Regulating Sleep
December 18, 2007 6:45 AM   Subscribe

I need help with my sleep cycle.

Lately I've been having trouble with my sleep cycle.
I typically fall asleep around midnight, but wake sometime between 4 and 5:30 AM. Since it's too early to get up, I typically putter around for 20-30 minutes, and then fall asleep again.
The problem is, at 7:30, when it really is time to get up, I wake, but I feel exhausted. And truthfully, I usually hit the snooze button about a hundred times, and wake sometime around 8:30, sometimes 9 AM. (Usually when the alarm goes off it interrupts a particularly vivid dream, which I guess means that I'm still in REM sleep mode...)
My job hours are flexible, but I would really like to hit the office at 9:30, the latest.
So is there anything one can do to take control of the sleep cycle?
posted by lilboo to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
First thing any doctor or sleep specialist will suggest is proper sleep hygiene. I'd recommend trying that first.
posted by gramcracker at 6:50 AM on December 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

As a side note, waking up, puttering around for ~30 minutes, and then going back to sleep is one of the suggested first steps into lucid dreaming and/or improving dream recall. While I never got to that point, I did try it for a while, and the dreams I had were exceptionally vivid and weird.

So, I don't think you are interrupting REM, you're just more conscious when it happens.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:01 AM on December 18, 2007

It sounds like you need to go to bed earlier so that the first sleep cyle ends earlier, the second begins earlier and the second finishes before you need to wake up.

The getting up (or just being awake) in the middle part is totally normal, as was discussed in a recent NY Times magazine article on sleep/matresses. (Sorry, can't easily link it up from here. )
posted by Jahaza at 7:02 AM on December 18, 2007

Your mileage my vary, but I wear a SleepTracker watch to wake me up and it very rarely wakes me up in the middle of a deep sleep. Basically the watch just has an accelerometer that can detect when you're fidgitting around, which is the best time to wake you up.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:10 AM on December 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

Not being able to stay asleep may be a sign of depression. (My shrink used to say "Can't get to sleep: anxiety. Can't stay asleep: depression"). If you have other signs, such as changes in appetite, weight, mood, etc., you should see a doctor.
posted by ubiquity at 7:22 AM on December 18, 2007

posted by Sassyfras at 7:22 AM on December 18, 2007

How much alcohol do you drink? Frequently alcohol makes people wake up in the middle of the night as you are describing. (It's obviously not the reason people wake up like you describe.) If you drink in the evenings you might consider changing that and seeing what happens with your sleep.
posted by OmieWise at 7:42 AM on December 18, 2007

I think when you are waking like this and not able to fall back asleep right away you need to reduce triggers for stress or depression. I would try getting more exercise, or maybe some basic cognitive-behavioral therapy.
posted by dixie flatline at 7:51 AM on December 18, 2007

This article from Psychology Today might help.
posted by studentbaker at 7:55 AM on December 18, 2007

If I have any caffeine after about 4 or 5 p.m. my sleep cycle is the same as you describe.

BTW, the "sleep hygiene" link above doesn't work.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:14 AM on December 18, 2007

There are lots of things you can do:
  • If you're drinking alcohol, stop -- alcohol-induced sleep isn't as restful as the normal kind, plus you're likely to wake up a few hours after falling asleep.
  • Adjust your water intake. You probably need to drink more water. I have a glass before bed pretty much every night (OK, I'm taking medicine with it, but still).
  • Light therapy, exercise, or a combination.
Aside from that, you might want to see a doctor. One of the so-called "Z-Drugs" (most likely Ambien [or generic Zolpidem Tartrate] or Lunesta) will help with "sleep maintenance."

In response to a similar AskMe question I gave some more details that might help. Modern pharmacology and regular (but not constant) vigilance keep my sleep roughly regular, for the first time ever. I'm guessing my problems are worse than yours, but the solutions do work.
posted by fedward at 8:26 AM on December 18, 2007

Wow-- my pattern exactly. I am a lifelong "insomniac" who has tried every remedy there is, until I finally stumbled onto the concept that THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ME. It was something great that I read just recently about ur-sleep patterns. (I should cite it, I'm pretty sure it was here or in the blue, but searching "sleep" just pulls up gobs and gobs and I can't ID it.)

Our ur-ancestors would sleep in exactly the pattern you are describing. But when they woke up-- hey can't putter! No lights, no computer games, no novels or nighttime tasks, plus big scary nocturnal predators, so you can't leave the cave. So this guy posited that the caveguy would just lie there, maybe for hours *doing nothing* I applied this over the past couple of weeks and it's amazing. Once I got past the idea that I have. to. sleep., I found that I felt less anxiety about waking, about returning to sleep and about waking at the proper hour. I have amazing fun thoughts-- I've written symphonies, novels, and memoires in my head, fantasied how great my children's lives would turn out if they would only listen to me (without actually burdening them with my interference) and all sorts of head games.

