How do I keep myself from going to bed until I'm actually sleepy?
July 19, 2014 8:57 AM   Subscribe

I keep putting myself to bed too early. I fall asleep easily and stay asleep for a couple hours, but I sleep very lightly and wake up for a period of time around 2-4am. What are some things I can do to stay out of bed for an extra couple hours until I'm at the can't-keep-my-eyes-open point level of sleepy?

I usually get two 4 hour blocks of sleep a night, so I'm not too worried about sleep deprivation, but its annoying and stressful and I miss sleeping soundly. There are a couple factors that might be contributing to this.

I've been mildly to moderately depressed for most of my adult life up until about a year ago. I used to be able to sleep indefinitely and would sleep soundly for about 10 hours a night even if I napped during the day. I now take Wellbutrin and Adderall (150 mg sustained release and 10 mg instant release, respectively) and am in the best mental health I've ever been in, but obviously both of these medications have an effect on energy levels and sleep. I don't nap anymore and I'm good on 7-8 hours of sleep. I think that I'm so used to needing more sleep that its hard for me to not put myself to bed on the earlier side.

I also have a lot of free time and I might be having trouble wearing myself out/finding enough things to do during the day. I saved up money so I could have this spring/summer off to finish a creative project and I'm making excellent progress and definitely don't feel lazy, but there is a difference between working at your own pace and working according to an external schedule. I do a lot and stay busy, but I don't seem to ever wear myself out.

Anyways - around 11pm-12pm everyday I feel like my brain decides its time to go to bed. I don't feel that exhausted, but I just can't seem to convince myself there is anything else I should be doing besides tucking myself into bed. I still fall asleep within 15-20 minutes. My brain seems to be ready for bed, but then I wake up a couple hours later, and then I wake up pretty early in the morning as well. I don't sleep deeply at all.

I feel like I'm wasting a couple hours of time by going to bed too early and its starting to stress me out that I don't get to have a relaxing sleep period. I don't feel sleepy at all during the day - it seems like I'm just trying to sleep too much - so I hesitate to call it mild insomnia but maybe it is? I realize that I'm on two drugs that can cause sleeping problems though, so any insight regarding that would be welcome. I plan on bringing this up with my doctor at an upcoming appointment, though my meds are working so well for depression and ADD symptoms that I'd be reluctant to change anything too much.

In the meantime though - what are some things I might try doing at the end of my day to keep me from falling asleep? Reading/watching TV doesn't work because I'm too comfortable and then I feel fake-tired and fall asleep.

Are there ways I could keep my mind more active later at night without caffeine or other things that would interfere with sleep? I really wish I could be studying and working on my projects later at night, but my brain just seems to be done.

General tips for wearing myself out?

Possibly relevant details: 26 year old female, no physical health problems, exercises regularly, no caffeine after 2pm everyday, meds all taken by 9-10am.
posted by supernaturelle to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is called second sleep and it's normal.
posted by brujita at 9:06 AM on July 19, 2014 [9 favorites]

This type of sleep cycle is normal for humans and, historically is closer to our natural sleep pattern. It's easier to roll with it than it is to fight it.

Things our ancestors did with this time: read, write letters, propagate the species, knit, lie quietly.

That said, I've always found that internet/youtube holes are pretty good at keeping me awake longer than intended. If you're looking for something more productive, a long walk after dinner might suit you.

But really, this is pretty normal for people who get enough sleep.
posted by phunniemee at 9:07 AM on July 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Waking in the middle of the night used to be pretty common in the era before widespread artificial lighting. People used the time for prayer, sex, visiting neighbors(!), or a little light reading. It's not inherently a bad thing to wake in the night, as long as you're getting enough sleep overall.

That said, exercise is the thing that makes me sleep though the night. You don't mention what type of exercise you do, but for me, it's got to be good hard cardio, for 30 minutes (and that's after warming up).
posted by BrashTech at 9:14 AM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yep. This is what you are meant to do. It is totally normal and healthy.
posted by jbenben at 9:16 AM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another two-shift sleeper here. It's not a big deal if you don't create a bunch of anxiety around it.

11pm-midnight is a normal bedtime for a human adult, based on circadian rhythms. You should be getting sleepy then.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:36 AM on July 19, 2014

You say that you're not getting deep sleep — how do you know? Do you not feel rested when you wake? If you feel rested, then maybe the deep sleep is just a matter of how you perceive your sleep (apparently some sleep medications partially work by making people forget they were awake). It's probably easier to adapt to the sleep cycle you've got than to try to change your sleep cycle.

My understanding is that there are two types of sleepiness — homeostatic (I worked out a lot today and now I'm tired) and circadian (it's 11pm so it's time to sleep). The circadian rhythm will adjust over time to your sleep habits. It's helped along by exposure to light, especially blue light. There are lights you can buy to help with this, though I suspect that a blue or full spectrum light would work just as well.

I tend to look at a computer (which has a lot of blue light) until I go to bed, and I haven't noticed that it makes any difference to my sleep habits.

You could try moving your dinner time to a later hour. Again, it doesn't seem to work for me.

I've just started taking Wellbutrin for sleep issues, and I've noticed that now I sometimes feel sleepy (I just want to lie in bed) without feeling tired (my brain is worn out and I need to refresh it with sleep). Maybe that's what you're experiencing?
posted by Renegade Duck at 10:11 AM on July 19, 2014

Gonna jump on the bandwagon and say that it's perfectly normal for you to wake up in the middle of the night for a little while then sleep again. So long as you're not feeling sleepy during the day, I would stop stressing over it if I were you.
posted by patheral at 11:06 AM on July 19, 2014

If your goal is to spend more time awake, less time asleep and do more productive things with your time, I would suggest you get up earlier rather than try to stay up later. If you're going to bed at 11 or 12 and getting 8 hours of sleep in two blocks interrupted by a period of wakefulness, I don't see how that is even compatible with also "waking up pretty early in the morning."

Of course, I'm an old person and so my instinctive reaction is that going to sleep at 11 or 12 is pretty late already, that waking up at 7:00 am is "sleeping in," and that nothing of any merit is every accomplished by staying up after midnight.
posted by drlith at 11:52 AM on July 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Perfectly normal. Have an activity that you can do during that time that's soft, quiet, restful and that will allow you to fall back to sleep after an hour or so. I'd recommend books on tape or quiet, meditative pod casts.

Don't fret or freak out. Just roll with it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:19 PM on July 19, 2014

Take an 'air bath'.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:07 PM on July 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Anecdote: as soon as I learned about Ben Franklin and the "air bath," I've done it and I like it. It depends on weather - I always sleep au naturel, but I will point a fan on me or (I'm lucky enough to have a completely secluded patio) go sit outside for a few minutes or, if it's really hot out, take a cold washcloth to bed.

Getting my core temp down a smidge seems to really make a difference in the quality of my second sleep. Apparently some recent studies back me up that a cold room makes for better metabolic outcomes.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:45 PM on July 19, 2014

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