Having fun, but lacking sleep (still)
June 3, 2016 8:10 PM   Subscribe

I am 26. I keep waking up at 3 am. I may have to give up my hobby and start going to bed early to compensate. Please help me process this.

So back in September, I asked this question about trying to balance my social life and hobby (which are pretty much one and the same at this moment, as it was back then) with my sleep. It wasn't just on improv nights that I wasn't sleeping well, though. Pretty soon, it translated to every night.

Since that posting in September, when I had tried all the sleep hygiene fixes you can think of, I have also tried two rounds of sleep restriction, gone to a sleep center, had two sleep studies done and found out that I have moderate obstructive sleep apnea.

Eureka! I thought. Finally, an explanation for the insomnia! If I'm compliant with the CPAP therapy, everything will be hunky-dory!

Well, it hasn't happened that way. Seven weeks into CPAP, and I'm still experiencing the 3 am wake-ups I mentioned in my September post. I can usually get back to sleep, though it's usually a light, unrefreshing sleep, so I often wake up still feeling tired. After reading this thread about segmented sleep, I'm thinking maybe I have that, rather than insomnia?

Some users remarked that they compensate for their segmented sleep by going to bed around 9 pm or 10 pm at the latest. I'm afraid I may have to do the same.

But in the process, I'm going to have to give up my main hobby, and pretty much my current friend group, too. Improv practice happens at the same time each Wednesday and ends around 9:30 pm. Practice leaves me wired, and on those nights, it takes me awhile to fall asleep. I thought at first that I could get by with losing a certain amount of sleep each week, but I can tell it's really been affecting me. It seems like most Fridays I am so tired at work. (I think it may be the phenomenon that happens when you don't sleep well one night, feel fine the following day, but feel really tired the day after that.)

And my sleep problems have done a number on me, both emotion-wise and energy-wise. Some days I'm so moody and depressed, due to the brain fog, that part of me wants to cry, but I'm too tired to even do that. Some days I feel a brain fog all day. Other days I feel a fog when I wake up, but it clears as time goes on (conveniently I seem most alert when it's time to leave work). And on some rare, glorious days, I feel awake and everything's great. Usually it's the former two. The latter doesn't happen as much. Maybe if I were really disciplined about going to bed at the same time every night, I'd have more alert days.

I don't think asking the group to move to another time is an option, because our current day and time was what worked the best for everybody's schedule. So as much as I hate to give up a hobby and what's right now my primary friend group, I think, for the sake of feeling normal again, I may have to. At the very least, I may try going without improv for three or four weeks and seeing what happens.

Whenever the thought of giving up improv crossed my mind in the past, I pushed the thought aside. In the past, I thought that whatever sleep problems I was having shouldn't rule my life. But now, nine months after that initial post, I'm not so sure. I guess I'm just wondering where the line is between not letting a certain health issue rule your life vs. making the painful but necessary sacrifices for the sake of your health.

And I think part of my dread about giving improv and my friends up is the fact that I'm pretty shy and it takes me awhile to make new friends, so maybe the reason this feels so terrible is because a small part of me is going "THESE ARE THE ONLY FRIENDS YOU'LL HAVE EVER."

Which of course I know is not true, but I still hate this because not only am I giving up friends and a hobby, I'm also going to have to dedicate most of my evenings to winding down and getting ready for bed, around the same time when most people my age are out socializing (or improvising).

How can I feel better about this?

And, because I know someone will wonder this: yes, I have anxiety and moderate depression. And no, I'm not taking medication for either. I've heard they can interfere with sleep, so meds haven't really been a solution I've been looking into, but if you have had a similar experience with early morning wake-ups and medication helped you, by all means, please let me know!
posted by dean_deen to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I wonder if your friends at the improv group may be more open to changing nights than you'd think. Wednesday night may be kind of inconvenient for everybody, since it's a work/school night. Maybe some (or all) of the group would be receptive to changing nights, or starting a separate Friday or Sunday night thing. Or perhaps it could be shifted to an earlier time on Wednesdays. It couldn't hurt to bring it up.

You can make new friends, but if you've got friends already that's not something to give up lightly! Maybe you could hang out with some of these people outside of the group. Don't assume that giving up these regular meetings will mean you have to never see these folks again.

Bad sleep is the worst, and you have my sympathies. I've been waking up a lot lately too, but in my case it's probably connected to one my many meds. Ambien knocks me out and helps me sleep through the night. It's not something you wanna take every night, but maybe you could take it on Wednesdays when you get home from the group, so you'll be more likely to sleep through the night.

