I can't Sleep!
January 12, 2016 7:58 AM   Subscribe

I'm a 34 year old woman, physically fit and active and I cannot sleep through the night.... ever. Help.

The pattern is the same every night. I fall asleep no problem. I'll be in a strong sleep for about 3 hours and then I'm wide awake at around 1am. I toss and turn and toss and turn until about 4am.
Then I fall into a good sleep until my alarm goes off at 5am.

I am not exaggerating when I say I cannot remember the last time I slept through the night without disruption... maybe once in the last 4 years?

I've always been a light sleeper and a "worried" sleeper. I don't like wearing ear plugs in case that means I miss something bad happening - like burglars (I know that sounds stupid but I'm being serious!)
Husband snores sometimes - it's been bad this last week or so, and I ended up in the spare room last night.

I start work at 7am and have a 45 minute commute, so I do need to be up at 5am. However, this means I'm exhausted by about 9.30pm and this is my usual bedtime... perhaps I'm going to sleep too early?

Alcohol intake is moderate and pretty non-existent during the weekdays (I know alcohol disrupts sleep patterns, and I actually stopped drinking for the whole month of November and this had no effect on my ability to sleep through the night)

Is there anything I can do to help sleep consistently a bit better? - I'm absolutely exhausted today and at my wits end quite frankly. Apart from ear plugs and sleeping pills, is there anything I can do to try and help sleep through the night? Any natural remedies? Any advice?
posted by JenThePro to Health & Fitness (42 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
One thing that has helped me a little is doing yoga before bed (this DVD). I feel your pain...
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:04 AM on January 12, 2016

The amino acid L-Glutamine. Comes in a powder form. 100% guaranteed results, look it up :))
posted by jbenben at 8:08 AM on January 12, 2016

The things that have helped me the most are white noise (either a fan or an app on my phone) and taking a magnesium/calcium supplement right before bed.
posted by belladonna at 8:09 AM on January 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

What's your caffeine intake like? I sleep so much better since switching from coffee and lattes to green tea. I also never drink caffeine in the afternoon unless I need to stay awake later than usual.

Somewhere between "natural remedy" and "sleeping pills" - I recommend melatonin, if you have't already tried it. I usually take 1mg at bedtime (more than that and I'm likely to have nightmares).

Finally, I use an app called Sleep Cycle. One of the most valuable things it does it allow me to enter variables for each day - such as "Drank coffee," "Stressful day," "Had a headache at bedtime," "Exercised," etc. Over time it calculates the effect these variables have on your sleep quality. It's fairly accurate and pretty cool.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:10 AM on January 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am a worried sleeper and yeah it's a mess. I sleep with ear plugs in which is helpful but there are also white noise machines that you can run on a phone that can help mask sounds. At some point you may just have to do triage on which concerns are most important to you

- sleeping through the night
- sleeping with your husband (if he is noisy)
- sleeping with ears plugged
- using sleep aids (melatonin, benadryl, ambien)

A few things helped me turn a corner with this stuff. Just tossing it out there.

1. Exercise. I sleep better when I get regular exercise and so am a little "tired out" before bed
2. No screens right before bed, have a wind down routine, if I wake up in the middle of the night, no screens
3. Sleeping pills if I am traveling and *need* to sleep
4. Anti-anxiety meds/therapy (I appreciate and respect that you are afraid of burglars but it's an irrational fear and addressing the level of anxiety you have may help that AND your slee)
5. Mindfulness meditation specifically sleep related

It's counteruntuitive but I found if I worked harder to NOT think when I was up in the middle of the night (a few different techniques, but I view my mind as a Pong playfield and try to bat intrusive thoughts away so I am looking at a blank screen) I could get back to sleep because I was legit tired it's just my anxious mind felt awake, but actually wasn't. Worrying about not sleeping is hard to not do but it's actually the things (for me) that is keeping you awake. Finding a few count-sheep things to put the sleep-worry away, even though it's more work than worrying, had great results for me.
posted by jessamyn at 8:13 AM on January 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

This book is fantastic and may help you identify some potential issues you haven't thought of yet. The author is a lifelong insomniac who has tried All the Things to get normal sleep. Reading it helped me realize that some people are just shitty sleepers and I'm one of them, and after I read it I ended up going to the doctor and asking for medication. I know it seems like a dramatic step, but sleep meds are not as scary/side-effect-y as you probably think they are. I've taken something for sleep for over five years now with no increase in tolerance and I don't have any side effects at all. My life is infinitely better taking a pill to sleep than it was as a drug-free insomniac.
posted by something something at 8:13 AM on January 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

Talk to your doctor and ask about a referral to a sleep clinic. If you live in or near a major metro area, there will be one or more near by. This has been going on for years and is affecting your health. It's a medical issue.

