Functioning the day after interrupted sleep?
September 3, 2021 3:32 AM   Subscribe

I have been a light / easily interrupted sleeper for a long time now. Reasons include outside noise such as heavy rain or high winds, an important event coming up (stress, I guess), and a weird one where I sleep for an hour, wake up for no apparent reason, sleep for an hour, wake up again…all the way through, even though there’s no noise and nothing special going on the following day.

I used to recover from a sleepless night pretty quickly, but that’s not true anymore. It affects my work and my communication with family members.
In the old days, extra coffee, chocolate, sugary stuff, and junk food were all (apparently) helpful in getting through the next day, and ordinarily the next night would be an OK sleep.
But now, one bad night tends to lead a second one, and for health reasons I no longer can have anything sugary / fatty / or too much caffeine. Also, no pills or supplements.
My sleep hygiene is great – no caffeine, no screens, decent curtains, white noise, ear plugs – it’s the recovery that follows that I want to know about.
So far, I have tried drinking extra water, but it doesn’t seem to have much effect.
So, if you have any tricks or tips for recovering from a night with interrupted sleep, can you share them?
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Why absolutely no pills or supplements? Melatonin could be very helpful for the nights where you only sleep for an hour at a time - it’s over the counter in the US, although prescription in many other places. Only a small amount is needed to be effective for most people. I sometimes get extremely vivid dreams from it but it’s very helpful, especially if I’ve traveled to a different time zone.

Anyway, other than giving melatonin a try, I really suggest naps the following day. If you can squeeze in half an hour of resting in a quiet room after lunch, it can really boost you through the afternoon. You will probably find a good time for a nap that fits your personal needs with some experimentation.

Another thing that can help is exercise, which seems anti-intuitive but getting your heart rate up and moving around can trigger all kinds of processes in your body that help energize you. This is why some people find it helpful to work out in the morning. You don’t have to work out hard or get very sweaty, just a walk will do, or some body weight exercises. Enough to get you breathing a little purposefully and stretch out your muscles. Follow it up by drinking water, which you’re already doing, and some proteins for a snack, like nuts or cheese or hummus. Maybe a walk before lunch? Yoga in the afternoon? Cycling to work?

You say you can’t have anything sugary but can you have carbs? Sugars are just concentrated carbs, really. Your body uses carbs for fast energy too, just not quite so fast as candy. So maybe some slow-to-digest oatmeal for breakfast would be helpful on mornings after a bad night.

Unfortunately a lot of this is just aging. I stopped being able to bounce back around 25 or so. If you can talk about this with your family members on a day you feel well rested and thus can be clear that it’s just a thing you have to deal with sometimes, I bet they will be more understanding when it happens in the future.
posted by Mizu at 3:51 AM on September 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Some people say that intensive meditation and/or yoga helps them need less sleep - as though it also gets their brain into a state that's somewhat restorative. Obviously that's not a quick or easy solution, but even a lighter form of meditation might help with keeping and regaining focus.

It affects my work and my communication with family members.

When you say it affects your communication, how do you mean? Do you get snappy or impatient?

As someone with lifelong sleep problems, I've found that part of what I need to do is accept that I'm currently impaired and stay conscious of that. So that means consciously working to be patient with people, and remembering that I'm likely to be more sensitive than usual and therefore more of an ass; slowing down if I feel like I'm not making sense; writing things down when I know I won't remember them; double- or triple-checking things; going back to things I did earlier to make sure I wasn't out of my mind when I did them; trying to leave big decisions, problems, and conversations for times when I'm more functional; etc. Lots of taking a moment to breathe and reorient myself. Lots of slowing down.

And part of it is also being patient with myself when I make mistakes, and trying to be at peace with the fact that I'm not okay today, versus being distressed by it (which is my natural reaction). Distress just compounds the fatigue, sensitivity, and distraction.

All that said - if you haven't seen a sleep specialist, maybe consider it, since learning to deal with impairment is good, but reducing it is better.
posted by trig at 4:31 AM on September 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I recently went through a period like this, and one day, I started craving protein. Eggs for breakfast with sausage on the side, hamburger patties, etc. Of course, there are forms of protein that aren't so fatty. That night, I slept fairly well and seems to have broken the cycle. Figured I was maybe eating too many carbs and not enough protein-to-carb ratio. I also started taking my Vitamin D again, which I take with my doctor's okay, as I have been low in the past. I take 5000 iu every other day, or every 3 days, always with a meal.

When I get very little sleep, I will power through the morning, and do something relaxing in the afternoon. Then get up and do something afterward. I am not going carb free, but am measuring and limiting my carbs again, and trying to include more veggies in my meals. Also, the hot and humid weather has broken, and with earlier sunsets, that seems to help a lot with being able to fall asleep and stay asleep most of the night.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:33 AM on September 3, 2021

Best answer: I'm sure lots of people will chime in with suggestions on the preventative and treatment side, so I'll suggest something from a slightly different angle. Which is to ask, what would it be like if your work was negatively affected and your communication with family was poor and that felt ok? That you could accept it, deal with the consequences, and keep egregious behaviour in check.

