From here to there to everywhere, when do I get some sleep?
March 9, 2011 6:21 AM   Subscribe

How can I get to sleep sooner?

I'm having some significant problems with my relationship at the moment, which is causing me a lot of stress/anxiety, and it is really affecting my sleep.

Even with magnesium tablets and a hot shower, I am still finding myself unable to sleep until
2:30am, 4:40am, 5am!

On many nights I am only able to get 4 or 5 hours sleep.

This lack of sleep is exacerbating my pre-existing chronic health problems and affecting my quality of life, ability to drive, etc.

I am already seeing a counsellor (a clinical psychologist.)

How can I get to sleep sooner?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
YMMV, but for me, a Tylenol PM washed down by a cold beer works in about 23 minutes.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:27 AM on March 9, 2011

Melatonin! I take half of a 1mg lozenge (so, not much at all) and I notice the difference in both falling asleep more quickly and sleeping more soundly.

Also, I think there are numerous other questions about sleep, so maybe you'll find some more ideas in those threads. Good luck finding a solution that works for you!
posted by sucre at 6:35 AM on March 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Have you tried melatonin? A friend has sleep issues and he was prescribed 5mg of melatonin to be taken about 4 hrs before bed time.
posted by electroboy at 6:36 AM on March 9, 2011

Also, I'm pretty sure that Tylenol and beer is not such a great combination. Correct me if I'm wrong, though.
posted by sucre at 6:39 AM on March 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

Yeah, tylenol + booze is hard on the liver.
posted by electroboy at 6:51 AM on March 9, 2011

The sleepy part of Tylenol PM is garden variety Benadryl - diphenhydramine. Try that. Maybe without the beer at first.

I had problems falling asleep due to anxiety a few months ago and I find a Klonopin works wonders. But you'd need a psych for medication. And one willing to rx benzos at that.

Oh and if you can get past the rotting feet smell, valerian works pretty good.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:56 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Vigorous exercise earlier in the day.
posted by availablelight at 6:58 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Jeez, now that my own sleep issues have gone away I've got a LOT to say here...

Magnesium helped me, but it wasn't instantaneous. Same with valerian capsules -- that's what my doctor recommended, but she said that "it's something that has to build up first", so she said to give it a couple weeks. Which I know sucks, but valerian worked beautifully for me.

But stick with the magnesium, too -- because what I noticed first was that even though I may not have been getting to sleep right away at first, the quality of the sleep I got was getting better. And that in and of itself will start helping. (I knew that things were improving when I started having dreams again.)

Of course, the stress is going to be doing a number on you no matter what. So I'd also look at some ways to reduce stress independent of the sleep deprivation -- my own method is journaling (which also works especially well when I'm having relationship issues, too).

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:58 AM on March 9, 2011

Guaranteed to work: take 50mg diphenhydramamine half an hour before bed then sip a couple of beers until you're too drowsy to do anything but get under the covers.
posted by turkeyphant at 6:58 AM on March 9, 2011

Alcohol used to work for me, but now it keeps me up later (it makes me sleepy but seems to interrupt the actual "go unconscious" step in the process). So if the recommendations for booze don't work, try the same thing without the booze.

Also, vigorous exercise at least a couple hours before bed (so you can wind down) is great for this, and will help with stress overall.
posted by Tehhund at 7:09 AM on March 9, 2011

I came in here to suggest valerian, too. I take it in tea form, from the "medicinal tea" section of the grocery store. Works like a charm for my occasional insomnia (I can't speak for prolonged use).
posted by janepanic at 7:10 AM on March 9, 2011

Before you start reaching for medication, have you done everything to help establish the right conditions for good sleep? You probably know already to avoid all forms of caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes, right? (I know from personal experience that relationship problems can send you reaching for them.) You are trying to go to sleep and get up at the same times every day? (Stress has a habit of throwing your sleep patterns for six.) And you are avoiding heavy meals late at night? And switching off the TV a good time before you head to bed?

