February 8, 2005 5:29 PM   Subscribe

Due to a relationship breakup, I'm having a lot of trouble sleeping, and it's wreaking havoc with my life. I just can't sleep, I toss and turn most of the night. I never feel rested. I've tried Tylenol PM, but it just doesn't seem to work most times. I don't really want to drink myself into a stupor. Any suggestions on how I can fall asleep?

At this point, I'm desperate, I would even try sleeping pills, but I don't know how I'd go about getting them.
posted by patrickje to Health & Fitness (44 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've been where you are. With my brain going a mile a minute, my emotions in a turmoil, each with physical manifestations (e.g. stomach and muscle aches), it was really hard to ease into a restful state.

Meditation helped me a lot. Get a book on simple meditation techniques or look them up online and give it a go.
posted by pmbuko at 5:36 PM on February 8, 2005

Is it the bed that you two shared?

Depending on the weather in your area, consider some exercise before bed. Not right before you sleep, but in the evenings. Exhaust yourself, pour the frustration into jogging or running. It'll help wear you out and let you sleep. It worked for me!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:38 PM on February 8, 2005

Response by poster: Yes it is the bed we shared.
I run probably 30 miles a week as well. Although I run in the mornings usually. My kids really limit when I can run.
posted by patrickje at 5:42 PM on February 8, 2005

Been there. Exercise, not drinking alcohol, some sort of regular nighttime routine, concentrating on neutral gray, breathing through alternate nostrils (no, you can't really do it, it's just a trick) -- they all work some.

Really, though, when some turmoil is keeping me from sleeping I often find it's that I'm not letting myself feel what I'm trying to feel -- in your case, sadness or anger or some combination. Feel as absolutely sad as you want to. Don't put parenthesis or a time limit around it. Cry if you like. Don't dip your toe in it -- plunge in. You won't drown.

Oh, and time takes care of the rest. Wait it out.
posted by argybarg at 5:43 PM on February 8, 2005

I've been going through the same thing recently, but stress induced. These are not miracles, but drinking light liquids, taking a shower before bed, getting in clean sheets, and listening to comfortable/heart warming music might help. I wish you the best of luck in this, it should get better as spring emerges for all of us..
posted by sled at 5:45 PM on February 8, 2005

insomnia is awful, patrickje--sorry to hear you're suffering from it. here are a few suggestions:

1) make sure your bedroom is reserved for sleeping only. if you're doing work or studying in bed, try to move those activities to other locations.

2) exercise during the day. tiring your body will help even if you can't get your brain to stop churning. make sure you finish a few hours before you go to sleep, though, or you'll be too ramped up to rest. (on preview, running in the morning is great.)

3) avoid eating (especially sugar and caffeine) near bedtime. a cup of coffee at 5 PM can still throw your cycle off enough to make a midnight bedtime difficult.

4) make sure it's dark in your bedroom when you're trying to sleep and you're around light as much as possible the rest of the time. that exposure + waking up at the same time every day will help your circadian rhythms.

4) ambien. you can get a prescription from a doctor, but don't use it very often. it really, really works.

5) i second the meditation recommendation...even if you don't do it in a formal setting, try to clear your mind or focus on an emotionally neutral thought in bed. i bet you keep replaying the breakup (or other emotionally activating thoughts) in your head in bed, and that's probably your biggest obstacle to sleep.

good luck!
posted by equipoise at 5:48 PM on February 8, 2005

Oh man, patrickje, I've been there. Sorry you're hurting. Meditation and/or restful yoga before bedtime can help -- the slow, deep breathing can really bring down the heart rate and help you feel at least a little more calm. Also, see if you can find some sort of mantra to "click" into during those times you keep waking up -- I found that learning to say to myself "whatever happens, I can handle it" in a genuinely soothing voice really helped in those moments of panic/anguish/fear that often showed up in the middle of the night.

Since it's the bed you shared, would it help to switch sides, get new sheets, or something to otherwise make it feel less associated with your ex? (Just a thought.)

