Sleep... won't you come.
March 9, 2012 1:10 AM   Subscribe

How do I feel better while sleeping less?

Admittedly, my sleeping habits are not the best and although I've been trying to improve on them (and keep a steady, strict schedule) I've not really seen much improvement to my condition after waking up. What must I be doing wrong?

Basically this started a few years ago when I first joined college: my previously untainted 12-7 sleeping schedule started to change and at some point, it stopped making any sense at all. By then, I was sleeping at completely random times (sometimes during the day to stay awake at night, etc...) and had no control over it/myself at all. It got somewhat better/worse (depends on how you look at it) when I've moved in with my partner and been unemployed, because I found it very difficult to gather any motivation to get out of bed at a decent time (since I don't actually have anything proper to do) and ended up sleeping up to midday, daily.

After hearing one too many 'oh you're so lazy, you sleep so late!' from my hard-working partner (which they told me was meant as a joke, and me not believing them), I decided to put a stop to this and start trying to change my sleep. The problem is that I seldom EVER feel rested. I've tried to sleep anywhere from 4 to 12 hours (and everything in-between) and at no point do I get up and feel like I've just had a good, peaceful, restorative sleep. As a matter of fact, I can't remember when it was the last time I woke up like that. Instead, I feel tired, cranky, sometimes downright awful (physically sick) and end up pacing around like a mindless drone for a few hours before I 'wake up'. If this happens, I then feel rather emotional/touchy by the end of the day and tend to cause drama I don't intend on because of my moodiness.

It's not that my sleep is bad or that I keep waking up in between bouts of snoozing away! It's not! I often fall asleep very quickly or near instantly, and only wake up when the alarm rings.

If I do take any form of 'energy drink' or caffeinated drink, I then feel EXTREMELY giddy for about half an hour before it fades back to tiredness again.

Also, trying to sleep EVEN more doesn't necessarily help my case because if I do it (and I've been known to sleep up to 14-16 hours), I both wake up with a terrible headache and can't fall asleep easily/at all the next night.

. Yesterday I went to bed at 1:30, fell asleep immediately and woke up at 11:00, only to be tired and like I'd slept nothing at all. This is a schedule that SELDOM ever happens any longer, as I prefer/try to wake up earlier.
. Today I went to bed at around 1:30am (fell asleep at around 3:30), woke up at 6:30, and whereas this is not much sleep, I feel as terrible as I did yesterday.

Wishfully, I'd love being able to sleep around 3-4 hours and feel nicely rested, but this simply will not happen! Care to help? What are your tips for a good night of sleep?
posted by Trexsock to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
You may want to consider doing a sleep study to see if you have apnea or something else that is preventing you from sleeping soundly.
posted by HMSSM at 1:25 AM on March 9, 2012 [9 favorites]

What are your lifestlye habits like? what do you eat? Do you get regular exercise? Do you smoke? Drink alcohol?
posted by bearette at 1:46 AM on March 9, 2012

Could you be depressed? That can play havoc with your sleep schedule. At different times I have had it cause not wanting to get out of bed, and also insane insomnia (awake for 48+ hours). Something to look into.

In any case I agree that seeing a doctor is a good idea. There are all kinds of ailments that can trouble your sleep, and there's no reason to suffer if it's something that can be fixed or managed.

Sleeping 3-4 hours and feeling rested (is that a typo?) is not very likely I don't think. Adults tend to need more sleep than that.
posted by Arethusa at 1:46 AM on March 9, 2012

Somewhat similar complaint. Partial solution only. Two young children initially destroyed my sleep schedule, but now that there are more and more nights without interruptions I still somehow never wake up feeling rested, no matter how many hours I slept. However, planning something really enjoyable first thing in the morning (e.g. a breakfast of total junk food and a couple chapters of a favorite book) helps drag me out of bed and gets me stimulated enough to be feeling awake when the first kid stirs. Would this help?
posted by wjm at 2:48 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a similar problem after I got laid off and became unhinged from society. Here's what helped me.

1) Setting up a designated sleep area, separate from my work area.

2) Exercise before bed, in my case a good 30 min walk (less if it's real cold), followed by maybe a shower, teeth brushing, etc, did the trick. I think the routine right before bed helped.

