A pin dropping wakes me up.
April 12, 2005 11:03 AM   Subscribe

How can I train myself out of being a light sleeper?

Until recently, I naively thought everyone I knew was a heavy sleeper, but I've discovered it is I who is the exception. My boyfriend laughed in my face when I asked him if I might be a light sleeper. "Might be? Might?!" he guffawed.

I wake up if my cell phone rings. In my bag. Two rooms away. Behind a closed door. I wake up if someone in my apartment building walks down the hall in shoes. I wake up when a truck drives by.

Unless I am dead tired (or dead drunk) I am awaked easily. I am not a nervous person, have no more stress in my life than an average person, and sleep well when it's quiet. I get a fair amount of exersize, am in good health, and eat well and regularly. I don't want a white noise machine. I hate earplugs, although I do resort to using them occassionally. I just want to sleep solidly.

Please help.
posted by Specklet to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
i think everyone "wakes up". what makes a difference is how stressed you get about it. i used to find it difficult to sleep if it was noisy. then i discovered that if i just accept the noise, it no longer matters - it's more about drifting back to sleep without caring than about sleeping deeply, i think. anyway, i can now sleep with my window open and a bunch of students outside arguing through the night (last night).

of course "accepting" it is a difficult thing to explain. you have to work out how not to care, which isn't obvious if you're the kind of person that bothers about things like answering the phone (in my case, i think, it helped to change cultures, moving to s america, so it became painfully obvious that worrying about things is not so necessary...)
posted by andrew cooke at 11:25 AM on April 12, 2005

Fall asleep with the radio on for a few weeks.
posted by banished at 11:33 AM on April 12, 2005

I'm not stressed when I wake up; I don't even consider answering my phone, etc. I can usually drift back to sleep, if the noise stops. But if the noise is ongoing, I can't fall back asleep.

I don't want the radio on when I'm sleeping. I meditate before sleep, and turning on the radio defeats the purpose of relaxing my brain. Besides, I don't think you understand: I couldn't fall asleep with the radio on if I tried!
posted by Specklet at 11:51 AM on April 12, 2005

Or try sleeping with a fan on low setting, maybe even in another room. The white noise should help get you used to hearing noise while you sleep and may help cancel out other noises.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:58 AM on April 12, 2005

I just moved into a rather noisy apartment building, and I've found that sleeping with the front window partly open (I'm on a fairly quiet street, just have loud stompy neighbors) helps. I think it basically makes me subconsciously expect there to be noise -- wind, cars from a couple roads over -- and so while I can still hear the noise from my neighbors, it doesn't bother me nearly as much.

Without the window open, I wake up *every* time my neighbor walks across his apartment.
posted by occhiblu at 12:19 PM on April 12, 2005


I already sleep with the window open (weather permitting). As I said before, I can drift off again if I get woken up by brief noise, but I wake frequently and am unable to sleep if there is on-going noise.

The white noise idea is unappealing to me because I hate electrical/mechanical drones. I guess maybe one of those cheesy ocean/rain forest/rainstorm machines is the way to go. Shit.
posted by Specklet at 1:44 PM on April 12, 2005

It's going to be really hard to do without attenuating yourself to the noise. I went from living with my parents for the summer in their house in the country with virtual silence (closed windows, air conditioning on but not noisy, the room partially below ground level) to living in a college apartment where I could hear neighbors, people outside, cars in the parking lot, and trains (!) that went by about every 20 minutes between midnight and 4AM just on the other side of my parking lot.

The secret? I slept like crap the first week or two. Once you get really tired, you can fall asleep with a lot of racket. Everything that's been said about a constant, tolerable noise is right in my experience. If there's a hum or breeze that drowns out the background, it helps. The radio will only help if you're a person that can actively screen out that sort of thing, which I'm not. I can sometimes fall asleep with headphones on, if it's music that I'm familiar with -- songs that I know well are predictable and establish a pattern I can sometimes get lost in and fall asleep.