I've used mild tranquilizers and sleeping pills in the past, so if the above remedies don't work, I definitely think there's something to be said for going on a short course (7-10 days) of meds just to help you get some rest. Simply ask your doctor for something to help you sleep while you're under this stress. If you're worried about the idea that you might get hooked, make sure he/she only gives you 1 refill (or zero, if you prefer) with the scrip.

Oh, and I know melatonin works for some people -- it's always just given me wildly vivid, elaborate dreams, which may or may not be something you want right now.
posted by scody at 5:49 PM on February 8, 2005

You can buy Valerian pills at just about any drug store (and many supermarkets). No doctor's note needed. It has worked where others have failed, it's not-addictive, without nasty side-effects or wierd dreams, completely natural, and mankind has been using it as a sleeping aid for a couple thousand years. Might do the trick.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:53 PM on February 8, 2005

In an emergency (i.e. something important the next day) I use (generic) Nyquil. But: it could leave you tired in the morning, it will only mess you up if you use it too often, and it apparently makes some folx wired rather than sleepy.
posted by mookieproof at 5:54 PM on February 8, 2005

Yes, alcohol fucks with your sleep.

Your routine has been interrupted and you need to establish a new one, even just a temporary one. Get yourself tired by day, drink some Sleepytime tea, try some mediation (even just saying maaaaaaathooooooowie 100 times will do) and then listen to some gentle music or watch crappy TV in bed until you nod off. Old-fashioned hot cocoa is good too: gently heat nonfat milk in a pan until hot. Stir in raw cocoa powder and sugar.

Whatever you can do to come to grips with the breakup will help, too. I doubt that half a dozen rounds of amazing sex with someone new will leave you insomniatic.
posted by scarabic at 5:54 PM on February 8, 2005

When I was in this situation a few years back, I used hash. Maybe not quite what you're after, but it worked.
posted by pompomtom at 5:55 PM on February 8, 2005

Consider getting out of bed and the bedroom when you can't sleep and do something to distract yourself from not sleeping. This will prevent you from associating sleep related anxiety with your bedroom

eg. Clean the kitchen, reorder your bookshelf

Also, try having a warm (not hot) shower. This will make you feel more relaxed.

posted by pipstar at 5:56 PM on February 8, 2005

Been exactly there. What worked for me was having a news or talk show on the radio, it gave my mind something to concentrate upon other than her until I was calm enough to fall asleep. The downside is that 15 years later, though I can no longer recall what she looked like or her last name, I still need to listen to the radio to fall asleep sometimes!

Good luck, patrickje. One day this will seem like a not-very-compelling story you read about other people's problems.
posted by LarryC at 6:00 PM on February 8, 2005

I also vote for the exercise cure, if you haven't already tried it. I had trouble sleeping years ago when I was still in high school--I started exercising and have never had a problem (on a regular basis) since. I've also used ambien, and it does really work, but be careful to only use it RIGHT when you get into bed at night. It can cause some weird things to happen if you take it too soon before bed.
posted by fabesfaves at 6:06 PM on February 8, 2005

When I was in your situation, everyone had advice, nothing worked for me except sleeping pills. The "blue" ones. Go see your Dr. and get an R/X.

The other school of thought is that it is better to confront what is causing the sleep disruption (i.e. your breakup). Go see a councellor who can help you with that. It's a phase that you will get through.

This situation sucks, and I wish you the best.
posted by Quartermass at 6:13 PM on February 8, 2005

Lifelong insomniac here; it gets worse with situational stress.

Here's what works for me:

-- Talking to your doctor and getting a short course (two weeks worth) of Ambien is not a bad idea; you may just need to "train" yourself back into a normal sleep cycle. This works for a surprising number of people, and there's absolutely no shame in it. Make an appointment. Ask.

If that doesn't do the trick long-term, try some or all of the following:

-- Gentle exercise in the evening before going to sleep, e.g. a long walk after supper. Vigorous exercise may be counterproductive; a long brisk walk that causes you to break a mild sweat is just about ideal in my experience.

-- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants after, say, 3PM.

-- The aforementioned hot milk before bed. Very soothing, and not incidentally full of tryptophan.

-- I find that listening to soft music sometimes helps me drop off to sleep. If there's a decent jazz station in your area, tune it in and turn it down low.

-- Hot bath (better) or shower (almost as good.)

-- Masturbation, unless/until you have a cooperative partner, in which case, sweaty hot sex.

Also, as others have said, avoid alcohol. You *can* drink yourself to sleep, but you'll be wide awake four hours later. Alcohol messes with normal sleep patterns in a major way.
posted by enrevanche at 6:15 PM on February 8, 2005

I developed a bedtime routine of putting the Lost in Translation soundtrack on low volume and reading something really involving until I couldn't hold my eyes open. I think I used the Shins and the Postal Service also, not for any special reason, but the key was music that I didn't associate with him and reading to distract me.

Distraction seems like the watchword. Just do things to calm you and fill your mind.

(A couple of people said that you should also, like, emotionally deal with the breakup, but to this I say a: sometimes it just takes time and b: when you're trying to sleep is not the best time to do so, especially because not sleeping just makes everything worse.)
posted by SoftRain at 6:18 PM on February 8, 2005

I'm sorry to hear you're not sleeping well-
I've been in the exact same situation in very recent times.

What worked for me:

At first, alcohol made sleep easy (and helped me let go of my feelings). That didn't/couldn't last.

Then, I used exercise, but didn't keep it up.

Finally, I got rid of the old mattress we shared and got a futon.

That, combined with some fresh, soft, new sheets, and now most nights I sleep pretty soundly.

So, my advice to you is, change your bedding- get yourself something new, something really nice, and maybe a mattress pad too. It sounds silly, but I'd wager it helps significantly. Hope things get better soon.
posted by fake at 6:21 PM on February 8, 2005

You might want to try Acupuncture. I'm taking treatments for back pain, but I've noticed that it helps with my sleeping as well. Reading also helps, re-read something you love, or try new things that aren't too dense, or romantic, depressing, etc. In fact, now might be a good time to introduce yourself to P.G. Wodehouse.
posted by lilboo at 6:24 PM on February 8, 2005

I had the same problem after a break-up. It was awful. I know that it sounds crazy, but these products were given to me as a gift from my best friend, and really worked. I had to do a little quiet meditation with my eyes closed, but I did feel incredibly calm after using them, calm enough to fall asleep.
posted by picklebird at 6:32 PM on February 8, 2005

patrickje, sorry 'bout the breakup. If replacing the bed isn't an option, at least try moving the bed into a different place in the room or into a different room altogether. Hope this start getting better soon...
posted by Space Kitty at 6:46 PM on February 8, 2005

Most of the techniques I'm aware of have been mentioned, but in our sleep disorders class it was also recommended to dim the lights a bit about an hour before you want to go to bed, and do something quiet, like reading. Bright light and other stimuli act on centers in the brain to help keep you awake.
posted by gramcracker at 6:53 PM on February 8, 2005

Try getting a body pillow (one of those body sized pillows) to mimic having another person in bed with you. If you're used to snuggling, you can snuggle this and it should help.
Also, try getting an electric heating pad to mimic having the heat from another body in bed.
Not sure if that's the reason why you're having trouble sleeping, but it worked for me when my live-in and I split.
posted by nprigoda at 6:55 PM on February 8, 2005

As an insomniac currently experiencing a nasty bout of sleeplessness, here is my advice: talk to a therapist/counsellor/psychiatrist whoever you feel comfortable talking to.
I find I can't sleep because my mind races through dozens of things, most often to do with worries or relationships. Getting your feelings out of your head and 'off your chest' will do you a world of good.
Changing your bed situation sounds like a good idea also.
For milder insomnia, I drink decaff chai tea and do crossword puzzles til my head can't stay up.
Hang in there :)
posted by Radio7 at 6:55 PM on February 8, 2005

This will sound weird, but I'm serious: catnip tea. Works like a charm. Get some of the loose-leaf stuff and put it in a tea thingy (you know, one of those metal mesh thingies). Or you can go to the health food store and pay a lot more for it in a fancy bag.
posted by goatdog at 7:06 PM on February 8, 2005

Buy a teddy bear. I'm dead serious. I never slept with one when I was a kid, but I tried it after a breakup when nothing was helping me sleep, and it worked wonders.

