Many people talk to me about their difficulties sleeping, either difficulty falling asleep initially, or returning to sleep in the middle of the night, or in some cases waking up before they want to start the day.
One question that can be very helpful in this situation is “what woke you?” or “what prevented you from falling asleep?” Surprisingly often, there is a clear environmental disturbance that is interrupting sleep.
Here are some of the external sleep interruptions I’ve heard of over the years:
- a snoring, or moving, bedpartner who may have a sleep disorder of their own
- bedpartner who gets into bed later, or who gets up earlier, thus waking up the person experiencing insomnia
- dog’s collar jingling
- cat asking for attention by scratching on the bedroom door
- outdoor lights that turn off and on with movement (hate those!)
- children in the bed, snuggled right up against the patient who then is uncomfortable
- an appliance or toy that beeps
- the cell phone, often a problem when it is used as an alarm clock
. . . and the list could easily go on.
When you are working to improve your sleep, you first want to eliminate as many of these interruptions as possible. I recently was working with a woman struggling to sleep well, waking 2-4 times each night. When asked “what wakes you in the night” she identified that sometimes her husband’s snoring woke her. We dialed down into that a little more, and she estimated that his loud snoring is responsible for half of her wakings, and realized looking back on it that when he’s away she does sleep better. Another person, a mother, said that she’s often squished between her children during sleep, and has no sleep problem if she has the bed to herself.
When you are working to improve your sleep, a helpful first step is to see if any external factor is interrupting or preventing you from sleep. Systematically resolve those interruptions, and then re-assess. You may find that those interruptions you were tolerating are not so trivial!