They will conduct a sleep study on you first, which is typically a journaling exercise and may involve you coming into the facility and sleeping there while they monitor you.

There are lots of things that could contribute to this, including physical issues, mood and anxiety, as well as what's called "sleep hygiene", routine, exercises and avoiding stimuli before bed. Sometimes getting help is a good way to figure all that out.
posted by bonehead at 8:15 AM on January 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

FYI - Melatonin helps you fall asleep by signaling to your body it's "sleepy time." L-Glutamine helps you stay asleep. After a night of heavy drinking, you actually pop awake when your body is done metabolizing the alcohol and used up all of the L-Glutamine in your system.

I had terrible trouble both falling asleep + staying asleep. Melatonin & L-Glutamine have given me my life back. Seriously.
posted by jbenben at 8:16 AM on January 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

Honestly? In your situation, I would talk to a sleep doctor. You may have a sleep disorder. Insomnia is a symptom of sleep apnea for some people.

In addition to apnea (which can occur in people of all genders, weights, and fitness levels), it's also possible you have UARS, which is more common in women and those of normal weight. If it's possible, make sure your sleep doctor and lab are willing to diagnose/treat UARS. It's a relatively new diagnosis and not everyone is.
posted by pie ninja at 8:16 AM on January 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Google "sleep hygiene" and you'll get a list of things you should do, such as avoiding blue light before bed, ensuring your room is completely dark, not using your bed for anything but sleep, getting up at the same time every day, etc. Try following ALL of them religiously for a month, ideally while sleeping separately from your husband, and see if that has an effect. If it does, you can experiment to see what you need to stick with.

If none of that works, the next step most therapists would try would be sleep restriction, only allowing yourself a certain amount of time in bed per night. This sucks and was ineffective for me, but is very helpful for a lot of people, so is worth trying if typical sleep hygiene doesn't work.
posted by metasarah at 8:16 AM on January 12, 2016

We take a magnesium before we go to bed - I think 500mg. My partner also takes melatonin, but I don't, as I don't normally have trouble falling asleep. The magnesium helps you go back to sleep more easily when you wake up - it's been really helpful for both of us.
posted by needlegrrl at 8:34 AM on January 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

My wife wears earplugs because I snore and it helps her immensely. She says she's fine doing that because knowing that I can hear and will wake up eases any anxieties she has. Consider allowing your husband to take up burglar listening duties and wear earplugs or moving to the spare bedroom.

I take magnesium citrate right before bed (distinguished from magnesium oxide) and I find that helps me sleep much more deeply and through the night.

Melatonin works for me as well but I find it makes me groggy in the morning unless I half the tablets.
posted by Karaage at 8:40 AM on January 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason other than their stigma why you aren't considering prescription sleeping pills as an option? I've been taking a very low dose of an older antidepressant that is mostly prescribed as a sleep aid now for a couple of months and I've gone from constantly "exhausted and at my wits end" to waking up fully rested every day. Sleep aids have a bad reputation and the first one I tried did not work well for me, but I've had no side effects with this one at all.
posted by raisindebt at 8:45 AM on January 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

Oh, and I emphasize this because my sleep patterns used to be similar to yours and I tried all (literally all!) of the supplements that have been listed so far in this thread without positive results.
posted by raisindebt at 8:46 AM on January 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

On one small facet of your sleep issues:
I too have a 5am wake up time. I go to bed at 9pm. That gives me theoretically eight hours of sleep which is not too much for me, but YMMV.
posted by sciencegeek at 8:47 AM on January 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Nth sciencegeek - I have a 5:30 a.m. wake up time and go to bed at 09:30 p.m. So your bed time sounds kind of normal to me?
posted by coffee_monster at 8:51 AM on January 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