I get why you've reached this point where you feel like you have to give up this thing you love for the sake of your health, but I don't think you've tried all the possibilities. I think you should do some more experimenting before you give up something that makes you happy.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:44 PM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

are you peeing when you wake up at 3am before you try to go back to sleep?
posted by Jacqueline at 9:32 PM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I go through phases of waking early and having what I think is sporadic or light sleep the rest of the night. During those periods, I tend to go to bed earlier the next night (more like 10pm than 9pm - my usual sleep time is around midnight).

But hey, don't cancel your improv class! Sounds like you love it. It's one night a week. So if you're okay with early nights the rest of the week, but Wednesdays are different, that's probably okay. For most people, jet lag doesn't kick in until you've traveled across more than 3 time zones. (And actual jet lag is worse because you've got travel fatigue to factor into the mix)

If you don't feel the effects of sleep deprivation on Thursday, but feel them on Friday, then maybe you could just accept that Fridays are the day that you focus on getting the tedious stuff done - the stuff that doesn't require huge amounts of brain power or concentration but still needs to be done. I designate certain tasks as "Friday afternoon tasks" - not only does that help me get through Fridays but also makes me leave for the weekend feeling like I've been productive, having cleared out a lot of boring-but-necessary work and freeing me up for the onslaught on Monday! I work an office job though. Nothing urgent ever happens on a Friday. If you're a neurosurgeon, this is really bad advice! :-)
posted by finding.perdita at 9:37 PM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hello, fellow awake-at-3AM person! I often wake up at 3AM (usually with my body sending "you need to pee" signals) and have trouble falling asleep. What seems to work best for me is to (after getting up and peeing, because trying to override that signal seems hopeless) get into a comfortable position in bed and then lie there, silently reciting the metta meditation chant. When I realize I've gotten distracted into thoughts, I return to the chant.

Sometimes my mind gets so tired and bored with the chant I fall asleep. If I don't, and instead stay in that (annoying) drifting wakeful state, when I do have to get up I feel better for having spent the time focusing on metta instead of whatever my brain might have chosen to obsess about.
posted by Lexica at 11:36 PM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you have anxiety and depression, I suggest trying to find a good psychiatrist. I have insomnia/early waking due to anxiety and depression, and Celexa has helped me TREMENDOUSLY. It does affect my sleep by making me way more sleepy, but for me, that's a benefit b/c of my insomnia. If I do still wake up (3 am right now, in fact), it is also much easier to fall back to sleep; my mind no longer gets in an anxiety spiral, like it did pre-drugs. Good luck; I feel your pain!
posted by bookworm4125 at 3:17 AM on June 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would try two things before resigning yourself to changing or leaving your improv group -- first, your strategy of taking a couple weeks off from the improv group where you go to sleep at the same time every night? ("Hey, guys, I'll be back in July, but I'm taking a couple weeks away to cope with this health stuff.") Second, if you're too wired to sleep one night a week and you're having these resultant problems, I think that's a totally reasonable use case for some kind of medication for just those nights -- whether that's a sleep aid (from OTC benadryl to Rx ambien) or some form of now-and-then anti-anxiety drug (I imagine like a benzo but I don't really know) that helps you calm down and incidentally aids in sleep -- that's compatible with your CPAP treatment. There are also sleep aids that help you stay asleep, which maybe is what you're after.

I personally would do them in the other order -- talk to my doctor about these Wednesday nights and how they're super-important for my well-being and mental health to be with these friends, but it's sort-of wrecking my physical health because I'm so wired I can't sleep after -- and see if a sleep aid would help one night a week. And then if I tried a couple of those and it didn't work, I'd try taking a couple weeks to a month off and see if the more drastic life changes would help.

I do think talking to a doctor about the anxiety and depression piece could be fruitful, especially as a longer-term solution. The other thing that I've heard people try is taking melatonin supplements, which there seem to be two strategies for -- taking them half an hour before bed to get sleepy, or taking them a few hours before bed to build up the "sleep hormone" in the body. (I never had luck with melatonin but I know other people who did.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:57 AM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Are you peeing when you wake up at 3 am before you try to go back to sleep?

Nope, I just wake up!

I do think talking to a doctor about the anxiety and depression piece could be fruitful, especially as a longer-term solution. The other thing that I've heard people try is taking melatonin supplements, which there seem to be two strategies for -- taking them half an hour before bed to get sleepy, or taking them a few hours before bed to build up the "sleep hormone" in the body. (I never had luck with melatonin but I know other people who did.)

Yeah, I may need to look into visiting a psychiatrist. I've tried melatonin, Zzzquil, Ambien and trazadone over the past year, with varying levels of success. If I'm wired, melatonin and Zzzquil don't work, although I've only taken melatonin right before bed, so taking it a few hours earlier may be something to try. I can't remember the exact effect Ambien had on me, but I know it had little enough effect that I only took it once or twice (still have some, though, so maybe I will try it for awhile as a once-a-week thing.) Trazadone stuffed me up something awful.

