No rest for the wicked, apparently.
April 25, 2008 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Why can't I sleep through the night? How can I keep myself slumbering soundly?

Since this Sunday night, I've started waking up every three hours or so. It seems like I usually wake up from a dream (that is, I wake up and remember having just been in a dream - these aren't particularly disturbing or startling dreams, just run-of-the-mill off the wall sort of dreams like I usually have). In general, I'm very warm when I wake up, sometimes uncomfortably so - but I'm always quite warm when I wake up from sleep and it's never been something that woke me up on its own before, especially not several nights in a row. In some cases I have also been pretty thirsty.

I got up to pee at least once a night until last night - the night before last I actually asked myself "Why are you getting up to pee?" and it turned out I was doing it to get out of the hot bed, not because I really had to go. Last night I woke up and thought about getting out of bed, but decided to stay lying down and see what happened, and sure enough I didn't need to pee enough that it prevented me from dropping back off.

I'm eating and drinking pretty much the same stuff I always eat and drink. I may be suffering from mild seasonal allergies right now, but in the past when difficulty breathing has awakened me it's been pretty clear from the content of my dreams (ie, fish out of water dream, drowning dream). I'm planning my wedding and going through sort of a tricky time at work, but I don't think I'm much more stressed out than during a typical finals week in college.

I'm doing some experimentation to see if there's anything I can do to fix it on my own (for example, last night I tried going to bed dice, I just woke up extra times). I'm looking forward to seeing if I can sleep through the night if I don't have to wake up for work the next day, but alas, I won't know that until tomorrow morning. However, anything that helps you stay asleep if you've ever had anything like this happen to you would be awesome to hear.

I've always had trouble getting to sleep but never staying asleep. These two put together have made me a complete zombie all week and I'm really feeling urgent about getting to the bottom of it. I'm also totally mystified as to why this would start now and as you can see, I'm trying to examine all the angles...
posted by crinklebat to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you exercising regularly? I've found that since I started exercising, I've found that most of sleep annoyances I used to suffer from have largely gone away. I also tend to sleep better in a cooler room - are you maybe getting too hot?
posted by jquinby at 10:00 AM on April 25, 2008

try sleeping in a cooler room with lighter covers. also, if you get allergies, start taking an antihistamine. even if you're not very stuffy standing up, you may get stuffy lying down, and the change in breathing is keeping you from falling into deep sleep.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:08 AM on April 25, 2008

For women, sometimes it's a hormonal thing and it often worsens with age (!)

Turn off the heater at night. Layer blankets/comforters so they are easily peeled away while half-asleep. Nowadays, I get so hot at night that I sleep without blankets and only a beach towel over my midsection for warmth. I've found if I keep my belly warm, I'll stay asleep but if my feet or legs get hot, I wake up.
posted by jamaro at 10:08 AM on April 25, 2008

Have you tried using a fan, or opening the window to cool the room down? Keeping water by the bed so you don't have to get up if you're thirsty? Not eating at least an hour before bed? Indigestion can give you vivid dreams and disturb your sleep.

Sometimes I take an OTC antihistamine if I'm having trouble getting to/staying asleep. Maybe try that. Just don't make a habit of it.
posted by Koko at 10:11 AM on April 25, 2008

Even if the bed is really warm, I get cold feet at night. Not cold enough to be really aware of it, but just enough to be low-level uncomfortable, enough to keep me from really conking out. When I started wearing socks to bed I started sleeping a lot better. I know it's a passion-killer aesthetically, but then so is sleep deprivation.
posted by ambrosia at 10:22 AM on April 25, 2008

This may not be at all relevant in your case, but alcohol consumption can have a big effect on one's sleep; more than a single drink in an evening and I'm pretty much guaranteed to wake up 2am-ish and lie awake for a few hours.
posted by Kat Allison at 10:23 AM on April 25, 2008

I've always had trouble getting to sleep but never staying asleep.

With infants and toddlers who wake multiple times in the night one thing parents are often told to check for is changes in neighborhood noises (for instance, car doors slamming) that might be "ignorable" for the sleeping parent but which will awaken the sleeping child because they're a break from the norm, and babies (in theory) are more conditioned to react to those noises when sleeping as a survival mechanism.