Any transition is going to be hard. In my experience, there are two levels of sleep: comfortable energizing sleep, and necessary sleep. To get the necessary level of sleep, you'll eventually fall asleep even with a minor racket going on. If you have a week or so where you don't plan on being overly productive and don't mind a loss of sleep, shoot for necessary and hope to work up to the comfort level with some sort of noise.
posted by mikeh at 1:49 PM on April 12, 2005

I'm an extremely light sleeper and the only thing that seems to work for me is a good white noise machine. Don't mess with those crappy digital speaker things, it's just not the same. This is what you need. It really masks the vast majority of sounds and doesn't have the same anti-relaxation effect of a radio.

It really makes a HUGE difference for me.
posted by aaronh at 1:49 PM on April 12, 2005

I posted the above about white noise while you posted that you hate droning sounds. I'm very much like you, I think.

I've worked hard to make my computers silent with extra expensive parts, etc. but those whirring noise machines are different it seems. I think becuase it's more of a hollow "woooosh" sound it doesn't bug me the same. Again, it's not completely natural but it's way better than being awakened by the neighbor kid running across the floor downstairs at 6am.
posted by aaronh at 1:53 PM on April 12, 2005

If you hate white noise machines, an alternative might be those mini-waterfall things some people put on their desks at work. The bubbling, water-falling-on-rocks sounds might be nicer and not so mechanical sounding.

I remember falling asleep in a hotel with a nearby constant waterfall sound (Hawaii?) and I remember sleeping great while there.
posted by zenorbital at 2:00 PM on April 12, 2005

all i can say is that i was like you and now can sleep with continual noise. i stil wake up at times, but by accepting the noise it no longer bothers me, and i return to sleep. even if the noise continues. all i have changed, as far as i can see, is my attitude.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:07 PM on April 12, 2005

They also make white noise (including natural noise) CDs. I don't know anyone who's tried them, so I don't know if they're better or worse than the white noise machines, but they might be less expensive.
posted by occhiblu at 2:22 PM on April 12, 2005

White (and other colors of) noise WAV files.
posted by matildaben at 3:16 PM on April 12, 2005

mikeh, there is no transition here. I didn't move somewhere noisy, nothing has changed. I've always been like this. If it's really quiet, I can fall asleep. If there's noise, I don't fall asleep. Period.

Yeah, if I'm tired enough, I'll fall asleep with a racket going on. As soon as I get enough sleep, I'm back to the light sleeper thing. Sure, I have a week where I'd be willing to experiment. But what do I do?

In regards to the white noise machines: I wouldn't mind spending the money, it's just that for some reason I just don't like the idea of falling asleep to electrical noises. I think I'm going to have to get over that...
posted by Specklet at 3:28 PM on April 12, 2005

Sleep issues are non-trivial! Sleep is an extraordinarily complex process.

If you want to learn more, a great book is "The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night's Sleep" by William Dement

I made great progress personally by using this as background to understanding my own issues. BTW, Stanford has a great sleep clinic.
posted by Instrumental at 3:55 PM on April 12, 2005

Do you have a regular exercise routine? When I get at least 20 minutes of a high-intensity cardiovascular workout, I find that I can go to sleep easily, be dead asleep all night, and then wake up wide-awake at the same time every day- no battling the snooze button.

When I fall off my routine, I find myself staying awake to all hours and not being able to wake up in the morning.

Try gradually dimming the lights for 2 hours before you go to sleep. This might slow your body down a bit before it is actually sleepy time enough so that you might not wake up at night.
posted by yesno at 6:03 PM on April 12, 2005

I, too, am a light sleeper and have a terrible time getting back to sleep when awakened. Unfortunately, my husband is a night person and does most of his work on the computer at night. Between the sounds he makes, and the cats waking me up (or my bladder), some nights are far worse than others. I, too, find music and white noise don't help, so I have resorted to earplugs. I buy Leight earplugs in quantities of 30 at a time and reuse each pair a time or two. I find I don't need them on weekends, when I can follow my natural sleep pattern, but on weeknights when I must get up early enough for work, they are essential for a decent night's sleep. I use a sleep mask on really difficult nights when light bothers me, also.
posted by Lynsey at 10:44 AM on April 13, 2005

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