Friday, April 15, 2011

No longer the girl who sleeps around

Last June, I blog-bragged about my ability to sleep anytime, anywhere, in just about any conceivable position.

I should be slapped for that.

Because after a lifetime of smugly delighting in my Olympic-caliber sleeping skills, I've been struggling with it these past few months.

I can still fall asleep easily enough, so hope isn't lost there. It's just that I find myself popping awake at 3 a.m. with my brain saying, "let's go!" and my body saying "are you @#$% nuts?"

Then they fight it out with medieval weaponry and a pancake turner until I finally drag my sleep-deprived butt out of bed and get on with my day.

I've had a few returns to normalcy in the last couple weeks, which probably has more to do with staying out until ungodly hours for day-job functions or more amusing pursuits. Even my unrested brain sees the mathematical challenge in waking at 3 a.m. if I stay up until 4.

Still, I know I have to get myself back on some sort of routine. I've tried not looking at the clock when I pop awake, figuring I can't stress about the time if I don't know what it is. A friend suggested leaving my iPhone downstairs so I'm not tempted to check messages while tossing and turning (something that inevitably clicks my brain into fully-awake "are we working now?" mode).

Another pal told me to lie there and count my blessings. It's a pleasant enough endeavor, but perhaps not well-suited to a romance writer whose imagination tends to drift toward the more x-rated blessings.

Do you have any tricks for falling back asleep when you wake up at a ridiculous time? Please share!

Also, don't forget to stop by The Debutante Ball today where we've been blogging about "big breaks" all week. Mine involve drugs, nudity, and obscene gestures.

Why do none of you seem surprised?


Bill Cameron said...

I was in a room full of people discussing this just last night. Suggestions included:

- Melatonin. Results were mixed, but those who say it works were passionate.

- Benedryl. Yeah, I know.

- No electronics in the bedroom (computer, phone, TV). And no electronic interaction for a minimum of one hour before sleep time. Some argued in favor of two hours buffer.

- If you read before bed, do it sitting up with a warm-colored light. (Full-spectrum bulbs and those energy-saver bulbs emit a spectrum which confuses your brain as to the time of day.)

- White noise. This is mine. I can't sleep in silence. I can with a faint, even hissing noise.

Probably more, but this is what everyone discussed last night.

abby mumford said...

i have a similar issue. i can fall asleep fine, but staying asleep, forget it? i can't offer any suggestions, but you can bet i'm going to be watching these comments and taking notes on all suggestions. bill's gotten us off to a nice start.

Kristina said...

I'm a good sleeper. But when I've got stuff to get done that I'm either procrastinating about or overwhelmed by, I can count on waking at 3:30 or 4 to obsess about it. Best fix? Get that to-do list managed and then sleep returns.

My guess? You're needing to get some stuff done in order to move to the next stage...and it's a hard to-do list.

Many hugs sweetie...I'm thinking of you.

Linda G. said...

I have friends who swear by melatonin, but I haven't tried it myself. When I wake up before I should, I usually just spin stories in my head. If I can't sleep, at least I can keep myself entertained.

lora96 said...

Sorry, you're asking the wrong girl. I have the hormone-induced vivid nightmares of early pregnancy...which wake me at midnight and it's over. Or two if i'm really fortunate.

So...good luck? I got nothin, babe. Hope it gets better.

Jess said...

Yeah, Benedryl works for me. I'm supposed to take it for allergies anyway--doctor's suggestion--so I just pop a couple before bed and I'm usually out. I take my non-drowsy allergy meds in the morning.

That said, it can be difficult to get up. I'm not a morning person at all, but I wake up extra-groggy when I've had my little pink pills.

Stephanie said...

Most of the time, if I don't move too much and I don't open my eyes too much, I can fall back asleep. But if I wake and I'm wide awake...I don't bother fighting it. But then the next night, I;m so exhausted, I crash and don't wake up. Wish I had better advice. :(

Danica Avet said...

Most of the time I'm a sleep-through-the-night person, but when I do have trouble sleeping, or getting back to sleep, I force my body to relax. I'm talking relaxing my eyebrows even! From head-to-toes, I force myself to relax and then think about something completely non-work, non-writing related. That usually puts me out.

Good luck though. It's a pain in the ass to lose your sleeping routine.