(It may help to get one on the large side, since you're probably bigger than yer average three-year-old teddy bear user.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:13 PM on February 8, 2005

If you're lying there fretting about things, you might try snapping on the light and pulling out a journal. Write it all out. You'll find your eyelids drooping once you've committed it all to paper.

Also, I second playing with yourself. It's fun, and it clears the mind and knocks one right out.
posted by orange swan at 7:26 PM on February 8, 2005

Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is OTC and is sedating for some people. Just be certain not to pick up one with a "D" for decongestant (or has another additive if non-brand version) as this will keep you very awake.

Hope you find the relief you seek.
posted by sillygit at 8:09 PM on February 8, 2005

I've found temperature plays a HUGE roll in tricking my sleepiness mechanism. A drop in temperature can work wonders. Taking a shower, then stepping out of the steamy bathroom cools me off enough to make me drowsy.

And as others have said, dimming the lights a little while before you want to go to bed can also cue your body for bedtime.
posted by katieinshoes at 8:16 PM on February 8, 2005

I also recommend meditation and yogo, also talk to some people. Get your feelings out - they'll help straighten you out, maybe even see a counselor.
posted by xammerboy at 8:17 PM on February 8, 2005

I think all these suggestions are great, especially acupuncture. I have 2 suggestions:

Getting into a new activity: Kickboxing, chess, whatever might exhaust or distract you mentally.

If acupuncture appeals to you: Feng shui says that at the end of a long/significant relationship is one of the occasions to replace your mattress. It holds your experiences in it, something you sleep on top of for 8 hours a night. Otherwise you can do a salt burning ritual or leave the mattress outside in bright sunlight for at least 8 hours.

And really, good luck.
posted by scazza at 8:42 PM on February 8, 2005

one of the things i fear most is not being able to sleep. i've suffered from boughts of insomnia where i have absolutely no trouble falling asleep but can't stay asleep. i also toss and turn when i'm away from home alone as i find a cold bed (sans husband and small dogs) uncomfortable and disquieting.

this might sound a little nutty, but how about a hot water bottle, heating pad or electric blanket to take the chill off the bed before you get into it?
posted by heather at 9:01 PM on February 8, 2005

I slept on the couch for a year after the breakup of my second to last long term relationship, even after moving to a new apartment and it wortked okay for me. I'm not sure if you're looking for suggestions on dealing with insomnia in general, but the book No More Sleepless Nights is a pseudo-self help book that actually has a lot of sound advice and exercises for getting over insomnia issues that won't go away. It's in most libraries and worth a looksee.
posted by jessamyn at 9:04 PM on February 8, 2005

Many OTC antihistamines (in addition to Benadryl, as sillygit suggested) make people sleepy. You have to play with dosage and timing, though - take it too late and it's hard to wake up the next morning. 1 tablet (2 mg) of chlorpheniramine maleate about 3 hours before bedtime works best for me. Some people don't get drowsy with certain antihistamines - you might have to try a few to find one that works for you.
posted by Quietgal at 9:44 PM on February 8, 2005

The #1 sure way to a good night's sleep for me is a dose of Nyquil. Try it.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:15 PM on February 8, 2005

Getting into a new activity: Kickboxing, chess, whatever might exhaust or distract you mentally.

I second this whole-heartedly, especially if the reason for your insomnia is replaying *everything* over and over again and not being able to stop it. The thing that worked for me best, even as a stopgap solution, was finding something, anything new to focus on as I tried to sleep (and I say this as someone that has battled insomnia off and on for as long as I can recall). Whether it was a new volunteer gig, a potential date, or a new hobby, they always broke the cycle of frustration-self pity-depression for a few nights at least, which can be a welcome relief. As someone above mentioned as well, I adopted a mantra for myself that helped me focus on the positive (mine was "there are certain things in life you can control and certain things you can't. the best I can do is do the best with those that are in my control and try my hardest to let go of those that aren't").

