In bed for 11 hours, only sleeping 6: HELP!

Q:  For the past year, I can only sleep for about 3 hours at a time.   No problem falling asleep, but I consistently awaken after 3 hours.  I’m then up for about 4 or 5 hours.  Then fall back asleep for 3 hours.  I’m at my wits end.  HELP!

A:  Sounds like a disciplined sleep schedule will really help you.  Middle of the night wakeups are surprisingly common, and once this pattern gets established it can be difficult to reconsolidate sleep into one unbroken period.  But rest assured it can be done.

Let’s start with your sleep timing.  Are you really spending up to 11 hours in bed?  Or what are you doing for the 4 or 5 hours in between your two sleep periods?

A good start would be to set and keep an consistent wake time 7 days a week.  Use an alarm clock and get up and out of bed at your set time and start your day no matter what.   Don’t try to “catch up” on lost sleep or you pay the price the following night.

A consistent wake time has the profound effect of enabling you to synchronize your sleep drive to your circadian rhythm.  These are the two internal processes that largely control sleep.  When they are synchronized and working well together, sleep can become practically irresistible.

To help consolidate your sleep into one unbroken period, only allow enough time in bed that you need for sleep, and no more.  If you are only averaging 6 hours of sleep now, perhaps that’s all you need.  The average for adults is 7 to 9 hours, but you may need less.  Try setting your bed time by backing out 7 hours from your consistent wake time and see what happens.  By reducing the amount of time you spend in bed, you tend to rev up your sleep drive and produce more robust sleep.  This method is known as sleep restriction.

If it’s any consolation, middle-of-the-night awakenings are very common.  In fact, there are widespread historical records showing prior to the advent of electric lighting — when we were far more dependent on the relatively dim flames of candles, lamps, and lanterns — many people would commonly spend 10, 12 or even more hours in bed.  People still slept an average of 8 hours, but sleep was separated into two periods like you describe.

We are only a few generations removed from when that was more of a norm, but today we can take much more proactive control to help ourselves sleep through the night in one unbroken period.

If and when you do awaken, try in-bed relaxation methods to help fall back asleep.  There are literally dozens of ways to do this.  If you haven’t researched them yet, there are many good online resources available.

But if you find you absolutely can’t sleep, do get up and out of bed until you feel drowsy, then try sleep again.  This method is known as stimulus control, and it helps create a positive learned association with your bed and good sleep.

Stimulus control, sleep restriction, relaxation methods, and much more are all contained in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) specifically designed for insomnia.  CBT is a drug-free and permanent method to help counter insomnia.  By using a comprehensive CBT-based sleep training program, you can apply all these methods simultaneously.  The methods when combined help most people improve sleep significantly.

So be confident you can fix this.  If you haven’t yet tried CBT for sleep, this might be worth checking out.

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, sleep

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