The suggestion above may not work for you, depending on how your state is impacting the people around you. When I was going through something similar, I discovered that a lot of my suffering was really about how I felt inside and worry about how I was perceived rather than the consequences of my actual behaviour. That is, when I was hungover or unslept, I would communicate poorly and do mediocre work, but how it felt was excruciating. It wasn't until I accepted that things are they way they are at the moment and that everything will be ok, did it actually get better both experientially and objectively.

To specifically answer your question about recovery tips or tricks from this perspective:
- Remind yourself that time is a constant, it can be counted on, and you only need to get to [whatever time it is when the work is done / family has been tended to / nighttime is here again]
- Tell yourself, "I am safe and I have everything I need to [get through this day / do this task / fall asleep]"
- Practice multiple forms of self-care; physical, emotional, reflective, mental, social, etc.
- Put things into broader perspective. If this were a story about your life, then this would be the part where…[fill in with the current struggle]. Reminding yourself of 'this is the part where' helps you get some objective distance AND reminds you that this won't always be the part where. It's just one small section of a much bigger story.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:59 AM on September 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Oh hi, I'm at the office early because pain kept me awake all night.

Which for me is a conscious coping strategy; as long as I'm awake anyway, let's go to work early so I can go home early and try for a nap.

If your workplace culture allows, of course.
posted by humbug at 5:28 AM on September 3, 2021

Best answer: Light proteins will both regulate your sugar levels and hunger as the last meal of the day, and be helpful to be awake after a bad night. A pot of Greek yoghurt with your add-ins of choice is good for both.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 5:38 AM on September 3, 2021

Best answer: I used to have big problems with middle of the night waking. I was helped enormously by sleep restriction therapy (sometimes called CBT-I). Basically, pick a wake up time and never sleep past that, or nap. Estimate how many hours of sleep you get on average, work back and that’s your starting bedtime. Do not get into bed until this time, and do all other sleep hygiene practices. If you don’t sleep through the night, the next day you go to bed 15 mins later. If you sleep through a few days straight, you can bring the bedtime forward by 15. Do not go below 4-5 hours at any point, that’s see a doctor level.

This will suck, but after two weeks of it (and never getting below 6 hours in bed time in my case) I was sleeping through the night for the first time in years. Literally life changing. A few more weeks of adjusting sleep time back up, and I was back to normal.
posted by Jobst at 6:02 AM on September 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I go for grease. Generally, it is food that gets me through the next day. A bacon, egg and cheese on a roll and a cup of iced coffee gives me three or four hours. Then at lunch I go for something lighter.
posted by AugustWest at 8:32 AM on September 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A little off topic, but the sleep wake sleep wake cycle could be related to obstructive sleep apnea and that is worth checking out.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:09 AM on September 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Face mask to block out all light helps me stay asleep.

Agreed intense meditation has drastically reduced my sleep needs. Or, even my light sleep is deeply restorative now.

Shift your sleep hours (go to bed earlier, wake earlier); most refreshing sleep is deep sleep, which happens typically earlier in the night, so I find going to bed at 1030 instead of 1130 or later increases the length of deep sleep so I feel refreshed even on a night of less total hours.

I have a fitbit and can see how much of what kind of sleep I’m getting each night and that’s helpful to fine tune it.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:18 AM on September 3, 2021

Response by poster: Sincere thanks to everyone who made suggestions! A lot of things to consider in there.

Some (rather late) info, in case it generates other ideas or helps anyone else down the line.

Melatonin – even a quarter of a pill gives me a headache the next day. Half a pill and I am groggy, too. Yes, I have tried various brands and doses. As for other supplements, right now I am being super careful what I ingest. Recent problems with free air, diverticulitis, and abscesses and a hospitalization for a combination of the three are making me extremely cautious these days.

Not quite sure how to define intense meditation. I use Headspace twice a day, and it’s fine. But maybe something else would work better? Will take any suggestions for what might work better, and in the meantime think about what intensity means.

Carbs and proteins are something I can experiment with – thanks to everyone for their examples on what works for them.

About work, I am coming to accept there are days I can’t perform as I want to. As for the family and communication, well, first off, my face looks absolutely murderous when I don’t sleep well. I don’t actually need to speak to worry people. (Being masked at work hides this a certain amount). My already deep voice drops even lower, and sounds like I’m in a really bad mood. Compromising on work is one thing, but family? I don’t think I am snappy or impatient, but I know I look and sound like the dad from some horribly stereotyped sitcom.

Have tried the sleep restriction idea. It doesn’t work for outside noise or when I have something coming up, in my case. Wish it did, because it’s something I can otherwise get behind and manage easily. The waking up every hour thing, too, was still an issue, now that I think about it.

Hadn’t thought about apnea. Often, I can explain why my sleep is affected, and when I can’t the quality of it has felt good (usually decent dreams, for example, or I think I’ve slept a lot more than I have). It’s the day after (and increasingly – and I agree it’s partly age – the days after that, too).

Will work through the suggestions and hope to find something / things that help. Will give the restricted sleep another go, too.

Thanks again, everyone!
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 4:21 PM on September 10, 2021

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