is it normal to wake up in the middle of the night?

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In this week’s Sleep Diaries, a 38-year-old university lecturer and business consultant uncovers the pitfalls of analyzing her sleep duration.

About me:

Age: 38

Occupation: university professor and business consultant

Number of hours of sleep you get each night: some nights 9 hours, some nights 1-2 hours

Number of hours of sleep you would like to have each night: 8-9 hours

Any officially diagnosed sleep problem (insomnia/sleep apnea): no, even though I have Cushing’s disease, an endocrine disease that means I have way too much cortisol in my body. He is under control after brain surgery six months ago, but my sleep has been extremely difficult and erratic during the two years I have been on treatment. I used to have severe insomnia and it seems like it reoccurred.

Cringe your teeth/have nightmares: Yes both. I used to wear a night guard for the grind and literally grind through. I haven’t had any dreams that I can remember for many years, but I started having nightmares in the last month.

Do you measure your sleep in any way (for example, using your phone or a wearable device): not currently, although I used to use a laptop before it became so depressing to see my lack of deep sleep (my personal best was maybe 30 minutes out of eight hours).

How much water do you drink on average per day: about 2 liters

How much exercise do you do on average per week: currently not much due to my recovery from Cushing. I stretch morning and night and usually walk 15-20 minutes a day.

Day 1

I was supposed to be online until 9:30 tonight for a late night work session. I have a decaffeinated coffee during the video call to help me stay focused, followed by a cup of “digestion-friendly” (caffeine-free) herbal tea while I wind down for the night.

I didn’t sleep at all last night (about an hour in total) so I’m feeling a little paranoid about whether I’ll sleep tonight. In an ideal world, I’d put my phone down and spend some tech-free time before bed, but I can’t focus on a magazine or book tonight.

I manage to go to bed around 11 p.m. and fall asleep after about half an hour of spinning my brain with work ideas and my doctoral research. For me, it’s pretty quick.

A woman making a cup of tea
“I have a decaffeinated coffee during the video call to help me stay focused, followed by a cup of ‘digestive’ (caffeine-free) herbal tea while I wind down for the night.”

Day 2

I slept pretty well last night, for my part. I was restless at one point early in the morning, but I made it a point to squirm in a comfortable place and not check my phone yet. I finally woke up at 3:53 in the morning, which is about usual for me. 4am seems like witch time to me; if I can pass that, I’ll be fine.

This time, no dice – I lay awake and sore for another hour or so before finally dozing off again. I still work from home so I was able to sleep until 7:45am when my partner woke me up for morning stretches and coffee.

By the time I had gone through my morning routine and finished my first shift of the day at 11am, I was completely devastated. I ended up taking an hour nap at noon (instead of eating a decent meal – I ended up having a protein shake).

I ended up feeling a little better after lunch, but I still hung around for the rest of the afternoon, with little creativity or enthusiasm to do the rest of my work for the day. I had half a coffee to spend the afternoon. My end-of-day meeting went well, but I couldn’t wait to curl up under a blanket.

I had a lovely dinner of roasted tomatoes and pasta with my partner and then scrolled online for a bit. He made us turmeric vapors before bed, which normally helps me fall asleep, but for some reason I felt wide awake once I turned off the lights.

I went to bed around 10:30 p.m., but just couldn’t fall asleep. I had an hour or two around 3am, then a bit more around dawn.

Day 3

I feel so tired today that I can hardly see clearly. A second night of almost no sleep in the same week didn’t help.

I have coffee with my partner around 8am, then collapse back into bed as he drives into town to hang out. I nap probably from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when I manage to sit up and go to the grocery store.

I forgot to eat until dinner today, so I’m having veggie pizza for dinner and watching a movie before bed. I felt like a lazy person all day and was pretty down on myself for being so exhausted. I’m in bed at 10 p.m.

A woman is watching a movie
“I forgot to eat until dinner today, so I’m having veggie pizza for dinner and watching a movie before bed.”

Day 4

I managed to get some more sleep last night, but I still feel exhausted this morning.

I get up at 8:45, have a coffee, do a bit of an elliptical exercise, then collapse again. I hurt everywhere, especially my joints, and the arnica rubs and stretches aren’t helping. I’m sure it has a lot to do with my trouble sleeping, but I can’t stay awake during the day and pay the price for it too often at night.

I spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon tinkering around the apartment doing a few chores before heading out for a walk with my partner around 3:30 p.m. Although I had water before I left, I got thirsty a few minutes after we left, so I had to shorten the walk more than I would like. When we get home, I drink a liter of water.

I have a nice dinner of roasted sweet potatoes topped with yogurt and chickpeas, I do some stretching and I try to go to bed early, because I have to leave the apartment very early tomorrow.

I pull out my weighted blanket and try to use it to help me fall asleep – it almost works, but I can’t turn around to get comfortable without considerable effort, which wakes me up. I probably fall asleep around midnight.

Day 5

I’m up early today for a GP appointment, so do my morning work before 6.30am before I hydrate like hell, because I need a blood test today.

I arrive at the surgery quite early, and after a bit of a challenge getting my blood, I leave to find out what a beautiful, beautiful day it is. I walk about a mile for breakfast and coffee and then back home – about 3 miles in total, maybe a bit more.

I’m exhausted since I slept quite intermittently last night, but I’m determined to stay awake today so I can try to sleep normally at night. I do a few chores, take care of my next batch of work, read a few articles and put together a few how-to videos, then I take a break to scroll through TikTok and have a mid-afternoon decaffeinated oat milk latte. .

My big client is in the US, so our afternoon meeting is now an hour earlier. I make a cup of tea and make our call, then head to the kitchen to make two pies for the Pi Day dinner. I enjoy a good dinner and a relaxing evening with my partner before bed to try and sleep early.

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work. Even though I’ve been tired most of the day, I just can’t sleep. I used to get up in the middle of the night and work, but have tried not to lately – I’m afraid the blue light will keep me from falling asleep. So instead I try to do breathing exercise and progressive muscle relaxation to relax and rest, but nothing works.

I toss and turn with leg cramps and finally get up to stretch and try to move over to the couch. I curl up in it and continue not to sleep until dawn when I finally fall asleep a bit before my partner gets up.

So what does this all mean? A sleep expert gives her opinion

Sleep expert and professional physiologist Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan says: “As someone with a medical condition, you could probably improve some of the choices you make for your sleep by starting with my five non-negotiables.

“You can also try doing healing or therapeutic work to feel safe if you haven’t already. Because Cushing’s syndrome is a condition caused by the overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol. , through the adrenal glands, your body constantly struggles with the perception of stress. Learning to calm your mind and feel safe in your body is going to be key. Therefore, somatic therapies could be helpful for you.

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan Stylist Sleep Expert
Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Dr Nerina continues: “On a practical level, your nutrition could definitely be improved, and I suspect your relationship with your electronics before bed and in bed isn’t particularly good either.

“While I’m glad you don’t measure your sleep with a wearable anymore, you’re still too aware of how much you sleep or don’t sleep and you really need to stop checking what time you wake up. You’re probably sleeping more than you might think and it’s completely normal to wake up at some point between 2am and 4am – we all do it!The key is not to worry and not check what time you wake up.

If you want to participate in Stylist‘s Sleep Diaries, please email us at [email protected] with your name, age and any sleep issues you are facing, using ‘SLEEP DIARIES’ as the subject. We look forward to hearing from you.

Principal Image Design: Ami O’Callaghan

Other images: Getty/Dr Nerina Ramlakhan


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