My problem isn’t falling asleep … how do I STAY asleep?


Q:  My problem isn’t falling asleep, my problem is staying asleep.  I sleep for about an hour at a time, then I wake up.  This happens several times per night.  Sometimes it seems like it takes me hours to fall back asleep after I wake up.  How do I help myself sleep better through the night?

A:  There could be several causes for this.  Let’s start with the easiest solution:  How much time are you allowing in bed?

The normal sleep duration for adults is 7 to 9 hours.  If you only need 7 hours of sleep and allow 9, then yes you can expect to be tossing and turning for a couple of hours — because  you are spending more time in bed than you need.

A second common issue that might be responsible is napping excessively.  Too much sleep during the day will in effect rob you of sleep at night.  We suggest napping is OK, providing it is done early in the afternoon and for no more than about 10-15 minutes.

Another potential cause for this is simply aging.  As we age, the strength of our circadian rhythm — which along with homeostatic sleep drive largely controls sleep — tends to somewhat diminish.

Normally the circadian alerting signal is at its lowest ebb during the early morning hours, so that after a few hours of sleep, and when the homeostatic sleep drive is reduced, we tend to stay asleep.  But as we age, the strength of the circadian rhythm tends to somewhat flatten, meaning we may experience lighter sleep with more frequent awakenings.  This by itself is nothing to worry about.

The best way way to strengthen your circadian rhythm and synchronize it to your sleep drive is to establish a consistent sleep-wake schedule that provides no more time in bed than you need.  Using a daily sleep log will help you customize your sleep schedule to best fit your personal needs.

Finally, getting a handle on both stress and a racing mind will help you fall back asleep if and when awakened during the night.  There are proven methods to manage stress that are drug-free, as there are ways to turn off a racing mind.

If these suggestions aren’t enough, you might try a comprehensive approach to sleep improvement, using CBT — cognitive behavioral methods.  CBT is the gold standard to treat insomnia as recommended by sleep professionals.  Such an approach will likely go a long way toward helping consolidate your sleep into one unbroken period.

Explore posts in the same categories: Insomnia, sleep

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