The Unravelled Sleeve: Insomnia

FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
It's 6 in the morning, I've been awake since 3, what better way to pass the dragging hours than starting a thread on Sleep?

Reasons I am awake include, but are not limited to -
  • Thinking about things that bother me
  • Thinking about things that are interesting
  • Habituation - I've been having to get up v early all week to let in gardeners.
  • The discomfort in my shoulder if I lie on that side
  • The glasses of port on top of wine
  • Too hot
  • Too cold
  • Old age

So, fellow conscript owls, share strategies, or we can just kvetch.


  • JennyAnnJennyAnn Shipmate
    Yep. I’m here.

    Well, actually I’ve been here since 5ish. My reasons are similar. I’ve never been a good sleeper, but I’m worse since having the children. I try to be quite zen about it (well, what can you do?!), but, quite frankly, insomnia p*sses me right off.

    I don’t have a problem getting to sleep, it’s waking at 4 or 5am that I suffer with.

    Alcohol certainly makes it worse, as does any caffeine after lunchtime.

    My strategy is reading. If it ‘switches my brain off’ from my worries and I go back to sleep, brilliant. If it doesn't, I’ve read a good book.

  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    I wake most mornings at 3am and go over all the mistakes, failures and stupidities I've made in past decades, before going back to sleep at 5.30am. Which really sets me up for waking bleary eyed at 6am to face the day ahead.

    No doubt there is some cyclic biochemistry at work or a pathophysiological reason for this wide-eyed misery-inducing compulsion in the small hours, but I doubt a cure will be found in my lifetime.

    Everything seems worse at 3am.
  • CameronCameron Shipmate
    Insomnia is an utter bugger, and everyone is on the edge of reason at 3am.

    There are no easy cures.

    Sometimes I find night anxiety is helped by reading a prayer from the NZ Prayer Book’s Night Prayer - go to page numbered 184 at this link.

    Best read slowly, aloud.

    I also like Firenze’s answer of resorting to a book - I normally have something non-fiction for this purpose, so I don’t get hooked on a plot...!
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    MaryLouise wrote: »
    I wake most mornings at 3am and go over all the mistakes, failures and stupidities I've made in past decades.


    Even my 'best' nights are instalment sleep: something between 40 and 90 minutes asleep, wake, look at clock, see disappointingly small hour, rinse, repeat.

  • Cameron wrote: »

    I also like Firenze’s answer of resorting to a book - I normally have something non-fiction for this purpose, so I don’t get hooked on a plot...!

    I find audiobooks on very low volume better for this purpose, since you don't need to put the light on or hold a book. I have a collection of favourites that I know really well, so I'm not trying to stay awake to find out what happens; and I choose ones without sudden bloodcurdling shrieks. Margery Allingham's 'The Beckoning Lady', Ben Aaronovitch 'Foxglove Summer', or Terry Pratchett 'Maskerade', 'Pyramids', etc etc. Currently rehearing 'Carpe Jugulum'.

    And if you know the story well, you can judge how much time you spent asleep by the bits you miss!

    Mrs. S, whose worry circuits light up at 3 am without some distraction

  • caroline444caroline444 Shipmate
    edited January 25
    MaryLouise - I'm so sorry you have that burden... It really sounds tough.

    I have always woken early. I used to get up at 3 - 4am and spend the early hours painting watercolours. At night I would go to bed ridiculously early. It was a routine that suited me well.

    Nowadays I wake at 5am. I drink 3 cups of coffee while watching the news or a documentary, or maybe I write emails, then I go back to bed at about 7am and sleep until 9.00. I can't believe I can sleep after so much coffee, but I can. Of course this routine depends on the luxury of being retired, rather than having to go to work.

    For me the secret of my contentment with early awakenings is that I always get up and do something. I particularly enjoyed hearing the dawn chorus at my last house, which had single-glazed windows. That wonderful patchwork of songs slowly rising out of the darkness. I think the early mornings are my favourite time of day.
  • I think that my insomnia is 'natively' biochemical. I used to sleep very soundly and regularly, until my early 30s. Whether I'm drinking or (as currently) abstemious, alcohol seems to make no difference. For me, five hours is luxurious. A new, and very unwelcome, development is my 'time shifting': I'm going to sleep later and rising later. This is irrational of me, but, as I live alone, I've become phobic about taking any sort of sleep aid (except a large brandy) ever since a close friend of mine aspirated.
  • TwilightTwilight Shipmate
    2:40am here.

