Sleep is my kryptonite

by (40) Updated January 28, 2012 at 3:25 PM Created January 27, 2012 at 9:00 PM

For almost as long as a I remember I've had difficulty sleeping and getting to sleep. I remember laying in bed until 2 or 3 am on school nights back in 7th grade even (I'm 26 now). Even in college I was able to schedule classes in the late afternoon to allow for this sleep routine of mine. Apart from all of this I would say everything else is in order (diet, fitness, bodyweight).

The job situation I'm in now allows me to sleep basically whenever I want, which for the past year has been all over the place, but if I had to put an average on it I would say I fall asleep around 4 am. I wake up in the afternoon feeling tired of course, and tell myself, "well tonight I'll definitely get in bed early", which never happens and the cycle continues. There's a new job possibility on the horizon which would require me to be up early, so I'd like to try and fix this before it comes around. Plus I believe sleep is a huge player in health, so I'd like to fix it with regards to overall health.

I think there's a few things at play here and I really need some help solving them. First, I think the biggest problem is the fact that I usually can't get myself to just get into bed at night, especially at an early time. It's a very hard thing for me to do, I don't know if it's some weird psychological thing or just the fact that the TV and computer are always right there (two things that are in the same room I sleep in). Staying up late for me is probably similar to someone who can't break an addiction to junk food, it almost seems rooted in who I am. Second, is the fact that if on the off chance I do make it in bed and fall asleep at what I would consider "early" (10-11 pm), I will wake up 2 or 3 hours later wide awake and lay there until around 7 am until I fall back to sleep (which is torture) and wake up around 2 pm. This happens almost everytime without fail. Third, is something I've dealt with for at least 5 years and I've never been able to find an answer. I can only describe it as a dull ache along whichever side I'm sleeping on, which is sort of centrally located where my ribs meet the mattress. It comes along after laying down for about 30-min to an hour, after flipping to the other side, same thing. This wakes me up a good 5-6 times in a night. I've tried every kind of different mattress, pillow top, you name it. The softer the mattress the better though and right now I have just about the softest you can go. The only thing I could possibly think of that coincided with this pain at night was when I cleaned up my college diet and lost a few pounds of bodyfat (5-10) down to 170 around 10% bodyfat on a 5'10 frame. I dont know how this would make a difference but it's really the only thing that I can think of. Lastly, I wake up with no energy and slowly gain energy throughout the day until, at the end of the night I am feeling the best I have all day, with the most energy.

Sorry for the long winded question, but it's something I really need to fix to move along in life. A couple things just for the context of the question... I have the blackout shades on my windows and when I sleep my room is completely black. I do use the computer/TV before bed. I don't consume caffeine. I also exercise "intelligently" 3-4 days a week. It seems like I require a good 9-10 hours of sleep, but this could be due to my poor sleep habits. My TSH is around 5.1, so I'm just hitting that border of hypothyroid, don't know if this would effect sleep.

So if someone has some insight into sleeping issues and this problem of mine I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks.

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37013 · January 27, 2012 at 10:12 PM

The following has worked for me since my teens:

1) On the first night of your weekend, whichever day that is, stay up all night.It's particularly important not to give in and go to sleep in the wee hours (2-5 am.)

2) DO NOT take a nap the next day, even if you feel sleepy, just find ways to stay up and be reasonably alert until the desired bed-time. I'd be surprised if you have trouble falling or staying asleep.

3) DO NOT sleep longer than 9 hours that night, and don't take a nap the next day.

I've done this several times per year for decades, because I have a tendency to become nocturnal. When I started reading all night and then not napping, I found I'd go right to sleep at the desired time and sleep through the night just fine. I'd maintain a pretty good schedule for months but, if I stayed up late and then fell asleep and slept in on weekends I'd get way out of whack again.

Over time, if I started staying up too late and getting off schedule, I'd just plan a "skip and not nap" again and it fixed my cycle nicely.