3) Nap. Usually for 20-60 minutes/day in the afternoon. It really helps. Sometimes I feel tired, but try to nap, and can't. For some reason, realizing I don't want to sleep really gives me a jolt of energy. Also, a quality post-lunch nap is quite nice too. Win-win.

I don't know if it will help you, but it helped me.
posted by Garm at 2:48 AM on March 9, 2012

Exercise! Though in my case right before bed doesn't work, but you'll find a routine that works for you. The key is though, it really helps with your quality of sleep if you have about 40 mins to an hour of good exercise during the day.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:57 AM on March 9, 2012

Try setting a schedule and sticking to it for a month to give your body a chance to adapt to it. If your sleep cycle is as bad as the past couple of days seem to be - one night you get 9.5 hours sleep and the next you get 3 - then you aren't going to feel rested because your brain doesn't know what your cycle is. Is your sleep hygiene generally this terrible? If you're getting random amounts of sleep like this, every day of a week, it's little wonder that you aren't rested.

I find I do best if I get up at a set time every morning. In my case, this is 7:30AM. Every morning, no matter how much or little sleep I've had, I make myself get up at 7:30AM. It takes a couple of weeks for this to settle down into a regular cycle, but when it does, my brain knows what time to send me to bed. The next morning, my brain knows what time to wake me up so I usually wake, fully rested, a few minutes before the alarm.

This documentary might help you as well.
posted by Solomon at 3:07 AM on March 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


"one night you get 9.5 hours sleep and the next you get 3 - then you aren't going to feel rested because your brain doesn't know what your cycle is. Is your sleep hygiene generally this terrible? If you're getting random amounts of sleep like this, every day of a week, it's little wonder that you aren't rested."

No, it's not. I've been steadily going to bed at about 1-1:30 and waking up at 6:30am for weeks (plus some napping throughout the day). That was a fluke because I was insanely tired in the morning.
posted by Trexsock at 3:13 AM on March 9, 2012

Also forgot to add, after a couple weeks of waking at 6:30 (minus a few days during weekends) I DO wake up at 6:30 easily, but not feeling rested. That was my issue with it, that despite waking up somewhat easily, I still feel insanely tired every morning and like I slept nothing.
posted by Trexsock at 3:15 AM on March 9, 2012

I've been steadily going to bed at about 1-1:30 and waking up at 6:30am

OK, that is not enough sleep for anybody, and it's no surprise that you feel exhausted all the time. You need to go to bed earlier (waking up later probably won't work because the light will come through the curtains and make it more difficult to stay in deep sleep). I find if I get out of rhythm it takes quite a long time for me to get restful sleep again, so what I'd suggest you really need to try is getting 8/9 hours of real sleep for a couple of weeks, and then come back to say it isn't working. If you have an iPhone or iPod touch you might want to try one of the sleep tracker apps out there just to work out where the crunch points in your sleep are. For me, looking at graphs was the impetus I needed to get a better rhythm to my sleep and improve my sleeping area so that it was more comfortable (mattress pad, no crap in bed, etc). Also, I've recommended them here a whole load, but magnesium supplements helped me to feel much, much more rested and energetic. It took a lot of playing around with different dosages and salts, though. Currently I take about 300mg/night, a mixture of taurate and citrate, and caplets (which are easier to absorb than tablets). But really, just try getting enough sleep, at the same times each night, for a sustained period of time, and then see how that feels.
posted by Acheman at 3:22 AM on March 9, 2012 [9 favorites]

One more thing - I've found a lot of my friends didn't anticipate that as they got older, they would need to go to bed earlier. Even as you move through your twenties, your body is getting less good at dealing with being awake past 11pm.
posted by Acheman at 3:24 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Quit napping. That will mess with your sleep cycle more than anything. You might look into biphasic sleep if you prefer napping. However, you'll still need to get at least 6 hours sleep if you do this.

Coping on as little sleep as you get (5 hours per night) is doable for some people, but it doesn't look like it's doable for you. Generally, you'll need 8 hours sleep per night, and that's a good baseline to start from. 5 hours is very rarely enough.
posted by Solomon at 4:21 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't go by how much sleep you think you "should" be able to get by on--that way lies madness. If you wake up at 6:30 and you're tired, it sounds like you need to go to bed earlier.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:17 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, if you let go of your unrealistic ideas about sleep (wanting to be able to sleep only 3 or 4 hours a night is like wanting to be tall enough to dunk a basketball; most people just aren't made like that, and if you were one of the few people who were, you'd already know it) you'd probably find your actual sleep more refreshing. I imagine that that sounds reductive, but it's what a sleep researcher told me and I have found it to be true for myself--he said that our personal mythologies and preconceptions about sleep have a big influence on our sleep patterns.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:22 AM on March 9, 2012 [9 favorites]

Seconding Sidhedevil's two comments directly above.