So: could there be activity outside your window that you're not aware of but that is causing you to wake up? Maybe a slamming car door; maybe a barking dog? Noises in an adjacent apartment? Something subtle enough that you don't register it as OMG NOISE! when you're awake but that is different enough to rouse you from sleep (like a fan kicking on or a radiator pinging)?
posted by anastasiav at 10:30 AM on April 25, 2008

Could there be some kind of noise that is waking you up? I have found since getting a white noise machine, I have slept a lot more soundly. I've always been the type to get up several times a night, though.
posted by tastybrains at 10:30 AM on April 25, 2008

Are you taking any allergy meds? Anything with sudafed or anything that ends in "-D"? The reason I ask is that sudafed can cause agitation/difficulty sleeping. I've had very similar symptoms all week, and am about 3 weeks into my annual hay fever medicine (Zyrtec-D in my case).
posted by n'muakolo at 10:31 AM on April 25, 2008

Stress doesn't necessarily mean being frustrated or depressed.

I find that if I have a lot 'going on', even if it isn't getting me down, that it is more difficult to sleep. From your description it seems like you are in the same situation. I was able to overcome this by implementing some better task management techniques. Might not be your kinda thing, but it made it easier to empty my head as I went to sleep.

Also don't underestimate the effect caffeine can have on your sleep patterns. I used to have a can or two of diet coke per day and had difficulty sleeping. The problem only resolved itself when I cut out caffeine completely.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 10:38 AM on April 25, 2008

Response by poster: Answers so far:
-antihistamines generally don't make me sleep faster (not sure about more soundly), even Benadryl. However, they do make me feel absolutely terrible when I wake up. So I haven't really considered them. On a related note, n'muakolo, if I take anything with a "-D" I don't sleep all night, period - even if the medication also contains benadryl-type ingredients. My body is insanely sensitive to that stuff.
-I sleep in bed with my fiance, who gets cold at night, so I haven't pressed the point about opening the window yet. I sleep with one thinner blanket and he sleeps with one or two thicker blankets; I don't think I could get to sleep initially with any fewer covers.
-I thought it might be alcohol consumption (by coincidence, I've had beer or wine several nights this week) but last night I had no drinks at all and woke up even more times. No dice.
-Exercise is a good idea, I'll give it a shot.
-I don't think there are any unusual noises, but maybe a small fan by my side of the bed would kill two birds with one stone.
posted by crinklebat at 10:39 AM on April 25, 2008

I hope this is temporary for you. My short answer to you is to read Gregg Jacobs' book, Say Good Night to Insomnia.

especially the lifestyle section, which includes Sleep Restriction.

(its easy to find,I can't seem to get the link to work, sorry)
I agree with the suggestions above.
posted by judybxxx at 10:58 AM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am kind of wondering how old you are because waking up in the middle of the night set in for me as I got older. It happens a lot for me, to the point that I just get up, go to the bathroom, cool off and go back to bed -- usually I fall right back to sleep. For me, I found that if I want to sleep longer before waking up, it works better to go to bed later, not earlier -- and usually I feel more refreshed in the morning.

Sometimes I wake up because I've had a stressful day or there's some persistent problem -- and then I might spend some time tossing and turning as I my mind runs wild -- this feels very different than when I wake up just because I wake up.

Whatever the reason, I've come to the conclusion that it works better if I just accept that I am awake, get up and pee and go back to bed. The more relaxed I am about it, the better it seems to work. It usually doesn't have any effect on the way I feel the next day, so I don't worry about it.
posted by nnk at 11:08 AM on April 25, 2008

I've suffered with the same problem for 15+ years. I get up every hour or so through the night. It's extremely rare for me to sleep an entire night.

A few years ago my doctor suspected that I was suffering from sleep apnea. This can develop at any point in your lifetime. In order to determine whether this is what I suffer from, I had to undergo two sleep trials. Basically you have several dozen electrods attached to your body and you sleep at a special facility for one night. I went through the first trial and was diagnosed with slight apnea. I never did the second trial.

I've learned to just deal with the interrupted sleep pattern.
posted by Juicylicious at 11:11 AM on April 25, 2008

Seconding the suggestion that you should be checked for sleep apnea.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:19 AM on April 25, 2008

I take two Benadryl. Its safe, non-habit forming, and remains effective. It doesnt not damage your liver or kidneys with long term use.

Drink more water during the day, cut out some caffiene (25 to 50%) and put a fan in your bedroom.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:10 PM on April 25, 2008

I have similar issues.

One thing I've found: it's vital for me to NOT work on something complex right up until I go to bed. I work as a programmer, writer and theatre director. All three occupations can kill sleep. For instance, if I go to bed thinking about a programming problem I'm trying to solve, I'm finished. I will doze on and off, but I will keep waking up and thinking about the problem.

