Waking up tired
April 11, 2005 4:08 PM   Subscribe

So I've always been a terrible sleeper...

On most nights it takes easily 45 minutes of lying in bed before I can fall asleep (unless I get restless before then), and naps are out of the question. The most bothersome part of my sleep cycle, though, is when I wake up after five hours (still moderately tired) and can't fall back to sleep. Why does this (both the falling asleep and waking up issues) happen and what can I do about it?
posted by hopeless romantique to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I read once that the threshold for trying to sleep should be 45 minutes. If you have lain for 45 minutes or more and are still not asleep then get up, have a glass of water and read for 15 minutes, then try again.
posted by fire&wings at 4:22 PM on April 11, 2005

Same problem here, except once asleep, I manage 7-8 hours most of the time. Awaits answers.
posted by Gyan at 4:33 PM on April 11, 2005

The average person falls asleep within 7 minutes of lying down according to Jonathan Safran Foer (or Oskar rather). Try eliminating alcohol, which disrupts sleep patterns, and caffeine as much as possible. Maybe something like chamomile tea before bed would help, though I haven't tried it myself.
posted by benightedly_heedful at 5:00 PM on April 11, 2005

I don't know why sleep problems happen that don't have some physical/ emotional cause, but I've had trouble all my life, too. I remember my parents trying to help me as a little kid and finally they just gave up and I was allowed to read as late as I wanted as long as I stayed in bed. Meanwhile, you might already know all this "sleep hygiene" stuff, but just in case...

Go to bed and get up at roughly the same times every day, always. When you can't get to sleep, get up and do something quiet in another room (so as not to let your mind associate your bedroom with the anxiety of sleep problems). Avoid alcohol, exercise and big meals close to bedtime, but don't go to sleep hungry, either. Don't to anything in your bedroom except sleep, read and have sex- take the TV out of there. Do not allow yourself to worry while in bed- it's your safe zone. Have a glass of warm milk (seriously- I think it's because heat converts the tryptophan to serotonin and it really does help you sleep). Sleep in a very dark cool room.

And of course, as always, tell your doctor. I had a million tricks for getting to sleep but the only thing that worked consistently for me in the end is medication, and it's a blessing.
posted by puddinghead at 5:10 PM on April 11, 2005

Can you tell us more about your lifestyle, eating habits, general emotional state, etc.? The more info the better, though of course the final answer will always be to see a doctor.
posted by spaghetti at 5:14 PM on April 11, 2005

My solution to sleep problems is kind of the opposite of puddinghead's. I stay up until I just can't keep my eyelids open anymore. When I do that, I find that I sleep like a baby, provided that it's completely quiet in the room. Getting more physical exercise during the day helps too.
posted by epimorph at 5:15 PM on April 11, 2005

err......maybe that 2nd thread wasn't quite as 'on subject' as I thought - after more than a cursory look.
posted by peacay at 5:24 PM on April 11, 2005

but the tag for sleep probably has some useful advice.
no more links, promise. (but thanks to amberglow in MeTa for providing the link)
posted by peacay at 5:33 PM on April 11, 2005

I suffer from this same problem. Here are some things that help me:

* Cut out caffeine. I've actually cut it out altogether, but something like "no caffeine after 6pm" might work ok, too.

* Get some exercise. This is the obvious advice, but I always forget about it anyway. Even a small amount -- like riding my bike to work & school -- makes a huge difference.

* While you're lying in bed trying to fall asleep, play this game: pick a category of things, like Movies from the 80s, Open Source Software, Small Furry Animals, or whatever, and then start at the beginning of the alphabet, and for each letter, try to think of one thing in your category.

It's amazing how well this works. I think the idea is that it forces your brain to stop thinking about all the interesting things it could be thinking about and focus instead on a tedious mind-numbing activity. I've never made it all the way to Z.
posted by medpt at 5:49 PM on April 11, 2005

Simple question with very complicated answer(s)--need to know if this is consistent and repetitive pattern; age; health; energy/fatigue level during the day; medications, exercise, alcohol, and dietary habits; rule out sleep apnea or other physiological problems; history of anxiety and/or depression; etc. Problem might not be a problem depending on consequences (concentration, fatigue, etc.); might be remedied by change of habits; eliminating medical problems; treating anxiety/depression; etc. If it is problematic, there are no medical problems and can not be managed by change in habits there are very good drugs now available--non addictive, no tolerance, do not disturb REM, and some are relatively inexpensive. Pharmacological treatment has come a very long way in last 10 years. Good Luck Frank
posted by rmhsinc at 5:54 PM on April 11, 2005

