Intuitive sleeping?

I've never been a good sleeper.  Even when I was younger, it always took me well over an hour to fall asleep--pretty unusual for an 8-year-old.  But my brain just doesn't shut off.  Even if I'm not worrying per se, I can't stop thinking.

As I've gotten older, my circadian clock has shifted to be ever later.  I can fall asleep fairly easily as long as I don't head to bed until at least 2am.  A lot of times, later.  I've tried forcing myself to wake up early in the morning in the hopes that then I'll want to fall asleep earlier.

Nope.  Didn't work.

Just as I haven't yet mastered the art of intuitive eating, I apparently having mastered intuitive sleeping.  It seems obvious that you would fall asleep more easily if you're really tired.  You would think, right?  Not always, though. 

I don't think that being an extreme night owl is wrong or bad, but it's not always convenient when you're trying to keep regular work hours.  I had hoped by having a little less sleep for a few days that I would get tired earlier.  Except I didn't.  If I just stayed up until I really felt like going to sleep, I'd be up until the middle of the night.

Which has ultimately led me to the conclusion that I need more structure to my sleep schedule.  On the one hand, going to bed earlier means that I will probably be tossing and turning for many hours.  On the other hand, if I don't start going to bed earlier, then I'm never going to actually start getting to sleep earlier. I just get so insanely frustrated when I'm utterly exhausted, but my eyes won't stay shut.* Sleep meds just don't work for me, either.  If they do help me sleep, they turn me into a total zombie the entire next day, which sort of defeats the point of taking them.

Right now, I'm just hoping that more concerted efforts to sleep right will help.  Otherwise, I'm getting seriously frustrated.

*Sometimes, I have difficulty sleeping because I'm still hungry, but even when I get something extra, I still can't sleep.

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hm said...

My therapist has frequently told me I need to go to bed earlier. My RD says "even one more hour helps". I was that kid that used a flashlight under the covers to read a book b/c I couldn't sleep too, for as long as I can remember. The only thing I've found that helps me is tetris. I'm not kidding. Nintendo gameboy and tetris. It occupies that part of my mind that is always figuring, figuring, figuring, but is so mind-numbingly boring and repetitive that it helps me fall asleep. I play it till I notice that a few pieces have fallen in places I didn't plan, b/c my eyes must have drifted shut for a moment. Then I eagerly turn off the bedside lamp and wait for the coveted sleep to settle over me... if I do this too soon, the lamp goes off, my eyes fly open, the brain turns back on, and... drat, it's back to low lamplight and tetrising again until the next eyelid drift.

Laura said...

Or.... you could just accept your sleep patterns and be someone who goes to bed late, right? You could not fight yourself about this one...

Cammy said...

My boyfriend has huge problems falling asleep, and the only thing he's found that really works is to listen to an audiobook until he goes to sleep, for some reason that's the only thing that puts him out. But I can see someone like you maybe getting into the book more, which might make it a counterproductive strategy...

I have always been a pretty good sleeper; if I don't have to wake up for anything I generally sleep about 11:45-6:15, which isn't a ton but seems to be all I need. I have gone through a few periods where I did struggle with it, but those mostly seemed to correlate with periods in which I was eating very poorly.

One thing I do that a lot of people recommend is to compartmentalize, in other words don't hang out in your bedroom at all until you want to go to sleep. No TV in the room, no reading or laptop in bed, etc. When I was living with my family last year I had limited space and so sat on my bed for EVERYTHING, and found that tended to push my bedtime back quite a bit if I wasn't careful.

I know this is a frustrating issue, I've hated watching my boyfriend deal with it, hope you are able to get on a more satisfying schedule soon!

HungryMac said...

I've always had trouble shutting my brain off too. When I was little, it was worry. Now, as an adult it varies. Sometimes worry, sometimes just not being able to stop thinking about things.

Through my treatment plan/testing/appointments, we discovered that I apparently have OCD - but with a Capital O and teeny tiny C. So, the obsessing is what's apt to keep me up. I'm working on it. LOL Zoloft has helped shut the brain down a little and the rest is up to me to try get under control. A lot of times I'll get up and write a list of everything in my brain and leave it for the morning. That helps the "bless and release" process.

Jessie said...

My friend has the same problem. She only gets about three hours of sleep a night, but the doctor won't prescribe her sleeping pills because she's too young. I've heard that taking a warm bath before bed can help, or have you tried those teas that are supposed to make you fall asleep? Read your favourite book- whenever I do this before bed, I get so tired, unless, of course, it's an adventure I haven't read before. Then I just get excited, so make sure it's a book you know. Or, my therapist has given me an actiity to do before bed each night. I think back over the day and write down all the things that made me feel good about myself or made me happy, but it can't be about my weight or shape. It might help to just relax you. If you're allowed some activity, the Chinese practive of Qigong/Chi Gong/Kung is like a light form of yoga that is very relaxing and stress releaving. It's just a basic set of movements that you repeat to let out the bad feelings. It works great.
Hope you get ona better schedule soon, keep working!

Anonymous said...

I BEG you, don't start night eating. I've been suffering from night eating syndrome for two years now and cannot kick it. I'm doing so well in the rest of my recovery, but wake up every morning ashamed of what happened between 11PM and 7AM.