I'm guessing it's the anxiety that's stopping you falling asleep. As someone mentioned above, regular exercise is a good way of helping to ensure that your body can over-ride your mind when you need to sleep. Also sound may help -- I know some people who can only fall asleep to the radio; others swear by wave machines or white noise machines. I personally find it hard to sleep without the underwater feeling of earplugs. If it's possible, try all of these things and see what works for you.

I would be cautious of using valerian for anxiety-induced sleep issues. It amplifies my nightmares and turns a long night's sleep into a trauma that stays with me for hours after I wake. I've read reports of similar reactions from others, though YMMV.

I would only suggest medications if these things aren't working for you, but that's just me.
posted by londonmark at 7:24 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

As a long-term insomniac, my sleep ritual usually went something along the lines of:

1) light yoga/stretching for 20-30 minutes to work out some of the muscle tenseness
2) hot bath (not shower--I found that showers woke me up. May be different for you, though) with a nice book. Sometimes a nice herbal tea* or warm milk drink. Relaxing music**.
3) in bed around the same time every night (and up the same time every morning, even weekends/days I could sleep in)
4) no naps, ever
5)if I found myself not close to sleeping -after about half an hour in bed, I would get up, go to another room, and read for about 15-30 minutes. That can break the cycle of "worry about x ----> realize that I'm worrying about x ------> start worrying that I'm worrying and that that's preventing me from sleeping ----> worrying about not getting to sleep ----> etc. etc." For me, the physically moving to another location was important for breaking the thought-trap; sometimes it was enough to just get up and get a drink of water from the kitchen.

I also had a mantra that sometimes helped; something along the lines of "Even if I don't get to sleep at all, I'm still resting. I'm nice and cozy under my blankets. My pillow smells like lavender, which is a nice smell..." and so on. If I focused on enjoying the physical experience of lying in bed, it would take off the pressure to FALL ASLEEP that was counter-productive.

In terms of over-the-counter meds, I second the benadryl. Be careful not to take any of the sleep med kinds of things long term unless you've been prescribed something.

Long term, it wasn't until I starting taking anti-anxiety meds that I actually started sleeping consistently. But since your insomnia seems to be triggered by a particular situation, that's probably not a helpful option.

* chamomile; valerian; I really liked the "Mediterranean Tea" the Republic of Tea used to sell, but you can't find it anymore
** I swear by Satie or the soundtrack to Haibane Renmei.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 7:47 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

One more thing - make sure you have a comfortable mattress. Switching from a "firm" to an extra-squishy-soft mattress made a HUGE difference in my (lifelong) sleep problems. An uncomfortable mattress forces you to toss and turn.

Many people don't do well with the "firm" mattresses which are now all the rage. And if your mattress is old, with any saggy parts, you need to replace it.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:58 AM on March 9, 2011

I've been using an 80-minute "babbling brook" MP3, using no electronics more complicated than an incadescent bulb 1 hour before bed, journaling, getting lots of water during the day, no caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime, and eating no more than 3 hours before; my average time to sleep this week is hovering around 30 minutes (which is really, really good for me; when I was in elementary school it was more like 6 hours.)

I wouldn't try medication until I'd done everything else first.
posted by SMPA at 8:00 AM on March 9, 2011

Oh, I almost forgot: caffeine. You may not be able to limit it completely (if you're already sleep deprived, it may be the difference between functional and non-functional), but definitely consider having a cut-off point both in terms of amount and when you consume it. My rule is "nothing caffinated after 3:00 pm" (gets me through the after lunch crash), but you may have to experiment a bit to see what works best foryou.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 8:03 AM on March 9, 2011

When you are exhausted and desperate for sleep, many options may seem tempting enough to try. The alcohol or alcohol + medication suggestions...I strongly suggest that you avoid them. Alcohol in isolation disrupts the sleep cycle, even when it makes you feel sleepy. Alcohol + medication...well:

Someone I'd known for a very long time, a licensed and credentialed human health professional, who had years of training in pharmacology and human drug metabolism in clinical settings, underestimated the impact of alcohol on the safety margins of another relatively common, widely regarded as safe drug, and their own body's individual rate of metabolism. The medication has a much larger safety margin than acetaminophen, even when combined with other agents.

