Wake up, sleepy-head
January 3, 2012 2:27 PM   Subscribe

I have bad sleep hygiene -- I either sleep too little, or more often, too much. Any strategies for combatting this?

I'm in graduate school, so I have flexible work hours. There are periods of intense stress near deadlines, when I sleep 2-4 hours a night. This doesn't bother me too much, since I recover when the deadlines passes. But there are longer periods when I have work that's not urgent, or it's weighing heavily on me and I feel like I'm stuck on a problem, and then I sleep 10-12 hours at a time.

I've tried overcoming the latter by going to bed early, but I end up waking up late anyway. I've never been a morning person, and when I experiment with getting myself to the gym at 7 am just so I wake up on time, I end up feeling miserable the whole day, looking for an excuse to nap.

I like sleeping, and don't want to deny my body when it needs it, but I'm also afraid that my mind may be using it to avoid the pressures of the waking world.

In other respects, my health is good: I hardly ever fall sick, and I eat a balanced (lacto-ovo-vegetarian) diet. I only exercise 2-3 hours a week; I'm hoping to increase that.
posted by redlines to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add that I usually don't feel sleepy in the daytime or doze off while working. It's just getting out of bed that's the problem.
posted by redlines at 2:33 PM on January 3, 2012

My problem is I don't like waking up - not that everything is hunky-dorey - I tend to wake up in the night and have difficulty falling back asleep. But I have to do some significant mental exercises in the morning to persuade myself to get out of bed - regardless of what is going on. I think you have to accept that you don't like it but have to do it anyway. Mind you, I take every opprotunity that is available not to get up. I say, until it becomes a problem - missing appointment etc -don't beat yourself up too much.
posted by JXBeach at 3:02 PM on January 3, 2012

i would bet you're sleeping a lot because you need to sleep a lot. to me, you are not describing a problem, you're describing a really nice situation - there are a lot of people out there who need as much sleep as you do but can't get it. i don't buy the avoidance motive.
posted by facetious at 3:06 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Perhaps adding some structure and rituals to your mornings would help. A sense of pleasant routine. You could wake up M-F at a regular time and go through a morning routine (cup of delicious coffee, check your favorite blog, go for a walk around the neighborhood) and start your day with intention and a sense of purpose. They say if you can do something for six weeks it becomes a habit, and that might be helpful here. Good luck!
posted by baltimoregirl at 3:16 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

i hear you. i have very little but unpleasantness and work waiting for me when i get up, and kitten snuggles while in bed. it is clear what is more enticing!

i sleep late or doze because i don't want to deal with all the negativity in my work because it makes me sad and angry.

the idea folks say i should grasp on to is that i should set up something fun and awesome to do when i get up, so i have that to look forward to. alas, have not found anything. but perhaps try that.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 4:30 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a life-long bad sleeper, the best, most useful advice I've gotten is to separate sleep space from work/living space, set the tone for sleep well before bed-time (rather than trying to flip a switch from working to sleeping), and to set a strict bed-time and rising time, no matter what your schedule or workload, and stick to it everyday. It helps so much with productivity when you have a nightly "deadline" instead of thinking you can just pull an all-nighter and then sleep-in. Then, being productive helps decrease anxiety, which lets you sleep.

You might have a few nights of lying there in the dark for a good long while before you drift off, but eventually your body will adjust. Start turning lights down about an hour before "bed-time", and maybe install this on your computer to gradually soften the screen lighting throughout the evening (made a huge difference for me). Making your bed a peaceful haven helps a lot, too: before you get in, clear away all work paraphernalia from your direct or peripheral line of sight if you can, so you don't see it when you're trying to sleep or first thing when you wake up. I sometimes read non-school stuff or watch an old movie or sitcom to help me relax and drift off (nothing that requires interaction), but sometimes lying there and breathing deeply gets the job done as well.
posted by sundaydriver at 5:01 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wanted to add: waking up is so much nicer and easier with a bed-time schedule. Once you get used to it, you become aware of just how much time in the day you have and it helps you make the most of it.
posted by sundaydriver at 5:04 PM on January 3, 2012

I had a really poor sleeping habits when I was in graduate school too - part of it was the sheer flexibility (real and imagined) in my schedule, as well as procrastination/avoidance/depression. If you are a full time graduate student it's extremely common, and frankly, who doesn't love sleepies?

Three things helped me:
1) I graduated and got a real job which depended on my having a schedule. Doesn't help you much, though.

2) Having a "going to bed" and a "getting up" routine. I set a time for sleep and wake that was consistent from day to day, and removed the sense of urgency surrounding those events by doing relaxing things before bed (reading, listening to music, snuggling with kitteh) and after waking (thinking/daydreaming, snuggling with kitteh, having a decent breakfast.) Melatonin also helped me with the falling asleep part when I wasn't tired.

3) Figuring out exactly how much sleep I needed to feel good. While I can function on 2-4 hours (and be insanely productive) I am like a zombie at 8-10 hours of sleep. It took a bit of experimenting to figure out that I am at my best when I sleep between 6 and 8 hours of sleep.
posted by sm1tten at 5:36 PM on January 3, 2012

This is very much a first-world graduate school problem.

Seriously though, and anecdotally, the people I knew who were actually finishing their thesis and making a go on the academic job market stuck to regular schedules. They didn't treat academic writing like a fantasy of binge-writing out of sheer inspiration until 4 a.m.