If you live in an area with some good hospitals, try to find someone who specializes in sleep disorders. I was very skeptical but I finally went to one last year and he helped me tremendously. No drugs, no major lifestyle changes, no diets, nothing like that. I wouldn't say he "cured" my insomnia, but he gave me some good tools I can use to break the cycle of not sleeping. As long as I stick to the schedule he gave me I can fall asleep in about fifteen minutes most nights.

I had a similar problem with getting to sleep except it was more like two hours before I fell asleep. I've been like this all my life. It got better as I got older but I would go through cycles of not sleeping well for a month or two.

After keeping a sleep diary for a few weeks and visiting him a few times, these are some of the things that worked:

How long are you spending in bed total? For me, I was going to bed at 10:00 PM and getting up about 7:30. 9.5 hours. Too much. He had me go to bed at 11:30 and getting up at 7:00. It was tough at first but after a few days of it I would be nice and tired by the time I went to bed, which was the point.

As soon as I got up in the morning I sat in front of a window and got some sunlight. He suggested going for a walk but I was unable/lazy. The bright sunlight tells your body to make with the Melatonin, which starts prepping your body for sleep. Not everyone agrees with this but my doc was a leading sleep researcher with Harvard who specializes in fixing sleep disorders without medicine, he's written some books on the subject and I tend to trust him.

If you lie in bed for more than a half hour, get up and do something else for a half hour before trying again. Don't watch TV, don't use a computer, don't do anything too stimulating. Avoid bright lights or loud noises. Get out of bed and read, play solitaire (the old fashioned way, with a deck of cards), shine some shoes, iron some clothes, whatever. Just do something boring. Lying in bed for to long is unproductive. If you're like me you get frustrated after a while and it makes things worse. Just give up and try again in a half hour.

He suggested relaxation tapes but they don't work for me. My brain is way too active and I can't think about what they tell me to think about without thinking about 4798479 other things. They do work for a lot of people though.

Don't use your bed for anything besides sleep and sex.

Keep as regular a schedule as possible. This is very important. One sunday morning of sleeping in until 9:00 and I've blown it for at least a week.

A lot of people won't understand what you're going through. Insomnia is like depression, a lot of those who don't have it think you can break it through willpower alone. I know what you're dealing with and it sounds like you'd benifit from professional help.

I can't help you with the waking up after five hours part as I didn't have that problem. The opposite actually. Once I'm asleep a nuclear bomb won't wake me up. That's a problem that was accidentally solved another way, to my amazement.

Good luck and if you need any more help feel free to email me.
posted by bondcliff at 5:58 PM on April 11, 2005

One trick is to tell each of your body parts to go to sleep, starting with your toes and working your way up> By the time you're done you'll be relaxed, both physically and mentally.

Another trick is to play with yourself:-)
posted by orange swan at 5:59 PM on April 11, 2005

I drink a cup of tea every morning and that's basically my entire caffeine consumption; I rarely drink alcohol. To be honest, I'm a college student, so my schedule isn't all that regular. But I've *always* had this problem. I'm used to waking up naturally after 7.5 hours of sleep and functioning fine, but the fact that it's completely impossible for me to sleep past and often until noon on the weekends completely blows my mind. This weekend I went to bed at 5am; I woke up on my accord at 9:30 and couldn't fall back to sleep. I was able to function for the day, but a little more sleep wouldn't have killed me.

My big problem about falling asleep is turning my mind off, making it shut up and stop thinking. Listening to music softly sometimes helps, but other times I just turn too much focus to it.

On preview: Good eating habits, my exercise habits have decreased but i'm still physically healthy and fit. And, as I mentioned above this, I can function/am not tired on 7.5 hours of sleep, but sometimes my body decides it's okay to get less than that, which really isn't okay.
posted by hopeless romantique at 5:59 PM on April 11, 2005

Other answers for preview: I'm 19, pretty high energy level through the day, no depression/other psychological/physiological problems, no meds.
posted by hopeless romantique at 6:06 PM on April 11, 2005

"no caffeine after 6pm" might work ok, too.