This person had trouble getting to sleep. One morning last week, they did not wake up. They were not even thirty.

Even licensed professionals can eff this up. It's true that you can get lucky rolling the dice many times. The posters who recommend these combinations have been lucky repeatedly, due to a combination of factors that we can't really judge from here--such as their individual hepatic profiles and the like. The problem is that when it comes to these issues, you only have to roll snake-eyes once. Drop a few pounds, get a little bit sick, age a few years, eat the wrong meal (like, say, pour a delicious glass of grapefruit juice), and it's very easy to find out how close to the edge you were skating.

Do not trust that because other people have done something, or that you may have done it yourself in the past, that it will be fine this time. That is simply not how these risks work.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 8:10 AM on March 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am surprised that nobody yet has suggested that you see a doctor. There are a few different options for prescription sleep meds and the good ones don't mess with your sleep architecture the way alcohol and diphenhydramine (a.k.a. Benadryl) do. You may also want to discuss anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs) with your doctor. IANAD, but it seems to me that where your sleep problems are being caused by situational stress/anxiety, something like a one or two month prescription may be an appropriate remedy. Relying on diphenhydramine or alcohol for several nights in a row could make you feel worse during the day.
posted by Orinda at 8:11 AM on March 9, 2011

Try getting up at the same time every day, and try getting up a little earlier. Wake up at 7 a.m.? Set an alarm for 6:30 and force yourself out of bed. Do this religiously and get yourself into a pattern.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:26 AM on March 9, 2011

If you have a specific bedroom, my suggestion would be to actively outfit this room in a manner that helps you get to sleep. In this case, I come from a longer term issue of sleep problems; this sounds like a recent issue and so there might not be much application here.

Rosie M. Banks is accurate in needing a mattress you find comfortable. I think this varies significantly from person to person. I happen to like a very firm mattress, myself.

Secondly, I would suggest blocking out as many significant light sources as possible if this is part of the issue. I personally have had great success with this. Heavy curtains on a tension rod work very well for windows; even a folded sheet if you don't want to buy anything. This also means not having electronics nearby and blocking out sounds from running devices.

Or the other hand, I've heard that natural lighting alarm clocks work well for some people.

Third, staying away from caffeine and electronics is entirely accurate. I've managed to cut myself off from caffeine; electronics are still an issue.

Last, if there is a problem of ruminating while trying to sleep; I'd really suggest a therapist if possible.

Good luck.
posted by graxe at 11:27 AM on March 9, 2011

When I had very bad anxiety (a normal and natural response to some quite overwhelming life events) the only thing that helped me to sleep was learning to be really strict in the thoughts that I would "allow" myself to think while lying in bed.

If you're anything like me, after a while you have a pretty good idea about what kind of thoughts and topics will make you get physically anxious. I taught myself to be able to stop every time my thoughts got near those topics and refocus back on something warm and fuzzy and sleepy.

To help myself stop I would mentally say the word 'stop' very firmly and then consciously decide what to think about next. This was normally related to everyday hobby stuff - what to cook next week works well for me. It doesn't have to be something that makes me feel happy, just something that doesn't give me physical anxiety symptoms and that doesn't lead to a repetitive loop of rumination.

I also enjoyed and was influenced by the ideas in 'The Worry Cure' by Robert L. Leahy, which is based on ideas from CBT. However, I don't follow his suggestions and I'm not much of a fan of CBT in general.

I'm aware that this sounds a bit wishy-washy but it's the only thing that helped. I agree with most of the other answers (except the bits about alcohol) but ultimately it's better if you can deal with what's stopping you sleeping, either through stopping the anxiety or stopping it from getting to you in bed.

