Getting back to sleep
February 17, 2013 7:44 AM   Subscribe

How can I get back to sleep quickly after being awoken in the middle of the night?

First - a wee bit of background - I moved into a new place a few months ago, and noticed after the first week or so that the creaking from the hardwood floors is really loud, especially from the unit above me. I figured that I'd get used to it and that my body and sleep schedule would adjust, but that doesn't appear to be happening.

The couple that lives above me doesn't do anything that's intentionally loud, but I can definitely hear loud floorboard creaking with every single footstep taken, especially in the bedroom, which is right above mine. In addition, I can hear one of them getting ready early in the morning (around 6 or 7 AM) - the opening and closing of drawers, occasionally setting/dropping things on the floor, etc. Once I hear this, it's generally difficult for me to get back to sleep.

Last night, the more heavy-footed of my upstairs couple comes home after bar close (around 2AM) and it takes him/her about 20-30 minutes to finally get to bed. They weren't stumbling around or anything, but since I woke up as soon as they set foot in the bedroom, it seemed like an eternity before they finally made it into bed. At that point I was so frustrated with my inability to control whether I could sleep or not that I just got more and more upset and my mind started racing - I think I finally got back to sleep around 4:30, a full two hours after I had been awoken. This is especially frustrating because I made a concerted effort to get to bed early, and as I write this I'm feeling the exact opposite of what I had hoped for.

So I'd like to take a bit more control of this situation and was hoping for advice along a few lines, and to see how others have dealt with similar issues in the past. First, is it safe and effective to use those little disposable foam earplugs during sleep on a regular basis? I prefer falling asleep with the radio on as background noise, but could live without it if it means a full night of sleep.

Second, are there any effective strategies for getting back to sleep after being suddenly awoken? I know that most "things that go bump in the night" are one-time events, but sometimes due to the nature of living below neighbors, I have no control over how long it takes them to get ready in the morning or what time they come home at night. I'd prefer not to confront my neighbors, as I don't think their actions

Third, am I not even asking the right question here and should I just break my lease and find a different place to live? I have no experience doing that, and I'm only a few months into a year-long lease. I like the location but nothing else about my unit is special - now that I think more about it, I'd been planning to move at the end of my lease anyway. I've lived in similar buildings in the past and have never heard as much from my neighbors as I have in this one.
posted by antonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried white noise? I sleep with a little fan, and while it doesn't block the noise of the folks who live on the other side of my duplex, it kind of evens out all the ambient sounds and makes it so I don't wake up with every little creak.
posted by xingcat at 7:46 AM on February 17, 2013

Seconding white noise. I have a Marpac Sleepmate, and it was worth every penny. Also the thing is a workhorse. We have them at my job (same thing, just called "Soundscreen") for purposes of privacy, and some of them are many years old and still working perfectly. Using earplugs (I recommend the big orange Howard Leight ones) and the Sleepmate together would block out a lot of the noise from upstairs.

Good luck in creating a better sleep environment.
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 7:58 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

If the apartment above has hardwood floors, do they have area rugs on the floor? Do they take their shoes off at home? Doing those two things may cut down on the noise and is not an unreasonable thing to ask for.
posted by brookeb at 8:00 AM on February 17, 2013

White noise, white noise, white noise. Can't recommend it enough.
posted by cooker girl at 8:07 AM on February 17, 2013

White noise + little fan = sleeping bliss
posted by oceanjesse at 8:32 AM on February 17, 2013

Yes a fan. I have mine facing the corner in the cold months but it runs all night and I sleep like a baby. The cost to run a fan all night is very small (you can work it out here - my 15" pedestal fan is 40W and I'd be surprised if a small fan is more than 55W) so you're looking at less than a couple of dollars a month, if you run it for 8 hours a night.
posted by essexjan at 8:52 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones, if you can stand the feeling of wearing something on your head... I don't see why wearing earplugs regularly wouldn't be safe, I know many light sleepers who do.

Also, this may seem obvious, but if you have a smartphone or tablet near you, resist the urge to look at it (or any light source), even for a minute. If I wake up and check Twitter or something, the night is over.
posted by perryfugue at 9:15 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

For me, silicone earplugs work better than foam (which fall out in the middle of the night). I get them at Wal-Mart; they're in the pharmacy/cosmetics section.