Christina Auret said...

I use to have a lot of trouble falling asleep when I was little due to a healthy fear of the monster that lived under my bed. The only way I could fall asleep was by distracting myself with made up stories.

I eventually outgrew the monster (I am now much heavier than he is), but even today the random made up story method works.

The only downside is waking up thinking the story from the previous night was fantastic, then realizing I can't remember how it went.

Diane Henders said...

I almost always wake up sometime between 2:30 and 4:30 AM. That's "normal" for me.

If I lie there and try to get back to sleep, it'll take at least an hour. If I'm lucky.

But if I get up for a few minutes (10 or so), I can get back into bed and go right back to sleep.

I think it works because the lowered body temperature acts as a signal to your body that it's time to sleep.

The key: don't turn on any lights or start anything. Just get out of bed and sit quietly in the dark in a comfortable place. And try not to be upset about the fact that you're not sleeping. This is what your body wants to do for now, and it will go back to its own version of "normal" when it's ready.

That's what works for me, anyway. Hope you find a solution.

German Chocolate Betty said...

For me, same as Kristin: "when I've got stuff to get done that I'm either procrastinating about or overwhelmed by, I can count on waking at 3:30 or 4 to obsess about it..."

Which segues into Tawna: "It's just that I find myself popping awake at 3 a.m. with my brain saying, "let's go!" and my body saying "are you @#$% nuts?"..."

Generally can sleep through most anything but episodes of procrastination-induced panic and sometimes just "WTF??!!"

For me there are a couple of strategies, all of which are counter everything that you read (the current wisdom is like the stuff in Bill's msg -- no electronics, no light, etc...).

I can't stand white noise, that hissing and stuff would drive me batshit. What works for me is a light but good book (lately lots of Georgette Heyers, and, of course, Jenny Crusies...), because it gets my mind off-track. (Normal bedside lamp, BTW, nothing special.) Basically anything to replace the weirdness rattling around in my head.

I also often will go down to the kitchen and get myself a slice of cheese. Don't know if it's the milk solids (you know, like warm milk before bed), or whether it's some sort of comfort food, or whether I am on a certain level a bit peckish and it satisfies this mini-hunger -- but works for me. ("Pavlov's dogs"-type habit by now, I 'spose..."eat cheese, fall asleep"...)

Recently I was jolted awake at 3:30a.m., brain twirling like a hamster-wheel containing a rodent on steroids. I decided I'd try to go to work super-early, so made myself a pot of coffee, enjoyed a big mug, and all of a sudden I was dozy again. Turned off the light, rolled over and BAM, out like a light.

The Benedryl/caffeine thing is a weird thing -- your body reacts differently to caffeine and other stimulants depending on the time of day...

Oh, yeah, I sometimes will pull a coat on over my jammies and go for a walk with the dog. Who half the time balks, saying "WTF?? it's the middle of the friggin' night!" -- this is the only time of the day where she is NOT enthusiastic about walkies.

FWIW. For me it's all about distraction to stop the hamster in my head...

Steph Schmidt said...

I'm a really light sleeper so if I wake up before my alarm its because something made a noise or moved. The only thing that keeps me awake afterwards is if its light outside. I'm thinking of trying a sleeping mask just so if I do wake up before my alarm the light from the window doesn't keep me awake.

That said I echo the advice someone else mentioned, don't turn on a computer or use your iphone. It's telling your brain tehee work mode time!

Have you tried flipping the pillow over for the cold side, roll over to the other side and try to stare at the inside of your eyelids? Weirdest trick but it worked during my last bout of insomnia. I couldn't stay awake just starring at my eyelids.

German Chocolate Betty said...

By the way, not that this helps solve the problem of not sleeping, but I recently read a very, very interesting sleep study.

In this study they basically studied the sleeping habits of a couple of those stone-age tribes that still exist in some of the farflung corners of the world. The scientists were interested in finding out what sleep patterns are like when there are no artificial lights, no alarms, no clocks, no schedules, i.e., none of the trappings of "modern life"... In other words: the natural sleep cycles of humans existing as they have for millions and millions of years.

