How do you get back to sleep?
November 21, 2019 10:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm a light sleeper who has difficulty going back to sleep. Teach me how to do this. Difficulty: Newborn.

I generally have no difficulty getting to sleep at the start of the night. My basic routine is to read (on a non-backlight Kindle), inevitably start to yawn within 10 minutes, turn out the light, and fall asleep pretty quickly. But if I wake up in the night, there's a good chance I'm up for an hour or two before getting back to sleep, and sometimes I don't get back to sleep at all.

I am a light sleeper. Our bedroom is dark and I sleep with earplugs, but some waking up in the middle of the night is inevitable. My general routine when this happens is to go to the bathroom if necessary, then go back to bed and try to fall asleep the same way I do at the beginning of the night. If it doesn't seem like it's happening, I will read, though this time in the dark, on my phone, with dark mode on and the brightness on the lowest possible setting.

We're expecting a baby in February! This is great. But I am concerned about getting enough sleep. I know that sleep deprivation is inevitable, but I'd like to limit it as possible, and my ability to return to sleep seems like a rough spot.

How do you get back to sleep?
posted by benbenson to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I've had luck lulling my brain in quietude with the cognitive shuffle (serial diverse imaging).

I would suggest skipping the phone reading, even with its nighttime-friendlier settings and try something more like sudoku or a crossword or word-find.

Also, how do you and your partner plan to split up care of the newborn? Alternate nights? Early & late shifts? Is there any way you can have the 'off' person sleeping in a different location, like on the couch, away from the baby?
posted by carrioncomfort at 11:07 AM on November 21, 2019 [7 favorites]

I mostly have the same problem, but when I had a baby, I never had trouble getting back to sleep after getting up for the baby. Maybe it's because I was so tired, or maybe there's some chemical released in the body from baby snuggles.
posted by beyond_pink at 11:38 AM on November 21, 2019 [7 favorites]

Have you tried podcasts? BBC's "In Our Time" never fails me. (They actually have very interesting topics, but there's something so soothing about Oxford-accented voices explaining allll the details of, say, Picts during the Roman invasion...)
posted by gakiko at 11:46 AM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm also a light sleeper, and I've found that any kind of ambient light makes it difficult for me to sleep. Including artificial light from outside in the middle of the night, such as streetlamps.

I've started sleeping with a mask on and I sleep much better and fall back asleep much faster, especially in the early hours of the morning.
posted by mekily at 11:48 AM on November 21, 2019

If you are biologically female, I believe hormones make you sleep lightly as part of nature's desire to help you keep your baby alive, and to not crush the baby during night feeds. If you are not biologically female, please keep this in mind as your partner will struggle with sleep issues as well as an evolutionary imperative and help take responsibility for making sure that you both get opportunities to reduce the sleep debt.

Calm app has some good recordings that a lot of people find helpful for sleep including some ASMR stuff.

I agree with the idea that whoever is not on night duty sleeps in a different room. Blackout curtains, ear plugs and sleep masks help reduce the chance of environmental disruptions. Magnesium and L-thianine can support mental relaxation.
posted by crunchy potato at 12:02 PM on November 21, 2019

What works well for me is some variation on counting/reciting the alphabet alternately forward and backward. Like A-100, B-99, C-98 . . . or 1-Z, 2-Y, 3-X. Or alternating letters and numbers: A, 2, C, 4, E, 6 . . . Things like that require just enough concentration to keep you from thinking about anything else, but aren't interesting enough to keep you awake.

But having a newborn is a whole different ballgame. When my daughter was tiny, I remember being totally exhausted but also having a terrible time getting to sleep or getting back to sleep because I never knew when the baby would wake me up again and I felt such pressure to fall asleep immediately so I could get as much sleep as possible (and then I'd think maybe I heard her.) What will help you the most once you have the baby is having periods when your partner is explicitly on duty and you know you won't have to get up. But make sure your partner is getting plenty of that, too.
posted by Redstart at 12:24 PM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I use a guided meditation for sleep -- it's a fairly random half hour long track I found on spotify, but there are a ton on youtube or whatever, as well. I find the soothing voice is enough to short-circuit my lizard brain and let me sleep. I mostly use it when I first go to bed and am stressed about something, but I sometimes use it when I wake up in the middle of the night and can't easily go back to sleep.