Really?? I don't drink caffeine after about 2pm unless I *want* to be up until the wee hours.
My dad has recently cut out most to all of his caffeine because he was waking up between 2 and 4 and was unable to get back to sleep. I think it's helped him. But then, he used to have a bedtime cup of coffee, so his intake may have been irregularly high.

I personally slept better when I was exercising 3+ times a week.

One trick is to tell each of your body parts to go to sleep, starting with your toes and working your way up> By the time you're done you'll be relaxed, both physically and mentally.

Another trick is to play with yourself:-)

Both of these things work well for me when I have a hard time relaxing.
The latter is surprisingly effective.
posted by librarina at 6:08 PM on April 11, 2005

I experienced this, too -- it would take me an hour or more to fall asleep. It's called "prolonged sleep latency," and what helped was a week or two of Ambien. I'm the kind of person who usually doesn't even take an aspirin, so I was wary of trying a drug for this... but none of the relaxation or other techniques I tried (including hemi-sync tapes) worked. The Ambien, however, did, and it was such a relief to be well-rested.
posted by youarejustalittleant at 6:16 PM on April 11, 2005

ever since I can remember it's taken me an hour or so to fall asleep each night, with two or three not being exceptional. The basic problem for me is that there's just so many neat things to think about that sleep becomes secondary, and I can't shut down my mind. I think it's important to have a routine, and I've managed to sort of regulate my sleep and work around it, but I still very rarely fall right asleep. A hot drink before bed is good, having gotten exercise is good, too. THe really big thing for me is not to have anything significant on your mind, and just let your thoughts wander; if you find yourself focusing on something don't try to push it away, but look it over and move on.

I tried melatonin for a while but I don't think that's a very good solution. The not being able to have a regular bedtime is a problem i can identify with, and I know it's hard to try and keep yourself to something like that, but if you can try it would help.

Sunlight is also big for me, as far as not waking up tired. I've never used a simulated sunrise alarm, but that seems like a great idea.

good luck etc.
posted by cmyr at 6:23 PM on April 11, 2005

All of the advice about limiting your bedroom to sleep is basic sleep hygiene that can be crucial. Also doing something else if you can't fall asleep after more than half an hour. Also, keeping regular hours is essential, and should be one of your first interventions. No more staying up until 5 am if you can possibly help it, even though that might be a drag.

Alcohol is a big one, since many people thinks that it helps them to sleep, but in fact, it disrupts sleep and makes people wake up early.

Two positive changes:
1) It isn't simply exercise, but aerobic exercise in the morning, that has been shown to increase sleep at night. So, if you work out later in the day, you may want to change that.

2) According to yoga, or at least a yoga instructor I dated, inversions release sleep hormones. If she had trouble sleeping she would put her butt against the wall, with her legs stretched up the wall, and lie that way for 15 minutes before arranging herself for sleep.

Good luck.
posted by OmieWise at 6:41 PM on April 11, 2005

Here's something I said on a related sleep thread more about getting to lseep than waking up, but I think they're similar.
We have been dealing with this in our household a lot lately. Often there's either a stress or activity [or lack thereof] or computer/tv right before bedtime component. One of the books we've found to be really helpful is called No More Sleepless Nights. It looks dorky and self-helpy but it's really really not. It contains a lot of good information about how we sleep, how we don't sleep and a lot of tips similar to what everyone has already been offering in this thread. It's a staple at a lot of public libraries, so if you feel the need to do more reading, please pick it up. What worked for us was focussing on some sleep "triggers" before bedtime. For me it's a cigarette right before bed [counter-intuitive, I know] which tells my body it's sleepy-time. For my boyfriend it's tooth brushing. We do the bright light in the morning thing and try to stay off the computers and away from the TV for the last 30 minutes or so before we sleep. Plus, if someone is tossing and turning, they have to go read somewhere, or try to sleep someplace else, they can't just lie in bed and fidget, on the off chance that the other person really IS able to sleep. Even though lack of sleep is temporarily horrible, there's a really good chance you can work this out without having to go to the docs or take medication. Good luck.
I have always been a "lie there for 30 minutes before I fall asleep" person myself but if that's as bad as it gets it's not too bad.
posted by jessamyn at 7:39 PM on April 11, 2005

The average person falls asleep within 7 minutes of lying down

Yeah. Right.

