Posted tagged ‘students’

Can’t wake up, sleep through multiple alarms — help!

October 21, 2019

Q:  I need several alarms to wake up.  Sometimes I sleep through them all or even turn them off, then go back to bed without knowing it.  Why can’t I wake up?

A:  Start with the idea that you “can’t wake up”.  Of course you can. 

Unless you’re Rip Van Winkle, at some point you do wake up.  Every day in fact, do you not?  So for you the keys are to both more accurately understand your experience and to better manage the sleep-wake process.

Presuming you have no underlying medical or psychiatric issues causing this (see a doctor if you aren’t sure), then you might look at a couple of likely factors.  One is sleep deprivation, and the second is motivation — or rather a lack of it.

Ideally — and if you plan a consistent wake time and schedule enough time for proper sleep —  you will awaken spontaneously and refreshed after the last of your sleep cycles completes, with no alarm clock at all.

For many people, keeping a very consistent sleep-wake schedule over time — especially important is a consistent wake time — results in awakening without the need for an alarm clock.  If you aren’t doing this now, it might be a good idea to start with as much regularity as you can.  Be sure to schedule enough time in bed for proper sleep, but be aware sleep duration is a moving target that changes as we age.

So you can expect to awaken when you’ve had enough sleep.  It’s as simple as that.  You won’t even need an alarm to get up because you won’t be sleep deprived.

And if you plan something you really want to do first thing in the morning, then you have good reason to get up and get going.

As for a good reason to get up and get out of bed, for most us work or school are sufficiently motivating.  But if you need more, try planning something you really want to do first thing so you have something to look forward to.

You are the best judge of this, but if you draw a blank on something to look forward to, then you might consider the possibility that your issue isn’t so much sleep as it is a healthy outlook on life.  In that case, counseling might help.

By better managing your sleep schedule, and by feeling more positively motivated about your day, there’s a very good chance you will permanently solve this problem.

Big exam tomorrow, can’t sleep. What can I do?

January 25, 2018

Q:  Before big tests I have a history of not sleeping well.  Seems I get in just a few restless hours.  On test day it feels like I’m in a fog trying to work my way through.  Do others experience this?  What can I do to help myself?

A:  What you are experiencing is very common with insomniacs.  Your description — and expectation for trouble sleeping — are a great examples of what’s known as negative sleep thoughts.

These negative thoughts come in many forms and are a potent raw fuel for insomnia.  If it’s not an exam, it could be an important project deadline.  It could be an upcoming athletic competition, or starting a new job, a new semester at school, or a million other things to stress or worry about.

But take heart.  The evidence shows these worries about lack of sleep are way overblown.  After a restless night, the evidence shows we adjust and perform comparably to normal sleepers.  And this is true both cognitively and physically.  It just doesn’t feel that way.  The difference is in perception, not performance.

Sometimes knowing facts about the reality of human performance and sleep is helpful in letting go the negativity and worry, because that is what feeds insomnia.

So what can you do?  Lead a good healthy sleep supportive lifestyle for starters, including daily exercise and a sensible sleep-wake schedule.  Consider trying some stress management methods as well.  If you find yourself awakened in the night and worried, try some in-bed relaxation methods such as deep diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to help yourself fall back asleep.

If your insomnia lasts longer than a month, see your doctor to either treat or rule out an underlying medical condition.  And consider using CBT sleep training methods as a permanent, drug-free solution.

Then just let go the worry.  Sleep is a process of letting go more than anything else.  And be confident the odds are you’ll perform just fine on the test.

Use simple scheduling methods to strengthen your sleep system without drugs

December 5, 2017

Q:  I’m having a hard time setting a reasonable bedtime.  I need about 9 hours of sleep, but my actual bed time swings wildly and sometimes I don’t go to bed until about 4 a.m.  This understandably puts a big crimp in my day.  On the flip side, when I do manage a reasonable bedtime and get in my 9 hours I function so much better during the day.  Any suggestions to fix this?

A:  Try some simple sleep scheduling ideas.

First, set and keep a consistent wake time 7 days a week.  Set this at your most desired wake time and stick with it.  Do not allow yourself to sleep in.  Do not nap — or at least limit your nap to no more than about 15-20 minutes, and in the early afternoon.

Second, set your bed time about 8 or 8.5 hours earlier than your wake time.  This is slightly less than what you’re used to, so it will have the effect of revving up your homeostatic sleep drive.

If you don’t feel drowsy at bed time, stay up.  But do relaxing things to help yourself feel drowsy.  Be alert to the signs of drowsiness — like yawning, head-nodding, droopy eyelids.  Avoid caffeine in any form after about mid-day.

You may not feel drowsy the first or second night at your desired bed time, but inevitably your physiologic requirement for sleep will soon catch up with you.  Stay consistent, and do not allow yourself to fall asleep on the couch or anywhere else before your scheduled bed time.

Stick with your consistent wake time no matter how sleep deprived you may feel the next morning.  Get up and going.  Expose yourself to bright light right away.  All this is setting you up for the following night, when you will sleep that much better.

