How to take the drama out of bedtime.
December 4, 2012 2:13 AM   Subscribe

I've had problems sleeping ever since I was a kid which has led me, as an adult, to get really easily stressed out about things that potentially upset my sleep. How can I become more zen about sleep?

Ever since I was a kid I've had sleep-drama, starting from nightmares as a little kid to frequent sleepless nights as I got older.

I really feel it when I have a bad night's sleep. If I can't nap during the day I feel like hell all day and have to resign myself to accomplishing nothing, eating crap and bursting into tears at the slightest provocation.

I am now a sleep hygiene champion and very particular about things like my sleeping environment, bedtime routine, my caffeine intake, etc. I'm well up on ways to control my sleeping environment; I am always well stocked up with earphones, I have a sleep mask and a white noise app on my phone.

But I am very control-freaky about sleep which means that whenever I'm, say, stressed about work or something I will also start worrying about how it is going to impact my sleep and then how my work is going to suffer from poor sleep etc. And then of course... I can't sleep. It's a vicious cycle. Also, there are some things about my sleeping environment I simply can't control like noise from neighbours (normal noise, not excessive), etc. I am a very light sleeper and seem to only be able to sleep in optimal conditions; and if they're not optimal, I stress about them and tada! I can't sleep.

So I guess I'm not asking for ways to further control my sleeping environment but for ways to let go of my need for control, stop stressing and just... sleep?

(I don't take any medication. I would like to avoid that as much as possible but would welcome information on any meds that have really helped you with your sleep.)

Thanks Mefites!
posted by Ziggy500 to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I was you. Then I read somewhere in the Internet...or heard it from a sleep expert...I forget the provenance....but that lying in bed, with my eyes closed, resting was as 80% as restorative as actual sleep. So I felt able to let all my anxiety around sleeplessness go, and...perversely, I now sleep a lot better.

So...lie there, rest, and let it go.
posted by taff at 2:19 AM on December 4, 2012 [19 favorites]

OMG! @taff--I read the same/similar thing and it provided me with the same benefits! Thank Zeus for the writer of that article. FWIW--I think it was on CNN.

The other big detail I remember was that when you just lie in bed and rest, you are sleeping way more than you think you are.
posted by chiefthe at 2:57 AM on December 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would just (cautiously) suggest that combining all those elements of sleep hygiene together could be more damaging than good.

What I mean by that is, individually they can be useful, but when you put together a full-regiment sleep-plan, there's a good chance that's where the sleep drama is originating. A big part of getting rest is learning to go with the flow, as in the recommendations that simply lying down calmly is more useful than telling yourself GO TO SLEEP NOW.
posted by mannequito at 3:01 AM on December 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I also have this problem, and though I haven't tackled it fully here's something that really helped me: Being more okay going without sleep. Or as my snarky yoga teacher says, get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Rather than focusing all of your energy on prepping for sleep, focus on creating a positive game plan for how you will takcle the day following a sleepless night. E.g. If you know you eat badly on days when you don't sleep, get out of bed and make yourself a healthy sack lunch to take to work. If you tend to snap at people when you are sleep-deprived, envision yourself responding to stressful interactions with grace and sincerity. Set out your gym clothes for an early morning run.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 3:02 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Chiefthe (back at ya!) is correct about the sleeping without realising thing.

I have spent far too much time as a patient in hospital, but that has helped me realise that when I thought I was awake and thinking and having a terrible night's sleep, I was often actually snoring and startled awake by staff doing my obs.

I would have had money on myself being awake. Truly. I don't know what that kind of sleep is, but it's like dreaming you're in exactly your physical position, thinking.
posted by taff at 3:30 AM on December 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

CBT/Mindfulness. You can teach yourself this through those How To and ... For Dummies books.

My mum has been struggling with sleep due to hot flushes and my stepdads snoring (even in a different room). She's done herbal and prescribed meds, changed her duvet, changed her bedtime, general sleep hygiene etc etc etc But now she's doing this and finding it helps. Not just with relaxing but with (probably the bigger problem of stressing herself out about not sleeping) not beating herself up over not being asleep, breaking the habit of doing the 'if i could just fall asleep now i will still get 5(4)(3) hours sleep'. I think she's doing some visualisation that she's warm 'cos she's on a beach in thailand, she's on her own time so doesnt need to stress and the sea crashing is lulling her into a nap or something.

