How can I become a less light sleeper?
September 2, 2012 5:54 PM   Subscribe

I have always been a light sleeper. I want to become a less light sleeper. Is this possible? How?

I need to get better sleep! I am such a light sleeper that it seems anything wakes me up---I have gotten used to the noises my bedmate makes, but when he tosses and turns, the bed feels like it vibrates, and I wake up numerous times a night from that. I also sleep on my side and lately have been finding that my fingers get numb after about two hours (this never happened before) and THAT wakes me up. Sirens outside, noises in the apartment hallway, you name it.

My bedmate has some allergy issues this summer and we had a few sleepless nights where he was up (and therefore so was I!) I wasn't working for the summer (I am a teacher), so I got accustomed to going back to bed after he left for work. But now school is starting again and I can't do that. I am terrified I am going to be living in a constant state of sleep deprivation. Isn't there anything I can do? I want to learn to be a less light sleeper. Is this possible? How?
posted by JoannaC to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of sleep depth is related to the environment; do you have a dark, cool room for starters? Do you share covers with an active partner? You may want to try your own separate comforter.

You could try one of those eye masks and ear plugs to prevent you from hearing any of those noises or seeing any lights. I do both and I sleep like a baby. White noise helps some people too.

You could also invest in a larger bed; I have found myself in a king sized bed with two other people before and didn't even realize they were there once I was asleep.

Additionally, you could try melatonin to see if it helps you stay asleep once you are. I didn't see a lot of effect myself, but you might.

Finally, some people are not great bedfellows. If you have a comfortable couch to sleep on, occasionally moving there on nights your partner is particularly restless (and, if your partner's tossing and turning is because they can't sleep, convincing them to go sleep on the couch once in a while) is a good idea. My girlfriend and I both end up on the couch around once a month because we need something in the bedroom environment that we aren't getting.

Sharing a bed is not always romantic or sexy; sometimes it's a pain. Acknowledging that and finding ways to make it less so is part of any good relationship, I think.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 6:08 PM on September 2, 2012

I am a light sleeper too. A white noise machine works wonders for me. Check Amazon for reviews and buy one now.
posted by luvmywife at 6:22 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I find that light is the biggest thing for me -- if it's completely dark, I sleep like the dead. If there's light, I take a long time to fall asleep and toss and turn. This became really apparent recently, as I moved in June and a streetlight shines in my bedroom window before. I am planning on installing room-darkening curtains, but in the meantime I put a pillow over my head [I prefer thin feather pillows so it's not as odd as it may seem]. A sleep mask would probably be easier, but I think the strap around my head will bother me.

Another possibility is melatonin or other herbal sleep aids. I had a period where I was unable to fall asleep easily and not sleeping soundly (with no environmental changes) and taking 2 mg of melatonin half and hour before bedtime was like a miracle, especially when I switched to sublingual tablets.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:23 PM on September 2, 2012

I don't use a machine specifically for white noise, I just use a fan that is pointed at me through the summer months and away from me in the winter. A memory foam mattress will cut down on the vibration and movement when your bedmate rolls over. The numbness in your fingers could be carpal tunnel. I wear a wrist brace only when I sleep.
posted by kbar1 at 6:29 PM on September 2, 2012

No light (I even cover all those little lights on electronics) and a fan running on low speed works really well for me.

My dad was REALLY loud in the morning and it always woke me up from a deep sleep, but as soon an I started using the fan I slept right through his morning noise. I actually have better quality sleep as well, because now my body knows it won't be woken up by loud noises and now I can just relax and sleep. Also, I can't use earplugs because I am afraid that I wouldn't hear my alarm, which causes me to wake up several times in the middle of the night thinking that I overslept, so I just sleep with a pillow on my head.

I also read somewhere a couple getting twin-sized mattresses and putting them on a king size box-spring so the person tossing and turning wouldn't disturb the other person as much.
posted by littlesq at 6:34 PM on September 2, 2012

Chiming in on the "noise" issue--for me, not even a white noise machine and earplugs was enough. I now sleep with an iPod and "Brown Noise for Sleep" loaded on it. It's gotten to where the brown noise sound instantly cues drowsiness for me. And having it piped directly into my ears drowns out much more noise than just having the machine in the room. Of course, it is irritating having earphones in, so that would be the drawback.
posted by indognito at 6:42 PM on September 2, 2012

"Individually pocketed coils". This phrase saved my marriage.
posted by sanka at 6:51 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

It depends why you're a light sleeper, I think. If you have anxiety issues, working on them via meditation, therapy or medication will likely help your sleep. (I've been a much better sleeper since I've been on anti-anxiety meds, and I haven't even been on them for a very long time. My meds theoretically don't do much for hypervigilance but in my case, they've helped immensely, and hypervigilance can be a cause of light sleep). The thing about anxiety is that anxiety=less sleep= tired= prone to anxiety= horrible cycle of awfulness. So if that's an issue, do address it.