    Like Mary Louise this is my time to stew over all my regrets. They never change. I'm still imagining do-overs that are fifty years too late and holding grudges about past hurts, while my deepest regrets are over the times I hurt others.

    I read a novel a few weeks ago called "The Second Sleep" that began with a quote from historian, Roger Ekirch. He describes how households at one time (pre-industrial) retired a couple of hours after dusk, woke a few hours later for one to two hours, and then had a second sleep until dawn.

    That's my pattern, go to bed about nine, read for an hour, sleep until about two, then lie awake for two hours before going back to sleep. Just knowing that people used to find this normal is helping me and I'm more likely to get up and read or surf the internet for awhile, rather than toss and turn in frustration.

    My dog feels she has to get up with me and I don't like disturbing her but when we take our cold selves back to bed it does seem extra warm and cozy.

    Reading this long rambling post might help someone go to sleep.
  • Twilight, you raise an interesting question. A friend of mine has a service dog and three cats. I was wondering how much the dog follows him around the house when the dog is sort of 'off the clock'. Now I'm wondering how the menagerie reacts when he wakes in the middle of the night. Do they become insomniac to match their human's rhythms?
  • BoogieBoogie Shipmate
    edited January 25
    When I wake at Silly O’Clock I put on a podcast to stop me thinking.

    Music doesn’t work and nor does the radio. Reading doesn’t work because my eyes ping open when I put the book down.

    It has to be uninteresting podcasts or I listen too intently - just waffle waffle waffle. They work for me 95% of the time.

    I can tell I’m sleeping well if I wake up, look at the clock and I’m pleased it’s not time to get up!

  • As an intermittent insomniac I found it reassuring to learn that the human sleep pattern is naturally in 2 phases - even Samuel Pepys wrote about “first sleep” and “second sleep”, in between which people would get up, socialise, have their hair cut, and more.

    Doing a web search for “second sleep” gives a lot more info.

    So for me it allowed me to relax about it and not get too stressed - sometimes I’d lie there just resting my eyes and body, other times (when worried) I’d get up and get stuff done to try to help sort those worries out, even if it was some patchwork to relax me.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    @caroline444 the insomnia comes and goes, always worse at times when I'm financially stressed or overworked and most in need of sleep. But I am also an early riser who loves the dawn and hates sleeping in late.
  • I have a great temptation when awake in the wee small hours, in the form of a lover six hours behind me. We have had some wonderful conversations in my insomniac times, but I find myself exhausted for the following day, since that still insists on happening....
  • Yes I hear you all. Regularly am awake for 2-3 hours in the middle of the night, usually resort to a book when other methods don't work. If I find myself stewing over past injustices, I have found that singing 'Let it go, let it gooooooaaaah' in a silly voice usually makes me laugh or smile, which takes the immediate botheration out of it. Other aids are sticking my head out of the window for some big breaths of air (and a slap of rain in my face!) and a few glugs of tap water, maybe even marching around the house to let off steam. But books are definitely best. Strangely, if I do a crossword during the day, it makes me fall asleep. But if I try to do one in the night, it makes me even more awake!
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    I like early mornings. I like the quietness. I like seeing the dawn

    I just wish they were preceded by at least 6 hours continuous shuteye.
  • Firenze wrote: »
    I like early mornings. I like the quietness. I like seeing the dawn

    I just wish they were preceded by at least 6 hours continuous shuteye.
    But research is showing that 6 continuous hours isn’t what our bodies were designed to do, and that 2 lots of 4 (ish) hours with a period of wakefulness is not unexpected.
  • caroline444caroline444 Shipmate
    edited January 25
    @MaryLouise I'm glad to hear that the insomnia is just now and then.

    @Firenze It's good to bump into another lark (MaryLouise sounds like one too....)

    If I can't sleep with worry it's always when I go to bed. I just end up actually going to sleep much later than usual, after endlessly tossing and turning.
  • AravisAravis Shipmate
    I don’t mind waking up in the middle of the night and reading for a while. What’s annoying is if I wake up about 1-2 hours before I need to get up (knowing I really haven’t had a full night’s sleep yet) because then I don’t fall asleep again, or do so just before my alarm.