Every single person I know takes longer than that.

I've always taken forever (an hour isn't uncommon) to fall asleep. I've decided I'd rather lay quietly next to my sweety than read or play solitaire or polish my shoes.

Another trick is to play with yourself:-)

I, ummmm, I'm not admitting to that...!
posted by Doohickie at 8:01 PM on April 11, 2005

If you're interested in the science behind sleep cycles and insomnia, I linked to a relevant blog on the blue a little while ago. Definitely some handy advice contained within.
posted by painquale at 8:59 PM on April 11, 2005

I've had problems falling asleep, staying asleep & subsequently, waking up. .. Ambien is good, so is lorezepam (Ativan) although with lorez. you run the risk of addiction so I just use them when traveling (strange beds...) But here's my best tip: I'm sensitive to noise too so I bought this travel clock/alarm/sound soother at Sharper Image (it was half price, around $50-60, if you bought one thing in the store so I bought the AC converter...runs on batteries or AC.) Now, I fall asleep to 'rain' or 'thunderstorm', very pleasant white noise. Added bonus: when I wake up and it's sunny, I'm especially delighted.
posted by lois1950 at 9:34 PM on April 11, 2005

I am another cannot fall asleep forever person (and I always end up dating those assholes who just put down their heads & bam!). Anyway, the only solution I have found is the BBC World Service. Seriously. NPR is okay in a pinch, as is RFI, but the news is interesting enough to keep me from thinking of other things but boring enough to let me fall asleep. If I'm really having trouble, I'll count in my head as well as listen, and if English doesn't work, French or German can.

Or masturbate.
posted by dame at 9:57 PM on April 11, 2005

Another vote for exercise. I've always had problems sleeping, and I just moved, which produced a sleep cycle wherein I couldn't sleep until around midnight, and would wake up hours before my alarm every morning at 7am and feel exhausted.

Spent a few hours playing racquetball after basically no exercise for months, and this past week I've been sleeping in as long as I like, and going to sleep when I want.
posted by sirion at 10:24 PM on April 11, 2005

I've also been a lifetime "problem sleeper." The most useful trick I've found, in addition to the dietary, exercise, sleep hygiene habits mentioned above is to pick a random number like 6,000 and count backwards, saying each and every number and syllable in my head. I've had rare nights where I've made it down to 1, but most often, I'm out like a light in the mid 5,000 range. It's just monotonous and boring, but focused enough that my mind is not wandering rampantly (which I think is one my major sleep pitfalls). Good luck and happy sleeping!
posted by zombiebunny at 5:29 AM on April 12, 2005

The average person falls asleep within 7 minutes of lying down

Yeah. Right.

Every single person I know takes longer than that.

Then you must not know me. I usually take less than that, sometimes significantly. Also, I can't relate to this problem.
posted by recursive at 9:41 AM on April 12, 2005

I cycle between so fast I can't even turn off the light to 45 minutes or so. When I notice it has been taking a while (usually because I am obessesing on a problem) I use mental imagery of a blank white wall and just concentrate on that, clearing my mind. It usually allows me to fall asleep quickly, but then again I have practised the whole self-hypnosis guided relaxation thing for a while now.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 11:14 AM on April 12, 2005

I've had insomnia for over 16 years now (long story). A lot of the suggestions here have helped, some haven't. It's trial and error. I have the dubious distinction of having stumped the head of our local clinic, (I work hard to get 6 hours of sleep, not enough for me, but better than many times).

From my reading and experience there are a lot of good suggestions posted above - the trick is deciding which apply most to You. My two favorite books are _No More Sleepless Nights_, described above by Jessamyn, and _Say Goodnight to Insomnia_ by Gregg Jacobs. I would say that _No More.._ has more detail on various sleep disorders and a ton of other stuff, but Gregg Jacobs' book is better organized and a lot clearer on Sleep Restriction, which involves limiting your time in bed in order to increase the 'pressure' to sleep and stay asleep. They are both excellent.
(sorry, I haven't figured out how to link to Amazon or other sellers of the Jacobs book. Help would be welcome.)
posted by judybxxx at 1:30 PM on April 12, 2005

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