She's totally not a hippy btw so if she can get on board with that i'd say it 'works'
posted by moreteaplease at 3:52 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's an interesting article in the NY Times which appeared yesterday: Insomnia Linked to Trouble Breathing.

If you think you have sleep apnea or another sleep-breathing disorder (besides snoring, a couple of clues are often having to get up to pee at night absent when you haven't had lots of liquids before bed, and waking up with a dry mouth) get a sleep test.

Otherwise, try a Flonase-type nasal spray, an air purifier in your bedroom, and a Breathe Right strip (the ugly beige kind, it sticks better) on your nose. I've struggled with severe insomnia most of my life and believe it or not, the Breathe Right strip is a huge help.

What also helps me is putting on a stream of soothing, ambient music. I find Rasa exceptionally soothing; but definitely YMMV. Some people also find podcasts nice to drift off to.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:03 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Like others, I really benefitted from knowing that I get most of the value of sleep from laying restfully in bed. I've also found a similar psychological release by having a prescription for ambien. I probably wind up taking 1/3 of a 10mg pill (which is plenty to be effective for me) about once a month, but knowing I have it as an option has really helped me let go of some of the anxiety about sleep. An once I am more easy going about it, that's an easier state of mind to cultivate through gentle thinking with myself.
posted by rosa at 5:39 AM on December 4, 2012

As a lifelong insomniac something I did a couple years ago (in addition to many of the things listed above) is start taking half a sleeping pill (under the brand name "Unisom", it's the one that doesn't leave me groggy in the morning) on Friday and Saturday night ONLY. I still am a restless sleeper the rest of the week but knowing that I will get a solid 8-9 hours on the weekends really helps with the, "Oh no, if I go to sleep RIGHT NOW, I will still only get 5 - 4 - 3 hours of sleep" thoughts that used to plague me, especially on week nights. Seriously, that little blue pill has revolutionized my life and improved my relationship with sleep.
posted by eleslie at 6:28 AM on December 4, 2012

I heard a sleep scientist on the radio (I think? it could have been a magazine. or a book) a while back and he said a lot of people *think* they are worse sleepers than they actually are. And that when you explain to people that waking up a few times in the night is normal, not always getting the ideal amount of sleep is normal, taking 30 minutes to fall asleep is normal, a lot of them feel better immediately.

Oh, and one thing that helped me realize I sleep much more than I think I do, even in extremely suboptimal situations (overnight flights in coach, horrible menstrual cramps) is listening to audiobooks. I'll turn the audiobook on and, although I feel like I'm awake the whole time, I'll inevitably realize that I've missed big chunks of the audiobook. Movies might work too.

I also like to geek out about my sleep and use a sleep analysis app on my phone (you put it on the mattress next to you and it measures your level of wakefulness based on how much you move around). I find it oddly comforting to look at the graph in the morning and think "Yeah, that was a kickass night of sleep!" or "Blech, 55% sleep quality is right," or "I thought that went much better than the app says."
posted by mskyle at 7:43 AM on December 4, 2012

I've taken Ambien only once or twice, and I think it can give you (me) nightmares, but at the time I needed it it knocked me out cold. I would try to avoid taking it but it can help you get to sleep.

There's also these Iphone bracelets and things like that that help you track your sleep, regarding people who think they are sleeping less than they actually are. That might help you.
posted by mockpuppet at 7:57 AM on December 4, 2012

I am a seriously untalented sleeper, which eventually led to my going for a sleep study, where they wire you up with electrodes all over your scalp and chest and you have an oxygen meter clipped to your finger and they put you in a freezing strange room and spy on you through a mirror. Try sleeping like that. After lying there wide awake all fucking night, I thought I had just wasted a whole bunch of money and time, but to my very great surprise, they told me that I actually had gone through several sleep cycles. So, although the sleep study didn't turn up anything particularly helpful, what it did teach me is that I actually am sleeping quite a bit even when I'm convinced I'm not sleeping at all, which helped me relax about the whole thing. I do still have real problems with sleep, but I have significantly less anxiety about it.
posted by HotToddy at 8:16 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, also, totally seconding the idea of trying an air purifier. I got one during the summer when we were having terrible smoke from forest fires and found that my sleep improved dramatically. I think a part of it is the white noise, but not all--the air in our room is so much cleaner and fresher now. There recently was a link on MF about how classroom performance drops drastically when the room is closed up, due to particulates from everyone exhaling, then boings back up the minute you open a window. I imagine this must be related. The room used to have that gross exhale smell in the mornings, and now it just smells clean. It's lovely.
posted by HotToddy at 8:23 AM on December 4, 2012

