How to Properly Sleep Through the Night For Once
April 14, 2013 6:01 AM   Subscribe

I have been waking up at the exact same time in the middle of the night for the past month or so, and it's majorly disrupting my ability to be a functional human being.

This happens regardless of when I have gone to bed (usually I hit the sack between 10pm-1am).

Once I'm awake, I stay awake for an hour before falling asleep again, and then I eventually wake up at the right time totally groggy and depressed. How can I sleep completely through the night again, and why is this phenomenon happening in the first place?

My go-to fix has been taking a small sip of some high-strength codeine but I am tired of doing that because codeine makes me really depressed whenever I take it. This is an issue I've had to deal with for much of my adult life, but it's only recently that the whole thing has started up again.
posted by These Birds of a Feather to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My husband has had very good luck with melatonin for this exact problem.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:04 AM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

How long have you been self-medicating for sleep with codeine? Because that may be exacerbating the problem, if I understand correctly (it knocks you out, but you bounce back way up which just makes you more likely to be restless the next night, so you take more, and it makes you more wired when it wears off the next day, and so....)

I've had great success with taking magnesium and calcium as a daily supplement - I do still occasionally wake up in the middle of the night, but usually get back to sleep pretty quick. The magnesium also seems to ensure that no matter how long an amount of sleep I do get, it tends to be fairly good quality.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:09 AM on April 14, 2013

(usually I hit the sack between 10pm-1am).

That's a pretty broad range. Try going to bed at 10 for 2 weeks or so with no wee-hour quick-fixes and see if things calm down for you. Sleep hygiene is a big deal & it sounds like working on yours could help you.
posted by headnsouth at 6:17 AM on April 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

There is increasing evidence that waking up in the middle of the night is perfectly normal, and that "sleeping straight through" is actually a recent phenomenon.

That said, when I find myself doing this the best thing for it is to exhaust yourself with exercise.
posted by seemoreglass at 6:36 AM on April 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

When you say it's the same time in the middle of the night, is it a set time (e.g. 3am) or dependent on your sleep schedule (e.g. 4 hours after you've initially fallen asleep)?

If it's a set time, is there anything at all that can explain the wakeup - like a train passing by, neighbors starting their cars up, etc? If so it might be something a white noise machine can tune out for you.

If you can't put your finger on an external cause, I completely agree with seemoreglass - exercise has worked like a charm to help me fall back to sleep quickly (and I say this as someone who had to be pulled kicking & screaming into a gym).
posted by wheek wheek wheek at 6:39 AM on April 14, 2013

Seconding that the codeine is probably not a good idea. The rebound will make you more tense and jittery than before.

Do you wake up feeling any particular sensation? Do you gasp for breath (could be sleep apnea) or have a stomachache or choking feeling (could be reflux) or sweaty and feeling awful (could be hypoglycemia)?

Magnesium really helps me a lot, as does melatonin; and Benadryl is a better OTC sleeping aid than codeine - try a Benadryl before bed. If you feel as if you are waking up because of low blood sugar, try a light snack a half hour before bedtime. If you suspect reflux, take a Zantac.

If you are still having trouble sleeping then talk to your doctor - you might have sleep apnea or restless legs or something that wakes you up without you knowing it, and that you think is just "insomnia." (And no, apnea is not just for fat middle-aged guys.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:39 AM on April 14, 2013

I sleep better, and more peacefully, when I take a magnesium pill.
posted by SillyShepherd at 7:34 AM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe you need an app that records ambient sound while you sleep. It could be there's a noise waking you up each time.

I used to have a truck driver who would park right under my window every morning at 3am and play his radio really loudly for an hour. Of course I knew why I was waking up, but you know what I mean.
posted by tel3path at 7:36 AM on April 14, 2013

I read somewhere that it's more important to get up at the same time every day than it is to go to bed at the same time. (You might be doing that anyway.)

Also, hardcore exercise, but not too close to bedtime. (i.e. at least a couple of hours before you're planning to hit the sack.)

Finally, temazepam. The only thing that puts me to sleep and KEEPS me asleep for up to 7 hours.
posted by Salamander at 7:39 AM on April 14, 2013

I have a problem with waking at 3:00 every morning. It was destroying me. Magnesium and melatonin at bedtime solved it completely.
posted by HotToddy at 7:54 AM on April 14, 2013

Stop taking the codeine and accept that you'll have a rough night or two before you adjust.

I use melatonin myself. If there's any chance that it could be ambient noise, as tel3path suggests, try earplugs and maybe some white noise.
posted by bunderful at 8:26 AM on April 14, 2013

I had a really similar problem not too long ago. White noise kept me from waking up in the middle of the night, and I also recommend doing some type of exercise about an hour before bed. On a personal note, I also made a mental inventory of minor stresses that were building up in my life, and that also seemed to help.
posted by antonymous at 8:35 AM on April 14, 2013

I have heard many good things about melatonin for this exact problem. Less Wrong has a bunch of useful information.

People also talk about modafinil for sleep issues, though that may not be legal where you live.
posted by katrielalex at 9:45 AM on April 14, 2013

This article from the BBC, while not a scientific study, indicates that what you are experiencing may be quite natural, and that sleeping straight through the night is a relatively modern notion. Apparently it used to be quite common/the norm to sleep for a few hours, wake up for an hour or two in the middle of the night, and then sleep again for a few hours. The article is fascinating, and also links to the website of Roger Ekirch, a historian who studied this phenomenon.
posted by number9dream at 10:02 AM on April 14, 2013

Response by poster: Regardless of when I go to bed, I wake up at 5am every day even though I want to wake up at 7:30am. I think the core issue for me is that when I wake up at 5am I'm totally, 100% awake and ready to start my day, but my desire for more sleep leads me to fall back into bed and then wake up so profoundly groggy that I can barely get out of my apt. I already use earplugs and white noise, but I think exercise and magnesium will be a good start, with melatonin as a last resort instead of the codeine.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:05 AM on April 14, 2013

Response by poster: I mean, obviously I could just get up at 5 since that's when my body is waking me up naturally, but even when I do that I end up back in bed vying for more sleep.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:13 AM on April 14, 2013

Hmm. How much light are your blinds letting in? I've noticed that I'm really sensitive to sunlight/daylight, and I find I wake naturally with the dawn unless I have really heavy blinds. I just got heavier blinds and that fixed that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:17 AM on April 14, 2013

Seconding heavier blinds. Like EmpressCallipygos, I'm a wake-with-the-sun person. I personally prefer to get up and at 'em early, so I go to bed early enough to get eight hours of sleep. Is that an option for you at all? (You would need to go to bed at 9 PM to get eight hours if you wake up at 5 AM.)

If you really would rather stay up late and sleep in, then I agree with getting curtains that block out the sun. Google "blackout shades" or "blackout curtains" and there are tons.

If blackout curtains are not an option, then try an eye mask to block out light.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:35 AM on April 14, 2013

Get a sleep study. It involves attaching a bunch of sensors to your head and monitoring your brain waves and breathing through the night. It's uncomfortable, but you don't do it often.

I had a study and was diagnosed with sleep apnea. I've been using a CPAP for 20 years, which makes a magical difference.

Also, don't get into the habit of listening to the radio or reading when you wake up during the night. Work on relaxation and meditation techniques to quiet your mind. I'm a musician and I do silent scale exercises very slowly, gently making the finger motions I use while playing. This concentrates my mind on the single process, and when my mind drifts, I just redirect my attention to the sequence of finger movements. You could adapt this to whatever you do repeatedly -- say, mentally typing the Gettysburg Address or The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
posted by KRS at 8:29 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

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