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No rest for the weary
November 28, 2012 11:59 AM   Subscribe

You've been seriously sleep-deprived over a period of multiple days, you expect more sleep-deprivation to come, and hurray! you finally have a serendipitous few hours to get some rest. Except that now, for some reason, you can't fall asleep. What to do about it (or instead of it)?

I actually cope OK with mild sleep deprivation, but more than a few nights with less than 5 hours of sleep, and I get nauseated, spacy and prone to fainting at the drop of a hat. I will be exhausted tonight, I know, but just now, when I have a bit of free time to recharge, I'm not sleepy in the least.

What can I plan to do between now and ~5-6PM that will maximize my ability to function overnight tonight and tomorrow through the day? I'd exercise, but I'm afraid that'll just make me wholesomely sleepy around 9 PM, which is exactly when I won't have the opportunity to sleep. I've read this thread and this one, but am looking more for emergency hacks than for broad lifestyle changes, since I don't expect this situation to last for more than 1-2 weeks. What I'm doing won't be super demanding, but I do need to be able to stay upright, walk around as necessary, not throw up, not faint, and not fall asleep.
posted by Bardolph to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
as an insomniac, I've always looked at it as even if I don't actually sleep, just lying down in the dark, slowing my breathing and closing my eyes is close enough to proper rest to make a difference.
posted by mannequito at 12:03 PM on November 28, 2012 [15 favorites]


In situations like that, I just lie down, turn on a fan (for the white noise), and close my eyes. I deliberately daydream, and if my mind cycles back to something stressing or awake-making (like my to do list) I push it out of the way and go back to my imaginary exploits as savior of humanity in a zombie apocalypse, or whatever.

Even if I never actually doze off, the enforced lying down is helpful.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:03 PM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I agree with mannequito -- just lie down as if you were sleeping. If you just resign to doing nothing but that until you have to stand up, it will be restful even if you don't actually sleep.
posted by brainmouse at 12:04 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just lie down and close your eyes for 10 minutes with the goal of relaxing. Make sure you set your alarm for when you'd need to wake up. Maybe listen to some music that is calming. (For me that's often classical and Enya.) Usually I fall asleep before I notice it. But if it's been several songs, and I'm feeling fidgety, I just get up. Usually the shuteye helps regardless if I actually slept or not.
posted by ethidda at 12:06 PM on November 28, 2012


I would definitely try to get some rest rather than do something in its place. I have a hard time napping but I can usually can fall asleep under these circumstances:

- completely dark room
- silence
- warm milk (the ol' standby)
- cool enough temperature to get under the covers (for some reason, I cannot fall asleep without covers on top of me)

I would think that even without actually sleeping, the rest alone will do you good. Good luck!
posted by lovableiago at 12:06 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


This sounds yukky.

The problem may be light. When laying down to sleep or nap, darken the room. Turn off anything that would distract (TV for some reason doesn't bug me, but if there's a questions, no TV, no music.)

Get as comfy as you can, nekkid is best.

Lay there. Rest. Empty your mind. Even if you don't sleep, the resting will be VERY helpful.

When you're awake, drink a TON of water and avoid too much caffeine. Have your morning cup, when you would normally have it, but switch to decaf.

Be sure to eat extra healthily now. Leafy greens, lean protein. When you're tired, you crave carbs and sugar. This is SO not good for you.

If you work out, do it when you wake up.

Hang in there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:09 PM on November 28, 2012


I find that pretending I'm asleep often leads to sleep. And, strangely, setting an alarm for 15-30 minutes away allows me to truly let go midday. I bought a few "deep sleep" delta wave hypnosis-style soundtracks and those help too, even if they don't result in sleep. Barring that, just resting as above.
posted by cocoagirl at 12:10 PM on November 28, 2012


A lot of the songs people gave me in this Askme worked really great at getting me to mellow out enough for me to fall asleep myself. Even if you only get as far as the "mellowing out" point, that'll still help.

But yeah, some of the music I got was powerfully soothing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:12 PM on November 28, 2012


In addition to the above:
posted by trinity8-director at 12:22 PM on November 28, 2012


To get to sleep, you might try these Autonomous Sensory Meridian Reponse videos on YouTube

via (which explains why the videos make some people sleepy. Sleep now, read this later)
posted by I am the Walrus at 12:27 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have a simple go-to method for falling asleep. Be forewarned: it's boring. But of course that's the point.

Do all the basics: drink plenty of water, darken the room or wear shades, and if the room isn't assuredly quiet, add white noise somehow (mistuned radio, for instance).

Now, the 5-Step Method for Falling Asleep On Command:

1. Breathe in fully and slowly, taking 5 seconds to pull your diaphragm down and inflate your ribcage.

2. Hold your breath for 5 seconds. Yes, count them off.

3. Exhale slowly for 5 seconds, or longer if that's what it takes to completely empty.

4. Take two normal breaths.

5. Repeat.

I've never, ever gotten past 15 reps. I rarely make it to 5 reps.

