Does this thing ever turn off? Help me get a better attitude about sleeping
July 17, 2012 3:45 PM   Subscribe

I need more sleep and I have the means. But I don't seem to want to, you know, actually sleep. What gives?

I'm looking for insight about my attitude toward sleeping and some advice so that I might be able to sleep longer (at least 8 hours) and actually want to, when it comes down to it.

For about 10 years or so I've averaged about 5-7 hours of sleep per night. I have a very hard time falling asleep and have tried all the standard tricks and advice. I usually get to bed around 1 or 2, when I'm finally sleepy enough to know I won't be lying there bored and thinking and pretending to sleep.

The real problem is the morning. I usually have to get up and go to the bathroom anytime between 5 to 7 and once I'm up, that's it. I think about my day and my life and email and plans and sleep seems over. I'd love to get 8 hours...I'd love to want to go back to sleep after I wake up, but I don't. Sleep is just...boring? A waste of time? But I know I need more of it. I'm seeing and feeling the effects of years of sleep deprivation. How do I change my attitude about sleeping and break this cycle?

Possibly relevant info: mid-thirties female, have a healthy routine, eat well (little to no sugar, gluten-free), exercise regularly (but not recently due to broken leg), have moderate stress, have tiny bladder (I don't drink too much liquids at night...doesn't matter, still gotta go early in the morning).

Other somewhat random but possibly relevant info: I'm super driven/ambitious/competitive. When I was younger I really loved that I didn't sleep much, as it's allowed me to be very creative and productive at all hours. Also, I'm really happy and only very, very rarely get down/sad/depressed/cry...I have pretty much always been this way. I mention that as people would describe me as a positive but extremely intense person with a LOT of mental energy. Also, I'm a very broke American in a small North England town, so sleep studies or expensive medical visits aren't quite feasible.
posted by iamkimiam to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Keep a dream journal. It will make sleep be about something.
posted by rdr at 4:06 PM on July 17, 2012

Is there a particular reason you want to sleep for 8 hours now all of a sudden, since sleeping only 7 has been working for you thus far (and still seems to be doing so)?

I have the same trouble staying asleep as you describe, but in my case I know that it's to my detriment as my brain gets foggy when I don't get enough sleep. It doesn't sound like this is the case for you, so maybe you just plain don't need 8 hours.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:12 PM on July 17, 2012

Best answer: Sounds like insomnia to me.
- more info about insomnia
- more about sleep in general
posted by leigh1 at 4:12 PM on July 17, 2012

I have much more difficulty getting to sleep than staying asleep, but the thing that really helps me is physical exercise during the day. It's not just the issue of being tired, I also feels happier and more contented at the end of the day if I've put in a good amount of physical work. Long walks and occasional gym visits seem to do the trick for me.

Also, don't forget that the NHS is your friend, and that your GP will probably refer you for further advice if you ask. Bit of a postcode lottery how useful the referral will be, but it's definitely worth considering given that it's free. This is presuming that you are ordinarily resident in the UK, which you likely are. Here's the CAB guide on the matter, if you're unsure.

And now it's time for me to go to bed!
posted by howfar at 4:16 PM on July 17, 2012

The real problem is the morning. I usually have to get up and go to the bathroom anytime between 5 to 7 and once I'm up, that's it. I think about my day and my life and email and plans and sleep seems over.

After you've gotten up for this bathroom break, do you do anything to get your day going, like get on the computer, turn on the news, start making coffee, grab your smart phone/device and start mentally wandering? Or do you climb back into bed with the full intent of going to sleep? Have you tried meditating before going to sleep or as a prequel to sleeping?

I've had/have a similar problem in that I can go for days with 4-7 hours of sleep and then sleep a lot on one day. Not your exact problem, but still not good for long term health.

What has helped is not treating that morning bathroom break (for me it's between 3-4 in the morning) as an excuse or reason to start thinking/doing stuff. I just climb back into bed, close my eyes and do some breathing techniques I learned. That's helped a lot.