What they found out was extremely interesting: we are NOT programmed to sleep 8 hours straight. These people would wake up consistently in the middle of the night and stay awake for roughly two hours before falling back asleep. But within the tribe, different people had different rhythms. What resulted was that at any given point in time, there were always a few people awake (to GUARD the safety of the tribe!). During that time, because there were always a few of them, they found out there was a lot of social interaction (quiet talking, nursing babies, etc.), also most sexual activity was during this time.

BTW, when they duplicated this with volunteers (no lights, no electric devices, and after they eliminated their sleep deficits), after a certain amount of time (a week or so) they went into exactly the same modus.

Turns out the concept of "sleeping through the night" is something we have imposed upon ourselves, but it isn't natural.

I used to have the feeling I had to worry if I didn't sleep through the night, I no longer worry about it. After all, a lot of folks let themselves get even more wound up trying to convince themselves there is something wrong with them. Since I stopped worrying about not sleeping, I don't have so many problems not sleeping.

End of lecture. You're welcome....

Sarah W said...

I keep paper and pen by my bed, so I can write down anything I feel I must get up and do at those 3am wake up calls, so I'm not worried about forgetting it.

This seems to help.

Mark Simpson said...

I am a chronic insomniac, and if you can run your own schedule, I am completely with German Chocolate Betty. When I was remodeling my house I just slept when I was tired, worked while I was awake and it was great. No two days were ever the same, the work got done, and I went from several cups or coffee a day to zero without even thinking about it.

But now, with a regular schedule to keep once again only one thing works, and that's exercise. If I get out on my mountain bike for an hour or two after work I crash out early and sleep sound... and if not I'm tossing and turning and finding netflix movies I haven't seen since I was a child. "Time Bandits"!!! awesome!

Option three is a few glasses of good Scotch or Bourbon, which I still enjoy probably more often than necessary. But the sleep isn't quality, and the hangover isn't fun.

The body fuels the mind, and I'll bet if you power-hiked a local trail every day (or whatever) the issue would quickly no longer be how to fall asleep, but rather how to stay awake.

Judy,Judy,Judy. said...

I didn't get a chance to read all the comments (playing at the library today) but I'm a chronic insomniac so what Mark said. I find I can sleep from about 5 or 6 am until noon to 3pm, if my schedule allows.

A caution about the melatonin; try it first when you don't have to function well the next day. I say this because I tried it and I had that foggy brain kind of hangover. I kept breaking the pill into smaller and smaller pieces but melatonin isn't for me.

OT To be eligible to win a free copy of No Such Thing As A Secret by Shelly Fredman, go to and post a comment today, Sat. or Sun. (15th, 16th, 17th ). Shelly will pick one winner from the comments and I will announce the winner on Wed. the 20th.
Thanks. As you were.

Anne Gallagher said...

I hate to say this, and I don't know if it's any way related to what you're going through -- but I know you drink wine. And that would put me down for the night, but then I found I was getting up in the middle of the night. And not being able to get back to sleep. I'd cut it out for awhile and see if that helps any. and if you already have, sorry, I've got nothing else except Tylenol PMs.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Anne's right about the wine. It sounds counter-intuitive, but drinking wine before bedtime can actually cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. (unless you drank a whole LOT of it, maybe) Sometimes, if you're worried about a long list of to-do items, just writing them down on a piece of paper before you go to bed helps you relax and let go of them. Beats waking up and having them niggle at the back of your head.

Alexa O said...

I've had problems with this my whole life. Sometimes it's in the falling asleep, sometimes in the staying asleep. I've had some luck with medicine, but who wants to rely on that all the time? Here are two surprisingly good tricks:

1. Drink milk and/or have a slice of bread with butter. Not sure why it works, but it helps me a LOT.

2. NY Times Crossword Puzzles. I never did them before, so I started with the "200 Easy Puzzle Omnibus." They aren't really that easy, so you won't get that "oh, it's on the tip of my brain" anxiety (unless they are easy for you, in which case, get the harder ones). You'll just drift off, holding your pencil.

I also often get up for 10 minutes and/or write a list of the things on my mind, as two other people said.

Hope that helps!

If not, think in terms of something repetitive, non-narrative, and non-electronic. Cross stitch, coloring book, something like that.

Let us know what you figure out!

And thanks to everyone else for your ideas! I'll definitely add them to my strategy list.