Strongly nthing "exercise." When I'm physically active, either at work or on my own, 6 hours a night seems just about right. I feel fine and I'm better able to deal with situations where my sleep schedule is erratic due to work. If I'm not getting regular exercise, anything goes - I might do four hours and feel fine, I might get 8 hours plus a nap and still feel groggy.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:46 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have allergies? How dry is the air where you're sleeping?

I didn't have any acute allergies, but after about a week of terrible sleep like you describe (there was never enough, and I always woke up as tired as I went to sleep), I started taking a benadryl (generic diphenhydramine) at night. It's really helped, whereas the "non-drowsy" allergy meds generally cause nightmares.

Another thing to look into: how is your vitamin D?

Lethargy is a symptom of deficiency, and if it's gray and cold where you are, you're not getting enough of it. Most people these days are deficient. About the same time I started taking benadryl at night, I took about 30k IU of vitamin D, and I take 5-10k IU per day.

Lastly, get your blood moving! Just like "a tired dog is a good dog," tired people sleep better. It's hard to carve out the motivation and energy for exercise when you're exhausted, so pick something you really enjoy or something you can do in 10-30 minutes. You can do this for free in your own home - Zuzana of has some great at-home, no-equipment workouts.

The medical-evaluation route would be to get a blood panel and a sleep study done to try to pinpoint underlying causes.

It's understandable to have your schedule go wonky - all your life you've been "doing something" and now your usual source of purpose has gone away. Is there anything you can get involved with, like volunteering, a meetup group, local parks/rec department class, anything? Look at ways your eating has changed; maybe you're not getting enough food if you've lost the external cues that say "lunch time now!"
posted by bookdragoness at 6:20 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, five hours isn't enough. Try going to bed two hours earlier and getting up at 6:30. Be very strict with yourself. Don't drink alcohol before bed (you'll wake up when your body finishes processing it), and don't drink caffeine after 3 p.m. or so. DO NOT NAP while establishing your new sleep schedule. Get some sunshine every day, just to help your body know it's daytime. Do this for a week or so. If your sleep is improving, great! (Like, maybe you don't feel rested yet, but you're falling asleep reasonably easily at 11.) If it's not, go see the doctor. I suffer from intermittent insomnia and an easily-shifted sleep schedule; often a sleep aid like Ambien or Sonata for 1 or 2 nights is enough to kick my body onto the appropriate sleep schedule.

Also, my younger child is 8 months and JUST started sleeping "through" the night (one 5-6 hour stretch, nursing every 2 hours otherwise, and sleeping about 10 hours together with nursing breaks). Before last week he was up every 90 minutes to 2 hours all day and all night. My body got USED to getting 5-6 hours of sleep at night, broken into 2-hour segments, and I was functioning okay, and waking up awake, but I was cranky and didn't feel very well. Now that I'm finally catching up on the sleep debt I built up over EIGHT MONTHS, I am sleeping like a damn log and waking up exhausted. I slept 10 hours last night and could barely get out of bed this morning. It's like now that my body knows it's allowed to sleep (finally!), we're damn well going to stay there until we're all caught up. I know after a couple weeks of this I'll start sleeping more normally again, but my body wants sleep so badly that it'll take a little while.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:25 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definitely go to bed earlier. The quality of sleep that you get during daytime hours is far worse than at night. As a dedicated night owl I hate to tell you this but sleeping late in the morning is no substitute for getting to bed earlier.
posted by Go Banana at 7:15 AM on March 9, 2012

Also try gettintg 7-8 hours sleep . No less no more. I find if I sleep too much i feel horrible and if I sleep too little i feel horribble.
posted by majortom1981 at 7:32 AM on March 9, 2012

I work around an incredibly erratic sleep schedule. It's 700am, I've been working since noon yesterday and will not be done until 2pm. Last week, I merely worked noon to 7pm every day and had time to get decent sleep. I have some strategies.