Going forward, your sleep system will strengthen and improve with this consistency.  You can then gradually add in more time in bed as you like.

These sleep improvement methods combine parts of what’s known as sleep consolidation, stimulus control, and sleep hygiene, three of the core methods in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) specifically applied to insomnia.  Check out CBT sleep training for dozens more drug-free ways to help yourself sleep better and when you want.

How do I stop my insomnia?

January 27, 2014

Q:  I am a 17 year old student with trouble sleeping.  I don’t know if I have insomnia, I just know that I wake up too early and also have serious problems falling asleep.   I average about 6 hours of sleep but would like 8 or 9.  I can usually fall asleep in one of the 8 naps I attempt to take in the afternoon, but when I try to sleep at night it usually takes me at least an hour or more.  I don’t know what to think to make myself fall asleep.

A:  First, you are right about 8 or 9 hours being a good target for someone your age.  It’s also important to understand that two key internal processes control sleep — circadian rhythm and sleep drive.

You can regulate your circadian rhythm and synchronize it to your sleep drive by trying to get up in the morning at the same time every day.  That’s important.  Try for consistency 7 days a week as much as possible.  Determine your bed time by allowing at least 8 or 9 hours for sleep, and try to stick to that schedule.  Doing this consistently will help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

We suggest you drop all the naps, they are likely reducing your sleep drive and contributing to your sleep anxiety.  If you feel a strong desire to nap, consider allowing only one nap for a maximum of 10 to 15 minutes and then only in the early afternoon if necessary.  Taking no naps will help protect your sleep drive for later that night and enable you to more easily fall asleep when you want.

There are many other good sleep supportive lifestyle habits to cultivate as well.  Daily exercise, exposure to bright light early in the day, a relaxing pre-bed routine are all important practices, as is restricting any consumption of caffeine in any form, including chocolate and colas, for at least 6 hours prior to bed.

As for what to think, really great question.  Try deep diaphragmatic breathing combined with progressive muscle relaxation.  Basically just relax and go with the flow.  Let yourself be drowsy in bed even if not sleeping.  Sleep comes from that drowsy feeling.

Try these simple ideas first, they may be all you need to help restore better sleep.  If you need more, check out CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) specifically designed for sleep.  A good CBT-based sleep training program includes all these ideas plus much more, and is a drug-free, all natural way to sleep better permanently.

You’re entering a very exciting time in life, one that promises much new growth but also some anxiety.  That’s normal to expect.  Be confident that by leading a healthy lifestyle that supports good sleep, you will be at your best.

“I’m unable to dream and need help”

September 6, 2013

Q:  “I have been unable to dream recently.  When I wake up, it feels like I haven’t slept.  What do I do?  I’m only 14 and I want to sleep properly.  I need help!”

A:  First, good job on taking the initiative to help yourself sleep better.  That bodes well for you.  I will try to help by explaining a little about the sleep process.  You’ll probably find that just understanding a bit more about sleep helps you feel more confident about making this better.

Sleep is a process of letting go.  You will help yourself sleep, and dream, by relaxing a bit and letting go the worry.

We all dream, even if we don’t remember our dreams upon awakening.  Dreaming is an inherent part of the sleep experience.  We can’t not dream, just as we can’t not sleep.

Sleep is much more than just an unconscious state of rest.  We are actually in a dynamic state, with regular cycles of lighter sleep stages and deeper sleep stages that occur each night.  These cycles are about 90 minutes each, and include REM (rapid eye movement) sleep stages and NREM (non rapid eye movement) sleep stages, also known as slow wave sleep.  Each night, we typically experience 5 or 6 of these complete 90-minute cycles of sleep.

Scientists have found some form of dreaming is a continuous process throughout all stages of sleep.  However, our most vivid dreams usually occur during REM sleep, and the REM stage almost always occurs at the end of each 90-minute cycle.

So if you are sleeping, rest assured you are in fact getting in your fair share of dreaming.  You can prove this to yourself by trying a little experiment.  Keep some paper and pen next to your bed for the next couple of weeks.  First thing upon awakening, write down anything you can remember about your dreams.

At first, you might not remember much.  But soon, very soon, you will discover you can start remembering more and more detail about your dreams.  By writing them down first thing, it will soon become easy to remember your dreams.

To help yourself sleep better, there’s a number of simple things you can do.  Having a consistent sleep-wake schedule as much as you can every day is one of the most important.  At your age, allowing 9 or even 10 hours for sleep is OK.  Most important for you is probably a consistent wake-up time.  You can then gradually adjust your bedtime until you get the best results.

Also try to get some good exercise every day, and after lunch try to avoid any food or drink with caffeine.

So be confident you do in fact dream, and be confident you can help yourself sleep better.

Solutions for sudden onset insomnia

January 29, 2013

Q:  Suddenly I’m not sleeping well.  I had insomnia in the past, but had been sleeping well for months.  I don’t feel especially stressed, but suspect this has something to do with starting a new semester at school.  Recently I also increased my exercise program so it’s longer and more intense.  Could that have something to do with this?  I also used to take anxiety medication but no longer do, maybe that’s a factor as well.  My biggest problem is feeling more tired each day and I really don’t want to have to battle the world anymore while feeling sleep deprived all day.  Any ideas what could be causing this?

