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Segmented sleep, a new way to look at middle-of-night insomnia


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I have a strong pattern of waking in the middle of the night, after about 3-4 hours of sleep. Unless I am sleep-deprived, it usually takes about 2 hours for me to get back to sleep. For a long time, I was quite unhappy with this situation, but after hearing about this, I have been able to reframe it as a healthy pattern, and feel a lot better about it. There is still a fair amount of anxiety about getting enough sleep, but it is fading over time.

 

I know many of you also have similar sleep patterns, and you might find these articles interesting:

 

http://www.doctorsreview.com/history/long-and-short-bimodal-sleep/

 

https://www.polyphasicsociety.com/polyphasic-sleep/overviews/segmented-sleep/

 

A couple of things I have noticed--it helps a lot to use blue-blocker glasses and avoid electronics in the middle of the night. I use a blue-blocker lamp to read. Sometimes just lying in bed and thinking/planning is enough. The earlier I go to sleep (around 9-10 PM), the more likely I will fall asleep immediately, and also the more likely I will be awake in the middle of the night. But I think it is a healthier pattern (hey, we didn't have much choice before modern lighting!). I feel pretty darn good when I wake up in the middle of the night now.

 

BTW--I bought the book At Day's Close by Ekirch, and I was REALLY disappointed that the whole book was not about segmented sleep (actually very little info), or even sleep patterns. It is a very interesting historical read about night activities though.

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Hi Meowie!

Wow, thanks so much for this post! I have had a few nights of these kinds of cycles, and while I don't think this is technically "normal" for me YET, it is reassuring to see how common it is. I will definitely have to check out those articles you linked!

 

I too, have that thing where if I go to bed earlier, I will be more likely to fall asleep quickly. I was sorta thinking about that, and yesterday my therapist pointed out that we all have different circadian rhythms and "windows" where we are more likely to be naturally tired and fall asleep reasonably well. My natural window (since I started exercising regularly) started being between 8-9 past few years (I know that sounds ridiculously early, I used to wake up to an alarm every day at 4am to run or workout!). Since all this crap started, I realized if I lay down or take my sleep aid (unisom, trazodone, whatever is on the menu that night) earlier, I am more likely to fall asleep faster, and even if I wake up soon after, can get right back to sleep. I tested this experiment out last night, I took my new melatonin supplement at 7:30, and laid down in the darkened bedroom and put on my hypnosis audio. While my husband interrupted me with lights and noise (leading to annoyance) and eventually had to close the bedroom door (lol) I fell asleep shortly after 8pm, woke up 45 minutes later briefly, then fell back asleep and woke up another 45 minutes later when he came to bed. I then got one of those 3 hour chunks you talked about, until 1:30am, briefly was up, and fell back asleep until 3. I laid awake until 4 and then got up because I'm supposed to run this morning with friends and I knew my alarm would go off soon anyway! It's weird, my head felt heavy and I felt a little tired but also "ready to get up."

 

When you wake up frequently, do you also get that feeling - of being alert and wanting to get up? It's not so much anxiety or distress, more "I want to go do something." I think it is particularly strong right now because I have something to look forward to! I also think when I get at least 5 hours of sleep, I feel relatively okay and satisfied. More is better, but I feel like a human and am motivated to go do human things!

 

(this is so wordy and structured because I am having some bomb ass coffee right now! hahaha)

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Meowie, I just wanted to post another reply about how much this post you wrote helped me. Omg! I loved that website, it was so informative and interesting, and gave me a new wake to think about sleep besides the fear-based "no sleep" or "sleep" black or white mentality, where if you don't get 7-8 hours consecutive it means something is wrong. I even ordered one of the products that had listened, the watch that buzzes on acupuncture points! acupuncture helps me tremendously, i figure even if it doesn't massively change my sleep, it will be relaxing for my nervous system.

 

The past few nights since I've taken the new melatonin supplement, i have fallen asleep earlier but had many broken sleeps. Last night was interesting and the most "bimodal" in nature, even though I woke up briefly a few times in the first period. I laid down at 8pm, fell asleep like 8:45, briefly woke up at 10:45 and again at 12, and then was "awake awake" at 1:30. I was surprised because my husband was WIDE awake too, and he said he'd been awake since midnight! We laid in bed together, and finally decided to get up after 2am. We got up and ate crackers, and he organized his dvds and I laid on the couch and talked to our pets. He decided to try sleeping again at 3, I followed and was back asleep by 3:30 until 6am. There were no anxiety attacks and not too much ruminating, because I felt less alone! I also had the new info in my head about different sleep periods, and remembered that in other time periods it was normal to wake up and eat and do stuff for a few hours!

 

The only weird thing is my temple really hurts! It started hurting during the night last night. It's not like a headache, but a tenderness and a throbbing. My jaw is also super tight. Not sure if related. Of course googling this brought up some inflamed artery business (oh god) but thankfully I have an appt with my new doc today and I'm hopeful she can help with everything.

 

You are the best! thanks for this amazing website!

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Hi Meowie!  I am sooo happy you posted these articles.  I always thought waking up in the middle of the night for an hour or 90 minutes was "unacceptable".  (Well, at least my psychiatrist thought so........)  THANK YOU!  I will not get anxious when this happens in the middle  of the night and I won't feel compelled to take 1/2 of an Ambien to get back to sleep. 
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