Why are you showering at 3am?
September 24, 2013 9:00 AM   Subscribe

My SO wakes up in the night sometimes, let's say at 3am, and starts to get ready for work. Like, 3 hours too early. After 5-10 minutes he usually snaps out of it and comes back to bed. What is this?

He remembers it happening since he was a child. He'll go to sleep, and then at some random time, he will get up, look at the clock (he says he registers the time, but ignores it somehow), and start his morning routine. Usually he gets about as far as starting the shower or, on one occasion, starting to shave, and then he will realize it's way too early and come back to bed.

He figures it happens about 3-4 times a year. We've lived together 2 months and it happened for the first time (with me there) last night.

My question is, what causes this? Does it have a name? Is this a thing that happens to other people as well? He says that it doesn't seem like sleepwalking, that he comes to his senses pretty quick. He otherwise does not sleepwalk or anything else like that. We are not concerned so much as we are curious.

If it's relevant, he's 46 years old, partially sighted (legally blind), and in otherwise good health.

posted by heavenstobetsy to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've gotten up and turned off my alarm before taking a shower and thinking I should wake up my parents, before I realised it was 2AM and I still have 5 more hours to sleep. I had to check 3 different clocks as well because my alarm was the only one with a battery backup. Now I always get up before the alarm goes off and make sure to check the time before I get in the shower. Automatic movements are funny sometimes when you get into a routine you'll just do it automatically.
posted by koolkat at 9:08 AM on September 24, 2013

Best answer: I've done that a few times. I think that when you get up at the same time most days and are a slow waker, you're on autopilot for the first few minutes of the morning, so just one mistake about the time will set you in motion. Particularly in the winter, when it's dark at my normal waking-up time. I'll look at the clock without my glasses on, mistake 4:30 for 6:30, and routine kicks in and drags me into the shower.

It's happened to me enough that sometimes if the light doesn't seem right in the morning I'll check another clock, in hopes that I actually get to go back to bed.
posted by ghharr at 9:09 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I consider it a form of somnambulance. I knew a guy who did it - we shared a dormitory when we were kids - the beds all came out from the wall in a row and if you turned his round when he got up in the morning he'd walk straight into the wall (yes, it happened. No, I'm not proud). We also had a fire alarm one night which was loud enough to wake the gods and kept going for 10 minutes or so. When the roll was taken and he was found missing people went out to look for him. They found him brushing his teeth, fully dressed, ready to head off to breakfast. It was 2am. Ordinarily a different, normal bell would ring twice to signal it was time to get up. He had mistaken the one for the other.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:18 AM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My mom once woke me up for school at 2 am. I'd bet this happens more often in fall and winter months, when people don't have the sunrise as a cue.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:19 AM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I did this as a teenager. I'd wake up between 11pm and 1am and start getting ready for school/work. My brain had just suddenly woken me up and I started getting ready for the day. I'd shower, or get my breakfast.

It hasn't happened to me in years, though I do sometimes get out of bed in a confused state (can't find the door to my bedroom).

Don't worry about it, unless it gets more serious/frequent. Then, IANAD. :)
posted by Amity at 9:21 AM on September 24, 2013

Best answer: Yup, I have done this a few times. In high school, twice my mother knocked on the bathroom door thinking I was sick, since I was showering at 2:00am. It took a little bit of persuading to get me to believe that it was NOT time for school. More recently, my husband has woken up to me getting dressed for work in the wee hours a few times.
posted by teragram at 9:22 AM on September 24, 2013

Best answer: Yes, this has happened to me. Most memorably when I was just about to turn 6 or 7, the night before I was meant to be celebrating my birthday in class at school. I woke up in the middle of the night (like 10pm) and went downstairs to get ready to leave for school, where my mom was in the kitchen (prepping cupcakes for me to take in the next day, IIRC). I could see that the clocks read 10ish, but despite the fact that it was pitch black outside (late Oct) my brain interpreted it as being 10ish the following morning, and I got really upset, burst into tears, and had a meltdown because I thought my mom had let me sleep in and I had missed celebrating my birthday with my friends.

This, and other similar events, makes me think that (perhaps just for me) it has to do with anticipatory energy or stress; my brain is keyed up or preoccupied about something that's going to happen, which wakes up me much earlier than normal, and the post-waking autopilot that a lot of us has makes it difficult to realise immediately that it's not actually time to be awake yet.
posted by catch as catch can at 9:33 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not a morning person.

Due to my job, I sort of have to fake functionality to make my schedule work.

I'm up and running, and getting ready. Not being a morning person I have scheduled myself a 14 second window of extra time to get ready in the morning. Y'know, if something happens.

I've got a pretty set structure in the morning to prevent mistakes and allow the autopilot to fully function. Things like having the Mrs put the coffee thermos in the wrong spot, would mean it stayed in the wrong spot till I got home from work.

If for whatever reason the morning auto pilot got engaged early, I'd very likely be in the shower at 2AM.
posted by PlutoniumX at 9:37 AM on September 24, 2013

Best answer: He says that it doesn't seem like sleepwalking, that he comes to his senses pretty quick. He otherwise does not sleepwalk or anything else like that.

