makes the racket when the shower goes on it stops which it why I couldn't understand catch on right away. Don't know if there is a solution without tearing through walls to buffer the pipes. I may move my sleeping quarters into the guest room. I can hardly wait to hear the rest of your story.

There are two things about snorers - - they always fall asleep first and they never hear themselves snore. I have a friend with whom I travel several times a year, and he swore he didn't snore until I recorded it on my phone. He couldn't believe anyone could make that much noise without waking up. No idea how that works, but I'm glad I only have to listen to it a few weeks out of the year, and I now take something to help me sleep when we travel.

Ronni - I can't wait for part two, which I hope has a happy ending.

I have suffered from insomnia for over thirty-five years, originally triggered by my husband's snoring and extreme stress at work. I'm a worrier and the company where I worked was going through a lot of trouble with the FDA, ultimately resulting in suspension for six months. Luckily my job was not cut, but many of my co-workers were not as fortunate as I, and there was always the possibility of the company going bankrupt with no money coming in for six months and lots of money going out to satisfy the FDA standards as well as paying the salaries of those of us still on the payroll.

I tried the usual remedies of ear plugs, over-the-counter sleep aids, warm milk, etc., to no avail. I finally consulted my doctor and she promptly prescribed Ambien. It was a god-send for a short period of time, but, as many of you already know, it loses its efficacy within a short period of time unless the dosage is increased periodically. My doctor would not increase my dosage, so I would slip off to sleep quite quickly, only to be wide awake within an hour or two. Sometimes I would cheat and take an additional 1/2 pill, but that meant my prescription would run out before I could refill it -- meaning there would be nights without ANY sleep since I had no pills to take.

I'll provide the second half of my story when Ronnie unveils her second half. I hope her results are more positive than mine. And perhaps her solution will help me...

Wow! What a story. I'm looking forward to Part 2. Like other TGB readers, I noticed absolutely no decline in the quality of your writing.

I grew up in a household where my father (now long deceased) emitted sounds very similar to the video in this post. It's obvious to me now that he most likely had a severe case of sleep apnea. However, it wasn't recognized as a medical problem back then. In middle adulthood I began to comprehend why--for that and other reasons not relevant here--my parents often occupied separate sleeping quarters. However, father's snoring was audible throughout the entire house even through closed bedroom doors. I must have gotten used to it at some point, although I've had problems with falling asleep at times.

Oh Ronni, not being able to sleep though the night is a big problem - how you managed to make those post without the right amount of sleep is amazing. At this time in my life if I don't get a good nights sleep I have to take an afternoon nap - which is often.

Can't wait until Wednesday to hear if your sleep problem has improved. Hope so!

Oh Ronni

So sorry you are experiencing sleepless nights.

Most condo complexes have rules that include limits on noise.

Do you have a condo board or committee?

This must be resolved. It's affecting your health.

I can't believe it's been going on all this time.

You need your sleep.

Looking forward to Part two.

I can't wait to hear how you solved the problem! So glad to hear that it has been solved.

I will join all the others in telling you that I really wouldn't have known from your posts. Which is only to say, you compensated valiantly! Only you know how much effort that took. My hat is off to you.

I am actually really relieved that you are telling us this because I do not think that your posts have been the same for many months and I was assuming that you were losing interest in your blog. I still read every post but they have been lacking that spark that you normally have in your writing.
Regards from another reader anxiously awaiting your next post!

With a world champion snorer like my husband sawing them off in bed next to me, ear plugs are useless. I have resorted to 3M tech protectors, the kind of earphones guys use to protect their ears on construction sites, around piledrivers, etc. He refuses to do anything about his condition; don't think I haven't tried to talk him into that! Luckily, I don't mind sleeping on my back!
I am eager to learn how you solved your problem.

Imagine many of us will tune in to Part 2 first thing in the morning. I'm wondering whether the source of noise was human or someone's mistaken action.

That's quite a dreadful 4 months. Welcome back, and you no doubt love awakening now from a good sleep.

Hoping that there is a happy ending to this dilemma for you and for your faithful readers!

Right after my wife died, my children took turns in sleeping with me to make sure nothing bad happens while I slept.

This went on for a couple of weeks until my daughter went back to her room because of my snoring.

Then my son followed suit.

In a way, I was glad that I went back to my old habit because I knew that I was on the way of emotionally healing myself.

It doesn't bother me when I snore.

Have a nice day.

I have suffered from sleep deprivation for a couple years. Consulting my Dr. was really no help, happens when we get older, I was told. I have no problem going to sleep, but if I wake up, (and I do) after 3 or 4 hours, I spend the rest of the night wondering and worrying if I am going to get more sleep. Benadryl (children's) has some effect, but not consistent, very mild valium has some effect sometimes, but I am looking for the solution to this dilemma. I spent 4 years taking care of critically ill husband at home and sometimes think I am still listening for him to call me. He passed 3 years ago. I do not snore but dreams of escaping or running away are pretty common. I meditate, have a player set up beside of my bed, Any suggestions would be appreciated, I am aware this is influencing my daily life.

glad you found relief from this dilemma,

Marcia ---I don't know if it would help anyone else, but what I do when I wake up is to watch a science tape or a tape on a civilization series that I have watched many times and know the ending.

I watch it and when I feel tired I just roll over and listen to it-- and soon I am asleep.
If I read or watch something I don't know the ending of --I just keep watching.

My TV or computer turns of automatically after the program finishes.

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