First and most importantly, get a full blood screen done. There could be something going on there that's messing with you.

Second, sleep hygiene is incredibly important. Pick a time to get into bed and stick to it for at least a month. One hour before that (at least) stop all electronic stuff. None. No phone, no tv, no ipad/laptop/video gaming, nada.

It's very important to get in bed at the same time and to wake up at the same time. When I can, I try to do 10 to 6. I love being awake at night, it seems to be when I think best. But I find that once I get past midnight, I tend to just say fuck it and stay up most of the night.

As someone said above, it's important to do it for at least a month. Even on weekends. Be really strict about it. In the past, I've found that I tend to toss and turn and get very little sleep for the first two nights, then for a week or two I sleep like the dead and wake up utterly exhausted. Then it starts to even out. It's important that after it evens out, you have to keep it up for a while longer.

I found a few other things help. I try to stop eating around 7 if I'm going to bed at 10. I drink nothing caffeinated after noon, even if I'm slouching around. Those energy drinks are poison. You could try taking a little Melatonin. Eat breakfast in the morning, take a good multivitamin, and get some Glutamine, which is an amino acid.

But really, get a good blood test first. Tell your doctor what's going on, but based on lots of past experience, I'd avoid all the prescription sleep stuff like the plague.
posted by nevercalm at 7:33 AM on March 9, 2012

Nthing keeping consistent sleeping habits. I'd recommend starting with a 7-hour goal for at least two weeks, going to bed and waking up at the same time. If that feels sufficient, scale it back by half an hour at a time.

And exercise - challenging exercise, several times a week. I used to nap all the time, but now that I exercise I almost never need to nap.

Fatigue can be a symptom of depression; nothing in your question sounds like depression, but if you think you may have it, look into treatment. And definitely go to the doctor and get a full blood panel (depression, in turn, can be caused by hypothyroidism, nutrient deficiencies, etc.).

Figure out when your body wants to be awake, provided it doesn't clash with your work/life schedule, and build your sleep schedule around that. I tend to naturally wake about thirty minutes after sunrise, so I've learned to go with that when I can. Your sleep cycle might be sensitive to daylight, or it might be totally unaffected by it.

Going along with that, listen to your body's first impulse in the morning/night. Get out of bed the moment you wake up, instead of deciding to doze for another few hours. Even if you think you need the extra sleep, it can mess with your circadian rhythm. Same goes with night: when you first feel tired, start winding down immediately. If you decide "just thirty more minutes of reading/internet/hobby/etc.," you can wind up keeping yourself awake for another few hours.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:08 AM on March 9, 2012

Exercise, yes, but try to do it at least a few hours before bedtime. Ask if people hear you snore, which could be a sign of sleep apnea (could lead to heart disease!). I snore much less ever since I've been using nasal strips (basically a bandage with stiff plastic strips inside), which help keep my nasal passages open. Dimming the lights at least a half hour before sleep (turning off TVs & computer monitors) is also very helpful.
posted by juifenasie at 8:11 AM on March 9, 2012

Listen to others advice on getting more sleep. You need it.

Also hydrate. With two very young children getting enough uninterrupted sleep is almost impossible for me right now. I've learned that getting enough water has the biggest impact on my ability to cope without sleep. Not just 8 glasses a day. More like 1-2 every hour you're awake.
posted by samhyland at 8:20 AM on March 9, 2012

Seconding the alcohol question. Also how's your diet?
posted by rr at 8:21 AM on March 9, 2012

Are you on any medications?
posted by radioamy at 8:25 AM on March 9, 2012

I've read that your most productive sleep hours are between 9 and 12. Which, in my case, is true. I sleep best from 10pm to 7am. FWIW, diet may play a huge role for you - I know my sleep is RUINED no matter how much I get if I eat any amount of sugar after 9pm. What is your diet like? And yes, I agree with the others - get up at the same time every day.
posted by luciddream928 at 10:33 AM on March 9, 2012

Are you surfing the intertubes, gaming or watching TV before bed, especially in an otherwise dark room? This seriously messes with a lot of people. Some people say you shouldn't do anything in bed other than sleep (and sex) but I find reading a mediocre book in bed puts me right to sleep. Anything too engaging will have me thinking about it all night.
posted by desjardins at 10:36 AM on March 9, 2012