It's sleepwalking. Not all sleepwalking is the zombie-like "ZZZZZ... must... make... sandwiches... ZZZZZ..." kind you see in the movies. A lot of it is right on the cusp of wakefulness. If it's not negatively affecting him (or you), there's not really much point in correcting it.
posted by Etrigan at 9:40 AM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I've had this happen too - in fact, I woke up at 3 AM today! (Luckily I noticed the time BEFORE I climbed out of bed.) Sometimes our inner clocks get a bit muddled, especially when days grow shorter and we have to wake up when it's still dark out.

A lot of times this also comes down to anxiety. If you have the habit of sleeping through your alarms, or have a job where the boss(es) are sticklers for promptness and even the occasional being five minutes late due to unexpected traffic is Not Tolerated, you can develop real anxiety about waking up on time. This can lead to automatic behavior because your unconscious is saying "get up or else!"

If this only happens occasionally then there's no need to worry, unless your BF is in the habit of doing something dangerous like turning on the stove in his sleep, or trying to drive. If it happens a lot, or your BF is doing dangerous things in his sleep, it's doctor time. Otherwise, just treat it as something to laugh about later, and make sure he can see his alarm clock.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:46 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've done this a few times.

Once last year, I woke at 3 am...and did an algebra unit on Khan Academy! And when I checked my answers later in the day (when truly awake), I found that I got them all right! Somehow, I did sleep math, for an hour.

I can't complete the square to save my life when fully awake, but it's apparently no problem when I'm asleep.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:58 AM on September 24, 2013 [17 favorites]

Best answer: Personally, it often takes me a few minutes in the morning to become fully conscious. I'm not sleepwalking during that time -- for instance, unlike what I've heard about legit sleepwalking, I remember what I'm doing -- but I'm also definitely not fully awake. I still feel the emotions from dreams pretty strongly, for instance, though I'm aware the events didn't really happen, and if I'm moving around (unlikely) it's generally on autopilot. I can see how you would look at a clock and not really "grok" the time in that state (or misread a number), especially if you were hard of sight without serious glasses. Five minutes in, I feel totally normal.

Having said that, this effect did get more pronounced when I started taking medication that disrupts my sleep a bit and makes me more prone to night-time waking, so maybe it's worth mentioning to a doctor in case it's a sign of a (fixable or treatable) sleep issue.

(Something similar also happened to my roommate. I was just getting home at three AM and she was putting fresh coffee into the coffee maker. I was like, "wow, you're up pretty early" and she sort of chuckle/grumbled and we had part of a conversation before I said "you do realize it's three am, right?" and she went "wait, what? WTF, I'm going back to bed." She remembered what had happened the next day, which seems unlike normal sleepwalking.)
posted by en forme de poire at 10:02 AM on September 24, 2013

Best answer: Oh gosh, I did this quite a few times when I was in High School. It wasn't exactly sleepwalking - I would just half-wake-up in the middle of the night and shuffle out of bed and start my morning routine, which always began with a shower. A few times I found myself in the shower, under the water with my pajamas on. Usually I'd leave my clothes by the bed and just wander to the shower wearing nothing at all.

I outgrew it by the time I went to college. Which is probably a good thing, considering how many people I lived with and that the shower was down a very long public hallway.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:20 AM on September 24, 2013

Best answer: Once when my kid was a baby, I saw my husband get up, go into my son's room, come back, and lay down as if he were curled around something. Then he gently patted the place in the middle of the bed where the baby WOULD have been if I had been there, too, nursing him in the bed (I was actually holding the baby in a chair; he had woken up earlier). And then I heard my husband say to the empty space, "Good kid. Go back to sleep now." My husband was of course asleep the entire time. In that moment I suddenly realized that probably more than once already my husband had gotten up and gotten the actual crying baby to bring him back to me WITHOUT ACTUALLY BEING AWAKE. As in, he was sleepwalking and carrying the baby at the same time! Which did of course terrify me. But our child obviously survived.

I would not be surprised if I awoke one night at 2 a.m. to find my husband showering.
posted by BlueJae at 10:35 AM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a sleepwalker. Have been my whole life (despite everyone saying I would grow out of it). It sure sounds like sleepwalking to me, and I have done very similar things during a sleepwalking stint as well.

Is he particularly stressed at the moment? My bouts of sleepwalking are usually triggered by stress or being waaaaaay overtired.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:53 AM on September 24, 2013

Best answer: I think it's sleepwalking. My oldest does it all the time, only she'd answer the door at 2am, which was terrifying because she often left the front door open. I learned to be a light sleeper early on, even now, nearly thirty years later, I'll wake up if my husband gets out of bed.