    I miss my cat regulating this; he used to fall asleep at the foot of the bed, then wake up after about 3-4 hours and go downstairs for a snack - which meant I could then go to the bathroom, read, and be fairly sure of several more hours’ sleep afterwards. (Unless it was summer, in which case the cat would resurface with the dawn and wander round the house loudly proclaiming this fact until everyone had finally got up; at which point he would consider his duty done and go back to bed for the rest of the morning.)
  • I find that physical pain goes looking for thoughts. Planning for waking time that's going to happen anyway with some idea of what I might decide to think of tonight. Then I'm thinking of the planned nice thing while watching from that thought what my mind goes to which isn't so great.
  • LeafLeaf Shipmate
    Hello, fellow 3:30 am Shipmates! And thank you for opening this thread.

    My quality of sleep has moved from utterly abysmal to pretty terrible - so, progress, I guess? I was so pleased the other night to have woken at 4:45 am instead of the usual 3:30 am.

    My reasons include some of Firenze's and a few more.

    YMMV on any of the following things I've noticed about my own sleep life, so feel free to ignore or apply whatever you feel. I'm in no position to lecture anyone on their sleep health.

    What did not help me: napping. Although a powerful temptation for me, I found that napping just fucked up my sleep life even more. However grim the day without a nap, I find that for me it becomes very much worse when I nap. I have family commitments that require me to get up at 7 am daily, and I go to bed at 10:30 pm regularly. Messing with any of those has a bad effect on my quality of life.

    What did help me, a little bit, sometimes but not always: slowly thinking through any kind of ridiculous alphabet book. "A is for..., B is for..., C..." etc. It doesn't matter how simple or complex the words. Each letter is one slow inhale and exhale, go to the next. I slowly progress through one or two alphabets, think "this is fucking boring" and then fall asleep. I suppose it's a different form of counting sheep, which never worked for me, but oddly a slow alphabet sometimes does. Maybe it's regression to childhood, or regulates breathing, or some mix.
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host, Circus Host
    Aravis wrote: »
    I don’t mind waking up in the middle of the night and reading for a while ...
    The trouble with that for me would be that I'd have to get up to do it. I really can't read in bed: I can never find a position that's comfortable and doesn't result in cricks in places I didn't know I had places.

    I'm a natural owl: unless I have to be up for a specific time, I might not go to bed much before one in the morning. If I go to bed much before midnight, even if I fall asleep right away there's a fair chance I'll be unwelcomely wide awake at four in the morning.

    And if I wake, say, an hour or two before I have to, I'll worry that if I fall asleep again I'll oversleep.
  • BoogieBoogie Shipmate
    @caroline444 another lark checking in!

    I go to bed at 10pm but could easily go at 9:30! I get up at 7am every morning but in summer I’m often awake and ready for up at 6am.

    I’m full of beans in the morning and, if I’ve got tasks to do which involve joined up thinking, I make sure I do them before 10am.

  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    I’m a lark too, and also someone who wakes up loads in the night and often struggles to go back to sleep. I often write stories in my head and keep myself awake thinking of the next bit. What I need to do is write the flipping thing down
  • I'm told that some of this bullshit is hooked up to aging in general and menopause in particular (though IANTKOD, so take it with a grain of salt). My trouble is that when my sleep gets to a lighter part of the cycle, my anxiety is strong enough to break through and bring me partly or wholly awake. I've really got to work on the de-stressing.
  • HuiaHuia Shipmate
    If I meditate sometime during the day I always sleep better that night, so what you said about de-stressing works for me Lamb Chopped.
  • GalilitGalilit Shipmate
    edited January 26
    Something in my cancer meds combination ( I read up on it) stopped me sleeping completely about 8 months ago.
    After having a couple of weeks of alternating panic and trying to use constructively a 22 hour day, followed by 2 hours sleep broken up by frightening dreams ... I got A Pill from The Family Doctor. (A perfectly regular one, not at all special or even especially strong) . I also drink a herbal tea before bed. So now I have totally "engineered" sleep of 6 or 7 hours. (And a natural afternoon nap of an hour or 90 minutes)
    I second the one about reading - I read the Tao Te Ching when I lie down. Tranquil and serious but not demanding or stimulating. (Hastens to add: in an English translation!!)
  • When I wake at 03:00 or thereabouts, which happens often, I get a mug of coffee (dark roast, always, which has less caffeine), browse a book on old steam locomotives or similar for half an hour, then head back to bed to sleep soundly until 07:00 or so. It always works for me. At one time I tried a dram at bed time, which induces sleep, but not good quality sleep.
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host, Circus Host
    I quite often have a mug of milky, creamy hot chocolate before going to bed; it's quite effective for helping to knock me out; a bowl of cereal with milk will have a similar effect.