I've been eating nothing but vegetables, meat I cook myself, and high-end dairy (organic yogurt rather than Kraft cheese slices). In addition to all the obvious effects, my sleep has been REALLY restful. I am getting 6 solid hours rather than 8 hours that ends with grogginess and that feeling of "I JUST put my head down". That should help.
posted by karathrace at 12:57 PM on March 9, 2012

Good jumping off point. Sleep deprivation is a treatment for depression.
posted by jjmoney at 2:51 PM on March 9, 2012

You've gotten a lot of suggestions that are likelier candidates - the first answer to any sleep question is a consistent schedule. However, sometimes being constantly tired/difficult to rouse can be symptomatic of a thyroid problem that a traditional checkup might miss - if other issues are ruled out.
posted by decathexis at 6:00 PM on March 9, 2012

Sleep Hygeine
posted by kisch mokusch at 6:34 PM on March 9, 2012

When I was in high school, sleep was no object. When I started college, I'd regularly go to sleep at 2:00 and wake up at 8:00, and this was "a good night's sleep." Now I'm 22, and if I don't sleep for 7-8 hours, AT LEAST, I feel like death warmed over. You might just need more sleep. (Seconding "stay hydrated," when I used to pull all-nighters for school, drinking water was the only way to stay functional.)

Tips: Do you drink coffee? If you do, try to cut down, or start drinking decaf. Once I did this I noticed I felt much perkier because my body wasn't suffering withdrawals in the morning (and I don't have to grope around helplessly for a coffee cup first thing anymore).

Same with smoking.

Also, do you have an iPhone? Try the Sleep Cycle app. It monitors your sleep movements and wakes you up during a "light" sleep cycle, so you feel more rested. I was skeptical at first, but it works beautifully. Plus, it's a gradual alarm that crescendos until you wake up, which really helps for me. Pro tip: since I am like you, I love the snooze button, but if I use it with this app all the benefits are wasted.

I was in your position but worse (sleeping until 3:00 PM) until a few weeks ago when I faced up to the fact that I have depression and started taking an antidepressant. Before that point, I literally couldn't wake up in the morning-- it wasn't laziness or apathy, I was a zombie. Now I can get up 6-8 hours earlier and feel just fine. So if you suspect you have depression, it's totally worth looking into.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:23 PM on March 9, 2012

To answer the questions asked by several of you:

I don't smoke (at all). I don't drink alcohol (at all) and have severely cut soda off. I try to keep a varied, although lowish calorie diet, and am working in adding more veggies and cutting carbs even further from my meals.

I do drink coffee a couple times a day, although most of it is a very diluted (and low caffeine) form of it.

It is possible I am depressed, although I don't generally feel like that? I don't have a problem getting up. Actually, I am waking up at 6:30 without a clock because this is what my schedule has been for weeks... however, I still feel terrible tired when I do. It's a difficult sensation to put into words: I wake up, I feel like I must go out of bed and start my daily life, but am tired like I never even got any sleep at all.

Others have commented on how to go to sleep. I don't have any problem with this! By the time I close my eyes, I doze off peacefully and tend not to wake up during the night at all (if I do, it's near morning and I'll be very thirsty).
posted by Trexsock at 11:24 PM on March 9, 2012

Oh, forgot to add.

I went to bed at 11pm last night, and woke up somewhere around 6:30-7am. Still insanely tired. As tired as any other day, really.

But will keep trying this.
posted by Trexsock at 11:26 PM on March 9, 2012

Your sleep cycle obviously isn't jiving with your body. 4 hours of sleep = wrong for your body. Going to bed late = wrong for your body. Test this theory! Try to be in bed by 9pm for a couple of weeks. It sounds like you don't have a problem falling asleep now; if you get to bed a few hours earlier you might have some trouble but stick it out. See how you feel in a couple of weeks.
My dad has slept four hours a night for his whole life to (seemingly) no ill effect. Now, I have a hellish schedule between school and work, and for a couple months I got by on 3-5 hours of sleep each night. I did crash once every couple of weeks and sleep for 12 hours or so. After two months I just couldn't do it anymore. I exercised daily and ate well but I was an emotional wreck and it wasn't worth it. Sounds like you are in the same boat I was: our bodies just can't handle such little sleep.
posted by pintapicasso at 7:06 AM on March 10, 2012

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