How do you sleep on nights when you don't have any obligations the next day?
posted by poffin boffin at 8:52 AM on January 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a sleep PA but not your sleep PA, of course. If at all possible go see a sleep medicine specialist. This may or not apply to you but I see it often with my consults and sometimes here on the green that people are kind of in denial that there may be a problem other than INSOMNIA. Sure there is such a thing as Primary Insomnia but this is not common at all. Usually it is caused by something else (a breathing disorder- yes even in young fit people, movement disorders, circadian disorders, psycophysiological insomnia, untreated anxiety/depression). While all the suggestions here have good value in some cases of insomnia there just isn't enough information in your question for anyone to tell you why you can't sleep or what to do about it. Good luck. Insomnia sucks.
posted by teamnap at 9:30 AM on January 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

I would discuss with your doctor, restless sleeping is a symptom. Mine was anxiety, that devolved into panic attacks. That's no fun. At all.

Sleep in a different room. Having your own, quiet room to sleep unmolested by noise is a blessing. Husbunny and I each have our own beds in our own rooms. We have a wonderful marriage and we sleep fantastically.

We have a sleep ritual, where we get together with the cats in the big bed, we watch an episode or two of The Simpsons, and pet the cats. Then he goes to his room, I stay in the big bed. Then I snore my head off and he puts his CPAP on and sleeps very well.

I do urge you to explore how anxiety might be disturbing your sleep. Here's how it looked in my case: Exhausted all the time. Fell asleep relatively early only to wake at about 3 in the morning. I'd try to fall back asleep, but there would be a stupid pop song in my head and it would play over and over. I'd start to worry about tasks at work, or money, or something someone said to me, and as the song wound itself over and over again in my brain, I'd start to feel a panic attack. Then I'd have a panic attack.

Most unpleasant. I now take a low dose of Celexa and half a Trazodone for sleep and I sleep very well and wake up perky.

Just a thought
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:34 AM on January 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Sleep maintenance insomnia" is a thing to Google.

(The evidence that "sleep hygiene" works is relatively poor/non-existent...)

I would try sleeping pills -- there's nothing about them that's going to be magically more bad for you than anything "natural" that actually works -- and see your doctor for a pretty thorough check-up to look for underlying physical causes.
posted by kmennie at 9:35 AM on January 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing sleep study - and I mean the kind that takes place in a sleep lab. My sleep apnea was diagnosed this way (after a home test missed it). CPAP has made a world of difference; and I can knock occasional insomnia to the curb with a hot epsom salts + essential oils (lavender and hops) bath, now that I am not suffocating in my sleep and waking myself up every night.

Women with sleep apnea often have more subtle symptoms than men do. I know my main symptom was severe insomnia.

Getting a thorough sleep test will also uncover any other issues (like restless leg syndrome) that might be disturbing your sleep. Not saying you have apnea, UARS, or RLS, but you want to rule all those out. You don't want to take sleep meds to just cover up a breathing or movement issue - I know that sleep meds made me feel worse when I had untreated apnea.

If your sleep test comes back normal, then you can go from there with the sleep meds. You can also try cognitive behavioral therapy - which by all accounts works as well or better than medications in the long term; often people find their best success by using sleep meds for a short time until the CBT kicks in.

And if you need separate beds in order to sleep well - then get separate beds! Being perpetually sleep-deprived and cranky can ruin a marriage far more than sleeping apart can.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:45 AM on January 12, 2016

You have a lot of challenges - habitually light sleeper with a snoring partner and needing to get up very early in the morning. You can try a lot of the sleep hygiene stuff but I'd strongly consider prescription pills. If anything you can think of them as a way of training your body into realizing what a good night's sleep is like so it can start doing it on its own.

I have massive sleep issues and new doctors are always trying to get me off prescription medicine - not because it's addictive or hurting me, just some puritanical no pills beliefs.

I don't always have TIME to do no screens after 10 and everything else I need to do and the Ambien is good security that i'll still sleep, even if I don't use it every night. Like just having some on hand helps. And I haven't had any morning grogginess, which I get from OTC stuff like ZQuil.
posted by sweetkid at 9:46 AM on January 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

This sounds horrible. I have had my own struggles with sleep. I rarely sleep through the night either but usually it's just a little wake-up now, not hours of tossing and turning.

