How do I get feel good about going to sleep?
February 27, 2011 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Whenever I finally turn out the lights and get in bed, I immediately get a bit upset and sad over the things I could be doing. Perhaps not quite sad, but this feeling of emptiness. What do you do at night before bed to feel good about going to sleep when you could be doing so many other productive things?

I'm a college student who could constantly be studying for this test, or freelancing some work online. Without fail, every single night when I turn out the lights I get just a bit anxious about everything I could be doing and I wish I wasn't going to bed. I don't like this feeling one bit.
posted by lakerk to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
read a novel. Always. Can't go to sleep without at least a paragraph or two.
posted by aunt_winnifred at 11:43 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've been this way for years. To this end, I don't really enjoy sleeping all that much (freaky, I know). I've always felt pretty much alone on this. Anyways, one thing I find that helps me is to try to get to sleep with the goal of waking up and being super productive first thing in the morning, after I'm all rested and my brain is fresh. And I like controlling how much time I allow myself for the unconscious 'break' (by setting an alarm), yet not having to experience the time passing before I can get back to doing things (because I'm asleep). So I tell myself that the sooner I actually get to sleep, the sooner I'll wake right back up and start kicking the world's butt all over again.

(It's not the best solution though, as I'm a night owl and an early bird, so I'll be keen on what other people come up with here.)
posted by iamkimiam at 11:44 AM on February 27, 2011

Sleep IS productive. Sleep helps you retain new information, solve problems, and get recharged for the next day's tasks. Remind yourself of that before you go to bed.
posted by dino might at 11:45 AM on February 27, 2011 [9 favorites]

i had the same problem in university. although i still have trouble sleeping regular hours, i find that it helps to make "gearing-up for tomorrow" part of your winding-down for the day. what that means is that when it's getting late enough that i know i should be going to bed but i start to think of all of the things i could do instead of sleeping, i make an actionable list. i look at my schedule for the next day, and then jot down all of the things i will do tomorrow to make it a really productive day. anything i didn't get to today goes on the list, along with anything urgent that needs to be done as soon as possible.

once the list is made, it sort of makes me realize that i have a lot to do tomorrow and it would probably be best to get some rest before tackling all of those things. having everything organized and ready to go the next day makes me feel calm and prepared, rather than having 432 random tasks tumbling around in my mind.

i still don't like to go to bed, but i know that i usually get more things done when i'm not sleep-deprived.
posted by gursky at 11:46 AM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

I dealt with something similar, and what I did was I scheduled time in the day to obsess about my failures. Sounds stupid, I know, but it worked. Every day, there was a certain time I had think about regrets and thing I've messed up--it changed depending on my schedule, but it was usually in the afternoon. When I first started, I gave myself 20 minutes, but it eventually lowered to 5. And this wasn't time to think about what to do--it was just

At the very least, it got me in a pattern of not immediatly thinking about these things at bed, or during the day when I had other, more important things to think about. It was hard to get into the schedule of it; it took me about three weeks, but it's been helpful.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 11:47 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I remember this feeling, but the logic your brain is using is not true. Without sleep you won't be productive, period. You might get things done, but they won't be done well nor easily.

When I'd get in this place, I'd recall studies or articles such as this one or this one, that clearly indicate while you might feel that you are more productive when you sleep less, it's not true (unless you're sleeping 10 hours a night, which you clearly aren't).

'I need sleep to learn and work' became a bit of a mantra for me in those particularly busy times. With that and some calming rituals (relaxing music, a distracting book) to calm my racing my mind just before bed, I was able to get to sleep.

anything i didn't get to today goes on the list, along with anything urgent that needs to be done as soon as possible.

Of course, you need to find what works for you - making a list before bed personally freaks me out as I realize just how much I have to do, but I know for others the control taken in making the list is a great thing.

The trick really is to calm your racing mind and give in to the fact that you NEED sleep.
posted by scrute at 11:53 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

This only happened to me when I spent the day procrastinating. My solution was to spend the last few hours with something mentally exhausting, until my attention span was reduced to 0.5 seconds and my brain begged for sleep, grasping the definite impossibility of getting anything further done.