I think it works because: it's complicated enough to require your mind to be engaged (so it's hard to follow stray thoughts that lead to wakefulness or stress), and the breath-holding portions and deep breathing both encourage muscle relaxation.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:39 PM on November 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


I forgot something else!

Strip off all your clothes, and get into as hot a shower as you can stand, for just a minute or two. Then go lie down. My boyfriend turned me on to this aid to falling asleep, and I've found it helpful.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:46 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you have an eye mask? Even in a dark room, I find an eye mask to be very helpful in getting myself to let go and relax – I think it has something to do with forcing me to keep my eyes shut, which removes a bit of distraction. In a pinch, the arm of a sweatshirt works as an okay substitute eye covering.
posted by Sabby at 12:54 PM on November 28, 2012


Don't worry about actually sleeping. As has been said above, just lie down and relax.
It's basically meditation and while it's not a full substitute it does have a few things in common with sleep when it comes to regenerative effects.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:56 PM on November 28, 2012


eat a big meal?
posted by angrycat at 1:21 PM on November 28, 2012


meditation ... while it's not a full substitute ... does have a few things in common with sleep when it comes to regenerative effects.

Yep. It's been said* that if you're meditating properly you only need 4 hours' sleep. In which case no one I know is meditating properly.

Actually, meditation really helps when I'm sleep-deprived & antsy. I tell myself I'm going to meditate for 30 minutes ... but then I wind up quitting early because I keep falling asleep. Tah-dah! And then I go take a nap.

Disclaimer: I am not and have never been an insomniac.
*Allegedly by the Buddha, but no one ever seems to cite sutra & verse.

posted by feral_goldfish at 2:30 PM on November 28, 2012


Just lie in a dark room. If you absolutely get too restless for that, turn on a reading light and read a book.

Sometimes I've been wide awake and realized that actually, I was asleep and only dreaming that I was awake and thinking waking thoughts. So lying in a dark room is not futile by any means.
posted by tel3path at 3:11 PM on November 28, 2012


I get what I call "cracked out" if I go a few days and I can't sleep at all and I feel like a two year old who is saying "I AM NOT SLEEPY!!" in my head over and over. The things that work the best for me are

- hot shower
- warm bed
- no laptop for a while before bed
- not thinking about not sleeping - it's counterintuitive but letting my mind wander sometimes takes some effort because it always comes back to "I HOPE I CAN SLEEP, I AM NERVOUS I WON'T BE ABLE TO" and I need to gently nudge it away
- medicine, either low key stuff like benadryl or bigger caliber stuff like benzos which will shut up the ALLCAPS voice in my head and let me rest

Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 3:26 PM on November 28, 2012


Find the most comfortable spot in your house and relax or sleep for the time you have. I find just shutting my eyes and letting my mind relax can re-energize me.
posted by Coffee Bean at 3:28 PM on November 28, 2012


Something to eat that makes you feel good and full... nothing too sugary (maybe a turkey sandwich or soup or a chicken pot pie)

Hot bath

Camomile Tea with honey (or warm milk, maybe with a bit of honey as well)

Cozy PJS

Calms Forte (natural homeopathic sleep aid you can find at Whole Foods type places.)

Warms socks

Meditation music also can help or other soft music

Curl up in bed or couch with pillows and blankets

Even if you can't sleep, your body will get more grounded and relaxed, so just lying there for a couple hours will have an affect
posted by Rocket26 at 4:14 PM on November 28, 2012


Dim lights, no computer/TV/etc. screens for an hour before sleep (unless you're one of those people who falls asleep to the TV), no long books that you might keep reading. The biggest worry I find is boredom when I cannot sleep, so I tend to put on quiet spoken word stuff, usually things I have listened to repeatedly. The sleep function on most phones/mp3 players is really nice for this.
posted by Hactar at 4:35 PM on November 28, 2012


Do some guided relaxation/meditation. There are tons on Youtube and iTunes podcasts. Look for "progressive muscle relaxation," "guided breathing" and "body scan." You don't need to "meditate" per se but they are super relaxing.
posted by radioamy at 7:07 PM on November 28, 2012


Yeah, it's hard to relax when you've been spending all your energy on trying not to relax. And I always have trouble with getting my mind to not buzz with all the stuff I have to do.

Here's a technique I've been using most of my life and it almost always works: think "1," then try to relax a bit, think "2," and relax a bit more (for me, it feels like sinking deeper), think "3," and relax more, etc. I usually don't make it to 5. I think the point is to consciously focus on relaxing rather than all the other stuff.

You can also try the progressive relaxation thing, where you tense up your feet, then relax them, then tense your calves, then relax them, etc. Again, the point is to focus and relax your brain, relax your muscles, and let the sleepiness take over.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 9:30 AM on November 29, 2012


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