Things to consider trying:
--sleep hygiene
--kicking your husband out of the bed (from the beginning, not the middle of the night when he's already woken you) or getting HIM evaluated for sleep apnea. My partner used to snore like a bear and it was terrible for my sleep and now he has a CPAP and I sleep 100x better than I used to.
--serious amounts of exhausting exercise--running 3-5 miles, 1 hour of Zumba, weightlifting for 45 minutes--any of these help me sleep better
--these ear plugs (I can still hear the alarm and outside noises but it muffles everything just enough. Also very comfortable. I wear the kid size.)
--taking an OTC sleep aid like Somenex for a few nights to break your cycle
--related to sleep hygiene: getting out of bed when you can't sleep and doing something quiet in a gentle light until you're sleepy again. The idea is that you train your body to associate the bed only with sleep and sex. (NO screens allowed!)
--cutting out caffeine altogether (I was shocked what a difference this made for me. And previously I was having one cup of coffee in the morning only.)
--no alcohol while you try all these things because despite your experimenting, I would say alcohol could interfere with these other things working for you
--going to bed even earlier (I know, what fun.) These folks have a thing about sleep cycles? http://sleepyti.me/
--getting a sleep study

Good luck.
posted by purple_bird at 9:51 AM on January 12, 2016

I have Oral Allergy Syndrome and have found that one of the most consistent (and subtle!) signs of an allergic reaction to food is disrupted sleep. Took me forever to figure it out, as sleep medications don't help. It's anecdotal, but possibly worth considering in addition to the advice above.
posted by zenzicube at 9:59 AM on January 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much to everyone so far for the wonderful advice.

In answer to a couple of questions;

How do you sleep on nights when you don't have any obligations the next day?
It's the same thing, awake in the middle of the night. Up in the am to feed the cats, but then I can go back to bed and usually get a solid 3 hours uninterrupted which is nice. But I'm still awake in the middle of the night

What's your caffeine intake like?
Really moderate - I'll have one cup of tea and one cup of coffee before 10am, but then that's it for the rest of the day

Is there a reason other than their stigma why you aren't considering prescription sleeping pills as an option?
honestly, not really - I just want to see if I can handle it another way rather than going the prescription med route. Obviously, as a last resort I'd be oK with that.

Consider allowing your husband to take up burglar listening duties
Sadly, he's the type of guy that would sleep through ANYTHING. Trust me on this one.... I can physically shake the man, yelling his name and he doesn't bat an eyelid.... so that's definitely part of the problem... I cannot rely on anyone else other than myself to hear burglars!! And if you've read my previous questions, you'll know that my lovely husband has a habit of (a) leaving the doors unlocked and (b) leaving his keys in the front door.... this definitely adds to my sleep stress levels I would say.

Again - thank you all so much! First on my list, Melatonin, Magnesium and L-Glutamine!
posted by JenThePro at 10:29 AM on January 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

At this point, you might have actually trained yourself to wake up in the middle of the night. However, I'm going to offer a suggestion that might seem silly (I thought it was before I tried it!) but it actually helped me from the wake-ups prompted by what your body registers as a danger. Here it is, hang a set of windchimes just inside your bedroom door. They do not have to be hung low enough so that the door hits them—however, have it hanging close enough to the door that they could be bumped by someone and/or chime from the rush of air if the door is opened quickly. Alternatively, you could hang a bell on your door (bedroom, front, hallway, whatever). It seems like this wouldn't help, but I found that giving your brain that reassurance that there is something else set up as an alert, then you're better able to shut off sensitivity to every single noise around you.
posted by Eicats at 10:55 AM on January 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I second somethingsomething's recommendation of Gayle Greene's Insomniac. It's maybe a little bit out of date at this point (I don't know for sure), and it does not provide any sort of universal solution, but that's because there is no universal solution.

But it does offer a good overview of the issue and a decent introduction to all the various ways of managing it. And just that sort of helped me acknowledge that it is a management thing. Insomnia, in most cases, is not a curable condition. It's just something that you need to work around and deal with. For me, I've found that nothing works long term, but I can cycle short term solutions and manage to get sort of enough sleep most of the time. I haven't taken Ambien because I have had issues with sleepwalking in the past, but I pretty much do everything else in spurts. The only other thing I can think of that I haven't seen recommended in this thread (unless I missed it) is indica-only pot, which is decriminalized in my state, if it's an option for you. As with the other things, I only use it every now and again, and just a teensy weensy little bit about 15-20 minutes before bedtime.