Anonymous said...

I used to sleep badly on the nights I was alone in the house. A friend brought me one of those wedge pole things that go under the doorknob so no one could enter the bedroom. Darned if it didn't work! Evidently I was subconsciously worried about that. It's not a lock, so in the event I have to get out quickly, there's no problem. The second thing is to remove all ambient light from clocks, night-lights, etc. Evidently, sleep studies have shown it makes a big difference. I hope you get past the 3:30am wake-ups!


Thanks so much to all of you for all the wonderful suggestions! I'm taking note of all of it and will definitely put much of this to good use!


Anonymous said...

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the soporific effects of a good drink, now wouldn't I?

(Not that it's a good idea to tie one on at 3 am or anything. I certainly don't recommend THAT. Unless you want to. Y'know.)

Natascha said...

I cannot have any type of clock in my room when I go to sleep, otherwise I actually WAKE UP to see what time it is. Crazy, I know :) I sympathize!

Allie Sanders said...

As someone who has had insomnia as a life-long bedmate I can say that to some extent you're screwed. You're just going to have to wait it out. Yep, happy news.

Some of the things I've found that have helped me with that annoying waking up in the middle of the night thing include:
-White noise. I have a fan beside my bed that stays on all night. Blocks out the rest of the noises in the house and street.
-Block your windows, Personally if I can see it's getting the slightest bit lighter my brain tells my body it's done and we're up. In my bedroom it looks like midnight all day long. Especially helpful for naps.
-Avoid electronics. Don't have your phone anywhere near you. You'll be tempted to look and it'll wake you up.

Mostly all you can really do is turn over, pull the blanket over your head and clear your mind. I sometimes focus on breathing, counting in and out until it becomes part of the white noise. Only problem with that is sometimes when I focus on my breathing I can't seem to tune it out. Hope it gets better for you. Not sleeping is never any good.

Skye said...

Sometimes Melatonin.

A single aspirin.

A piece of cheese.

Warm milk with honey and vanilla.

a B.O.B., but sometimes it makes me feel wakey. :)

I wear a sleep mask because an apartment isn't conducive to total darkness.

good luck.

Laina said...

I don't. I'm the type of person who if I wake up, lying there in bed is only going to make me more awake. The other night I went to bed at 11pm, woke up at 4am and I was up til like 6:30, 7. So... after years of this, I just get up and do stuff.

I have very little caffeine in my day to day life (I know, I'm a freak) so if I get tired later, I just drink a Dr. Pepper or something and I'm good to go for a while :P

The saddest thing is I remember doing that once when I was like 9, waking up at 4am and not sleeping for the rest of the day. It seriously freaked my mother out, but she's used to it now.

Anonymous said...

Sleeping is not my problem, waking up is. I need an alarm clock, always. I can sleep for (and have) over ten hours. If something or someone does not wake me up, well.... I'd still be sleeping now.

Caryn Caldwell said...

When I have trouble sleeping it's usually because I'm either worried about something that I can't fix right at that moment or I'm worked up about not being able to sleep. (Seriously. Thinking about insomnia makes me have it.) The solution, for me, is sometimes just to distract myself from these thoughts while also boring myself to death. I'll usually do this by doing little games like going down the alphabet thinking of, for example, a boy's name that starts with A, then one that starts with B, then C...Or I'll do capital cities or names of classic books or movies or singers or something. Writing a story in my mind sometimes helps, but at other times if I'm convinced that this is a wonderful story then I can't sleep until I write it down, which often wakes me up more. Also, some sleep meds will knock you out for the first few hours, and then you wake up because it's like you run out of sleep. That's my problem with melatonin. Good luck!

Cat Moleski said...

Recently I discovered that I will sleep through the night if I have no coffee, not even decaf, and no chocolate, not even one bite. Otherwise, I'll wake up between 3 and 3:30 and stay awake for 2 hours. Also, too much red wine, more than one glass, will wake me up, white wine over two glasses will also. And more than two gin and tonics gives me nightmares. Try keeping a food journal, maybe that will help make connections.

Becky said...

It could be blood sugar falling (I'm not diabetic or anything, just old, and that's what kept me awake for MONTHS until I figured it out). A spoonful of peanut butter works for me, but chesse would be an option too.