Good sleep hygeine is useful for training your body to fall asleep in response to specific cues, and hopefully will help you stay asleep.

I find both melatonin and tryptophan (warm milk! yay!) helpful but neither are guaranteed to keep me asleep. White noise and blackout shades and carpets in the room to absorb sound. You might want to consider soundproofing if the cost's not too prohibitive.

If you are someone who is prone to being this close to being asleep, and then suddenly a cat sneezing three houses over will force you to wake up and remain awake for the next three hours, I find this to be incredibly helpful in getting me over the hump and into Sleepyland. I listen to it every night, and I'm not even embarassed about it.
posted by windykites at 7:15 PM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, I forgot to add: in my case, earplugs ALWAYS fall out in the middle of the night: after I'm asleep and far before my alarm goes off. So don't be afraid!
posted by windykites at 7:16 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Working first on the environmental solutions above is good advice.

As for the bed vibrations, it might be worthwhile trying two beds. (There was a news item recently, but can't find it now, that couples sleeping in one bed is a decidedly modern invention. Earlier generations of couples slept in separate beds.) You can still cuddle in one bed, make love all you want, and sleep in separate beds. If the problem is an environmental issue like snoring, watching tv, or different temperature preferences, separate beds in separate rooms is totally worth trying.

Some people sleep better by taking Elavil (amitriptylene). I'm one of them. For me, 10mg an hour before bedtime and I sleep very soundly.

Getting enough sleep is important. Don't make compromises that jeopardize it.
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:24 PM on September 2, 2012

Ear plugs? I'm hyper-sensitive to noises and when I put my earplugs in at night it's like I'm in a little cocoon in my head or something. I get Hearos brand ear plugs - I've tried several kinds and they work the best for me.

For me also the blocking out of sound helps me tune out other things like movement or whatever. I don't think a white noise machine would work for me because one of my problems is that I find myself listening for noises, so I would just try to listen over the white noise. With my ear plugs in I know that noise is blocked out so I'm not listening for anything.

Yes, I am a little weird.
posted by fromageball at 7:38 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

A small fan produces air movement and will keep you cooler on muggy nights. The fan noise, though faint, is soothing.
posted by SPrintF at 7:55 PM on September 2, 2012

I'm with formageball, ear plugs have been a lifesaver for me. I was a very light sleeper for years but if I can block out noise, I can sleep almost anywhere. White noise doesn't cut it for me at all.

However, I also sometime loosely wrap a soft scarf around my eyes/head. It serves the dual purpose of blocking out light, and physically reminding me that It's Bedtime Go The F To Sleep. Weird, yes, and my husband still makes jokes about my sleeping scarf but it sends me right off when I need it.

Good luck!
posted by little-egglplant at 7:56 PM on September 2, 2012

I'm a horribly light sleeper, and it takes forever for me to fall asleep, the slightest noise will wake me. Fans (for white noise) in the summer are a lifesaver. In the winter, a humidifier. The low burbling is a big help.

When I was going through a particularly hellish period of insomnia, I tried pretty hard to follow a strict no TV/no computer/no illuminated screen for an hour or two before bed, no caffeine after four or five, gradually dimming lights from about an hour before bed. It did help, even if it didn't cure the problem. I keep ear plugs on the nightstand though, since every once in a while, Mrs. Ghidorah snores, or the neighbors' dogs get barky. They do fall out, but usually only after I've managed to get to sleep.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:07 PM on September 2, 2012

I have always slept very deeply, with very few exceptions. My wife and most of my blood relatives do not. I realize that correlation does not equal causation, but one difference is that I have a very low heart rate and blood pressure. So exercise, or rather fitness may help.

(this also means I fell asleep in class a lot.)
posted by notsnot at 8:10 PM on September 2, 2012

I wake up too easily thanks to some health problems; given that, not so sure if this works for everybody, but, per my physician's suggestion -- grass. Right before you hit the sack, not very much.
posted by kmennie at 11:05 PM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm also a very light sleeper, and the older I get, the worse it gets. Supplements haven't helped me at all, but surprisingly, meclizine (OTC Bonine) does. It's a 24-hour pill, so I try not to take it every night, and it does leave me a little dopey the next day, but not any dopier than not sleeping does. Even half of one seems to have at least some effect.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 6:21 AM on September 3, 2012

Try cutting down on caffeine if you take it, and moving your last caffeine intake earlier in the day.
posted by yogalemon at 3:28 PM on September 3, 2012

The separate mattress idea worked for me and the best of those was the "Sleep Number" brand because you can adjust the hardness/softness of each side independently of the other and do so at any time. You may find that your sleep improves just by having the right firmness.
posted by CuriousJohn at 2:51 PM on September 4, 2012

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