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I think many people can relate with this problem, eventhough I'm giving a personal description

Ever since I was young I had extreme trouble with sleeping. I think I can best attribute it to nightmares, I was tormented by nightmares since I was young. Something which worsened this is my memory (which could be classified as eidetic), and after years some dreams still appeared so vividly to me (while I was awake) that I just decided to keep my eyes open until I fell asleep (between the ages 7-11 I'd say).

A lot of years have passed since but I still just can't fall asleep at night. I don't have any nightmares anymore and I'm not scared, I just can't fall asleep. It has worsened even more during this break from school (2 weeks). For example, tonight I didn't sleep at all and got out of my bed at 9AM, ate some breakfast and then slept until 5PM. While annoying, during the break this is not a disaster. But during my school week I feel it is extremely detrimental to my performance and concentration.

What I think are possible causes for this:

  • Often before I go to bed (in the hope of falling a sleep) I read a book on my eReader or I check my mail/read the news on my iPad. My mother told me frequently that using a computer or laptop or similair devices before sleeping causes this insomnia.

  • I might just have too much energy to fall asleep at around 10PM (which is what I want). My ideal sleeping time would be from 22:00 - 06:30, but I'm usually not even remotely tired until 2:00.

  • Before I go into bed I usually do mathematics, and I think this could have some effect?

  • Irregular sleeping patterns. Twice a week I have to wake up at 06:30, twice a week at 07:00, once at 08:00 and the remaining 2 at around 11:00. I must add that I almost never manage to actually wake up at 06:30 and I've gotten into a lot of trouble because of this, with my school.

Do I have insomnia? What are the causes for this? And finally, how can I resolve this issue?

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migrated from fitness.stackexchange.com Jan 6 '13 at 23:09

This question came from our site for physical fitness professionals, athletes, trainers, and those providing health-related needs.

Questions that don't relate to exercise are off topic here, please check the faq. –  Informaficker Jan 5 '13 at 23:29
Do you drink coffee or some other stimulants? Do you drink cola / beverages with caffeine? –  Tool Jan 8 '13 at 8:32
@Tool I drink coffee maybe once in a month, maximum, and I don't drink soda's much either. –  JohnPhteven Jan 8 '13 at 17:52

6 Answers 6

Quite often this is caused by your circadian rhythm out of sync with when you want to sleep. Your body is fatigued, but it doesn't think it's time to sleep yet. You can be completely exhausted, but if it doesn't align with your circadian rhythm, all you'll get is a short nap that makes you feel better, but doesn't give you a good night's rest.

It doesn't really matter when you wake up, this doesn't affect it. What matters is when you fall asleep.

Don't force yourself to sleep! You'll fall asleep later than intended and that just ensures that it stays out of sync. Instead, delay sleeping until your intended bedtime.

Also, try not to sleep less than 6 hours before your intended bedtime. This will cause you to be not tired enough to sleep when the circadian rhythm tells you to sleep, but cause you to be too tired to concentrate when your circadian rhythm tells you to stay awake.

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I'd recommend vigorous physical exercise during the day.

Try enrolling in a gym or start running during the day. Physical exercise tends to promote quality of our sleep and the ability to fall asleep.

Someone here mentioned that you shouldn't do exercise right before sleeping - this is a myth. You can do it right before sleep and you won't have any side effects. You can google it up, it's well explained.

Also, if you're a coffee drinker - don't drink it after the first 6 hours after waking up.

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Yes, I am enrolled at a gym, and I never drink coffee. This might be true since I haven't gone to a gym for a while because of lack of time. I'm trying this certainly! –  JohnPhteven Jan 8 '13 at 17:51

This happens because you have been slowly and steadily sleeping late into the night. Day by day, over a few week's time or a month, the body accepts this rhythm though it may not like the routine.

Reversing this trend needs time. Will probably take from 1 week to 1 month to get back to 22.00 to 06.00 from 02.00 to ...

Issue is no matter what you do, you just wont be able to sleep at 22.00 first time you try. So, at least for initial days, you can make yourself tired - 1-2 hours of football/running in evening.

Once you start feeling sleep by 22/22.30/23.00, dont stop that pattern. Let it get into your system.

And once this becomes a habit, you will be able to sleep early

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Unusual amounts of stress can produce an inability to sleep normally. I couldn't get sleep for 4 days (quite literally: I had 0 hours of sleep from sunday until wednesday evening), due to several life changes all at once: first real job, first own home, moved 800 km/500 miles away, no one I knew lived nearby, etc. Interestingly, I still could function normally at work, but it was quite shocking not being able to sleep at all.

What finally allowed me to sleep was to do all of these:

  1. Sleep in a cool room (slightly leaning to cold!)
  2. Take a warm shower before sleep
  3. Play some calming music (classical)
  4. Pull the blanket only until your knees (= upper body without any cover)
  5. Wear very warm socks (wool socks)
  6. Do something calming just before sleep (read a book for 30 mins in bed)
  7. Eat a little bit of sugar-y food before sleep (carbs make you tired)
  8. Try not to worry about the fact that you can't sleep

It worked for me, and hopefully this helps others too!

Edit: Oh and you can also try to do some exercise up to 2 hours before sleeping, but not later.

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Here is killer technique - called progressive relaxation (worked million times for me :)):

Lie on your back, close your eyes.

Feel your feet. Sense their weight. Consciously relax them . Start with your toes and progress to your ankles.

Feel your knees. Sense their weight. Consciously relax them .

Feel your upper legs and thighs. Feel their weight. Consciously relax them .

Feel your abdomen and chest. Sense your breathing. Consciously will them to relax. Deepen your breathing slightly and feel your abdomen and chest.

Feel your buttocks. Sense their weight. Consciously relax them .

Feel your hands. Sense their weight. Consciously relax them .

Feel your upper arms. Sense their weight. Consciously relax them .

Feel your shoulders. Sense their weight. Consciously relax them .

Feel your neck. Sense its weight. Consciously relax it .

Feel your head and skull. Sense its weight. Consciously relax it .

Feel your mouth and jaw. Consciously relax them. Pay particular attention to your jaw muscles and unclench them if you need to. Feel your mouth and jaw relax .

Feel your eyes. Sense if there is tension in your eyes. Sense if you are forcibly closing your eyelids. Consciously relax your eyelids and feel the tension slide off the eyes.

Feel your face and cheeks. Consciously relax them and feel the tension slide off .

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I had a very similar problem after college when I was jobless for some time. I wouldn't fall asleep until 4 am even if I wanted to fall asleep before that. I tried lots of things to stop this but they just didn't work. This stopped immediately after I got a job.

IMO, you are not tired enough for the whole day to be able to fall asleep at the time you want. I don't know what you do the whole day, but you can try some new activity like jogging at night for 1 hour. Or try swimming for 1 hour any time of the day. You will certainly feel more tired at 11:30 pm onwards.

However, if you have enough work for the whole day to fall asleep at night, consult a doctor or a psychiatrist.

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This might be it. But how do you explain the consecutive days of no sleep? For instance, today I'm functioning on 4 hours of sleep, and the day before it was 5 hours. Today was a day I had to wake up at 06:30 and I woke up at 08:30, so it's really starting to cause problems.. –  JohnPhteven Jan 7 '13 at 16:32
@ZafarS Your sleep has become sporadic and non timely so differences in sleep timing is natural .I used to remember having no definite sleep timing as well ,I used to sleep some days for 4 hours some for 6 hours .It has more to do with activities throughout the day .Get a part time job maybe .Trust me once you have an activity like a job you will naturally be sleepy by 12 . –  minusSeven Jan 8 '13 at 5:17

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