Alas, most of the days I'm too lazy to use this method.
posted by Triton at 11:56 AM on February 27, 2011

Truth be told, this is classic anxiety. The diagnosable kind. Talk to your student health center, if you can. I have a prescription for 10mg of Amitriptyline, the tiniest dose, and I find that it gets me to sleep fast, and banishes those anxious thoughts enough for me to be rested, every night.

Lots of college students face this kind of anxiety and self-medicate with nyquil or sleeping pills, which are sometimes habit-forming. Better living through chemistry, my mom always said, so don't feel ashamed to go the prescription route to get a good night's sleep.
posted by juniperesque at 11:56 AM on February 27, 2011

People are not meant to be productive 24 hours a day. I also find it ridiculous that people will sacrifice sleep (and therefore their health, to some degree) in the name of productivity when the average American watches four hours of TV per day, which is decidedly non-productive.

If you have time to watch TV or read fiction or play video games, you have time to sleep.

Besides, what are you "producing" by skipping sleep? Test scores? Honestly, what is your return on investment there? How many hours of sleep do you sacrifice to gain the smallest measurable increase in your grade? It's not worth it.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:00 PM on February 27, 2011

Writing what I did today; what I have to/want/need to do tomorrow; and a boring (due to Nth re-read), yet interesting book/magazine. Instant snoozefest.
posted by buzzman at 12:07 PM on February 27, 2011

I think of bedtime as a reward for the day. I love sleep. Adore it. Savor it. When I'm tired, and it's bedtime, I get to feel proud of having lived another day, and my reward is the soft sheets of my awesome bed inviting me in for a nighttime of delicious repose.

You earn sleep. It's a treat you get to give yourself daily, a little break from being productive.
posted by ORthey at 12:12 PM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

I make a list of all the things that I still need to do for the next day before I get into bed and that helps me get them onto the paper and out of my head. It also means that I know that when I wake up I will be ready to get started, which helps calm me down as well. That and counting backwards slowly from a high number helps me quite a bit.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:14 PM on February 27, 2011

I like to think that the sooner I get myself to sleep, the sooner I get to wake up and get on with tomorrow's day. Having things to look forward to is enough motivation for me to get to sleep.

Also, now that I have begun exercising, I know that sleep gives my body a chance to repair itself and recover. As dino might said, sleep is productive.
posted by alligatorman at 1:05 PM on February 27, 2011

Nthing reading in bed. Something light and absorbing works well for moi. Mysteries by Mankell, Sjowall and Wahloo, Peter Robinson, all of which are set outside the USA, do well to capture my focus and take my mind somewhere else and at some point I drift off to sleep (though they can be absorbing enough that they occasionally keep me up later than I would have preferred).
posted by ambient2 at 1:09 PM on February 27, 2011

Read some Richard Feynman. Ignore that he's a physicist (that may or may not have any interest for you), what he really is is interested in our world. You'll realize that for people with towering achievements (and few tower higher than Feynman), some of their greatest work is done while resting - a chance to finally, FINALLY be free of the distractions of activity to think, to imagine, to question, to wonder.

Think yourself to sleep.

Caveat: This sometimes backfires. If you hit real paydirt, you won't be able to stop thinking, and you'll still be awake the next morning, having gotten no sleep. But... you'll have figured out how to do something awesome!

It might be a bit simple, but hey, you might like it: Feynman: Fun to Imagine
posted by -harlequin- at 1:32 PM on February 27, 2011

I saw a quotation recently that stuck with me: “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.” – Thomas Edison

Go to sleep in good conscience, knowing you need the sleep and that your body and mind deserve a rest. But go to sleep with the intention of waking in a good frame of mind to a new and productive day.
posted by zadcat at 1:33 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I do a little meditation to wind down where I list some of things I'm grateful for in the day behind me, all the things I'm grateful for in all of the days before. Or sometimes I do a body scan meditation. Because I know from experience that, like others above have noted, I'm more productive (!)and happy when I've slept enough.
posted by ldthomps at 1:38 PM on February 27, 2011

