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Help this insomniac sleep!
October 8, 2011 11:33 AM   Subscribe

How can I motivate myself to develop good sleeping habits?

Ever since I was a child--I'm in my 30s now--I have had horrible sleeping habits. I tend to sleep late even when I'm exhausted, and my anxiety causes me to stay awake. I'm also one of those people who could zone out on the internet until quite late and suddenly realize that it is actually 2am and I really should go to sleep.

I think this is mostly a psychological problem. Part of this was a reaction to my parents' constant admonitions to sleep earlier, so of course I would sleep late. Part of this was because when I *did* go to sleep at a proper time--say, midnight--despite my exhaustion, I would just be up and wide awake for hours, unable to sleep. So I've developed a habit now of sleeping after midnight, and only after extreme exhaustion (hence the internet surfing).

Needless to say, even when I get 8 hours I'm pretty tired, and I should probably get to sleep much earlier. My head is always fuzzy. I've developed shortness of breath and a tightness in my chest from this--when I went to see a doctor about it, she said that it was because of my sleeping habits: I really should be going to sleep from 10pm-12am, this makes sense as that is when my body would really like to sleep too.

All of this has caused me a lot of anxiety about sleeping. Will I get to sleep? Will I sleep early enough? What if I don't get to sleep? etc. It's a constant cycle of sleep debt and sleep binging. This week alone, I had an important test, so the night before, I had about 3 hours of sleep after tossing and turning all night. The next night, after going to sleep at 3am, I had 8. Last night I was actually early--went to sleep at 2am.

When I do manage to get myself to sleep 8 hours before midnight, it feels *great*. My skin is better, I'm more awake, I have more energy.

I'm currently a lady of leisure so I don't even have to worry about getting up in the mornings for work, but I'd like to finally start developing good habits to get myself to sleep earlier.

(Things that I have tried and not worked: Health Month, melatonin, valerian, meditation, yoga, exercise, sleeping pills are hit and miss--if I am worried enough I'll stay awake right through them.)

TL, DR: How can get myself to sleep between 10pm-midnight on a regular basis?
posted by so much modern time to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Surfing the internet at night prevents me from feeling tired when I really should be. Turn off internet and TV at a specific time, maybe at 10 since that's around when you want to start thinking about sleep. What helps to get me really tired is reading a book right before bed and not drinking coffee in the afternoon. After a few minutes of book reading in bed, my eyes start to feel really heavy and I'm happy to put the book down and go to sleep. I get all ready for bed before popping open the book, so all I have to do is turn off the light.
posted by wondermouse at 11:48 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


i'm exactly the same way, including the anxiety. developed problems sleeping in my 20s and then, in my late 20s when i was in art school, developed insomnia bc of all the late nights from doing homework in art school. i still have insomnia off and on and i call it a good night when i can get to sleep before midnight (my wake up is somewhere between 6.30a-7a in order to get to work by 8a). i do have anti-anxiety/sleep medication that my doctor prescribed to me but i try to avoid taking them as they make me somewhat groggy the next day. what has really helped me not to end up awake or semi-awake all night (after talking to my doctor about it a number of years ago) is to make yourself get up at an early hour, get some exercise in during the day, then at night go to bed at at the time you want to be going to sleep, get into bed and turn of the light immediately. the important thing is: do not have anything in your bedroom that could potentially distract you from sleeping. that means: no tv, no computer, no books, magazines, or any other reading material. NOTHING. remove all of those things from your room. you have to get yourself in the mindset that your bedroom is for sleeping only and when you go to your room, you are going to sleep.
posted by violetk at 11:50 AM on October 8, 2011


Wake up at the same time every morning. I mean, like, wake up. Get out of bed, get dressed, make breakfast or coffee or whatever, the whole nine. Don't skip a day.
posted by box at 11:54 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Insomnia is a tough subject for amateurs to handle. I'll try and give some advice anyway.

I am a good sleeper and I have never had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. I look at sleep as beauty rest. I'm 39 an my wrinkles and bags look worse when I am sleep deprived. Even if I wanted to stay up, often times I cannot. I have two kids, exercise almost daily and am drained at the end of the day.

I'm not afraid of missing anything. I love the internet as much as the next person but I know it will still be there in the morning. A couple hours before you go to bed, try to get away from TV and computer screens.

I have a bedtime ritual. I usually take a shower and do my skincare regimen. A couple nights a week I will do my nails, apply a mask, or apply Crest Whitestrips and read. I'm not saying to apply beauty creams if that's not your thing but to develop some kind of bedtime ritual -- it could be reading and drinking herbal tea or writing in your journal or writing letters.