I would normally not leave an anonymous comment, but I have not come out to many about this issue of mine. I don't wish it upon my worst enemy...

Anonymous said...

I have always had difficulty falling asleep, particularly when I am stressed. Regardless of how tired I am, as soon as I turn out the light, I am wide awake and toss and turn for at least an hour, often longer. One thing that i have found that works, like someone else mentioned, is putting on an audiobook. I always put on something that I have already read/listened too like one of the Harry Potter books. Now this may seem a bit weird, but I find if I concentrate on listening for the names of characters and then spelling out the name each time I hear it with my finger as if writing it, I relax and fall asleep much faster. It takes just enough concentration to keep me from thinking of other things and worrying, but not enough to keep me from falling asleep within 30 minutes or so. Weird, I know, but I find it really helps when I'm having difficulty falling asleep.

Incredible Eating Anorexics said...

see all over my facebook just now, friends comments are "i can't sleep" "why can't i get to sleep?" and so on.... its odd that so many can't sleep just now. (slightly off topic!)

HikerRD said...

@Anonymous regarding caution about night eating-

From my experience seeing large numbers of clients with night eating issues, the problem stems from daytime deprivation, generally in terms of total caloric intake. I have also seen it as a way of getting in what you deprive yourself of in your conscious state in the daytime. People have truly had great success when they liberalize their daytime intake. No one trusts this at first, but all are delighted with the outcome.
Hope that helps.
And for you, Carrie, good for you for giving your body what it needs, regardless of the hour of day or night!

Anonymous said...

I have trouble sleeping every summer. I'm not teaching and my kids are out of school, so I can sleep late in the morning. A few days of that, and I'm not able to fall asleep at the usual time at night. So I stay up later, and end up sleeping even later in the morning. Before I know it, I can't fall asleep before 2 AM. Once fall arrives and I consistently start waking up earlier in the morning, I'm able to fall asleep earlier at night.

'Krystal' said...

Hi Carrie.
My husband, middle son and myself all struggle with sleep. I spoke to a specialist and he recommended melatonin and valerian root. They r both all natural and nonaddictive. I had tried sleeping pills before but had very bad side effects and can't take them - these however seem to be great! Just be sure us use the fast melt style melatonin and plug your nose for the valerian root!

Tiptoe said...

Adding structure to sleeping can be tough. It is hard to break habits. I do all the compartmentalizing, but for me, it's physically getting myself to go to sleep in my bed room. I can easily fall asleep in my chair. Heck, I've even fallen asleep lying on the floor in Clover's room.

One strategy I've heard runners use before races (this is another issue as if I get up early to go for a long run and don't get much sleep, I am running like a zombie) is trying to go to bed 15 minutes earlier each day leading up until race day. So for you, this might be 15 minutes earlier/week, something like that. That might help to just break it into smaller steps, so you don't feel like you have to go to bed at midnight when you are used to 2am.

Also, I do think what Laura says how clout--that accepting your actual Circadian rhythm may not be a bad thing. For example, I know people who have lost jobs because they could not get there at 8am, but when they found jobs where they did not have to get there until noon, it worked out for them. Something to think about.

mlks said...

My average falling asleep time is 45 minutes--anything under is a phenomenal night. So yeah, I hear you on the tossing and turning.

Things that help:
-Structure. God. I get up at 5am during the school year (I'm a teacher), and I've found that if I sleep much past 5:45 during my 'off' time, it messes me up. Also, if I stay up until 10:30, I'm usually awake until midnight, but if I can head to bed b/w 9 and 9:30, there are fewer really bad nights.

-Like someone else mentioned, games help. I like Word Warp and Solitaire (both iPhone games, so I can play with the lights off already, which also really helps me). When I stop being able to play well, it's time to put the phone down and close the eyes. Reading is too stimulating.

-Bringing the laptop to bed and putting on a DVD. Preferably West Wing because I've seen the first four seasons so many times that I know the dialogue by heart. It gives me something to focus on until suddenly I realize I must have dropped off during the second episode.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I always had trouble falling asleep as a child. What made it worse was that I worried about it. I hated being awake in my bed.

It got better when I was a teenager and developed the habit of imagining stories in my head. I didn't necessarily fall asleep faster, but I stopped complaining about it, and all in all it stopped being the problem it had been. It just took me over an hour to fall asleep... Well, if I went to bed around 10, that was still okay.

Since I've been with my boyfriend, I realized that my bad sleeping habits come back as soon as I don't go to bed with him. I will stay up until after midnight doing things that make my brain work, just because I'm afraid to be bored in bed, and that I always feel I should work more if I can. Unfortunately, intellectual work may exhaust you, it will also make your brain that much harder to shut off. I'm trying to get better at relaxing. At not stressing about what I haven't done or will have to do, etc. (one of the many reasons why I'm interested in practicing yoga)

For me, it's very psychological in the end. I've noticed that my boyfriend spooning me or giving me a light massage helps me fall asleep so much, and I think it's only because it makes me feel safe, and taken care of, and I can finally let go. The hard part is finding this impression by myself, even when he's not physically there to create it.

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Steve Berke said...

I enjoyed reading your article :) PLease continue publishing helpful topics like this. Regards, from beddingstock.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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