Ugh, I have this problem too. Things that help: a long evening wind-down period doing things I like (cook dinner, watch movie, glass of wine); saving something really fun and trashy to read in bed (pick your poison - sci fi, guns & ammo mag, self-help books); making my bed so it's an inviting place to be; and, perhaps counterintuitively, getting into a morning routine that I really like and look forward to. And yes, reducing anxiety and stress in general.
posted by yarly at 2:10 PM on February 27, 2011

I am currently battling this one myself, with a two-pronged approach:

1. Be very tired when you go to bed. The classic way to do this is with what is called "bed restriction" or sometimes "sleep restriction." Here is one site about it; there are others. Try to find out how long you sleep each night on average -- keep a log for a week. Then cut it down by 30 minutes. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. You will find, I think, that you will be very tired at bedtime -- so, no time to worry: you just crash.

2. Cognitive behavioral therapy on how to deal with negative or worrying thoughts. There's lots of stuff on the web and probably plenty on the Green here. It's very much a therapy you can do on your own, although you can also hire a therapist. Try The Feeling Good Handbook or Mind Over Mood. You have probably also by now built up a bit of anxiety just about going to bed. CBT can help with that as well.

Both of these also help with middle of the night wakings.
posted by feelinggood at 2:34 PM on February 27, 2011

Nthing reading and all the other good advice I've scanned above. If you're generally not this anxious about your schedule or life, one thing you might do is eat a LIGHT bedtime snack.

Also just another "me too" comment, really, but I can't just work or study and then go straight to bed. I've had to learn this the hard way. Rehearsals or concerts (I play in an orchestra) that wind up around 9:30 and then I try to go straight home and straight to bed because I have a real job. Nuh-uh. I'll be asleep sooner if I read or watch something really mindless first. Concerts are much worse than rehearsals in this regard, so the anxiety really has something to do with it.

I suffered for years with feeling depressed and blue when I went to bed or when I woke up at 3 in the morning, much more so than when I was awake and doing stuff, and eventually discovered that my blood sugar tended to get a bit low around that time.
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:09 PM on February 27, 2011

This might sound odd, but I listen to podcasts of old-time radio shows, like Gunsmoke, Dragnet, and The Great Gildersleeve. These shows are perfect to disengage the mind from its endless treadmill of should-be misinformation, but aren't so weighty or pertinent to my life that they will keep me awake.
posted by itstheclamsname at 3:19 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Without fail, every single night when I turn out the lights I get just a bit anxious about everything I could be doing and I wish I wasn't going to bed.

Tell yourself that if you're not turning in at a good hour, you're not really going to be at an academic or intellectual advantage.
posted by anniecat at 8:30 PM on February 27, 2011

I give you a small data point that may help to ponder:

The reason that we need REM-state sleep is because that is how the brain processes memory. The more REM sleep you get, the better your memory. While you sleep, your body is programmed to make the attempt to enter REM state only a certain number of times. Which means -- the less sleep you get, the less chances your body has of trying to get you into REM states, which means the less memory processing your brain gets to do.

So in other words -- sleep IS a productive time for you. It's just behind-the-scenes work, but it's still just as vital.

(Mind you: I am paraphrasing things I learned after I went through a two-year period of really shitty sleep habits a few years back, so I do not guarantee 100% accuracy in describing the exact neurochemical or psychological process. But that's what I read about "why we dream" and "memory and sleep loss".)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:59 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Reading doesn't really do the trick for me because then there's still the transition from putting away the book to actually sleeping. And then I just keep reading and reading, for much longer than is good for me because I want to avoid the anxious feeling...
One thing that helps me is making up limericks or other word puzzle type things in my head - it makes me feel "productive" and sleepy at once! I also listen to radio shows and fall asleep while they're still running (like This American Life). White noise/rain sound machine also helps.
posted by The Toad at 10:15 PM on February 27, 2011

The advice on making a to-do list for the next day is solid. It helps me be sure that the tasks I am worrying about before sleep are not going to get forgotten.

Then, do 5 minutes of in-bed yoga. I don't even do yoga regularly, but there are a few 5-minute routines that you can find online (there is a reason this one is the first google hit).

Sleep well!
posted by copperbleu at 1:15 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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