Who needs sleep? (well you're never gonna get it)
October 12, 2009 1:34 PM   Subscribe

I can't sleep through the night anymore. Can I re-learn? And should I be worried about my sleep, given that I'm not tired?

About three months ago, I stopped being able to sleep through the night. I've always had trouble falling asleep (it usually takes about an hour), but once I was asleep, I could stay asleep for ~8 hours. I slept reasonably well and was generally happy with my sleep quality.

Fairly gradually, I started waking up in the middle of the night. First it was once a night (about an hour before my normal waking time), then it was twice, and now I'm waking up about every 1.5-2 hours from the time I fall asleep until it's time to wake up in the morning. This happens almost every night now. It doesn't matter how tired I am when I go to sleep, or what I'm doing before bed, or where I'm sleeping (my bedroom vs. hotel, etc.).

The thing that makes me brush this off is that I'm not tired at all during the day. I feel fine. I'm as productive as I've always been, and I'm not sick or run-down. Does that mean that this is simply my body's new way of sleeping and that I'm normal?

Factors to consider/discount:
*When I was having a lot of trouble falling asleep a few years ago, I tried nearly every commercially available sleep remedy, including melatonin, Benadryl, and several prescription drugs. None of them worked. Since this new problem arose, I tried them all again and saw no change in my sleep patterns.
*About one night every two weeks, I sleep through the night. This is usually a weekend night when I don't have to be up at any specific time the next day.
*My bedroom is very dark and quiet, and my bed is comfortable.
*I am not unusually stressed out, and I'm not upset about anything.
*When I wake up, I can usually fall back to sleep within 10-15 minutes.
*I'm not hungry or thirsty and I don't need to pee when I wake up.
*I am in good health. I exercise regularly and eat a healthy vegetarian diet.
*I don't snore or have other symptoms of sleep apnea.
*I don't have nightmares or vivid dreams that might wake me up, at least not that I remember.

So, should I be worried about this? And if so, what can I do to fix it?
posted by decathecting to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
How old are you? I've found that as I get older, I wake up more frequently. Particularly after I hit 35.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 1:36 PM on October 12, 2009

Get thee to a sleep doctor and have an overnight test. There's any number of things that could be happening here. Many of them are mundane. Some are quite troubling. The good news is, they're all usually quite treatable.

Sleep studies saved my life, seriously.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:39 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

don`t worry about it.

i have the same situation. rarely sleep more than 5 or 6 hours a night. seldom tired and i`m well adjusted.

sleeping patterns change over time. i used to sleep even less about 10 years ago. exercise added an extra hour or two, although now i feel less productive!

if it`s not affecting your life negatively then ignore it. you`re lucky; most people would be collapsing at their desks if put in a similar situation.
posted by artof.mulata at 1:42 PM on October 12, 2009

Has your caffeine intake changed?
posted by desjardins at 1:49 PM on October 12, 2009

Response by poster: I'm 28.

My caffeine intake has not changed (or if it has, it's gone down. About two years ago, I drank a massive amount of diet soda, all day long. Now I'm down to 1-2 servings a day max, sometimes none at all, almost never after 3 pm. And my sleep quality doesn't change whether I've had 5 sodas within an hour of bedtime or no soda in the last three days).

Cool Papa Bell: Can you elaborate on what the "troubling" possibilities are? I've recently been given a clean bill of health by my physician, so I'd like to know what, specifically, to ask about if I go back.
posted by decathecting at 1:57 PM on October 12, 2009

I'm your age and I have a similar problem. I fall asleep after about an hour, I stay asleep until about midnight, then I wake up every 30 minutes or so until 4:30, when I have to get up. Sometimes I feel tired during the day, but I usually feel just fine. I've tried everything to get myself to sleep through the night, but nothing works so now I'm trying to find ways to stay healthy without sleep. I sneak in tiny naps when I can--I ride a train to work, so I'll sleep for 10 minutes during my morning and afternoon commute. During my lunch break, I usually meditate for 15 minutes, which sometimes calms me down and helps replenish my energy reserves. I also take B-complex vitamins, which improve my energy level throughout the day. Finally, I get acupuncture once a week and I take an herbal formula my herbalist/acupuncturist formulates for me. So even though I'm not sleeping as much as I should be, I give my body ways to relax and recuperate.

Wearing earplugs when I sleep makes a huge difference in the quality and quantity of sleep I get, but I can only wear them on weekends when I don't need to hear my alarm clock. Try them to see if they make a difference.
posted by HotPatatta at 2:13 PM on October 12, 2009

Best answer: Can you elaborate on what the "troubling" possibilities are?

List of sleep disorders.

For example, there are three general types of sleep apnea -- obstructive, central and a mix of the two. The former is far more easily diagnosed than the latter two. And an internist can't diagnose this without a sleep study. Besides making you sleepy, sleep apnea can futz with your heart rhythms. I'd say that's troubling. ;-)

Another example -- restless leg syndrome doesn't have to be in your legs, and you don't have to actually kick your legs noticeably to be affected by it. Again, not something you can properly diagnose without a sleep study.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:16 PM on October 12, 2009

I don't know if you need to be worried about this or not, I'm your age and I still need 8 hours, but here's three things you might try, and see if they work. More sleep rarely harms you, but keep an eye out for signs of depression.

