Why can’t I sleep at night but can during the day?

Q:  I have been struggling with insomnia for a couple of years now, and find it very difficult to sleep at night.  But for some reason I have no problem napping during the day.  Why is this?  What can I do to sleep better at night?

A:  Your circadian rhythm is likely involved.  There can be many reasons why you can sleep during the day but have difficulty at night.  As always, it’s best to talk to your doctor to either treat or rule out an underlying medical basis — but here’s some general information that might help.

First, our mind-body systems have evolved over the eons specifically to sleep at night and be alert during the day.  The two most important internal systems controlling this process are known as the circadian rhythm and homeostatic sleep drive.

Circadian rhythms refer to the 24-hour cycle of day and night we all experience.  Your circadian rhythm sends out an alerting signal in the morning, and the cue it uses to determine this is light.  The circadian alerting signal diminishes in strength when night comes.

Our homeostatic sleep drive is a separate regulatory function in addition to the circadian rhythm.  Sleep drive is the biological pressure to sleep.  It builds up over the course of a day.

After about 16 hours of nonstop wakefulness, your sleep drive sends a signal reinforcing the lull in the circadian alerting system.  When the two systems are synchronized and working well together, sleep when you want it can become practically irresistible.

One way to strengthen these two processes and assist them in working well together is to have a consistent sleep-wake schedule.  Particularly important is a consistent wake time in the morning, followed by the immediate exposure to bright light.  This consistency helps to both regulate your circadian rhythm and synchronize it to your sleep drive.

Since you have been struggling with chronic insomnia for some time now, you may also be affected by a conditioned response to being awake at night, frustrated and tense, while trying to sleep.  In other words, you may have learned inadvertently over time to be awake and alert during the night as a result of your negative experience with insomnia.  This is actually common with insomniacs.

But just as it has been learned, it can be unlearned.  There are a number of methods known collectively as stimulus control you can use to counter this negative conditioning, and support better sleep.

The best overall strategy is to combine all these methods at once into one unified program for better sleep.  Taking a comprehensive approach enables you to address all the nonmedical issues that may be preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep.

Explore posts in the same categories: Insomnia, sleep

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