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March 12, 2014 5:42 AM   Subscribe

Why do I wake up after a few hours if I go to bed early specifically because I am super tired (not because I have to get up early for a flight or something), rather than just sleeping my normal length time?

This happens every time I go to bed before 9pm (normal bedtime is 10-11, depending on how early I am getting up -6-7). This happens more often than not and I find it confusing that I don't wake up at 5 am but instead wake up at midnight or 2 am and am just wide awake after only getting a few hours of sleep.

My normal bedtime is around 1030-11. I wake up around 7. If I stay up too late, say because I decided to watch all of True Detective in one go on Sunday, I get a bit behind on my sleep. I didn't get to bed early on Monday night and last night I was so tired at 8 I could have slept right then. I made myself stay awake until 9 and then was out light. I woke up feeling like I had slept wonderfully. It was dark out, but not unusual due to the time change. Check my phone...12:22am.

I had a hell of a time sleeping the rest of the night, woke up again at 2 and 630. I feel fine now for the most part, just feel like I had a bad night of sleeping, but I'm not tired.

The thing is, when I am so tired that I am falling alseep around 8, if I make myself stay up til my normal bedtime, I'll get a second wind and can't sleep til 2 am no matter what. I have not taken a nap. (Sometimes I do a quick cat nap after work, I wake up on my own after 10-15 min and won't have any trouble sleeping at night.)

This is not a question about insomnia or blue light before bed or any of that. I have no trouble sleeping otherwise. This has happened for as long as I can remember, since I was a teenager. It's not medication-related because I have not been on the same things for the last 20 years.

My google-fu is not working because I only turn up stuff about getting to sleep or staying asleep, which is not my question.

And I don't get this tired very often, only a few times a year when I do something silly like that on a weeknight.
posted by sio42 to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is how humans slept before modern illumination. We'd turn in early, right after sun-down, and sleep for a few hours, then we'd waken for a couple of hours. In this time, we'd read, pray, have soft conversations with loved ones, have sex, etc. Then we'd go back to sleep and sleep until sunrise.

You're just throwing back to when we were ruled by our internal clocks, not modern conventions.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:51 AM on March 12 [8 favorites]


I am not a doctor, this is not medical advice or knowledge.

I've noticed that when my regular rhythm of sleep or my sleep environment changes, everything gets all out of whack for a while. I typically wake up at 6:30, and before the clock changed this Sunday it would be light out, and I'd be waking up with the sun; and suddenly when the clock changed it was dark at 6:30 again. And my sleep this week has been HORRIBLE - I'm wakeful at night and can't fall asleep, I wake up in the middle of the night, I'm draggy in the morning. I'm chalking it up to my body trying to re-adjust to "okay, fine, dark when we wake up, gotta do that again." Or at least I'm hoping I can just cope until sunrise starts coming earlier again (which won't be long).

Maybe you're similarly sensitive to a change in sleep hygiene and your body just goes screwy when that happens.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:06 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


I'm wondering if the minor stress of having to wake up early is somehow triggering your cortisol awakening response?
posted by gaspode at 6:20 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


I don't have anything more specific to say than has already been said, except to note that there are multiple biological signals that tell our brains whether we should be awake or asleep -- many of them interdependent, with lots of feedbacks and cascades. I would guess that when you're really tired, some of them are in conflict; some parts of the system are asking for sleep, while others are preparing to keep you awake. If you think about it, both of those are potentially valid responses. You might be tired because you've been driving yourself too hard, but you might have been driving yourself too hard because there's something really important that has to get done. We have adaptations for both responses, but they can get out of touch with each other.

What I would suggest is that you try to tip the balance. If you are extra tired and want to make sure you stay asleep, try to convince your body that it is definitely sleep-time. Do the full bedtime ritual, whatever that is for you, as if you were trying to set yourself up for some truly deluxe, luxurious sleepytimes. For me that would mean a quick shower, brushing my teeth, closing the blinds, putting fresh sheets on the bed, adjusting the climate control for maximum sleeping comfort, doing some stretches, etc. All of that also helps rid me of the physical effects of stress, which engage the body to remain alert in order to deal with the stress's cause.

Also, try taking a 5mg sublingual melatonin tablet. That'll help set into motion the cascade of neurophysiological feedbacks that come when it's time for sleep, and might tip the balance in favor of staying that way. They're available at any pharmacy and are the safest (and least powerful, but always start gentle before working your way up) sleep aid on the market. They'll be in the dietary/herbal supplements section, but unlike 98% of the stuff on that shelf they have plenty of research supporting them. They've changed my life.

Gold luck!
posted by Scientist at 6:32 AM on March 12


It might be more noisy when you go to sleep early. Ear plugs might help. They block everything but your own rhythmic breathing.
posted by Reflective Views at 6:48 AM on March 12


This happens the same way for me, especially around daylight saving time shifts. I've given up trying to understand it and just chalk it up to a biological rhythm thing.

I'd second the suggestion that melatonin is helpful here - it seems like if I take that, I am much more likely to sleep right on through the night. Or at least closer to right on through the night. YMMV, though - my partner can't take that stuff, it gives him crazy dreams that he says are more exhausting than being awake would be. So maybe wait to try it out on a weekend or sometime when you can afford to be tired the next day if it turns out you're one of the people who have the exhausting dream reaction.
posted by Stacey at 6:54 AM on March 12


I'm going to start by summarizing a little bit of sleep science, but IANAD or a sleep researcher, so this is just my layman's interpretation.

Generally, we are considered to have 4 stages of sleep, with each of the 3 non REM stages being correlated with progressively deeper sleep. The final stage is REM sleep, which is the most "active" stage, from a brain waves perspective. As illustrated by this chart, we often have brief periods of awakening over the course of the night, usually after we've reached the REM stage. Most of the time we wake up and go back to sleep so quickly that we don't remember it the next morning.

On these nights where you're going to bed earlier, it sounds like maybe you're waking up at the end of one of these cycles, but rather than slipping right back to sleep, you're body switches into "time to get up and face the day" mode. Since you only go to bed early on nights when you're really exhausted, maybe this exhaustion is causing you to sleep so deeply for those first couple hours that your body feels refreshed after 3-4 hours, when it would usually take closer to 8 hours for you to feel this way. That would explain why you wake up essentially ready to start your day and then end up tossing and turning for the rest of the night.

Anyway, this is just one theory, based on conjecture and backed by a little science.
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:58 AM on March 12


Do you drink before turning in? Having a nightcap makes it easier to fall asleep, but it works against a prolonged sleep.
posted by three blind mice at 9:12 AM on March 12


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