I work part-time and it's easy to be lazy on my days off. I do group exercise classes on most mornings at 9am-- Zumba, yoga, etc. Plan a morning class or activity that forces you to wake up and keep normal hours. Do some physical work on a daily basis. Exercise, scrub floors, clean out closets, etc. Wear yourself out.

Stick to the same bedtime every night.

Put blackout shades on your windows and cover all artificial light in your bedroom. Make things pitch black so your brain can shut down. Artificial light form alarm clocks, computer and tv screens, street lamps, etc. disrupt our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
posted by Fairchild at 11:59 AM on October 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I find it easy to get to bed late because of the computer, too. One youtube video turns into 63 and pretty soon it's 2am and you're all wired. If I were you, I'd get into some kind of evening routine that you enjoy, like make sure the computer's turned off by 10pm, take a bubble bath, and then read in bed for a while. I also have found that taking Excedrin PM knocks me out pretty quickly (two pills are ideal but one pill usually works, too). Maybe take that for a couple nights as part of your routine until you're consistently going to bed by midnight.
posted by jabes at 12:01 PM on October 8, 2011


Here's what's worked for me:

1. I have a bedtime. It's 10:30, but it's ok if I push it back as late as 11. I have to be in bed with the lights out by 11. I'm a little more flexible on weekends, but only a little.

2. As I'm falling asleep, I listed to podcasts or talk radio. (I use Awaken, which has a sleep timer for iTunes.) I used to think this was an eccentric thing that only I did, but apparently it's a common strategy for insomniacs. They even make pillow speakers that allow you to listen to the radio without bothering your partner. I find that listening to something helps me engage enough to calm my racing thoughts, and that allows me to get to sleep.

3. I have a nightly ritual. Mine is pretty practical, and it didn't start out as a ritual. I pick out my clothes for the next day; I pack my lunch; I set up and program the coffee maker. Even though this is kind of a dumb ritual, I think it signals to myself that the day is over and it's time to go to bed.

4. If I'm super tired and need to catch up on sleep, I deal with that by going to bed earlier, not getting up later. I try really hard not to sleep in too much on weekends.
posted by craichead at 12:11 PM on October 8, 2011


do not have anything in your bedroom that could potentially distract you from sleeping. that means: no tv, no computer, no books, magazines, or any other reading material. NOTHING. remove all of those things from your room. you have to get yourself in the mindset that your bedroom is for sleeping only and when you go to your room, you are going to sleep.

Are you married, by any chance? Just curious how that's supposed to work.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:35 PM on October 8, 2011


I've trouble lately with suddenly realizing it's after midnight and I'm still wide awake. I set a series of alarms on my iphone so I get a reminder at 9.30 that bedtime is coming up. At 10.00 I have a reminder to start getting ready for bed - brush teeth, change into PJs, etc. At 10.30, I have a reminder to go to bed.

Going to bed and not falling asleep makes me anxious. So I turn out the lights but watch cartoons on my iphone*, or listen to Fresh Air podcasts (Terry Gross's voice is sooooo soothing), or read something that's pleasant but not too exciting, and I drift off within 30 minutes to an hour.

Having something to do in bed takes my head out of the "am I falling asleep yet? No? How about now? Or now? Or now? What if I can't fall asleep? ARGH! Sleep! Sleep now!" loop. I'm just chillin, ya know, watching Spongebob with the lights out, no pressure, I can do this as long as I want.

I also take melatonin right before going to bed. If I take it and wait to feel sleepy then it doesn't seem to help much, but in the scenario I've described it gives me a little extra nudge.

Also - I suck at math, so sometimes I try to do multiplication in my head while I'm falling asleep. It has to be just the right difficulty - too easy and it doesn't engage your mind, too hard and you get frustrated. Finding multiples of 13 is pretty damn soporific if you ask me.

Experiment and see what works for you. Good luck!

*All the official advice is not to watch TV/electronic devices in bed, and the bed is only for sleep and sex. I'm sure that's a helpful approach for a lot of people but for me just lying there and waiting to see if I fall asleep is maddening.
posted by bunderful at 12:43 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also - I suck at math, so sometimes I try to do multiplication in my head while I'm falling asleep. It has to be just the right difficulty - too easy and it doesn't engage your mind, too hard and you get frustrated. Finding multiples of 13 is pretty damn soporific if you ask me.
You are me. I like to count backwards from 1000 by sevens. 993, 986, 979, 972....
posted by craichead at 12:47 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


What time do you get up in the morning? Is it a regular time? Make sure you get up at the same time every day. Your brain knows you need Y amount of hours of sleep. If it knows that it has to get those Y hours in before 8AM, it will make you sleep early enough to get those Y hours in. If it doesn't know what time it has to get them in before, it won't make you sleep at a regular time.