Another big help is sort of treating it as problem to be worked on and figured out for my own good. It might have you to treat this as competition with the sleep goods or yourself, in order to reach great health.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:18 PM on July 17, 2012

Is it possible you're waking up with hunger? I know that I suffer quite hard when I eat early in the evening (normally it takes me till 9 or 10 to get around to cooking) and then try to follow my normal sleep pattern (1:30 to 8:30, plus as much lie in as my schedule permits), because I wake up and don't realise I'm hungry until I eat something, but then instantly feel a little more relaxed. If I wanted to be pretentious, I'd say that I woke up in a foraging mindset, and then when I've had breakfast, I'm a little more relaxed.

howfar, there are plenty of NHS sleep specialists, and referrals are easy enough to get, but only if you're suffering far more than iamkimiam describes above. No harm in asking a GP for advice, of course.
posted by ambrosen at 4:21 PM on July 17, 2012

I know exactly what you mean. Sleep is boring, at best, especially when the sun's up already and you could make a delicious cup of coffee and check your email ... It's not quite insomnia, but something more like giving up on the effort of sleeping once you've gotten the minimal amount.

What I do is force myself to get right back in bed, put on an eye mask, and relax. It take conscious effort to train yourself to go back to bed. Whatever you do, do NOT check your email or look at your Iphone.
posted by yarly at 4:22 PM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm seeing and feeling the effects of years of sleep deprivation.

Can you explain what these are? People need different amounts of sleep. Not everyone needs eight hours.

A bedtime routine can help wind your brain down so that you don't lie awake for a long time. I find meditation very helpful, both as part of a bedtime routine, and as training to help me control racing thoughts and cope with the boredom of lying in bed awake.
posted by BrashTech at 4:23 PM on July 17, 2012

Best answer: You sound like a "short sleeper", according to this WSJ article.
Short Sleepers are described as "energetic, outgoing, optimistic and ambitious, according to the few researchers who have studied them. The pattern sometimes starts in childhood and often runs in families."

I grew up with sleep deprivation (due to persistent nightmares), so I tried Lucid Dreaming to change the game, and change, it did! I don't have the kind of nightmares I used to experience on a nightly basis anymore. I also started keeping a dream journal, and finally, started looking forward to sleep. I went from a childhood average of 4-6hrs sleep/night to an adult average of 7-9hrs/night.

Good luck!
posted by erasorhed at 4:28 PM on July 17, 2012

My strategy for getting the tired feeling earlier is to go on a long (1 hour or so) vigorous walk late in the evening, about an hour and a half before I want to sleep.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:37 PM on July 17, 2012

I have the same problem. I don't know how to solve it, but I do think being a person who generally has a lot of adrenaline/busy-ness going on during the day makes it hard to get sleepy and tired at the Proper Adult Time, especially if you're a born night owl (sounds like you are too) on top of that. And I also wake up around 5 a.m. checking the alarm or having to pee--I have big paranoia about sleeping so well that I'll sleep through an alarm, so I spend the last two hours of "sleep time" waking up and checking the alarm every few minutes. I pretty much waste the time between 5-7, and sometimes I just get fed up and get up because now I am WIDE AWAKE.

What I'm trying is:
(a) try to force myself to go to bed between 11-12, even if I am not tired. If I am still lying there wide awake after an hour of trying to sleep, then I give up and get up and wait to get actually tired. Basically attempting to get on a schedule about it.
(b) Unless I am SUPER WIDE AWAKE about something at 5 a.m. (if you wake up wigging out about something, might as well give up), I try to go back to bed and at least doze until 7. It works somewhat.
(c) Having to sleep in a lot on weekends for catchup. I just don't sleep well if there's a time I have to be up at, so I've just had to accept that I won't sleep soundly and well five days a week.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:39 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