If you're serious about writing a thesis, you'll be much better off adopting and sticking to a regular sleep schedule.

Regardless, you won't be in graduate school forever. Better to develop good habits now then learn them the hard way later.
posted by bardic at 9:15 PM on January 3, 2012

I'd suggest the following:

Pick a set time to get up every morning, with some accountability to another person to enforce that. If exercise first thing in the morning is helpful to you, sign up for a class at the gym or get a gym buddy. Or find a thesis-writing or journal-reading buddy—it doesn't have to be anyone in your field, just somebody you agree to meet at the library or the coffee shop to work for an hour or so at a set time.

ALSO set a bed time, with a wind-down period as others have suggested. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time for a week (weekends included) and see if you still feel tired. If so, go to bed a half hour earlier the next week (but keep the same rising time!) Repeat until you're getting the amount of sleep your body needs.

Another piece of advice I wish I'd taken seriously in grad school: If procrastination and avoidance about your work is affecting your sleep and your life in general, go to the student counseling center and talk to somebody. Grad school only gets more unstructured and difficult as time goes on. Talk to someone who can give you an objective outside perspective (outside of the—let's be honest, pretty messed-up—grad student culture, outside of your department, and outside your own head) that will help you identify what parts of what you're struggling with are just the normal grad school experience, and what parts are particular to you or your situation. They can help you build the habits of mind that will carry you successfully to your degree. (Right now, probably, you're thinking, that's stupid, it's not that bad, I'm smart enough and tough enough to hack it alone, etc. Or at least that's what I thought, and I regret it. Memail me if you want.)
posted by BrashTech at 7:55 AM on January 4, 2012

oh yes, absolutely do install Flux on your computer / monitor if you surf at night, it is surprising how much a little change like that helps!

My husband and I installed a number of LED "fairy lights" high up around the perimeters of our great room-and-kitchen (where we tend to hang out of an evening) in a neutral color temperature. After 7:30 or so we turn off all the main lights in the house and just use the string lights to evoke sort of a peaceful twilight atmosphere. We have a rule of no TV after 9:30 or so. We did all this because we both are bad for surfing ourselves into bouts of insomnia unless we are pretty good about managing our "screentime".

2 other things we've done - we now both use the iPhone sleep cycle app, which works surprisingly well to avoid the groggy-start bad wakeup cycle, and we installed one of those daylight clock radio things in our bedroom, set to peak around 6 (when we should be out of bed).

admittedly, a lot of this is superfluous for us because we also now have a 15-lb cat with an incredibly accurate internal alarm, who deploys the meow-and-trample OMG OMG OMG MUST FEED KITTY NOW!!! wakeup strategy at precisely 5:24 AM every day (we both are early risers due to workout schedules, etc so that's not as insane as it sounds). Since he didn't even get thrown off by the time change, my theory is that he has figured out that he won't get tossed out of the bedroom if he waits until he hears the HVAC kick on (we turn off our furnace at night).
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:26 AM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your feast-or-famine sleep cycle could be part of your problem - you are letting your "sleep tank" run empty and then refilling it with sleep-a-thons. It will be better for you in the long run if you consistently keep to an 8-hour (or however much sleep you need - most people need 7 to 9 hours a night) schedule.

Another thing you might try is eating a light snack - a bit of yogurt, a hard-boiled egg, a few whole-wheat crackers - about an hour before you go to bed. Full meals right before bed are not good, but you might be one of those people whose blood sugar craters overnight and makes it impossible to drag yourself out of bed in the morning. I am one of them and if I go to bed hungry, I feel drugged the next day and find myself just lying there in a haze. A slice of turkey or a few whole-wheat crackers about an hour before bed and I'm good to go in the AM. Bonus: this also has cut way, way down on my waking in the middle of the night. If your blood sugar dips low it causes your body to say "wake up, wake up, I'm starving!"
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:50 AM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

In response to Facetious,
actually, yeah, I can buy the avoidance motive.

Because I can sleep 12-16 hours a day, for multiple days in a row if I'm bored. And that's kinda key, I'm pretty sure I'm just bored, because I just seem to be in dreaming sleep for most of it, and less efficient sleep. Dreaming is better than watching TV, and also awkward to wake up from (just a bit longer, I want to find out what happens!).

And when I finally wake up, I just feel more tired (lack of exercise? Movement? Food?)
When depressed, I've slept up to 23 hours at a stretch.

Seconding lonefrontranger for most of their tips.
I use an android app that wakes me up when I'm not deeply asleep, but already moving a bit. Have it set approximately the same time *every* morning, then put breakfast & water next to your alarm. You can go back to sleep after breakfast if you have the free time, but wake up and have breakfast at the same time every morning, and weekdays won't be so hard. I based that on some studies showing that breakfast resets the body clock for people who are jetlagged.

On the weekends, sometimes I just put a yogurt and water next to bed, and that counts for 'breakfast', but it definitely seems to help.

Finally, for awhile I was giving myself a silver star on my calendar each day, if I got between 7.5 and 9.5 hours sleep. Sounds silly, but I was tracking it better that way, and - I did feel better when I wasn't getting too much sleep either.
posted by Elysum at 9:59 PM on January 4, 2012

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