Let's say I HAVE To work right up until midnight. Even if I'm dead tired when I stop working, I've found that it's vital that I watch half and hour of TV (or read a chapter of an engrossing novel). ANYTHING to switch my mind out of problem-solving mode. Engrossing fiction works best for me.

I keep books-on-tape on my iPod and my iPod by my bed. If I do find myself getting restless, put in my earbuds and listen to part of a story. It's comforting to know that I can do that at any time, during the night, if I need to. Music doesn't work for me, because I can think about other things while listening to music. Stories work.

Also, I occasionally take Ambien. I'm talking one pill every two or three weeks. I'm not sure it's safe to take it all the time, but I don't have an addictive personality, so I'm not worried I'll ever start doing it. The good thing is that it REALLY knocks me out for about seven hours straight.

Better than the fact that it lets me sleep is the fact that it breaks a cycle. If I've had four bad nights in a row, I start worrying that I'll never get a good night sleep again. And then I can't sleep because I'm worried about not sleeping. So just knowing that if it gets really bad, I have a magic pill, is really comforting.

Finally, this is expensive, but I sleep with the air conditioning on. I pretty much do this year round, because it's always hot in my apartment. I live on the top floor, so in the winter, every else's heat rises up to my bedroom. And I can't just open a window, because it's too noisy outside. I make it a bit too cold. That allows me to control my temperature really easily by via pulling blankets on and off.
posted by grumblebee at 12:44 PM on April 25, 2008

Oh, I should add that I'm super-sensitive to caffeine. If I have more than a cup and half a day, that's it. No sleep. And I have to have it before noon. Any caffeine in the afternoon is a sleep killer.

I bring up this quirk because I wasn't always that way. I used to be able to drink coffee right before bed with no problems. The caffeine thing happened to me -- BAM -- all at once. I think it started when I was about 30.
posted by grumblebee at 12:58 PM on April 25, 2008

I have found hormonal changes, even the normal monthly ones, lead to occasional bouts of insomnia that get worse the older I get. Here's what I do:

I take a B complex early in the day for my nerves, then milk or a calcium drink (made from a powder supplement), or a bowl of cereal with milk before bed. Any little snack before bed will help balance the blood sugar: one ounce of cheese and some apple or a cracker, etc. I also take vitamin E the week before "Aunt Flo" visits, just the standard dose.

I have a lavender filled eye mask on the night stand if I need it, and lavender essential oil diluted with distilled water to spray on my wrists or face.

I keep a bottle of water next to the bed. My husband can hand it to me in his sleep now (and it doesn't get spilled because it's got a cap). I also drink a lot of water during the day, especially if I feel fatigued.

Watching some mindless TV, especially documentaries on the History Channel or something similar, helps, just before bed.

No caffeine after 10:00 am. Every time I've broken this rule, I pay for it later.

I try to get out for a walk, even if it's only 10 minutes, early in the day (before 2:00 p.m.).

No phone calls from people who might upset/excite me during supper or in the evening. No phone calls period if I can help it.

He sleeps with the covers on, I push them off onto his side whenever I feel like it.

I just got a little narrow fan that I can position to aim right at me so he doesn't get cold.

If I wake up before 4:30, I drink some water, use the bathroom, and lay back down. If it's after 4:30, I get up and take a short (no longer than 20 minute) nap mid-morning or early afternoon. Since I'm usually in bed at 9:30-10:00, it's not that big of a deal for me to get up early.

You might want to get your hormones and thyroid tested at your next physical, just to be sure. Add blood sugar to the list, thirst and frequent urination can be signs of that being messed up. You couldn't be preggers, could you? That can cause the urge to urinate as well.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 1:36 PM on April 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So, I think I might have figured it out! Last night I woke up around 4 and listened for unusual sounds and discovered my fiance was struggling to breathe. I spent an hour listening to him - he was definitely having sleep apnea from his allergies. Along with that he was doing a lot of tossing and turning. So, I'm thinking either I too am having trouble breathing from MY allergies, or that the crazy noises HE's making while he's sleeping are just enough to startle me awake a few times a night.

In any case, this gives me hope that this is a temporary issue. I've had severe allergies in late April before (once spent my birthday in the hospital, so I always get ready for it when 28 April rolls around) so this makes total sense.
posted by crinklebat at 11:47 AM on April 26, 2008

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