White/Pink/Browned noise. This knocks me right out, and I think would help in making falling back asleep much easier than waking to dead silence.

Sublingual melatonin tablets. Also for falling asleep, but harmless to try, and maybe if you begin sleeping with more sleepytime hormone, it'll stick? I dunno.

Recently, my doc prescribed me Flexeril (muscle relaxant) for some persistent back tension, and said to take the before bedtime. Well, this stuff keeps me somnolent for just about 8 hours straight. I figured that out by getting up in less than that and not being ok to drive. I haven't looked into the habit-forming properties of this medication, so determine your risk factors yourself, but I've found it to be a rather no-strings sleep aid. Having taken it occasioanlly, I sleep well, deeply, and experience no ill effects. I've had otc sleeping pills and benzos, and both help me to sleep, but not as well as the back pills. Obviously I'm not averse to taking medication hither and thither, some people are more conservative.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:33 PM on October 12, 2009

Well 28 does seem young for the type of disrupted sleep I was thinking about. On the other hand I wouldn't jump to anything "troubling" just yet. But if it's bothersome, ask your doc.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:35 PM on October 12, 2009

I'm thinking if you had sleep apnea you'd be tired (my husband has it.)

But why not run this by your doc? Sounds like something might be interfering with your sleep cycle.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:43 PM on October 12, 2009

I wake up every couple of hours a night--although I'm only usually awake for a minute or two, not 10 or 15. I've noticed that as I get older (I'm 33) I have become a lighter sleeper. If you're not feeling tired during the day I wouldn't worry too much about it. If you're really concerned you could go see a sleep specialist.
posted by Kimberly at 3:07 PM on October 12, 2009

I agree with Cool Papa Bell that it makes sense to try a sleep study. A physical check-up without a sleep study is not going to be able to detect a sleep problem. You might not feel sleepy during the day because of the high cortisol levels caused by interrupted sleep, and you might still be performing well during the day because you're young and sturdy, but in the long run poor sleep will be bad for your health in many ways. If nothing else, it can make you gain weight (I've been slowly losing weight since starting my current level of treatment for apnea).

Wearing earplugs when I sleep makes a huge difference in the quality and quantity of sleep I get, but I can only wear them on weekends when I don't need to hear my alarm clock.

You could combine earplugs with an alarm intended for deaf people, one that shakes your bed or turns on a light or something.
posted by Ery at 3:11 PM on October 12, 2009

Change your bedding or anything about your sleep environment lately?

Waking early and not being able to go back to bed is an early indicator of depression, but it doesn't sound like that's what's going on here.
posted by kathrineg at 3:12 PM on October 12, 2009

Best answer: Read this: Segmented sleep. You may be completely normal.
posted by loosemouth at 3:18 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I could have written this post. I have to ask, are you a born night owl trying to live on an early bird schedule?
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:52 PM on October 12, 2009

*When I wake up, I can usually fall back to sleep within 10-15 minutes.

I'm not tired at all during the day. I feel fine. I'm as productive as I've always been

These are the important points, to me.

Sometimes I get in stretches where I'm waking up often during the night, but falling right back to sleep, as well. I never feel noticeably more tired during those times as opposed to times when I'm sleeping through the night.

Given that you have no real harmful symptoms and are in good overall health, I will say that if I were you I wouldn't do anything--no doctor, no sleep study, etc.--unless you do begin to feel adversely affected. Sure, there's a small possibility that you're experiencing symptoms of a serious disease, but that's the case every time you get a headache or a random pain in your arm or something, and it's not feasible to go to the doctor for every little thing. In all likelihood, this is one of those 'little things,' so stop worrying.
posted by notswedish at 8:22 PM on October 12, 2009

Response by poster: I'm definitely a night person. These days, I sleep (or try to) from about midnight until about 8 am. However, my ideal sleep pattern, the one I fall into on a long vacation or when I have nothing else to do, is from about 5 am until 1 pm. But that's always been the case. Could that be causing the change in my sleep?

I haven't changed anything about my sleeping environment. My bedroom is quiet, but this actually all started during a time when I was running the A/C all night, so I had white noise. The presence or absence thereof doesn't make a difference. And like I said, sleeping pills, including melatonin, don't make a difference. I don't even fall asleep when I take heavy duty narcotics such as vicodin, which I've been told is incredibly rare.

I guess I'll have to call my doctor, though I suspect that, as most of you have posited, it's nothing and I'm fine.
posted by decathecting at 9:02 AM on October 13, 2009

As I understand it, we all go through sleep cycles during the night that consist of deeper sleep followed by lighter sleep. Each of these lasts 90-110 minutes (for one source, see here). From what you describe, it may be that you're briefly waking up at the end of each sleep cycle. In my experience, anxiety about having to get up very early and not hearing your alarm clock may cause this. The same thing tends to happen to me when I have to get up earlier than usual.

A rule of thumb that I read somewhere, though I can't remember where: when you can sleep in, how long do you sleep? If it's more than your usual amount of sleep on work days plus 1.5 hours, you may not be getting enough sleep during the week.
posted by rjs at 10:25 AM on October 13, 2009

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