    I was worried that I'd have trouble sleeping after D. died (and apparently so were many of my friends, judging by how often I've been asked), but for the most part I've been sleeping like a log.
  • The traditional ship watch system is 4 hours on then 4 hours off; except for the afternoon "dog watches" which are 2 on, 2 off. This ensures that no-one ever gets more than 4 hours unbroken sleep, and the time off watch alternates from day to day. So far as I am aware, this runs completely counter to modern ideas of the ideal sleep pattern, but sailors generally greatly disliked any change to a more logical watch system.
  • When I was younger I used to get nights when I lay awake endlessly but I cannot recall the last one. Perhaps this is because I have developed techniques that help me handle them from turning the pillow to getting up, making a drink and reading a book. There are all sorts of levels in-between those two.

    Now my insomnia takes another form. My body has decided it does not really like dreaming, so if I am at all off colour my body will wake me up every time I should be dreaming. So on a bad night if I go to bed at 10:30pm, I wake 11:45pm, 1:00am, 2:15am, 3:30am, 4:45am and 6:00am at which point I give up and wait for my alarm to go off. However, getting back to sleep once awake is not difficult. Usually all I need to do is to turn the pillow over or kick off a blanket, basically something that drops my body temperature slightly, and I drop off again until the next time I am about to dream.
  • NenyaNenya Shipmate
    There have been times when I've woken regularly in the night and been unable to get back to sleep for ages. At such times it amazes me that I can still function as a semi-normal human being, given how like the walking dead I feel.

    I still wake regularly and at present can get back off again quickly, which I actually find rather nice ("Oo, good, only 1.30am. I can snuggle down and go back to sleep") but on nights before work, like this one, it is on my mind that I have to get up so the quality of sleep is not nearly as good and I wake more frequently and thoroughly. If I wake an hour or so before it's time to get up I don't dare let myself go back off.
  • NiteowlNiteowl Shipmate
    A night owl here. I am generally in bed by 11pm and it takes about 2 hours for me to fall asleep. I wake up every 1 to 2 hours and repeat the process. I am lucky to be able to sleep in until mid morning.
  • Some nights for who knows why I go to bed and then wake up 2 hours later and can not go back to sleep. I just end up getting up, eating something, read some heavy book that requires deep attention and usually after 30 minutes I can go back to sleep. Other times I am in pain so I lay awake until 3 or 5 AM. If this happens several nights in a row I will take a pain pill but I do not like doing that. Thank goodness I am retired, but the dog does want her walk at 7:30. Then I feel like a nap in early afternoon, but I struggle with that as a nap sometimes means I do not sleep at night again. Thankfully this only happens several times a month.
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    Naps. Sometimes, when I feel one coming on, I can tell myself 'half an hour' and I will indeed wake up in 30 minutes. And sometimes I will float up to waking and sink again under an irresistible weight of sleep.

    How is it that daytime sleep, slumped in a chair, seems so much deeper, more intense than night time sleep with all the proper appurtenances of dark, and bed and lying down?
  • At night I often get a clicking in my ears that makes it harder to sleep. I don't think it's tinnitus, but it is annoying.
  • JennyAnnJennyAnn Shipmate
    I’m not really into naps. I think I’ve had four or five naps over the past six years (and I’ve two children under 6 at home). I wake up feeling awful - groggy and half dead!
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host, Circus Host
    I confess I nap rather more than I should; I dozed off after lunch today, having done nothing all day except make some soup. It'll serve me right if I don't sleep well tonight ...
  • Ever since I left home and went to university I found that I have a natural productive cycle that goes: sleep from 8;30 to 11:30, wake from 11:30 to 4 sleep from 4 until 7:30. When I was in uni I was able to schedule my classes and activities largely around this. My greatest productive time being the middle of the night.

    Of course my life hasn't supported this schedule, and so my body has struggled to maintain some semblance of this cycle that looks like insomnia. Raising my daughter as a single parent, I was chronically sleep deprived long after most children relinquish their dominance of the night hours.

    I learned recently that biphasic sleep is pretty natural wiring.

    I'm fortunate to be able to allow my body to assert its natural rhythm now. My housemate will be occasionally concerned that I was awake for a long period overnight and is puzzled by my assertion that I slept just fine.


  • MargaretMargaret Shipmate
    I've found the idea that sleep comes in two phases really helpful; I regularly wake up at about 2.30 and it helps a lot to think that this is absolutely fine and I can go back to sleep in a bit - and usually I do, even though I wish I didn't wake up again at 4.30...