A:  Not wanting to battle the world while sleep deprived is very understandable.  Rest assured, many with insomnia feel exactly the same way.  Sure, we all want to perform at our best, and getting a good night’s sleep is an important part of that.

Your suspicions about the underlying causes for your sleep troubles sound reasonable.   But it’s difficult to be more specific based only on this information.  For instance, are you now taking any other prescription medications?

If not, then it would not be surprising if you are feeling some of the rebound effect from the cessation of the anti-anxiety medication.  All of these kinds of drugs have some sort of side-effect.  The most common one from sleeping pills is daytime drowsiness.  This would be something to ask your doctor.

You mentioned anxiety, and it would also not be surprising if a negative anticipation of the new school semester is connected with your insomnia.  If you are experiencing anxiety issues, I would encourage you to get counseling for it.  There are many good and effective ways to counter anxiety.  Getting professional help for this is not a sign of weakness.  It is a sign of strength.  By doing so, you will benefit and so will your sleep.

You also may be experiencing some sleep state misperception, which is very common among insomniacs.  We tend to forget about what sleep we get, and discount it’s value.  We tend to focus only on the negativity of what sleep we feel we missed, instead of the benefit of the sleep we actually get.  There’s some value to be attained in understanding this objectively and realistically.

You likely will be well served by focusing on controlling what you can during your waking hours in an effort to create the best sleep experience possible.

These kinds of things include a consistent sleep schedule, especially getting up at the same time every day.  Your exercise plan sounds great, providing it isn’t too late in the day.  Ideally you want exercise early in the day, and at least several hours prior to bedtime if possible.

You can also allow yourself a relaxing cool down period of at least an hour before bed if possible. Try do nothing stressful and avoid anxiety to the best of your ability during this time.   During your cool down time, you can do things like get your clothes ready for morning, prepare a to-do list for the next day so you have a plan, take a warm bath, read an enjoyable book, and so on.  This winding down is an important step to help prepare your mind and body for sleep.

Will it be perfect?  No.  None of us can do that.  But it can be better, and that is reasonable to go for.

All these ideas and much more are contained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) specifically designed to treat insomnia.  If you want to know more about these common sense ideas to improve sleep naturally and without drugs, you will find much more information about good CBT for sleep programs online.

Good luck.  School is an exciting time for growth and learning.  And by prioritizing a good sleep supportive lifestyle, you can help yourself be at your best.

Better sleep for college and high school students

September 16, 2011

Sleep problems for students in high school and college are surprisingly common, considering this age group generally does not face the same kinds of issues that come later with normal aging.  Fortunately there are a few simple guidelines that will generally help most young adults sleep better.

First, this age group faces the unique challenge of synchronizing a biological clock that often experiences a day that lasts much longer than 24 hours.   In fact, it’s common from about age 14 through 30 to experience more of a 28 to 30 hour day instead of a 24-hour day.  This means 11 p.m. may feel more like 7 or 8 p.m.  And 7 a.m. may feel more like 3 or 4 a.m.  Sure, those hours can make it tough to sleep! So resynchronizing your biological clock each day back to a 24-hour circadian rhythm is important.

Recalibrating to a 24-hour day is simple if you make a commitment to do this:  get up at the same time every day, consistently without fail, every day, as much as possible.  Use an alarm clock.  Get up and out of bed ASAP and expose yourself to bright light immediately, preferably indirect sunlight.  This gets your biological clock restarted in subtle but profound ways.  Do not allow yourself to sleep in on weekends or any other day.  Consistency is important.  Your sleep system thrives on this sort of regularity.

Second, set a consistent bed time.  We suggest for this age group to allow at least 8 even 9 hours to start, and see how you do. If you’re tossing and turning, cut that back a little by going to bed a little later (keep your wake-up time set) and see what happens. You’ll soon discover your best sleep timing.

Third, be sure to schedule some time for exercise every day.  Tire yourself out mentally and physically every day, and you’ll sleep better at night.

Fourth, try to avoid or at least minimize any caffeinated beverages or foods with caffeine (there are many, including chocolate) after lunch.

Fifth, allow yourself a relaxing wind-down period before bed.  This can be something like a relaxing bath, getting your clothes ready for morning, reading something enjoyable, just whatever you like doing and find relaxing so you can let stress go before bed.  Developing a consistent cool down routine every night helps prepare your mind and body for sleep.  Avoid any sort of stress during this wind-down time.

Think of it like this: your mind and body are like a finely-tuned machine designed to automatically get all the sleep you require. Then relax and let go the worry about sleep.

All of these ideas are part of cognitive behavioral therapy applied to insomnia.  For much more, including a comprehensive 6-week sleep training program, check out the Sleep Training System.

Good luck to all students.  Getting a good education is a great experience, a time to grow and learn and enjoy life.