Do all the sort of low-level "sleep hygiene" things, too, just to increase your chances for success, but know that they aren't cures for chronic insomnia. So dim the lights well before bedtime, make sure your bed and any nightclothes are clean and comfortable, consider separate beds or bedrooms if that helps, don't be slamming espresso shots as nightcaps, and turn the volume down on the speed metal before you go to bed.

The only thing I can confidently tell you about your specific sleep problems is that your mileage will vary.

One other thing I want to mention is that you should research any sleep lab you go to. Greene covers this in the book, but there are some sleep labs that are set up for almost the sole purpose of diagnosing sleep apnea. I know someone who lugged around a CPAP machine that actually disrupted her sleep for years until she got a new doctor who looked at her results and told her the results didn't show apnea at all. And as soon as she stopped using it, she started sleeping better.

CPAPs obviously do help a lot of people who do have sleep apnea, so I'm not saying to rule it out, but they also have fairly low compliance rates, in that people prescribed them often don't use them long term. So try to find a general purpose sleep lab that can diagnose issues other than apnea as well.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:00 AM on January 12, 2016

Don't be afraid to play around with the Melatonin dosage too. Start with the lowest, of course, but I found I did better with a full 3 mg pill while my husband found half a pill too much.

Also, as a worried sleeper, I find that having something specific but low-stakes/fun for my brain to work on helps. When I was in school, I'd think about a tricky math problem (I liked math). Now I think about how I'd lay out a garden or decorate my new bathroom. Even if that's what I planned out the night before, I think about whatever project that's fun, relaxing and low-stake (so I don't get too caught up in it) or make one up (what I will spend my lottery winnings on. In fact, the more repetitive the better and faster I fall back asleep, it's almost meditative.
posted by ghost phoneme at 11:37 AM on January 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Talk to a doctor. Try to get a referral to a specialist, and let the specialist refer you (if necessary) for an overnight study. I was diagnosed with a sleep phase disorder and my sleep specialist prescribed Ambien. That worked for a while before going wrong for me (both in terms of tolerance, which is a common side effect, and in some weird sleep inertia, where I'd be half awake and unable to wake up fully from really freaky dreams). And then the sleep specialist mysteriously quit refilling the prescription AND wouldn't return my calls.

When I asked my GP for a referral to a different sleep specialist because of that lack of anything, he prescribed Trazodone for a short trial run. I'm still* taking it a year later. It hasn't presented either of the problems I had with Ambien and it generally results in me sleeping through the night without major interruption (and minor interruptions have been reduced by 25% or so according to my Fitbit). But I wouldn't have had either the Ambien or the Trazodone without talking to a doctor first.

* He also had me try Amitriptyline after the Trazodone, and that didn't help, so I went back to Trazodone. But it is an interactive process.

FWIW Melatonin didn't do a damn thing for me.
posted by fedward at 11:42 AM on January 12, 2016

For an experiment, set up your bedroom so that you can turn on a very low light, and not look into it directly. It should be just enough light that you can see to jot some notes down or read a book.

Go to bed early. Don't wait until you are exhausted. Eat a light supper so you are not famished, but maybe just a glass of milk.

Wait until you wake up in the middle of the night and when you realise you are awake turn the nightlight on.

Then pull out a notebook placed handy to your bed and start creating. It doesn't matter what you create, so long as it doesn't trigger real life anxieties. So write about your new life after you win the Powerball 1 billion, or create a business plan for your new bed and breakfast or your time travel tourism service, or create a dynasty of inbred genetic lines. Your creation should be largely mental, and should be amusing to you and should be something that you can keep doing for at least a week.

Instead of trying to go back to sleep, stay in bed and work on your creative project.

If you are just not a creative type, get some quite slow music like Chopin and use your insomnia for a special blissful music meditation period. Or dig out some old faithful books that you have read often enough that you love them and they don't excite you and reread them.