Also, when you move to the next place, see if you can find a townhouse. You'll have neighbors next door to you, but you won't have anyone above you.
posted by summerstorm at 9:19 AM on February 17, 2013

I too have trouble getting back to sleep once I've woken in the night. I've never really had much luck with earplugs, to be honest. But if I really want a good night's sleep, or (especially) I know I am likely to be woken in the night (as in mr. ambrosia is flying home and his plane has been delayed and he'll get home at 1am) I will take some Benadryl about 45 minutes before bedtime. It doesn't knock me out so much I can't wake up, but it keeps me groggy enough in the middle of the night that I can easily drop back to sleep, and the earlier I take it in the evening the less likely I am to have any fogginess the next morning. (Don't take it at midnight if you need to bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 6am.)
posted by ambrosia at 9:35 AM on February 17, 2013

I've noticed that people who have trouble going back to sleep after being unceremoniously roused often (in my opinion) have some kind of stress/anger/frustrated reaction to the disturbance of their slumber. I am guessing that this associated stress reaction probably gets the sympathetic arousal complex going and actually makes it psychosomatically difficult to go back to sleep. I say this as a fairly deep sleeper (so I may be way out in left field here), but I would ask that you consider examining your reaction to being woken up and see one, whether that's the case, and two, if you can cognitively control your reaction.

If this is not the case or I'm way off base, please let me know. I'm collecting anecdotes.
posted by sibboleth at 9:37 AM on February 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Earplugs, white noise, metafilter. I have trained myself to reach for my phone and read half of a MF post. I turn the screen to as dark as it can go so it doesn't actually wake me more. It get me out of my own head and takes me away from my frustrations.
posted by Vaike at 9:52 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Every once in a while when I'm stressed and *need* to be well rested in the morning, I take an over the counter sleep pill (diphenhydramine HCl).

It doesn't necessarily help me go to sleep any easier at first, but if I wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water, I can almost instantly go back to sleep afterward. Without the pill, I often have a hard time falling back to sleep. Also, when I finally wake up in the morning, I feel very well rested regardless of how little sleep I actually got.

I would try a night or two with an over the counter sleep pill and see if that makes a difference.
posted by helloimjohnnycash at 9:57 AM on February 17, 2013

Agreed with the white noise suggestion.

The other thing that helps me if I wake up in the middle of the night is to take that opportunity to start imagining myself somewhere awesome and relaxing. Lying on a beach in the sun, or on a heated massage table getting a massage, are two of my favorites. If you imagine it in really great detail, it (a) prevents you from getting all angry and anxious about being awake, which would wake you up more, (b) relaxes you so you can get back to sleep, and (c) can sort of "seed" your dream so that you end up dreaming about a relaxing beach vacation or spa or whatever once you do get back to sleep. Even a really vivid imagining of, I don't know, riding a horse after some bandits, can help get you back into dreamland. I just find it easier to imagine all the sensations of being elsewhere if my body position in real life matches the position I'm trying to imagine myself in, but that might be just me.
posted by vytae at 10:18 AM on February 17, 2013

I've noticed that people who have trouble going back to sleep after being unceremoniously roused often (in my opinion) have some kind of stress/anger/frustrated reaction to the disturbance of their slumber. I am guessing that this associated stress reaction probably gets the sympathetic arousal complex going and actually makes it psychosomatically difficult to go back to sleep.

There is no question that feeling frustrated or angry at being woken certainly makes it harder to fall back asleep. But there is a chicken/egg aspect of your observation-- people with a history of having a hard time getting back to sleep are more likely to react with frustration to being woken up in the middle of the night, precisely because of their own personal experience. Getting angry certainly doesn't help, clearly, but I can tell you firsthand that being told not to get so worked up about it is not so conducive to sleep either.
posted by ambrosia at 10:21 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh! If you decide to go the medication route: Benadryl is diphenhydramine HCl. They sell the same drug in the antihistamine (NON non-drowsy allergy pills) section and in the sleep aid section, but I've found that the ones with the sleep aid labeling are marked up to be more expensive per pill for the same dosage and style (tablets, gel caps, whatever), even within the same store brand of generics. Obviously there are other kinds of drugs in both sections of the drug store, so do check the labels to make sure you're getting the right drug and dose. But it's fine to get whichever one is cheaper if they've got the same thing inside.
posted by vytae at 10:23 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a similar problem when people started regularly walking on the roof of my apartment building while the elevator is being replaced on one half of the building (they take the other elevator to the top and walk across the roof and then walk down to get to apartments on the elevatorless side of the building).