There's a documentary available on certain sites [ahem] called "10 Things You Need To Know About Sleep". I uses a lot of science to explain how it works, and what works, too.
posted by Solomon at 1:09 PM on October 8, 2011


Direct light and motion keep your sleep controller awake. Don't read on the computer; read a book. Presumably you have a mobile with a calendar or alarm; set it for a good time to start getting ready for bed. Set it again for the time that the computer monitor/tv must be off, and you must be 15 minutes from bed. At the 1st alarm, decide if what you are doing is really so interesting that it's worth having a rushed morning for. Yes? Keep on; but no new videos, sites, tv shows, etc. No? Shut it down. At the 2nd alarm, no matter how interesting anything is, let the dog out, jump into jammies, brush teeth, jump into bed.

Everyone says that if you can't sleep, you should get up. My sleep protocol if I can't sleep is, get up, go to the bathroom, drink a little water, listen to my body to see if anything hurts, go back to bed and read. I tend to ruminate over my day, and it keeps me wide awake. Reading takes me to a different place, away from my own life and its stressors, and is calming.

If I'm really wound up, and it's before 1 a.m., I have a small glass of wine. Alcohol promotes sleep, but can wake you later in the night, so this is only if I just need something to tip the scales towards sleep.

Check out the many ask.me's about sleep and insomnia.

Any morning that you wake up feeling good, remind yourself I could feel this way a lot more often by giving myself the gift of adequate sleep. Draw a star on your calendar every day you get to bed at a reasonable time. For every N stars, buy yourself a small treat. It's hard to change your sleep patterns, but it you notice that it makes your life work better, you will have a little more motivation.

10 Things You Need To Know About Sleep
posted by theora55 at 2:07 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Turn off internet and TV at a specific time, maybe at 10 since that's around when you want to start thinking about sleep. What helps to get me really tired is reading a book right before bed and not drinking coffee in the afternoon.

Yes, exactly. I've been treated by a sleep specialist and what I came up with as my routine was that screens were turned off an hour before I wanted to be asleep and that hour was spent showering (or bathing) and then reading. If I couldn't fall asleep within an hour, I could read on or whatever, but the SCREENS STAYED OFF.

Something else that helped me a lot was to remove all clocks from my room and use my phone as an alarm. That way when I woke up in the night I wasn't staring "3AM" in the face freaking out about how I needed to get up in three hours or whatever.

Also: if you take melatonin right before bed, it doesn't really work. If you want to take it and have it be truly effective, take it approximately 3hrs before your bedtime and take a very small dose. Kinda counter intuitive, but it was prescribed to me this way by my sleep doc and it worked wonders whereas taking it at bedtime never did anything.

Another trick that's worked for me is to breathe deeply and count your breaths. I almost never get past 30 before drifting off.
posted by sonika at 3:56 PM on October 8, 2011


I have a lot of trouble sleeping as well. One thing that has helped me a bit is to gradually start making my environment darker and darker the closer it is to bedtime. First I turn the lights down to the bare minimum needed to move around (about four hours before I plan on going to sleep).

Once it's bedtime, I turn all the lights in the house totally off. I read a book using a booklight and not a lamp so that it's really dark in the room. I stop using the computer or any other monitor-type device.

Drinking chamomile tea while I read also helps me a little. I don't think it actually helps me sleep, but the ritual gets my mind into the right place.

Somehow all of this together helps me mentally figure out that it's late and I should be asleep. If I leave all the lights in the house on then I end up like you, realizing suddenly that it's 2 AM and where did the time go??

If things get too out of whack, or I know I'm going to really, really need to get my schedule straightened out for some reason, I get a short prescription for sleep aids from my doctor. Over the counter stuff tends to work for a little while, but it stops working after about a week and I think it makes it hard to get going the next day.
posted by ZeroDivides at 5:06 PM on October 8, 2011


Over the counter stuff tends to work for a little while, but it stops working after about a week and I think it makes it hard to get going the next day.

My experience with Unisom is that it works fine on a regular basis but always makes it hard to wake up. I took it every day for over a year and always the same results: fell asleep fine, stayed asleep, had a damned hard time getting up. Of course, that only lasted an hour or two and could be overcome with caffeine whereas not sleeping at all made doing anything considerably harder - so it was definitely the lesser of two evils.
posted by sonika at 5:27 PM on October 8, 2011


Do you find yourself becoming more alert while surfing the internet? Research suggests the blue-white light from your monitor keeps you awake longer. If you have a Mac or run Linux, I'd suggest installing F.lux and reading articles on an e-Ink device.

F.lux + Kindle have helped me sleep much better recently, and I can't praise the combination highly enough.
posted by achompas at 10:52 AM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's also a Windows version of F.lux, for what it's worth.
posted by box at 11:39 AM on October 9, 2011


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