You may notice that you are horribly uncomfortable at some point, such as much too warm. It could be that your building ramps up the heat overnight when the temperature drops, and so does your personal metabolism so that you are absolutely cooking starting at midnight. Because you will be fully awake you might get some data that you are otherwise missing. It might be that your local airport changes flight paths after midnight and you are repeatedly being woken up by low flying landing jets. Or your spouse is going into deep sleep and his snoring is rattling the windows.

But probably you won't find anything like that. Probably it's just your rhythms. Because you went to bed early - 6:30? 7:30? you will hopefully get enough sleep by the time five A.M. rolls around. You will also get lots of nice progress on your creative project. This way you can regard middle of the night wakeful time as useful, productive time and not worry about going to sleep. A lot of the time people who are have trouble sleeping are so anxious about having trouble sleeping that they can't sleep properly. So the idea is to not worry about being awake, but regard it as a useful bonus. Insomnia is your opportunity to have creative time. Insomnia can be a gift.

It also happens that people who have trouble sleeping will sleep lightly and tell you that they were awake for hours and perceive it as hours - but they may actually be sleeping shallowly most of the time. If you find that you can't wake up to spend your three hours on the creative project that means that when you lie there shallowly asleep but aware enough to think you are fully awake you will be able to tell yourself honestly, no, I am only dreaming I am awake. I'm not really awake, and sooth yourself back to sleep.

Failing that a schedule where you take a nap in the early evening, say 6:30 to 8:30 and then stay up until eleven and sleep until five may assert itself and give you a better quality of sleep. You may need to adapt to broken sleep rather than expecting or trying to sleep for eight hours in a row.

I think you will find that if you can alter things enough to look forward to your insomnia, it will either cure itself, or become something you look forward to.
posted by Jane the Brown at 11:48 AM on January 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just came back to say: I urge you to get your husband to do a sleep study. I remember your questions about forgetting to lock doors and the smoke-filled living room. The forgetfulness, snoring and insanely deep sleep might be related! Wishing you both good health.
posted by purple_bird at 11:55 AM on January 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

i'm going to take a hormonal approach:

you either have too much or too little of something in your system that's causing you to sleep so lightly. i would guess that either your cortisol levels are up or you're low in one of the following: Magnesium, Melatonin, GABA, L-Taurine, L-Theanine and 5-HTP.
Does insomnia run in your family? has this been a thing since childhood? Find out what the cause is before you try the million and one sleep techniques.
posted by kinoeye at 12:53 PM on January 12, 2016

I'm an anxious sleeper, too, though I mostly worry about my alarm not going off. However, I can definitely feel a difference between days I had caffeine (even before 10 am) and days I hadn't, so could you try a week without?
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:55 PM on January 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

If stress about burglars is causing you so much anxiety that you don't want to use earplugs or sleep aids, and you can't trust your husband to safely lock down the house, you can get a house alarm that tells you when any door or window is opened. My mom has one, and even when it's not set to call the police/fire dept when it's armed at night or when she's gone, it announces every door or window that gets opened. It's pretty loud -- enough that I can still hear it through earplugs.

It might be a little expensive, but geez, I would be antsy too if I knew there were keys often left in the front door.
posted by ananci at 1:09 PM on January 12, 2016

It's helpful to understand that body rhythms are habitual. If you eat something sweet at 3:30pm three days in a row, you'll be dying for something sweet at that time on the fourth day, and as you keep indulging that craving, your body will keep enforcing the pattern by looking for it every day at that time. Your body tries really hard to accommodate you, so anything you do a few days in a row quickly becomes a new status quo your body will helpfully strive to enforce.

There are two possibilities: 1. something deep is altering your sleep, or 2. some random bit of poor digestion or stressful thinking changed your sleep pattern for a couple of nights, and your body concluded that this is the new normal, and is persistently complying.

#2 is much more likely. So for the next few nights, don't get up, don't turn on the light, don't read. Stay prone, and patiently await sleep (trick: let your thoughts drain into the pillow). Your body will get the message, and eventually restore to the old pattern. Understand that its reluctance is just its faithful attempt to give you what it thinks you want (as established via prior activity pattern). It's not a bug, it's a feature. So just gently guide a new habit, and expect resistance for a few days. But don't give in....if you get up, you're sending your body mixed signals, and your sleep will be further messed up (until you offer consistent feedback over the course of 3-4 days).