    Something else that helps me is an aromatherapy diffuser and spray that's formulated to encourage sleep that I've got. I often forget to turn the reeds of the diffuser and spray my pillow before I go to bed, as I'm tired at night after waking so early (ugh) but I did remember last night and managed a wonderful seven hours of sleep. It doesn't always work if there are other reasons why I'm not sleeping well, and it doesn't work at all for the insomniac friend I gave a set to (but then she's the sort of person for whom nothing ever seems to work) but it certainly has helped me.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    My problem with two phase sleep, when it happens, is not to wake my other half.
  • LeafLeaf Shipmate
    It was a "Rock Around the Clock" night last night, when I saw almost every hour on the clock. "One two three o'clock, four o'clock, wake! Five six seven o'clock, eight o'clock, wake!" Ugh. Sucks, man.

    My primary task today is to stay awake through the afternoon, on a dull sleepy cloudy snowy winter day, with very little ambient light somehow. Send toothpicks.
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host, Circus Host
    When I was growing up, my bedroom was next to the sitting-room, which had a clock that did Westminster chimes every quarter-hour; if I woke in the middle of the night I'd hear every single one for what seemed like ages. Eventually I got my dad to disconnect the chimes.
  • anoesisanoesis Shipmate
    Oh man, sleep. Like an ex I just can't let go of. An ex who was never quite as into me as I was into him. I spend waaaay too much mental and emotional energy on what I might have done to drive him away/what I could have done to keep him. I stalk, I scheme, I plan for us to meet, however tangentially. Sleep, and how to get more of it is never wholly absent from my mind. Which possibly makes it more of a drug than an ex, I guess. I'm forty-two, and it's been this way since I was about ten years old. Why? At this point, probably at least half of why is three decades of built-up 'am I going to sleep tonight?' tension. But in the beginning I suspect it was that I just didn't know how to turn my brain off. To be alive is to think, for me. And 'to think' is near-analogous with 'to worry'. At least by this point I know that I can function fine on very little sleep, however little I relish the prospect. In the last two years I've had a joyous addition to the mix a couple of days a week, in the form of feet which become burning hot within ten minutes of lying down, (having felt normal all day) and then go on to itch like hell for hours. So in amongst everything else, I lie there thinking, Is this some sort of early diabetic neuropathy? Is my liver starting to pack it in? What did I eat for dinner/am I developing some new allergy? Is it just the f**king menopause? And after a while I give up and go and lie on the couch, where I can elevate my legs by putting them up on the back, and sometimes I sleep, and sometimes I stay awake - but generally my feet stop itching.
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    Have you checked the composition of your socks @anoesis ?

    In middle age I developed a sensitivity to synthetic fibre, especially the sort they put in hosiery, and same thing - burning legs and rip-your-skin-off itching. It doesn't, she says cheerfully, get any better, but you develop a regime of cotton socks and heavy-duty emollient goop.

    Meanwhile, another doozy of a night here. But at least I have the Oz Open for company.
  • la vie en rougela vie en rouge Circus Host, 8th Day Host
    Piglet wrote: »
    When I was growing up, my bedroom was next to the sitting-room, which had a clock that did Westminster chimes every quarter-hour; if I woke in the middle of the night I'd hear every single one for what seemed like ages. Eventually I got my dad to disconnect the chimes.

    My parental abode had not one but two cuckoo clocks. I hated the bloody things. Cuckoo cuckoo cuckoo you’re not asleep all night long.

    Husband en rouge likes cuckoo clocks. We are getting one over my dead body.
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    Ah yes, I remember the days when things that told the time ticked. And if you could see the time in the dark, you were sleeping next a source of active radiation.
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    My husband collects clocks and if I wake up in the night they can keep me awake, two of them chiming every 15 minutes. Or more actually, as they are not in time with each other. Grr. I scarcely notice them during the day.
  • @anoesis I used to get that itchy legs and feet thing. In the end I worked out it was linked to varicose veins, and since I have been taking a daily dose of Ginko Biloba (for circulation) it has completely stopped. Changing from poly-cotton to pure cotton sheets helped as well. But IANAD, so don't take my word for it. It is pretty awful though.
  • ZappaZappa Ecclesiantics Host
    May I join the club? Though I did Sleep Through™ until 0500 this morning.
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host, Circus Host
    0500 is barely the end of last night ... :sleepy:
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