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What's Behind Her Struggle with Sleeping All Night?

14 Feb

Corinne wonders about her inability to fall back to sleep once she’s been awakened at 2 am to visit the bathroom, and wonders what it means and what she can do about it.  She worries this means she has an underlying health problem...

Question:

I usually don't have trouble falling asleep (around 10 pm), but staying asleep is another story. I do get up to use the bathroom at least once during the night and almost never go back to sleep. Or I wake up consistently at 2 am, 3 am, 4 am and cannot get back to sleep. Sometimes I just lie there for hours. Sometimes I take Calms Forte to relax and fall back asleep, but I think it has stopped working. I don't know if it's cortisol levels, that I really only need about 4-5 hours sleep a night or that I have an underlying health problem. But I do not want to take OTC sleep aids. Most of them don't work for me anyway.

Corinne

Answer:

Dear Corinne,

Thanks for your question. It's one we get frequently. Once you get up, move those big muscles in your arms and legs, and turn on lights to see where you’re going, you're on the road to staying awake. 

One question - are you tired during the day? Do you fall asleep at meetings, or in 4 pm movies, on the bus? That will answer your question of whether you only need 4-5 hours of sleep. Most people need 7-9 hours.

Here are some of the most common reasons why you might wake up and stay awake after a couple/few hours:

  • Your brain goes into gear and starts thinking, strategizing, worrying or problem solving;
  • You get vexed over the fact that you're not sleeping. Once either of these thoughts start cycling in your mind, you need something to distract you, or you're likely to be up for the duration. 
  • You could be in the middle of a stressful period in your life, with a lot of subtextual anxiety going on 24/7, which bubbles to the surface when you wake up in the middle of the night with no daytime distractions to help you place your attention elsewhere.
  • You could be in some phase of menopause, which famously can wreak havoc on sleep patterns, with or without hot flashes.
  • Do you drink alcohol in the evening? That can promote immediate falling asleep, but waking up a couple hours later and staying up.
  • Do you have a partner who snores, tosses and turns, steals the blankets or otherwise makes it hard for you to stay asleep?

Those are some of the main reasons for this very commonplace phenomenon. I certainly wouldn’t leap to the conclusion that you have an underlying health problem, although that’s for you to discuss with your doc if you’re worried about it.

If you think what's causing this is any one of those first four bullet points- then guided imagery can help, by distracting you from your racing thoughts and relaxing you back into sleep.  People certainly don't just use our Healthful Sleep or Relaxation & Wellness imagery just to fall asleep, but to fall back to sleep. And our imagery for Mastering Menopause can also help, if that shoe fits.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,

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Belleruth 

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Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award