There are lots of people in their mid 30's and 40's who start experiencing this more and more often. It turns out this is the way most people once slept. Sleeping through the night in one unbroken slumber is a relatively new thing. It's only a problem if you're not getting enough total sleep (and are sleepy during daytime), in which case try pulling back your bed time. Rather than black out all the time in terms of productivity, you can get some reading and email correspondence done during your "intermission".
posted by Quisp Lover at 2:10 PM on January 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Go to bed early enough to get a full seven to eight hours if you are up for about an hour in the middle of the night.

Get over your anxiety about waking up, by embracing it as a given. The main thing is to relax about it.

Do all the right sleep hygiene stuff.

When you wake in the middle of the night, have an Audible book or boring ass podcast to play for fifteen-30 minutes on the lowest possible volume where you can still listen to it, but it won't keep you awake if you doze off. (My go-to's are very boring classics, and old timey detective radio shows.) The key is to not turn on a light, though getting up to drink a bit of water or go to the bathroom is okay.

If there's a worry about waking up your husband or he's waking you up, then it's time for your own bed.
posted by RedEmma at 2:14 PM on January 12, 2016

I do music instead of audio books or podcasts. I created a Pandora channel for myself of acoustic music. I try to listen to it intently, the way one might listen to every word of an audio book. I am a musical illiterate so it doesn't send me off on tangents the way listening to words often does. I just lie still and listen and generally go back to sleep. (Unless I was really stupid and ate a brownie for dessert.)
posted by mareli at 2:45 PM on January 12, 2016

I might have missed it but one part of sleep hygiene that I haven't seen mentioned yet is to not stay in bed too long after you've woken up. It's part of the "bed is only for sleep and sex" rationale. As much as I hate doing it, especially in winter, I do find it very effective.

The idea is that if you stay in bed but not asleep then you're training yourself to do just that which is not what you want. So, if you're not asleep again after about 20 minutes then get up and do something restful under warm low light. One helpful thing it does for me is that getting up makes me realise how tired I actually am. I also find it just resets things somehow usually. If I'm really worried about something it may not work well, but otherwise it's good. I find it just as effective if I watch TV actually, though people generally warn against this.

As for generally getting back to sleep after waking up, I have found different things worked at different times in my life but the current one is a very loose and simple kind of breathing meditation. Basically I just focus my attention on my breathing. Sounds kind of nothing, and it never used to work for me, but it does now. What I used to do was try to emulate the process that seems to occur as we drift off anyway which is to engage in a pleasant but not overly exciting narrative. Like playing a movie in your mind. That worked really well for a long time.
posted by mewsic at 3:06 PM on January 12, 2016

Magnesium citrate before bed (400-500mg). Heavenly!
posted by rumbles at 2:10 PM on January 13, 2016

This is an awesome thread. I am a similar type of sleeper.

My experience:
Melatonin works well for falling asleep, but that's not my problem. It's staying asleep. I often wake after 5 or 6 hours. I suspect it's partially anxiety, I don't wake up the same way on weekends, but sometimes I do on vacation.

I've tried ZMA and GABA and Valerian root. None were terribly effective. I've found that pantothenic acid helps me get a good night's rest. I've also taken to using blue blocker glasses if I have to be in front of a screen before bed. They're helpful.

I've also accepted that I'm going to wake in the middle of the night. I'd like to think I'm just "paleo"-sleeping.
posted by Borborygmus at 7:36 AM on January 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you considered depression as a possibility? Being able to get to sleep but not stay asleep is a potential symptom.
posted by orsonet at 6:36 PM on January 15, 2016

I think most of the basics are covered, in case I missed it, make sure your bedroom is dark and cool, use more blankets if needed but keep the room cool. A doc told me recently that she read a study where plain old tylenol was found to help because it lowers your body temp and something about that signals sleepy time. She suggested taking a dose when you wake up, get out of bed for 20-30 min, have activities lined up that reduce stress or bore you (being pissed about being awake=hard to fall back asleep) and wait for the sleepy feeling to hit. I have pretty good luck on and off from skullcap drops to help quiet the racing thoughts. There is probably a combination that will help you, and ritual and routine will also add their weight if you find something that appeals. Good luck.
posted by eggkeeper at 9:47 PM on January 18, 2016

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