It's tough, and as you can see, many people have been there. Keep in mind it *will* pass and do the best for yourself that you can right now. Good luck.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:24 PM on February 8, 2005

Oh man, I'm sorry. I've been in this situation many times, and it's new awfulness every time.

I like Kava, which is a pepper, and also a hell of a mood alterer. It's hard to feel too bad about anything with Kava. It's not a strong effect- not like it just wipes your mind- it just tends to give you a little distance.

I also love, at any time in my life, showers. Not *just* letting the water hit me, even- showers make a brown-ish noise which is soothing for about a million different reasons, and I love that. I also wrote a brown noise generator which slowly randomly shifted between channels on stereo, which is nice for the same reasons.

None of the OTC drugs or booze will actually make you feel rested or better, sadly, because their effect on seratonin just ain't what you're looking for. If you think you're depressed, I recommend foods with tryptophan, or even an tryptophan supplement, because there have been some recent studies which suggest the brain stem often wants more tryptophan than it can produce/get.

But, you know, I'm not a doctor.
posted by thethirdman at 12:09 AM on February 9, 2005

I went through something similar and took anti-depressants for a couple of months. I too, was desperate, and was really quite reluctant to try medication. I also got prescription sleeping pills.

The drugs did nothing for my state-of-mind (ie. I wasn't rendered happy or unconcerned), but they did help me eat and sleep again, which in turn helped with my state-of-mind. No probelm getting off them after taking them for a couple of months only.

But to each their own of course.
posted by juiceCake at 12:27 AM on February 9, 2005

I'm also an insomniac, usually because my mind is too full when I try to sleep. Something I find helpful is listening to old radio plays or books on tape at a low volume. They are just enough to keep my mind engaged until I fall asleep and they turn themselves off after an hour. They are available at most public libraries, in my experience.
posted by kamikazegopher at 1:26 AM on February 9, 2005

You might need to more completely mourn the loss of your relationship. Help yourself out and stage a little funeral for your ex. Dress in black, light a candle, have a small drink, say good bye, blow out the candle and weep. That said, my physician has recommended Benadryl. It's non-addictive, doesn't interact badly with other things and its primary side-effect is to make you drowsy. Score.
posted by plinth at 5:08 AM on February 9, 2005

i'm going to side with benadryl. it worked for me, and now, it can work for you!
posted by lotsofno at 5:13 AM on February 9, 2005

If you think some symbolic (also, expensive) gestures would help, consider a new bed. At the very least, new sheets and pillows. That helped me in the past.

Also, a friend once added a spoonful of organic, floral honey in the morning to his daily routine and claimed that he slept better, had more energy, clearer thought, etc.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:29 AM on February 9, 2005

If you are willing to try medication, see if you can get your doctor to prescribe Trazadone for you. It was one of the very first anti-depressants created, but it has the side effect of making you very sleepy. However, my doctor tells me it's not habit-forming.

I take 100 mg before going to bed, and half an hour later I drop off. For the first time since I was a teenager, I now sleep deeply, like "normal" people. I still dont get 8 hours a night, but the 6 or 6.5 I get is far more restful than at any other time in my life. Sometimes I am a little groggy when I wake up, but that passes.
posted by Irontom at 6:32 AM on February 9, 2005

I've gone through a couple bouts of stress-related insomnia, and what helped me was realizing that it doesn't matter if I only get 2 hours of sleep a night. I'll feel like crap for a while but I'll get over it. I used to chant it like a mantra at 4 in the morning. Also, I stopped taking taking naps during the day - tried to stick to a normal sleep schedule no matter how tired i was.

That second one might not be possible for some people where tiredness seriously affects their performance at some necessary task (like driving).
posted by muddgirl at 8:14 AM on February 9, 2005

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