Having doctor-prescribed sleeping pills as an emergency backup is also very reassuring and helped me not to worry about not sleeping.
posted by kadia_a at 11:37 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Look up sleep hygiene. This (warning:pdf) was one of the top links. It's from a fairly reputable source, so I think you can consider the advice sound.

Best of luck.
posted by kisch mokusch at 2:00 PM on March 9, 2011

Boring podcasts help me immensely. Not heaps boring - interesting enough to listen to - but perhaps a little monotonous and detailed. There is a wildly popular podcast series called A History of Rome; it's interesting and very detailed - and it's like frigging Rohypnol, I swear. I listen to about 30 minutes or so of that every night, it's helped a lot.
posted by smoke at 2:30 PM on March 9, 2011

YMMV, but for me, a Tylenol PM washed down by a cold beer works in about 23 minutes

Love your liver, NEVER mix Tylenol/acetaminophen with alcohol. Never Ever. Ever.
posted by 6:1 at 5:09 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

6:1: "YMMV, but for me, a Tylenol PM washed down by a cold beer works in about 23 minutes

Love your liver, NEVER mix Tylenol/acetaminophen with alcohol. Never Ever. Ever

Ok, take a Benedryl and a cold beer. 23 minutes from Beer, to burp to pee to sleep for me.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:32 PM on March 9, 2011

Well, I don't have any trouble getting to sleep, but I was trying the thing described in this Ask.Me and ended up taking a 3-hour nap. One-person study.
posted by aniola at 11:22 PM on March 9, 2011

Since I stopped looking at back-lit screens (TV, computer, phone, ipod, gameboy, etc.) at least an hour or 2 before I want to be asleep, my sleep quality and quantity have both improved immensely.
posted by screamingnotlaughing at 8:46 AM on March 10, 2011

I have had a hard time falling asleep my whole life. Here are a few things that help --

- Melatonin, the strongest I can find, a half hour before bed time.

- Listening to lectures from iTunes University - right now I'm listening to a Yale course called History of European Civilization. It's interesting but not as much as the regular podcasts I listen to, and eventually it lulls me to sleep.

- Listening to guided meditation podcasts - the one I use is just called The Meditation Podcast, episode 6 is the sleep one. The guy's voice is so, so soothing and oddly sexy.

- Playing word games in my head. My go-to is "A, My Name Is" and has been since I was a kid. For each letter of the alphabet you fill in the following rhyme - "[Letter], my name is [girl's name] and my husband's name is [boy's name], we live in [place] and we sell [thing]." So, in a sing-song voice in your head - A my name is Anya and my husband's name is Angel, we live in Azerbaijan and we sell artichokes. Since I've been doing this for 20 years I now have to make it more "challenging", so I make a rule such as, all the names have to be Hebrew or all the things for sale have to be fruit or all the places have to be cities in Africa. I also will try to name all the countries in the world in alphabetical order, or starting from the westernmost country on a mental map and going east, etc. I usually can't stay awake through all the letters of the alphabet and definitely not through all the countries in the world.

In college I dated a computer engineer and discovered by accident that at night in bed if he talked to me about his work I would fall asleep in a heartbeat. Sometimes I would say "Tell me about computers" if he was still awake, I couldn't sleep and I didn't mind being a little mean.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 2:05 PM on March 10, 2011

Calcium! Take a calcium supplement right before sleep. They used to recommend warm milk before bed because calcium helps to calm you down. Magnesium keeps you asleep, but doesn't help with the falling asleep part.

I used to take calcium in the morning, but found that I would get heartburn if I didn't eat breakfast. I've never had the heartburn problem taking it at night, so bonus!

I take a calcium/magnesium/zinc pill AND a separate additional magnesium pill. Sometimes I will double-dose one or the other if I think it will be a rough night.

I swear, it works like a charm for me, and if you're already getting results with magnesium, I think you'll find success here too.
posted by aabbbiee at 8:38 AM on March 11, 2011

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