It took weeks for me to stop rousing every time someone walked across, but now I either sleep through it or notice it tangentially and then go back to sleep. I think/hope that over more time you will get used to this.

White noise can help, we use a box fan turned away from us when things get loud, but I find that isolated and non-rhythmic sounds like someone walking above or someone talking are the hardest to block.

You can talk to the neighbors about this, but try to phrase it in a way where you're clear that what they're doing is not unreasonable. You can ask for shoelessness or carpets but be prepared to be rebuffed.
posted by sciencegeek at 10:56 AM on February 17, 2013

It might take some experimentation to find a brand that fits your ears, but good foam earplugs won't irritate your ears with long-term use. (I like Hearos Extra Soft, which are available over amazon- better selection than drugstores ime. ) If you're worried about hearing the alarm, you can always use just one earplug and lie on your side with the unplugged ear on the pillow- dulls noises without completely deafening you.

I've also found it helps to have my ipod and headphones at hand with some sedate podcasts queued up- relaxation scans, a few of the duller-leaning Yale Online lectures, that sort of thing. Definitely helpful to have something that'll immediately short-circuit any tendency to get sucked into racing, anxious thoughts.
posted by Bardolph at 10:57 AM on February 17, 2013

If you remember anything of a dream you were having before you woke up, try to clear your mind of anything but the dream. If you're lucky, you can find your way back into the dream and pick up where you left off.

I have all kinds of sleep issues, but if I can do this, it usually works out.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:53 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I actually prefer brown noise
posted by spacediver at 11:55 AM on February 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Some of this stuff, like the drawers opening and closing, can't really be helped, but creaking floorboards can be fixed cheaply and easily. I would ask your landlord to make this fix at least and to talk to the neighbors about putting down area rugs and generally being more quiet when they come home after last call.
posted by payoto at 1:07 PM on February 17, 2013

I live in a building which does not have hardwood floors - but does have relatively poor insulation. On weekdays where I have to get up early for work, I wear Flents Ear Plugs, and place my alarm at a high volume, directly next to my pillow. The Flents are not that dense in blocking all sound, so I still hear my alarm.

On weekends, when I can sleep in until whenever, I wear Hearos Ear Plugs. I live on the 7th floor on a busy street that's less than a mile from the nearest highway, and have yet to experience being woken up by anything (sirens, barking dogs, construction, etc) while wearing these.
posted by invisible ink at 2:06 PM on February 17, 2013

I like SleepPhones (can be had on Amazon) for a combo of listening to something and some noise insulation.
posted by ecsh at 2:45 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I frequently wake in the middle of the night due to being a light sleeper with a small bladder. I nth a white noise machine. I find the ocean noise is the best at masking ambient sounds. Also, when I'm having trouble falling asleep/getting back to sleep, I stare at my Spoka nightlight. I acknowledge that this sounds really weird, but it has a calming, almost hypnotic effect and I fall asleep within minutes watching it cycle through the different colors. I think it helps that the color patterns are long and the changes gradual. Obviously, if you have to sleep in a totally dark room, this won't help.
posted by Aquifer at 5:19 PM on February 17, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everyone. The good news is that I put a fan in my room and was able to fall asleep even though I could hear the upstairs folks were home, so that much was successful. It probably didn't hurt that I was pretty exhausted when I went to bed, either.

Unfortunately, I woke up in the middle of the night (for no good reason) and had a rough time getting back to sleep - I was probably awake for an hour or more around 3 AM. This was less time spent awake than the night before, but still I'm not feeling great this morning. I was so focused on getting a fan that I didn't remember all the other great advice in this thread. I think maybe it's time to look at stress/anxiety/SAD as being a cause for concern...

That said, my normal technique for going back to sleep is to close my eyes and visualize the outline of some object. For whatever reason my brain continually "morphs" this object slowly into something else as I come closer to identifying the last object. Tonight I'll try to visualize myself on a beach or floating through space and see if that part of my brain needs some attention as well! I'll move on to medication only if I'm unable to identify or deal the the stress mentioned above...

Also, to sibboleth, I don't think it's related to the frustration of being awoken, but the frustration of not being able to get back to sleep (and/or the anticipation of the next X minutes/hours of non-sleep). I'll note that both last night and the night before, after about a half hour, as I was letting my mind wander, my thoughts "replayed" a couple of real-life incidents that really got me angry but that I had limited reaction to at the time (almost getting run over in a crosswalk recently, for example).
posted by antonymous at 7:04 AM on February 18, 2013

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