instead of going back to "sleep", why don't you just lie down for a little nap, or refresher, or pick-me-up, or beauty sleep, etc.. maybe you're psyching yourself out because you think of sleep as this big, heavy, monolithic thing, and maybe some reframing would help.
posted by facetious at 4:44 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know you're saying the real problem is the morning but it sounds like the best solution is to fall asleep earlier. I, also, wake up for a bathroom break & usually manage to go back to sleep, but it isn't quality sleep, and I probably would be better off just waking up. You said you have tried the usual tricks, does that include taking melatonin? I've had some success with it, but after taking it for a while, I don't feel it does much for me anymore. You may need to try a prescription sleep aid to reset your internal clock and train yourself to fall asleep a bit earlier. All of the other things I think of involve falling asleep earlier (sound machine, truly shutting down [no tv, computer, light] even if you're not "tired," aromatherapy like lavender, etc) and could be things you have already tried. Lastly, have you ever had a sleep study done? They are kind of a pain because they are super eager for you to go to bed even when it's much earlier than you normally would, but you might get some answers that way.
posted by katemcd at 4:48 PM on July 17, 2012

Best answer: I call this Sleep Training for Grownups, because you're probably falling in the same pattern I was used to for most of my adult life: you had to wait for your second sleep window to basically force you to bed, because you're never ready for your first sleep window significantly earlier in the night. You probably don't know you have a first sleep window, except maybe if you're really sick.

It is about half attitude. You have to stop thinking of 9-10pm as the midpoint of the evening and midnight as "gettin' a little late." If you've done the backwards math and decided that 11pm is when you need to go to sleep, you need your business wrapped up about 9:30-10. And then you have to do all those good sleep hygiene things you already know. That all takes some practice, so don't give up or be hard on yourself if you're not instantly sleeping perfectly. It'll pay off in the end, but it does take time.

The other half is getting over the miserable hump of even being close to ready for bed at a reasonable hour. If hideous jetlag isn't an option for you, either stay up an entire 30ish hours or so, or only let yourself get 4 hours one night and get up very early. You may need to commit to one month of getting up consistently really early. If you make your daytime longer, you will start hitting that earlier sleep window eventually, and then habitually.

You may have an extra level of difficulty right now if you're in North England and the nights are light very late. It may require shutting out the daylight early in the evening (to make a fake early sunset) to convince your body that it's okay for now.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:48 PM on July 17, 2012 [15 favorites]

When you wake, could you make a brief note or two about what's on your mind, and then do the eye mask and try again? I have read that a recorder is even better, as you can speak while eyes are closed. But don't do that if it means interacting with the phone/computer.
posted by Riverine at 4:50 PM on July 17, 2012

things that have helped me fall asleep/sleep longer/go back to sleep once awoken:

warm feet (socks!)
doing sudoku to chill out my brain

If I have to pee, I try to make it to the bathroom and back with my eyes closed as much as safety allows. Keeping my eyes closed really helps allow me to fall back asleep.

There have been times where I have prepped my brain the night before that I will awake at X time and jump out of bed. Maybe try that for the opposite purpose, tell yourself as you fall asleep that you will sleep until a given hour? Costs nothing.
posted by ambrosia at 4:55 PM on July 17, 2012

Best answer: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia Part 1 2 3 4 5
posted by leigh1 at 4:57 PM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I found that installing f.lux on my work and home computers and using this meditation if I need help getting to sleep have resulted in more and better quality sleep. f.lux seems to help me notice when I'm feeling tired earlier in the evening, and the meditation is, at the very least, extremely relaxing.
posted by EvaDestruction at 5:02 PM on July 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Seconding f.lux. Controlling the lighting is surprisingly important. (Also, is your bedroom daylight-bright when you get up to pee in the morning? The brighter it is, the more likely your body will decide it's daytime and not go back under.)
posted by restless_nomad at 5:22 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There is also a possibility that you might have Delayed sleep phase disorder. You should try to keep a sleep log for at least 2 weeks and show it to your GP.
posted by leigh1 at 5:31 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thirding Flux. Also, with the caveat that I am someone who believes profoundly in better living through chemistry, I have found that the occasional Ambien helps me get a solid 8 hours of extremely restful sleep with no hangover at all. I wake feeling AWESOMELY well rested and am super productive the next day. The revelation of that encourages me to think happy (rather than useless) thoughts about getting good sleep.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:32 PM on July 17, 2012