The critical thing is that I turn on my phone only long enough to start the track on Spotify and then turn off the screen. The blue light is just a problem.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:46 PM on November 21, 2019

Melatonin can help you to stay asleep.
posted by Splunge at 1:20 PM on November 21, 2019

Your sleep changes a lot when you are a new parent. It's such a disruption, I don't know how you could meaningfully prepare or project issues now into the future. One amazing thing is that I was a fairly heavy sleeper, but baby sounds, even the little pre-cries would wake me up. Even on not much sleep. And I got way better at falling asleep, and even napping during the day when I could. Maybe practice napping from time to time before baby arrives?

One thing that helped was soft, dim lighting in the areas where we needed to do things when baby woke in the night. Above the kitchen sink, the bathroom, near the change table, etc. When one of us got up in the night, the other didn't have to turn on big lights and disturb the sleeper. Do some decluttering before baby arrives so there are fewer tripping hazards around.
posted by thenormshow at 1:21 PM on November 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

I've said this before on the Blue (and the Green) but I got in the habit of practicing the NATO alphabet while falling asleep, and unlike the normal alphabet which I can recite quickly and mindlessly, the NATO alphabet takes just enough concentration that it keeps THAT PART of my mind busy. My alternative is to play the alphabet game - think of a word that starts with 'a'. Then do 'b', then 'c' etc. X is always Xray and K is usually one of a couple things because it's hard. I've got some favorites like Everybody's Favorite Gameshow Host that come up. If you are hung up for over 30 minutes, dissolve a small amount of melatonin on your tongue.
posted by Dmenet at 2:30 PM on November 21, 2019

I wake up most nights - this is what I do: when I get back into bed, I try to go back asleep on my side. (I initially fall asleep on my back). I also take 1/4 pill of trazadone (a very common and cheap sleep aid/ anti-depressant - double check of course if this is ok to take while pregnant etc.). Then I count to 10 then down to 0, then up to 9 then back down etc. If my mind wanders, that's fine, I just pick back up where I was...

But my ability to go back to sleep also starts during the day.. with making sure I exercise for at least 30 mins, no sugar after dinner, no caffeine after 4p or 5p.... no agitating viewing before bed (news/ action movies etc. )
posted by mrmarley at 3:27 PM on November 21, 2019

I was like you until I had my second kid. My first was brutal; I think the sleep deprivation took years off my life. I now have my third, a one-month-old, and have become much more capable of taking sleep where I can get it. Not only can I fall back asleep at night (assuming reasonably good environment for sleep i.e. not too bright or most) but I also can take daytime naps, which used to be a feat I could only accomplish when very ill.

No real advice, unfortunately; I think it's a combination of practice making perfect and desperation for rest creating opportunities to build new skills.
posted by potrzebie at 4:36 PM on November 21, 2019

My trick for falling asleep on the nights when it's tough is to breath slowly while counting. Like:
1 (inhale for 6 or so seconds)
sheep (exhale for 8 or so seconds)
Don't go to (inhale for 6 or so seconds)
sleep (exhale for 8 or so seconds)
2 (inhale)... etc

The "Don't go to sleep" part is just an observation I read online about how the more you urge yourself to get to sleep and think about how much sleep you're missing out on by lying awake in bed, the harder it is to sleep. But honestly the big gain is through the measured slow breathing.
posted by devrim at 6:29 PM on November 21, 2019

You don’t say if you’re the mother or father or if you will be breastfeeding. My experience only applies as a mother who breastfed her newborn.
It’s incredible but I was able to get sleep in 2-3 hour increments. I think it’s hormones or something but once I got the hang of breastfeeding in the dark (or at least very very dim) I was able to fall into a deep sleep pretty quickly... and yet wake up as soon as the baby stirred.
It’s a weird sort of sleep stage because now, a year later, I’m actually MORE tired and find it more difficult when we have just one wake up in the middle of the night. That single wake up feels more disruptive than the previous 4-5 a night.

If you’re the non feeding parent and you find the sleep deprivation unacceptably detrimental to your life, I would have to suggest separate rooms for the first few months where you have the baby in your room with the feeding parent and you sleep in a spare room (or even the baby’s future room as they won’t need it for a few months). Please talk about the possibility of this set up with your partner now and not when the newborn is 3 weeks old and it’s 2 in the morning.
posted by like_neon at 2:17 AM on November 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

I used to take a long time to fall asleep. Then I read about the military method to fall asleep in 2 minutes. It works!
It does take me more than 2 minutes, but not much more.

I think for me the biggest difference is the calling out of the facial muscles. I tend to hold a lot of tension in my jaw without realizing it. All those other methods of "start at the toes and relax each muscle one by one" methods never really mentioned the face, and that is a game changer.
posted by CathyG at 1:51 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

« Older Help me find a quote about the origin story of...   |   How do you rid a toaster of ants? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments