Weird Sleep Issue - Sleeping without Sleeping?
December 15, 2020 1:22 AM   Subscribe

Since last Friday I've been "sleeping" in two to three hour blocks, but it doesn't feel like I've actually slept even though when I wake I have energy. Earlier today I laid down to take a nap and the same thing happened: "slept" for 2 hours, then woke up feeling rather like I was a monitor that timed out rather than a person who truly went to bed. It's unpleasant and disconcerting. I also don't think I'm dreaming. Does this shallow sleep pattern have a name? Can I get it to stop?
posted by Kitchen Witch to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Following because this is me exactly now. Can't break out of it. Have not slept through the night normally in- I can't tell you how long. I sympathize!!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:34 AM on December 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

Seems in line with what you describe to suggest possible sleep apnea.
posted by augustimagination at 3:35 AM on December 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure if this is what you're describing, but occasionally I get a thing where my brain retains awareness of the passage of time even though I'm asleep. It's hard to put into words. My eyes are closed, I'm definitely no longer awake, and most of my brain is sleeping; but part of it is continuing to experience the world in real time. It's unpleasant.

If it *is* that, all I can tell you is that it appears to be correlated with times when my heart is beating unusually fast.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:47 AM on December 15, 2020 [8 favorites]

I've had this since my kid was born five years ago. I have a lot of neck and shoulder tension in the morning and I don't know if it's the cause or a symptom. You could maybe ask your doctor if you're worried or if it continues.

I've heard of sleep training, where you go to sleep later than usual and as soon as you wake up, you get up. It supposedly trains the body (or brain) that it needs to stay asleep if it wants to get more sleep. I haven't tried it myself.

Personally, I do a lot of yoga to relieve the tensions in the neck and I try out new pillows every few weeks.

Sorry I can't be of more help, I hope yours goes away soon!
posted by allnew at 3:48 AM on December 15, 2020

I'm also getting this a lot at night at the moment, and feel like it's likely due to lack of physical, mental and social stimulation thanks to the covidity of it all.

FWIW, I also think that it happens most when I need to pee and my brain knows that, but I'm not quite awake enough to make myself get up and go, so I just kind of hover in "slightly alert but not quite awake" mode for ages instead. I've thought about setting an alarm in the early hours to force myself to go pee, but so far can't quite bring myself to do it.

So maybe more exercise outside if that's feasible. More daylight (or a daylight lamp) during the day to improve your circadian rhythms. Don't drink right before bed. Maybe you don't need naps at the moment because your body and mind aren't tired enough. Cut down on caffeine. Googling sleep hygiene will likely give you lots more suggestions, maybe one or a combination of them will be just enough to tip you back the right way.
posted by penguin pie at 4:55 AM on December 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

Hey! I'm another person who's been sort of permanently stuck in this kind of sleep for years (it's worse this year). Mine is compounded by my brain just continuing to talk to itself throughout the night whether I'm awake or asleep. Making the room as dark and quiet as possible and listening to some guided meditation or an audiobook helps in that when I fall asleep I have a couple hours of actual good sleep before I bubble up into the light, disturbed sleep that goes on for the last part of the night. It's no fun. I feel for you.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 7:01 AM on December 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

I had a year when I was really struggling with insomnia, but the kind where I could get to sleep fine but kept waking up in the middle of the night. Melatonin didn't do jack for me. What DID help, though, was magnesium; not like a "pop a vitamin when you're having trouble sleeping and it'll knock you out" thing, but I started taking it regularly, at the suggestion of my doctor; she said that within a week or so it would have built up in my system and that would have an effect.

And she was right, it worked within a week. But reason I'm mentioning that is because I noticed something else before that week ended. After a couple days, I was still waking up in the middle of the night, but I was waking up in the middle of the night feeling more rested. Like, I was still only getting five hours of sleep all told, but it was a better quality five hours. And since you're concerned with sleep quality, it sounds, maybe magnesium can help with that as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:36 AM on December 15, 2020 [9 favorites]

It sounds like you're not reaching Stage 3 sleep, where restful sleep happens, and instead are hovering in Stage 1 (changeover) and Stage 2 (light sleep).

Cognitive behavioral sleep therapy can involve sleep restriction, where you remain in bed only when you are actually asleep, and/or finding your "sleep window" (my term) where you go to sleep and wake at specific times for some weeks, and then assess what your sleep is like. Most people have a natural sleep window---a time when going to bed means they more likely to quickly achieve deep sleep and REM sleep, and be less likely to awake before hitting those stages. For sleep therapy you go to bed and stay in bed, in the dark, even if you're not sleeping, and only get out of bed at the specified time. (You can go to the bathroom, etc., but you don't get up for the day until the specified time.) At waking, you get dressed, start your actual day, and ideally get a bunch of sunlight or artificial replacement light to help set your body's responses. You also don't nap for more than 10-15 minutes during the day, and only then if you have to.

Here are some articles and pages you can read to learn more about sleep stages and hygiene:
- Harvard Men's Health Watch: Restoring Restful Sleep
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep
- Sleep Foundation, What Happens When You Sleep?
- Healthline, What is deep sleep and why is it important?

And some articles on sleep restriction:
- Stanford Healthcare, Sleep Restriction and CBTI
- Sleep Foundation, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)
- Kaiser Permanente, Sleep Restriction Therapy (pdf)

On a more anecdotal note, most people find that staying up later to "make sure they're sleepy" backfires, and that it's only when they go to bed earlier than they think necessary do they achieve restful sleep more quickly.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:45 AM on December 15, 2020 [11 favorites]

I wake feeling like that if the room isn't humid enough. I have sinus issues that make me snore and if I don't have the room humid enough I keep waking myself up just enough to not drop into deep restful sleep but not enough to really realize I'm awake. Winter is the worst as HVAC really dries out the air.
posted by wwax at 8:02 AM on December 15, 2020

This is me, too. The best reaction I’ve gotten from any doctor is a polite but dismissive shrug. The sleep study doctor sighed, rolled his eyes, and said, “Well, you don’t have apnea, so I don’t know what it is you expect ME to do about it. Have you considered seeing a psychiatrist?”

So if any of you get any real information, I’d be very excited.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:38 AM on December 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

This happens to me sometimes when I need a pee, a drink, or some paracetamol. I semi succeeded in teaching myself to wake all the way up straight away and go to the bathroom / get a drink / take meds as necessary. It definitely helps.
posted by quacks like a duck at 9:02 AM on December 15, 2020

If I get into this cycle I sleep on the floor for a night on a blanket or yoga mat or something. It's like a big reset button for my sleep habits, cures it right up. YMMV.
posted by phunniemee at 9:18 AM on December 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Have you been taking pseudoephedrine by any chance? Does this to me every time.
posted by capricorn at 11:52 AM on December 15, 2020

Have you been meditating a lot lately? There are different levels to the mind, from externally alert, to internally alert, to asleep but alert to asleep and unaware (typical sleep). I don’t know if there’s a name but if you have a Fitbit it can monitor how deep your sleep is, to a first order at any rate.

That being said
- if you are asleep it is restful to the body even if it’s alert asleep, so don’t worry and just know that your body is indeed being rejuvenated. So accepting it and relaxing into it as it is might help kick you out of it.
- to move yourself more into deep “typical” sleep try paying attention to your body sensations (not your thoughts) and if possible allow your mind to drift down from your head to your heart. This can also bump you back into the deeper sleep to which we’re more accustomed.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:43 PM on December 15, 2020

This has exactly how I have slept my entire life so thank you for asking this question. I have only ever felt like I slept properly perhaps 2 or 3 times. I envy those who do because I remember how good it felt when I slept like that.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 2:56 PM on December 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

You're probably not going through a full cycle of sleep. The underlying cause could be any number of things like stress, caffeine or alcohol intake, etc. In my experience dealing with a sleep disorder, the best ways to improve sleep quality are good sleep hygiene, meditating while falling asleep, regular physical activity, and stress management.
posted by fox problems at 7:06 PM on December 15, 2020

The best reaction I’ve gotten from any doctor is a polite but dismissive shrug. The sleep study doctor sighed, rolled his eyes, and said, “Well, you don’t have apnea, so I don’t know what it is you expect ME to do about it. Have you considered seeing a psychiatrist?”

So if any of you get any real information, I’d be very excited.

If you're just looking for more information, there's a whole class of fitness monitors that measure pulse and, by extension, heart rate variability, which is a metric that improves with rest. I've been wearing a Garmin product for a year that uses this to output a "body battery" metric that recharges during rest/sleep, and I'm constantly impressed by how well it reflects sleep quality and its impact on feeling physically rested.

The actual sleep tracking on my fitness watch is terrible (it will routinely report "deep sleep" for when I've been staring at the ceiling for an hour very still thinking pandemic insomnia thoughts) but the heart rate variability makes up for it and then some. It's astute at picking up poor rest (like from having a second drink too close to bed) as well as more subtle effects, like when I've had some mild indigestion and don't sleep as well for the first few hours. Sometimes I glance at it when I wake up hours early now to determine if I should try to get another sleep cycle or if I'm rested enough to just get out of bed. If you're looking for more info, worth exploring.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:23 PM on December 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

One of the reasons I stopped drinking is because of nights like you describe: sleeping so lightly I'm continuously aware of my physical condition, even though my brain is wandering the corridors of dream. No alcohol and light exercise during the day helped a lot, as did cutting out sugar or big meals for dinner.
posted by SPrintF at 10:56 AM on December 16, 2020

Response by poster: Update: I got pretty desperate after writing this post so I decided last night to take the lowest dose of Xanax possible and was able to get to deep sleep. Unfortunately now I am groggy and napping, but I *think* I prefer groggy and relaxed to awake and oddly fearful. I do have sleep disorders that I take medication for; however, I have never experienced this specific sleep issue before so that's swell.

Will keep you all posted.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 1:15 PM on December 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

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