You're correct, of course, Ambrosen, but referral to the more general mental health services might be useful in terms of accessing CBT or other help short of referral to a specialist.
posted by howfar at 5:38 PM on July 17, 2012

What about taking a bit of melatonin?

You can buy it off the shelf in the US and Canada.

from wikipedia:
Exogenous melatonin taken in the evening is, together with light therapy upon awakening, the standard treatment for delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS).
Adverse Effects:
Melatonin appears to cause very few side-effects in the short term, up to three months, when healthy people take it at low doses.

posted by sebastienbailard at 5:41 PM on July 17, 2012

Light is the sleep killer for me. I use blackout shades and pee without turning on the bathroom light.
posted by curtains at 5:46 PM on July 17, 2012

My best pregnancy sleep hack was to drink loads of fluids right before bed; this meant getting up in a couple of hours to pee, and thus fairly easily falling back to sleep, and avoiding the whole getting-up-slightly-too-early bit with waking to pee. Maybe worth a try?
posted by kmennie at 5:52 PM on July 17, 2012

I'm thinking of picking up some blue-blocking glasses e.g. amber safety glasses or amber sunglasses.

Here's a write up.

I wanted to share something that I've found that works really well for the treatment of sleep and mood problems. I have been diagnosed with ADHD and Bipolar II disorder. I am also a Non-24, a chronic circadian rhythm disorder where one's body thinks a day is longer than 24 hours. I do not think that these problems exist in isolation, because dark therapy is used to treat bipolar disorder, light therapy is used for unipolar depression and both help sleep disorders and ADHD.

Anyway, I've been using amber safety glasses (around $3 in the hunting section of the sporting goods store) for dark therapy. I put them on 3 hours before I want to go to sleep. They block blue light, allowing dark therapy without the dark. I also wear an eye mask while I sleep. The glasses make me look like a big weirdo, but they really work. It's easier to get to sleep, and they prevent hypomania (the milder form of mania that people with Bipolar II experience) better than any medication I have tried.

Here's a university study about it.
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:57 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

...driven/ambitious/competitive, creative and productive, really happy...

These, together with your reduced need for sleep, remind me hypomania or hyperthymia.

You might do a bit of reading on them, just to get a feel for what symptoms are associated with them, and to what extent you identify with them. Of course, you'd want to consult a mental health professional before coming to any conclusions.
posted by exphysicist345 at 5:59 PM on July 17, 2012

If I'm on the computer, or even fooling around with my smart phone, less than an hour before bedtime, I've pretty much guaranteed myself insomnia. I can watch TV or read right up to bedtime without disturbing my sleep schedule. What are your habits in the hour leading up to sleep?
posted by Kriesa at 6:15 PM on July 17, 2012

What's your relationship with caffeine?
posted by eddydamascene at 7:43 PM on July 17, 2012

Wow this sounds so familiar. It's so frustrating. All the sleep meds help me fall asleep, no problem. But my bladder gets me up after 5-6 hours (so going to bed earlier doesn't necessarily help) and then it's a crap shoot at best whether I'll get back to sleep or not. Some of the heavier duty sleep meds *will* suppress the peeing, but they also leave me groggy and off in the morning. I tried to not drink water after a certain time but being thirsty sucks!

My theory is that my body has gotten enough sleep to get by, even if it's not even sleep to thrive, and so it makes it hard to get back to sleep. Ugh. Hate it.

Anyway I will be following with interest.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:58 PM on July 17, 2012

I'm a pretty solid sleep and light can even wake me - I find I wake earlier in the summer for that reason. So light is definitely a big thing.

That said, if going to the bathroom is why you're getting up, have you considered changing how much you drink before bed? I try to drink a lot before going to bed for the opposite reason - to wake me up in the morning. But if you're having a whole cup of (decaf, presumably) tea right before sleep, it makes sense that you'd have to get up and go.
posted by maryr at 8:53 PM on July 17, 2012

Lie in complete darkness, listening to podcasts, more than 2 hours before your normal bedtime (for circadian rhythm reasons, your body tries to resist sleep *most*, in the period 2 hours prior to your normal bedtime).

Have a high-protein nibble before sleeping (other people recommend the opposite, but it works for me).

Do a complete blackout of your room for the morning.
Your bladder probably isn't the problem. It usually only starts working again at your 'normal' wakeup time, so it's the waking up that is doing the bladder, not the otherway around, buuut... also try setting an alarm for 5 minutes each time you want to pee, and hold on a little longer. Don't strain your bladder, but it is unlikely you are straining it to maximum capacity.
posted by Elysum at 10:28 PM on July 17, 2012

If nothing helps, invest in a sleep study. I'm your age, and have been sleep deprived for years before going to the sleep clinic. Learning about my problem (DSPS), how to manage it, and learning about sleep in general helped me understand that sleeping regularly and during the night is immensely important. Here is what 2 months of properly synchronized, good quality 8 hour sleep did to me:
- my energy level dramatically increased
- muscle/joint pain disappeared
- my headaches disappeared completely (I've normally had 6-7 headaches per month)
- my attention / concentration issues got much better
- my desire to eat sweet and fatty food dissapeared
- since I had so much energy, I've started running - lost weight
- self-confidence improved (I no longer felt stupid or lazy because of my sleep issues)
- more sun = better mood
- socializing is no longer a chore - I can listen to people for longer than 3 seconds and form complete and coherent sentences = more friends

P.S. I ♥ your MeFi video presentation :)
posted by leigh1 at 5:53 AM on July 18, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everybody, lots of helpful advice here! To answer any Q's that came up...

"Is there a particular reason you want to sleep for 8 hours now all of a sudden, since sleeping only 7 has been working for you thus far (and still seems to be doing so)?"

I'm not sleeping as long as I think I should be (I average about 6 hours/night). Also, I'm feeling symptoms of sleep deprivation (susceptible to colds, midday tiredness, dark bagged eyes, poor memory and functioning on 4-5 hour sleep nights). And I am sick of people telling me I look tired all the time. :(

"After you've gotten up for this bathroom break, do you do anything to get your day going, like get on the computer, turn on the news, start making coffee, grab your smart phone/device and start mentally wandering? Or do you climb back into bed with the full intent of going to sleep?"

I climb back in bed with full intention to sleep. After about 10 minutes or so, I give up and pop out of there, wide awake. I should also mention that when I'm awake, I'm *awake*. It's not a groggy, alarm-hitting thing. It's a "ok, I'm done, eyes open, what's for breakfast!" To answer another question above tho, I'm not at all hungry when I go to bed. I stop eating at 9pm most nights, but I eat a full, healthy dinner...I love food and would never let myself go hungry! Other things I'm already onto...Flux (super awesome!), melatonin, blackout curtains, regular exercise, high-protein foods.

The info about insomnia, hypomania, hyperthymia is really helpful, thanks. Also, dream journal is a great idea, for several reasons. Thanks people, will get right on all this.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:04 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I should also mention that when I'm awake, I'm *awake*. It's not a groggy, alarm-hitting thing. It's a "ok, I'm done, eyes open, what's for breakfast!"

If this is the case, wait to eat until 7/8 hours after you went to sleep. Your body is used to eating at a certain time and is waking you up. More info.
posted by Brent Parker at 10:02 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could consider talking to your doctor and seeing what they recommend. I used to take trazodone, and now I take amitriptyline. Both are antidepressants that are much more useful because of their side effects. Both cause drowsiness, amitriptyline also prevents migraines. It's not all Ambien out there; there's no buildup of tolerance to either one of these, so they're both non-addictive and can be started/stopped without harm.
posted by epj at 6:36 PM on July 18, 2012

No-one else has mentioned these things so I will:

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia for *cheap*.

Try upping your melatonin dose and experimenting with different times for taking it. I've settled on an hour before I want to go to sleep, and I'm up to 10mg now.

When you're lying in bed awake, don't be hard on yourself about it. Tell yourself that at least you are resting, even if you're not sleeping, and that's good for your body to do.

There's some evidence that the typical human sleeps in roughly 90-minute cycles (going into and out of REM). Try to aim for 6 or 7.5 or 9 hours, so that you don't have to wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle.

And speaking of sleep cycles: there's an app for that. It's awesome, and cheap.
posted by acridrabbit at 9:14 PM on July 18, 2012

Best answer: This sounds very much like me a few years ago. I used to get 4-5 hours of sleep during the week, which I thought was great, because it meant I could pack so much more into the day. I felt pretty run down a lot of the time, but I was GETTING THINGS DONE! so I just glossed over that.

One thing that really made a difference for me is that I ended one of my huge, all-consuming projects (I used to run a little indie record label), which meant that, on weekends, instead of jumping out of bed and attacking my never-ending to do list, I could actually sleep in. I eventually noticed how much better I felt when I had gotten enough sleep. It wasn't just a little better - it was a really remarkable difference. In particular, I was less irritable. Like you, I think people would have described me then as positive but intense, with a lot of energy, both mental and physical - I don't think my irritability showed much, but it was just really nice for me, inside my own head, to feel so much more relaxed about things.

I also occasionally came across info about just how much you can mess up your body with lack of sleep. I always used to kind of dismiss advice about how we all need plenty of sleep, but when I read about how just a few days of 4-5 hour sleep can induce symptoms similar to diabetes (in terms of body chemistry and how you process food) - and when I thought about how weird and jumpy and slightly nauseous I used to feel in the mornings when I'd gotten very little sleep - I started realizing it was more important than I thought.

So what really changed for me was realizing that sleep is really, really good for you and makes a huge difference in how you feel throughout the day. I didn't really know this until I started experiencing the difference between 4 hours and the 10-12 hours I started getting on weekends. (And as I'm sure you know - it's much, much, much better to get 7-9 hours a night instead of 4 hours for several days followed by a weekend of sleeping in. I'm just saying that's what helped me feel the difference.)

The thing that happened for me is that I really experienced for myself that sleep is NOT a waste of time. Sleep means a pleasant day instead of a tedious one - a year of pleasant days instead of tedious ones. Sleep is a delicious, sated feeling without any calories. Sleep is a gift you can give yourself every day. However important all your projects are, and however much you enjoy doing them, you deserve the rest and quiet that your body needs, too. You deserve to feel well-rested.

The advice above about getting to bed earlier (including winding down your activities in plenty of time to get to bed on time) is great. I suspect Brent Parker's suggestion to start eating later in the morning will help, too. (These days, I typically pop out of bed and go for a long walk or a short run; I don't eat until I've been up for two hours.)

If I'm in bed and not feeling sleepy (or feeling sleepy but not falling asleep), I change my thoughts to emphasize that "I'm resting." "Okay, I'm not sleeping, but this is still good time for resting. Resting is good. Planning and list-making are all things I'll do later. Right now I'm resting. Resting ..." That often helps me fall asleep, and even if it doesn't, it does give me some restful time.

tl, dr: Once you give yourself a chance to really experience getting enough sleep, you will never again think it's a waste of time. It's a whole different world when you're well-rested, and if you make it a priority to give yourself as much rest as you need, everything else in your life will benefit.
posted by kristi at 9:42 AM on July 19, 2012 [10 favorites]

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