Why can I easily fall asleep in the early evening, but not at bedtime?
October 7, 2011 8:41 PM   Subscribe

Why can I easily fall asleep in the early evening, but not at bedtime?

I sleep from midnight to 8 AM every day and have good sleeping habits. I feel more or less well rested. My main problem is that I have always had mild/moderate difficulty falling asleep at bedtime.

Despite this difficulty, I mysteriously have no trouble falling asleep during some magic time window somewhere between 6 and 9 PM, when I am hit with a bout of temporary sleepiness. During this time I often find myself asleep within 5 minutes of lying down, with the lights on, while trying to read a book. This never happens when it's actually bedtime.

- I don't think it's a post-meal "coma" or otherwise food dependent
- The reason I don't make this my new bedtime is that I always wake up from these evening naps, and then have even more difficulty falling asleep at night.

I'd like to research this phenomenon some more but can't find much online. Is it a common occurrence, is there a name for it, and is there any way to make my sleepiness patterns better align to my desired sleep schedule?
posted by lunchbox to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have an answer for you, but my dad and I were talking about this exact thing earlier today. Both of us have the exact same tendency. I can easily nod off for a nap around 8pm, but won't sleep more than an hour or so when I fall asleep so early, and then I really can't get to sleep later on.

I have a much harder time falling asleep at bed time, but once I do fall asleep, I sleep like a dead person straight through to morning.

So all I can say is that you're not alone.
posted by antimony at 8:47 PM on October 7, 2011

I have this same exact problem. I think it might be psychological - you're not "under pressure" to fall asleep at 6 pm as opposed to your normal bedtime so it induces some anxiety. I haven't been able to come up with a solution for this unfortunately, so I'm also looking forward to the responses in this thread.
posted by spungfoo at 9:03 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm this way, too. I always thought that my pre-bed routine tended to wake me up, and then I get to bed and get anxious about how many (or few) hours of sleep I'm going to get. Whereas if I'm on the couch, I'm comfortable and not worrying about anything. Definitely a psychological thing for me.

I'd suggest doing your bed-time routine much, much earlier than your actual bed time. You can brush your teeth, wash your face, and take out your contacts (my routine) earlier, right? That way, you have time to get back to relaxing your mind a bit and your body should follow suit.

I still forget to do my routine earlier, so YMMV. Good luck!
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:22 PM on October 7, 2011

I always assumed that this was because humans (and other non-nocturnal animals) get sleepy around the onset of darkness. I read somewhere that the older European pattern for sleeping, pre electric light times was actually to sleep from shortly after sunset until around midnight, then to be awake for a couple of hours (which used to be used for sex, prayer, quiet visiting of neighbours etc) and then to sleep again until dawn.

I reckon don't fight it.
posted by lollusc at 9:25 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can't sleep at night because you slept for a little bit at 6pm.

Resist the urge to sleep then, go to sleep at a normal hour (the same hour every night) and you'll be fine.
posted by cali59 at 9:37 PM on October 7, 2011

Everyone has different biorythmic patterns including natural sleep and wake patters. This changes from time to time based on habits.
posted by TheBones at 9:38 PM on October 7, 2011

@cali59: clarification, I don't normally sleep in the early evening, just saying I easily could. Sleeping at that time does make it worse but I have the problem even when I don't sleep then.
posted by lunchbox at 9:44 PM on October 7, 2011

Well, if you're laying down to read a book, I'd say you're falling asleep because you're relaxed. You get home from work, get comfortable, chill out, and before you know it you're ready for a nap. You know falling asleep then will mess up your sleep later that night, so either try to avoid it or go to bed an hour or two earlier at night.

If you have trouble getting to sleep at night no matter what, take a look at your habits. Do you have caffeine before bed? Do you watch TV in bed? Keep your phone or computer nearby? Any of these can lead to trouble sleeping.

If you still have trouble after removing distracting elements, etc, then it's time to talk to your doctor. That's probably the only way you're going to find out if this is a common occurrence, and if so, what it is.
posted by metaphorik at 10:21 PM on October 7, 2011

How is your job; but specifically in the morning hours? My job is morning-heavy, and so no matter what the situation-- I am tired at bedtime, I set up my rituals earlier, the room is dark, the computer and phone are in the other room-- whatever. I still will fret over the morning and what needs to get done. Even if I have planned. This is a work in progress, but if your workday depends on a lot of events and tasks which need to be attended to in the morning, right when you get in, this could be the issue.
posted by oflinkey at 10:42 PM on October 7, 2011

Jessa Gamble addresses this exact question in her TED Talk!
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 12:53 AM on October 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Here's a previous thread about segmented sleep. How long are you sleeping if you have a nap? You may get good results if you push bedtime back after a nap, and do something productive during the interval.
posted by anaelith at 2:45 AM on October 8, 2011

I'm gonna sound like a drug commercial here, but...

Do you end up thinking a lot while trying to go at bed at normal bedtime? Do you have trouble falling asleep when you don't have actual naps earlier (which I'm assuming you don't every day)?

And do you drift off in the early evening while doing other things that don't really engage the brain, like watching TV? This happens to me too, and it might just be that your brain's working constantly during the day, and when you get home you're more susceptible to falling asleep when you're mentally relaxed.

You could deliberately try doing something like that in bed just before midnight, and then when you're starting to fade out, do nothing more than turn off a bedside lamp, or set the sleep timer on the TV or radio.

They say sitting or laying in bed during the day can screw up your sleep habits at night, so have you been doing anything like that?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 4:19 AM on October 8, 2011

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