Reading over everybody's answers, I agree that the taking-a-break-for-a-month thing should be a last resort, because I'm going to grad school in the fall and ideally it would be nice to spend the last few months that I'm here with my friends. Sometimes when I have really bad sleep-deprived days (like yesterday), I think I must do whatever it takes to get better sleep and I go to bed resolved that I have to give improv up. Then I wake up the next day feeling a bit better (like today) and I think, "No way can I give up improv!"

It's happened enough times that it's become a pattern though, so it's useful to get everyone's feedback.

I may try adding sleep-promoting foods like pumpkin seeds and tart cherry juice to my diet and see if that also makes a difference.
posted by dean_deen at 5:26 AM on June 4, 2016

Have you tried taking naps on non-improv days? I realize it's not ideal, but maybe it's something to try.

Also, if there were some way to get deep sleep after your 3 AM up time, that might help. Have you tried getting back into bed, reassuring yourself that you've done everything you can do, everything is as fine as it should be, you have friends...then falling asleep. Probably you've already tried this, but I thought I'd mention it just in case.

Also: making lists sometimes helps me when I can't sleep. Or at least it used to; I haven't tried for a while.
posted by amtho at 5:32 AM on June 4, 2016

Do you have any flexibility in your work hours? For example, I work in an office where the norm is 8:30-5 but if I explained that I was having issues with sleep, they would definitely let me shift to 7-3:30 or something similar. You're awake early anyway, and that way by the time the worst comes, you're finishing your workday. It might even leave you time for a nap on improv night.
posted by scrute at 6:59 AM on June 4, 2016

Can you use Benadryl or something similar to fall deeply asleep on Improv nights?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:44 AM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

At risk of stating the obvious, which I assume you've already thought of, what happens if you go to bed really good and early on the nights you're not doing improv?
posted by penguin pie at 8:06 AM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

It seems like you're leaving anyway, so maybe this is just going to work itself out.

I'm concerned you maybe have sleep problems even aftet that.

1st, it's normal to have a middle of the night wakeup. Our ancestors used to spend a couple hours awake in the middle of the night. It's our natural rhythm. Try to accomidate that extra time on nights you can.

Second, if you'd like to have more control, start meditating. This is not a quick fix, but it can help you calm your mind and body quickly so you can get to sleep and back to sleep without drugs. It can also help those prone to anxiety and depression feel better like all the time. I can't recommend it enough for what you're describing, as it may come in handy down the road as well.
posted by Kalmya at 8:34 AM on June 4, 2016

Could you leave improve an hour early? You don't mention what time it starts, but if it's something like 7-9:30, maybe just go from 7 to 8:30?
posted by CathyG at 8:48 AM on June 4, 2016

On the nights when i wake up at 2a.m. and can't get back to sleep until about 6, I'm usually really under-hydrated. Also contributes to major brain fog. Up your water intake (earlier in the day), especially when/just before rising and see if that helps. Good luck!
posted by kate4914 at 10:07 AM on June 4, 2016

I try to avoid naps, since they mess with my sleep around bedtime. Benadryl only works when I'm in a relaxed mindset.

I've always given up meditation over the frustration that I can't seem to reach that mindless nirvana, but that may also be worth a try.

I'll also try drinking water first thing in the morning.

Thankfully, my workplace is pretty lax around what hours you come in, so maybe I should start coming in earlier. I guess I've been very attached to this idea that I need to do things around the same time as everyone else, so maybe getting there early would be a good option. Probably shifting my mental attitude around these things might be the best solution in the interim.

Admittedly, I am very bad about mindlessly surfing the internet or checking Facebook to unwind at night, even when I am tired and could go to bed, so I guess I also need to work on my self-discipline about going to bed when I'm feeling sleepy, and not holding out for the latest status update.

It can be tough, though. Last night I was so tired, but I was also feeling anxious about trying to come up with a way to resolve my sleep issues, so instead of going to bed early I wrote this question instead. It's a vicious cycle of anxiety feeding into bad sleep habits, and also my bad sleep habits feeding into my anxiety.
posted by dean_deen at 10:49 AM on June 4, 2016

Maybe try the Healthy Sleep Formula.
posted by LoveHam at 11:04 AM on June 4, 2016

Benadryl is an anti-cholinergic, so look up the recent worries about that class of drugs if you don't know about it already. That said, sleep is important, so it may well be worth it.
posted by amtho at 2:37 PM on June 4, 2016

« Older Head-to-head code testing platforms?   |   I've been evicted--now what? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.