My sleep is very easily disturbed from the slightest stress (i.e., any life event that's not lying on a beach). I suffered through most of my childhood and young adult life exhausted because I didn't think "normal" people like me should take sleeping pills. Finally it came to a head and I took the medication plunge. There are no words to describe the increase in my quality of life. I hadn't realized how much my lack of sleep was affecting my mood - feelings I thought of as depression, irritability, or anger turned out to be partly (of course not totally) linked to how much sleep I'd gotten. I tried several different medications (Ambien and Lunesta were horrible for me) and now take a small dose of trazodone and/or klonopin. Some months I need it, some months I don't, but I know that I'll never again have to go through life exhausted. Just having it around helps take the stress off, even if I don't always take it.

For some people, sleep hygiene might be enough, but if it's not, I'd seriously consider talking to a psychiatrist about medication.
posted by walla at 9:23 AM on December 4, 2012

(I don't take any medication. I would like to avoid that as much as possible but would welcome information on any meds that have really helped you with your sleep.)

I have also struggled with sleep my whole life. I'm a finicky sleeper -- I sleep in earplugs and a blindfold every single night, I'm particular about what I wear and what kinds of blankets I have and how I tuck myself in, in strange places I often use a white noise generator.

I started taking trazodone on the advice (and prescription) of my pills doc, and it's been wonderful. It doesn't force me to sleep, but it makes it very easy for me to drift off to sleep instead of lying awake, thinking and thinking and thinking. I'd never heard of it before he recommended it, but apparently it was developed as an anti-depressant and worked great, except that at therapeutic levels, you had to wake people up to find out that they weren't depressed anymore. So now low dosages are used as sleep aids.

I've also had the experience that having a pill that I know works for a problem helps undercut the circular anxiety about whether I'm going to have the problem. Having a pill that works can help even if you're not taking the pill.
posted by endless_forms at 9:24 AM on December 4, 2012

I'm depressed, anxious, and hypersomniac-- I sleep way more than most people and deal with drowsiness during the day a lot. I also have elaborate sleep rituals, though they're less relating to hygiene and more about listening to something when I fall asleep so I have something to focus on instead of thinking and thinking. (I know the hypersomnia + trouble sleeping thing seems contradictory, but what it ends up with is that my sleep is really inconsistant and it's frequently really hard for me to get out of bed; creating a regular sleep schedule can be very difficult for me.) I had a very similar experience to endless_forms, but with the opposite sort of pill-- I got a prescription for nuvigil, which promotes wakefulness. It's made it so that I sleep better because I know that on the occasional nights where I don't get enough sleep or sleep badly, I have a pill I can take that will make the next day tolerable and not absolutely miserable.

I'm not suggesting that you get on nuvigil; that was something that helped me for other problems, I'm just reasserting that "Having a pill that works can help even if you're not taking the pill." is really true-- knowing that you have a way to get through the anxieties around your sleep makes it easier to sleep because you aren't keeping yourself awake worrying about your sleep. You'll probably need it less often than you think, because sleeping pills act like a sort of anxiety-related security blanket.
posted by NoraReed at 10:29 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's this drink called Neurosleep that knocks me flat. I am also a lifelong insomniac. Within 20 minutes of finishing a bottle, I am conked out. When all else fails, you can give it a shot.

FWIW, I've tried taking melatonin in pill form and it does nothing for me. I think it's something to do with it being liquid.
posted by Addlepated at 11:53 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

For me, when I'm having sleep problems, the first thing is to recognize that lying quietly in bed is restful and good for me, even if I'm not asleep.

The second is to lie there and count my breaths. Every time I notice I'm thinking about something, let it go and refocus on my breaths and the physical sensations in my body. Repeat until I fall asleep or it's time to get up. Either way, it's better than lying there stressing.
posted by Lexica at 8:02 PM on December 4, 2012

Hi guys, thanks a lot for the great answers.

I've best-answered a few but really every single one was interesting and useful for me in helping me to (in time) develop a calmer attitude towards sleep. It's true that in some ways my highly-regimented sleep regime has caused some sleep-related stress. And I like the idea of having a sleeping pill as a fall-back, even if I don't actually end up taking it. I can see how that would help.

I tried to find that CNN article mentioned by chiefthe and taff, but couldn't; I wish I could read it!
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:59 AM on December 5, 2012

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