My son (second in line) used to sleep eat as soon as he could walk. Didn't matter how late we fed him at night, he'd get out of bed and raid the 'fridge -- while sleeping. He did this well into his teenage years. Also frightening because as he got older, his sleep-eating got more complex, meaning he began cooking in his sleep. He also would do as your boyfriend does and start his day early, more than once I'd wake him up for school to find him either half dressed or already dressed. The only difference is, he never remembered the eating but he did remember the getting dressed.
posted by patheral at 10:54 AM on September 24, 2013

Best answer: At the risk of being a downer in a kind of fun "Me too!" thread, this happens to me every so often, maybe once or twice a year. It's not exactly sleepwalking, as I am conscious and "awake" but it can still be dangerous. One time, I went so far as to leave my bedroom and head downstairs, but I sort of forgot about the stairs part of that process and took a major tumble. I was fine other than some scrapes and bruises, but that was just the luck of how I fell (mostly on my ass) and I could have been badly hurt. My wife (a light sleeper) is now very aware of when I get up, and if it is at an odd time, or I am acting at all oddly, she will call out to me to make sure I know what I am doing before I do something dangerous. We also live in a house with a first floor bedroom, so that's good.

If the shower is as far as he gets and he doesn't shave with a straight razor, I think it is OK to just treat it as a quirk, but think carefully about whether or not he might put himself in some danger by doing this.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:54 AM on September 24, 2013

Best answer: I think Rosie M. Banks is onto something with the sleeping through the alarm anxiety. This used to happen to me quite often in college, when my schedule was irregular and and I was a more dedicated night owl. I would wake up, see the clock but interpret the numbers incorrectly, believe that I was late for class or work, and rush through X amount of my morning routine... more or less until I saw another clock and realized it was 3 or 4 am. I was definitely awake, not sleepwalking--the second clock always did the trick because by that time, I was awake enough to really see it, instead of some kind of anxious-brain-mirage-clock.

Now that I have a regular schedule and get a little bit more sleep, I am no longer able to sleep through an alarm clock... and because I can't sleep through it, I don't worry about sleeping through it. I haven't taken a shower in the wee hours in years. I'm just speculating, but I think the reason it doesn't happen to me any more is because my morning routine is more regular, comfortable, and (sadly) unavoidable these days.
posted by snorkmaiden at 11:26 AM on September 24, 2013

Best answer: I used to do this as a teenager. Usually midway through the getting-ready process it would hit me that "man, it's EARLY" and I'd go back to bed. I don't know if it was tied to some kind of anxiety about oversleeping, or missing something that day; it seems like it happened at pretty random times. I didn't carry it into adulthood.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:51 AM on September 24, 2013

Best answer: catch as catch can, the bit about your brain interpreting 10 p.m. as 10 a.m. cracked me up because I vividly remember being there at least once. I was wiped out and took a big afternoon nap, and when I woke up the clock said 6 o'clock. Problem was, I didn't know if it was 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. (I had only one clock and one watch in the apartment and both were analog) and when I tried turning on the limited range of TV channels I had, I realized that either way the damn news would be on. (I'm pretty sure I was still semi-asleep while I confronted this dilemma.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:55 AM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've done this too. I think if someone's doing their normal routine, it's not sleep walking. You only have to be out-of-it enough to misread the alarm clock in the 3 seconds it takes to sit up and walk out of the bedroom. After that, you could be wide awake, showering and getting dressed and everything without ever checking a clock. During a decent chunk of the year, it will be dark out whether it's 2 am or 7 am, so there's nothing telling you that you're up at the wrong time until you get downstairs and realize the automatic coffee maker never clicked on, or whatever.

People showering in their pajamas or forgetting the staircase... That's a different thing. That definitely seems like sleepwalking.
posted by vytae at 11:57 AM on September 24, 2013

Best answer: I've done this too, but only a couple of times. I usually sleep completely through the night, so waking up usually means "time to wake up and start the day". Except, occasionally waking up should mean "look at the clock and go back to sleep", but i'm so thoroughly trained to beleive that i never wake up in the middle of the night that I don't look at the clock or realize it's time to go to bed.

Similarly (and more frequently), i've taken after-work naps, woken up after an hour or two at, say 7:30pm, and started to get ready for work because I thought it was the morning.
posted by Kololo at 1:38 PM on September 24, 2013

Best answer: It sounds to me like it could be either sleepwalking or just muddle-headed misperception of what the clock says and commencement of routine. I developed the tendency to sleepwalk during grad school (maybe something to that theory of it being caused by anxiety...) and would often wake up in the morning to find that I'd gotten out of my pajamas and into daytime clothes before, I guess (never remembered that part) climbing back into bed. I had vague memories the next day of needing very badly to get dressed for one reason or another, but the memories were of a dream, not waking action. If your husband remember the getting ready clearly rather than in a dreamlike way the next day, that may be an indicator that it's not sleepwalking?

These days, since I no longer live alone to sleep-dress in peace, my husband gets entertained every couple months by me waking him up in the middle of the night to demand his help with something VERY IMPORTANT and very nonsensical except in dreamland (the most recent was "how are we going to get everyone from my mother's house to my office so we can get married??"). I'll carry on a more-or-less coherent, very insistent conversation with him for ten or fifteen minutes, and then proceed to fall back asleep without warning. He finds it alternately freaky and charming.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 2:59 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

FWIW, this past weekend I woke up on Sunday morning about 10 minutes after my workday alarm is supposed to go off, and I got all the way into the shower before I realized it was not a work day and I was in the shower for no reason.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:36 PM on October 23, 2013

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