I'm assuming you wouldn't try this unless you'd already tried darkness, quiet, etc. If you don't now, you could also make sure your evening meal is mostly meat and finished by 6-7 pm.

4236 · January 27, 2012 at 9:18 PM

Hey Matt,

A book I'd recommend is called Lights Out. It's about the connection between sleep and a host of other issues. But basically, our bodies should sleep when it is dark, and be awake when it is light. Throwing off these cycles in the long run can cause all sorts of problems.

So, first off, getting to sleep when it is getting dark is important. As is waking up naturally, with no alarm. A few things I'd recommend to help this.

One, make the room totally dark, if at all possible. Move the TV and computer if you have to. In fact, I'd recommend getting rid of the TV altogether, but that's just me.

Two, put the bed as far away as possible from the computer, etc. The waves emitted by electronics can disrupt sleep, as can the incessant humming noises.

Three, try wearing an eye mask if you can to really shut out light if you can't make the room super-dark. Basically, darkness will convert seratonin in your brain to melatonin, which will make you sleepy.

Four, take valerian root. It's a natural root that helps with sleep. I don't take it every night myself, but it is great for resetting your sleep when you need it, and this sound like just that case.

Five, try sleeping with a mattress on the floor, or on the floor itself. The dull aches may not be your body, but the mattress. From a paleo point of view, modern beds are a pretty recent thing.

Six, and finally, when you do some of these things, give it a few days. Bad sleep patterns need time to correct, but once your body rests and you find out what is most comfortable for you, then you can begin to feel alert and refreshed in the morning light.

Best of luck from a recovering insomniac.

80 · January 28, 2012 at 9:28 AM

I have also had trouble falling asleep early enough. I thought the main problem was a computer addiction but nowadays I think that the two main reason is that

1) I didn't get enough light in the morning. Bright light (I'm using Lifemax Light Pod) in the morning helps to advance circadian rhytms and this makes it easier to fall asleep early in the evening.

2) I got unnaturally much light in the evening. Nowadays I use "high contrast blue blocker" sunglasses I bought from eBay and I also turn computer screen very dark, usually one or two hours before than I go to sleep. These things eliminate most of computer's stimulating effect and so I can fall asleep early. The book "Lights Out" suggests that the problem is only the blue light, but while only blue light suppresses melatonin, I think that red light too can raise cortisol so I think it's wise to minimize both the amount of blue light and total light. Some people install f.lux on their computers but in my opinion, this isn't enough. I have to minimize screen's brightness, contrast and gamma PLUS use my blue blocker sunglasses.

Then there are some other things that might be useful. Getting too little light during the day might also cause problems. Seth Roberts ( http://blog.sethroberts.net/ ) has also suggested several things: 4000IU Vitamin D3 in the morning might help to get better sleep and to feel more awake during the day. If you stand on one leg (both right and left) so long that your both legs are fatigued in the evening, this might make your sleep quality better. Seeing faces in the morning (even from the mirror or TV) might improve circadian rhythm. Seeing faces in the evening (even from TV) might cause problems etc... If you eat protein-rich food early in the morning, if might make it easier to wake early in the next morning.

When I went to high school, I had to wake up at 6-7am. Usually couldn't get to sleep before 11pm, sometimes I was awake even at 1-2am. This caused a lot of problems to me. Nowadays, I often have to wake up at 7am and this is not a problem at all because with these tricks I can get easily to sleep at 10pm.

I don't know what to think about that TSH level. That suggests that something is probably quite wrong, but I don't know whether it's some autoimmune problem, lack of sleep or something else that is causing high TSH.

(Sorry for the weak English. I'm from Finland so Finnish is my first language.)

24412 · January 27, 2012 at 10:21 PM

I can relate to this big time, I've always sought out evening activities and swing shift work as a result which seemed to just set the schedule even more. I've even worked really early morning shifts to try an snap myself out of it and I was in a zombie-like stupor for years, I couldn't seem to completely convince my body it was natural. 11pm-1am is prime functionality time for me, it is when the muses wake up and the art flows effortlessly (could just be cortisol misfiring or even candida from what I've read though).

