How can I train myself to get a healthier lifestyle?
April 1, 2007 9:18 PM   Subscribe

So half a year of self-destructive behaviour that involved both procrastination and disgusting amounts of homework/projects have resulted in a sleeping pattern that is sliding towards the Crashing and the Burning, really really quickly. Help me figure out how to adjust this before exams roll around.

During milder weeks, I sleep from 2-4 AM to 6-8 AM, and take a nap from about 7 PM to 9 PM after I get home. Recently, it's gotten to the point where I crash immediately after getting home (5 PM) and sleep till 9 PM, or further, and then will either not sleep at all, or sleep 1-2 hours, before I have to go to school (8 AM). On average, I'd say I get about 6 hours every 24-hour-cycle. I crash and sleep about 14 to 15 hours between Saturday and Sunday, and get up at noon or later on Sunday. I still feel absolutely exhausted Sunday, and will sometimes nap Sunday evening, too, and work straight through the night till Monday. The cycle begets itself.

I've tried staying up and just working after I get home from school, but I'm restless and I can't concentrate because I haven't slept, and my work takes that much longer subsequently. So by the time I finish it, it's too late for a full night's sleep anyway. I've tried drinking tea and coffee to make myself more alert and work more efficiently, but that often means I can't sleep by the time bed time rolls around. It's easier to just give in to the nap

My chronic fatigue, however, has gotten to be uncontrollable. If I lay down for a nap with the intention of getting up an hour later, I will honestly not hear the alarm. I set multiple alarms, close enough to be heard, but out of reach so I can't shut it off and continue sleeping, but I sleep through all of them (until my parents come in and yell at me about the alarm being too noisy). In the afternoon/early evening I can't concentrate on anything for more than 30 minutes, because I fall asleep.

All the relevant marks are in to the Universities by now, so the teachers are letting up slightly. I want to use the more relaxed month I have between now and exam time to retrain my body into accepting a sleeping schedule that gets me enough sleep, and lets me be awake after I've slept. Help?

Other info: Over the summer, too, I'd get 10 hours of sleep and still be tired. I have looked into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but I'm not sure if I fit or how to fix it. I've heard more exercise would help (I'm not actively at all)... is this true? I don't get much caffeine normally, a Pepsi a day (religiously), and I eat well/have a balanced diet.
posted by Phire to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, exercise is the key. For oh so many reasons. 30 minutes a day.

Also, the key to getting into a good sleeping routine is to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning, every day. People can get more out of 6 hours sleep per night that way then getting 8-10 hours in an irregular pattern.
posted by kisch mokusch at 9:36 PM on April 1, 2007

I have not done this myself, and can't vouch for it, but perhaps you could look up "polyphasic sleep" (sometimes called Uberman sleep). In its original form, it involves six naps a day of about 20 minutes each, but there are variations that consist of a core sleep of 3-4 hours and a couple of naps throughout the day. Some variation on that might be somewhat close to what you're doing now, but more stable, and I seem to recall some people claiming to have had fatigue issues like yours that were solved by a polyphasic cycle. Admittedly, whether these folks are onto something or just batshitinsane is not immediately obvious.

Even if trying to make this pattern regular doesn't appeal to you, you might find information on changing your sleep habits that would be useful.

This is all off the top of my head, mind you. Anyway, speaking from personal experience now, one of the best things you can do is be consistent. Give yourself a weekend - or heck, a week if you need it - to get caught up on sleep. Don't overdo it - try to stay vaguely on a daytime schedule - but catch up at least somewhat. Then give yourself strict bed and wake times, and stay with them! It's hard at first, but after a week or two, you will feel so much better for it (and your body will adapt to make those hours more efficient - more of them will go towards REM). I'd suggest starting out with something that feels decent - 8 or even 10 hours of sleep if you can afford it - but graduate to something less if that feels right. Less than 6 is probably a bad idea, though.

My sleep habits right now are fairly irregular, I must confess, but I am hoping to make them regular again when I have a chance to 'reset' my cycle.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:44 PM on April 1, 2007

One more clarification, although it may be obvious. When I say strict bed and wake times, what I mean is this. When the clock hits 11, or midnight, or whatever, you must be in bed, regardless of what else is going or or what you were doing at the time. In bed, lights out, covers up, and don't do anything but lie there until you fall asleep (even if this means you lie awake for a while the first few nights). When the alarm rings in the morning, don't snooze, and don't reset it for an hour later. And don't use the bed for anything but sleep (and sex, I suppose) if you can help it.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:49 PM on April 1, 2007

Response by poster: I've heard of polyphasic sleep, and read the very interesting blog of one guy who attempted it for about a year, but the rigid schedule it requires interferes with school and other activities....

Although I've never heard of the variations, I shall look into it. Thanks!
posted by Phire at 9:54 PM on April 1, 2007

Best answer: As someone who has lived this schedule unwillingly for what probably amounts to years of her life, I can testify that the ONLY way to break out of it is to sleep right through one day. None of this "stay up one full cycle" business that people who don't have sleep cycle problems will tell you. I would suggest you come home at 7pm, get into bed and crash, and just let yourself sleep until a reasonable time the next day -- whenever it seems natural to get up, which will probably be at least 12 hours with your sleep debt. Stay up that day and try going to bed at a reasonable time that night (11pm?) You will lose a lot of hours you could've been working or playing, and that sucks, but it's the only thing that's ever worked for me.