I recommend you try to be as flexible as you can about your start time at work so that you can allow yourself to wake naturally, rather than forcing yourself up at exactly the same time every morning. I do this by setting the alarm to radio rather than shriek, so that my mind gradually tunes in to the talk and wakes me up at a reasonable point in my sleep cycle. This never varies more than about 20 minutes. Can't find any alarms that wake you up with white noise, only ones that put you to sleep that way, but I don't know why this wouldn't work if you could find such a device.
posted by nax at 9:22 AM on December 18, 2007

Nax: it wasn't so much doing "nothing" as investing in the survival of humanity that those cave-dudes were up to, if you get my drift. Apparently.
posted by bonaldi at 9:43 AM on December 18, 2007

N-thing the alcohol thing. In fact owing to the summer holiday season getting into full swing, I've been drinking a lot more lately, and as a result my sleep pattern is just like yours. (Which is why I'm in for a long period of restorative sobriety soon).

Another thing: can you revisit your goal of getting into the office early? If you got rid of your alarm, you would still wake up in the morning. But you wouldn't have broken your last sleep cycle, and would likely feel a great deal better. Your sleep goes in roughly 90 minute cycles, and when the last one is interrupted most people feel like crap compared to waking at the end of a cycle.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:37 AM on December 18, 2007

Response by poster: Just to add more context to my initial question: I'm not drinking alcohol at all these days, but I'm taking Paxil, and have been for several years. These sleep patterns just emerged in the past nine months, so I'm not sure whether to blame the Paxil or not.
posted by lilboo at 10:55 AM on December 18, 2007

The phenomenon nax and bonaldi mention - being awake in the middle of the night as a typical pre-industrial sleep pattern - is discussed in this NY Times article. In case you care.

My suggestion is time-release melatonin.
posted by medusa at 11:24 AM on December 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

I can't believe no one has suggested this: go to sleep earlier. It sounds too simple, but it's what all the sleep books say for helping kids with disrupted sleep (and it works) and it's what I tried when I was in your shoes. I've also recommended it to friends; it works so well and so consistently that it never fails that the person gets all freaked out, like I've ushered them into some secret society of sleep knowledge. And in any case, it's a much simpler thing to try before drugs, light therapy, changing your work hours, exercise or therapy--all mentioned above.

How To: Go to sleep a half hour earlier every day or two and see what happens. Alternately (or additionally) start paying attention to when you first notice you're tired at night (for me it's getting distracted easily, thinking about food, having hard time focusing my eyes, yawning). If I get into bed within 30 minutes I'm golden: deep, restful sleep until the alarm and I get up sooo refreshed. If I miss the window, I have a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep, getting back to sleep, and no chance of waking refreshed. Try it!
posted by cocoagirl at 11:44 AM on December 18, 2007 [5 favorites]

Everything cocoagirl says is truth.
posted by anaelith at 11:48 AM on December 18, 2007

Going to sleep earlier does not help me. I will wake up four hours after I fall asleep. Period. so if I go to sleep at 9, I wake up at 1. If I go to sleep at 1, I wake up at 4. Identifying this pattern helped more than trying to change it, as I am more or less able to plan when to wake up so that I have at least 90 minutes at the end of the night to get back into a restful sleep.
posted by nax at 11:50 AM on December 18, 2007

Going to sleep earlier also doesn't help if you're just plain NOT TIRED at 9 p.m. or whatever. (I'm guessing this is the OP's problem given the midnight bedtime.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:25 PM on December 18, 2007

nax: Going to sleep earlier does not help me.

jenfullmoon: ...(I'm guessing this is the OP's problem given the midnight bedtime.)

Ah, backlash to going to bed earlier--it never fails to amaze me how dependable the backlash is. Somewhere along the line it becomes deeply ingrained in us that being an adult means staying up late. Anyway, my advice for lilboo, who may or may not be tired at midnight, stands. It's hands down the simplest and healthiest first thing to try. And apologies to Jahaza, who did indeed suggest it well before me at the top of the thread.

Guh, sorry I'm defensive. But I know how hard sleep issues can be and get really irritated when people try to deflect a potentially simple solution.
posted by cocoagirl at 1:03 PM on December 18, 2007

Nthing getting checked for depression. I had a similar sleep pattern to yours and it disappeared when I was treated for depression.

Also, the more physically active I am during the day, the better I sleep at night. Working up a sweat during the morning or early afternoon (not too late in the evening) really helps pack in the z's later on.

DO NOT NAP unless it's a fifteen-minute catnap. Long naps really screw with your sleep cycle.

Avoid caffeine from noon onwards. As it turns out - I am very sensitive to caffeine and found that, in addition to getting treated for depression and stepping up my physical activity, not having coffee, tea or cola after noontime helped my sleep a lot. (The healthiest drink of all is good old H2O, anyway.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:21 PM on December 18, 2007

Alternatively you could have an orgasm in the wee hours.
Instead of getting up and pottering around.
That should send you back to sleep quicksmart.
posted by taff at 9:35 PM on December 18, 2007

This happens to me occasionally, too, and from what I've learned, biorhythms are different for everyone (and therefore, most advice doesn't apply). Understanding your own circadian rhythm (sleeping being the last part of it) means following whatever works for you. Doctors give good advice if you can't find whatever your daily habits might be causing it.

Though it's quasi-jocular tone makes me question its accuracy, this article on Wired goes through the basics of REMs and sleep cycles.
posted by BenzeneChile at 9:00 AM on December 19, 2007

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