I don't know if this resonates with you, but I feel like there is some reinforcement from the outside in with a convergence of machismo/pride (not valuing sleep and wanting to be more "hard core" than your average Joe), Protestant work ethic (as long as you are busy it is ok), and a 24 hour society where you can go out to dinner or the grocery store at 2 in the morning.

I seem to have spawned a little one with the exact same circadian rhythm too, so even if I start to get to bed early, or he does, we seem to pull each other back to the later schedule within a few weeks.

5.1 is well into hypothyroid and that can cause insomnia. Your lab or doc is using the old set of guidelines which didn't count anything under 6 as hypothyroid, that has been revised to a range of .3-3.0. I'm guessing you would benefit greatly from some thyroid supporting supplements and/or a natural thyroid replacement like Armour.

There are 4 things I've found actually shift my sleep/wake schedule in a meaningful way though when I have the discipline to apply them.

  1. Bright lights being turned on in the early morning. If I set a timer for my brightest lamp to go on about an hour before I want to get up, waking is much easier, and eventually steers me towards an earlier bedtime.

  2. Lots of sunlight exposure or a visit to a tanning bed during the day. I feel like it takes a lot of light to get my serotonin/melatonin cycling to work properly.

  3. Ashwagandha tincture. If I take it around 9pm and immediately get in bed I start to get annoyed by lights and sound which drives me to turn everything off and I think the herb also helps me fall asleep faster. The trick is to do it before that cortisol rush/2nd wind around 10 or 11, I've found it to be useless after that point.

  4. Travel. If I stay somewhere without access to distractions like TV in the room, and am visiting somewhere new and exciting that gets me all fired up, I pretty much bounce out of bed by 7am, walk all day outside, and then crash hard by 11pm. I just have to figure out how to get that fired up about housework and I'll be morning person in no time.

5115 · January 28, 2012 at 3:25 PM

Pretty much all the advice you need has been answered. It's not particularly unusually or inexplicable, your cycles are out of sync. Cortisol should be at its highest when you wake, then drop throughout the day - yours sounds like it's doing the opposite, leaving you highly stimulated in the evening and drained the following morning. But while it can take time to establish new habits, the good news is that sleep is one of those things that can fix hormones in a couple of days if you start doing it right. If you're still in the market for things to try, I'd say the paleo perspective is to avoid electric light sources between sunset and sunrise and then simply don't worry about whether you're actually asleep or not.

2851 · January 28, 2012 at 9:57 AM

I'll share my problems with sleep and what has been working for me:

-like you, I can't get myself to go to bed at a reasonable time (I always feel like there's so much to do before I let myself catch some zzz's)

-I tend to dread going to bed because it always takes me a while to go to sleep... this goes on pretty much everynight + I never feel tired enough to need sleep

-I'm very sensitive to noise and light while sleeping... the last few days I've been waking up about 4 hrs into my sleep to conversations of reasonable volume on the floor below me.

-I also wake up groggy and slowly gain energy and vigor as the day goes on. I'm convinced that I am a "night owl". I don't think there's anything I can do to change this... but I don't think I should want to.

I've taken melatonin on several occasions to try to get to bed several hours earlier than my usual time but it doesn't always work well. To address the light issue, I've set up a blanket on my window that doesn't 90% of the street light into my room. For the noise, I'm using ear plugs and a white noise sound (on the Iphone) and I feel like this a huge help. I'm also making a big effort to not engage in any tv/computer/gaming at least an hour before bed... I feel like I'm a bit calmer and it's easier to fall asleep if I don't bombard myself with stimuli. Also try not drinking any liquids a couple hours before bed time, maybe this has something to do with your abdominal pains?

Off to bed now... ugh.

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