Says she at 3:22am.
posted by loiseau at 12:22 AM on April 2, 2007

Yeah, the way to correct a sleep cycle is to just sleep until you don't feel tired any more, and then get up and go to bed at the times you want the next day. If you try to do it by staying up, you'll just fall asleep in a chair or something.
posted by reklaw at 2:31 AM on April 2, 2007

I went through a pretty serious phase of insomnia in my early 20's, and I have to agree with loiseau. Although I did get myself to be as tired as humanly possible so that I couldn't lie awake and think about everything like an obsessive compulsive squirrel -- you may or may not need to do this, but certainly I would think you need to sleep until you don't actively NEED to sleep anymore and then start nudging your sleep schedule into something reasonable. As long as you can accommodate it, just let your body sleep when it wants to. Mine liked 2am to 10am for a while, and I just didn't take early classes, but that was a luxury I was able to give myself.
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:10 AM on April 2, 2007

People will bitch me out for this, but I find that a sleep aid that really knocks you out for 8 hours is great for resetting the sleep cycle. If you really can't stay up till normal bedtime, it might be easier to expand the 5 PM nap into a 5 PM - 1 AM good night's sleep and then move that to later over a few days - I know I at least can move my sleep times later much easier than earlier.

If you have nothing to do on a weekend, absolutely exhausting yourself (not 30 minutes exercise, but an entire day's - go for a long tough hike or something) can help instead of a sleep aid.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:12 AM on April 2, 2007

Best answer: Great advice so far on the consistent sleep schedule. Some sleep experiments point to the idea that it is actually a break in your sleep schedule, not less sleep, which makes you feel tired the next day. So if your sleep schedule is inconsistent... it's likely that you will always feel tired. Also, one sleep cycle is 90 minutes, so you should build your sleeping time around blocks of 90 minutes, thinking in terms of number of sleep cycles. Plus add 30 minutes to fall asleep at night. So, 5 sleep cycles plus 30 minutes... 8 hours.

You might also want to take steps to increase your energy level during the day so that you can avoid the "summer exhaustion" mentioned above, and break the nap habit. I've also had periods of feeling exhausted and have learned some great tips (mostly from AskMe... thanks guys). So, while you're getting into your new healthy, consistent, 8-hour a night sleep schedule, I'd also recommend that you...
-Drink 6-8 glasses of water a day
-Take vitamins, especially B-complex
-Do like 30-45 minutes light exercise
It really helps. Especially the water.

Good luck!
posted by crackingdes at 6:13 AM on April 2, 2007

I read somewhere once that sleep deprivation is cumulative. If you need 8 hours a day and you're getting 6, your body will want 10 until you make up all those months. I don't know how accurate this is, but it's certainly been observable in my own life.

Since you have some down time, try just going to bed around 7 pm and sleeping through for 12 hours (or what every is the longest you can sleep without waking) until you start to feel less tired. Get up at the same time every day, but as you start to get energy again, push your bedtime back a little more. But consider sticking to at least 8 hours; there are very few people who actually need less than that, and it's actually easier to get the thing done that you need to do when you are not sleep deprived, as necessary as all nighters can feel.
posted by carmen at 6:29 AM on April 2, 2007

Regular schedule, exercise, and sunlight so your body clock knows what a cycle is.

Getting up at the same time is as important as going to bed at the same time, but more difficult. Get a timer so that a full-spectrum light turns on and shines in your faceat the same time every morning. Does wonders for setting the body clock. Melatonin may help, too, but that's a big YMMV.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:55 AM on April 2, 2007

Best answer: You can try resetting your body clock with melatonin. My sleep schedule used to go off the rails frequently and that's what I'd do to get back on track. You take it about a half hour before you want to go to sleep and do your bedtime routine, minimizing distractions. After a couple days of that you should be settled in a new routine.

You'll get better sleep if you always go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time in the morning. You can even get a shorter sleep period at night and take a nap in the day (siesta schedule) if you're doing both the sleep and the nap at the same times every day (I've done this and it works fine, but you'll mess yourself up if you oversleep too much on weekends). Right now it sounds like you have too much variation in sleep times to get the benefit of the midday nap.

Other things you can try: avoid caffeine or only have a little when you wake up in the morning - not after 10 AM or so. Exercise every day even if it's just a walk, and don't exercise right before going to bed either. Don't eat too close to your nighttime sleep. Don't watch TV or do homework right before going to bed. Try not to read anything exciting/involving right before bed either.

Are you a teenager? It's been proven teenagers probably need more sleep than adults on average, at least an hour more or even two (say, at least 9 hours a night). Make sure you're getting enough regularly. Getting too much sleep on the weekends can be just as bad as getting too little during the week. Many teenagers get on wacky schedules and are therefore always tired - your schedule sounds pretty similar to mine back then. (My mother used to think I was anemic because I was so tired all the time.)
posted by Melinika at 10:41 AM on April 2, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions! =) Slept a good 12 hours last night/day, and I'm going to bed now (11:40 PM EST). Let's hope this works! *waves cheerfully*
posted by Phire at 8:42 PM on April 2, 2007

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