There is a spectrum of sleep disturbances that can affect us: such as nightmares, anxiety dreams, sleep terrors, fitful sleeping, awake in the early morning for two hours (“3AM Committee Meetings"). If you suffer from having your brain wake you up or sleep through horrible stories, you may have tried various prescription medications only to find that maybe you don’t remember not sleeping well but still feel tired and groggy.
I suggest trying an experiment to prevent hypoglycemia and keep you brain oriented to the safety of today. This might help you reduce your medications or prevent the use of medications.
Let’s create check list of things that are likely to decrease sleep disturbances:
Go to bed at about the same time every night and wake at about the same time every morning.
Sleep in a relatively quiet space
Sleep in relative darkness
Turn off screens one hour before bed
Have any alcohol and dessert shortly after dinner, not on its own away from a meal
Have a consistent ritual to indicate that it is time for sleep (drink a cup of herbal tea, take a bath, read a book, play a game of cards…whatever works for you).
Remove screens from the bed room; alarm clocks can replace smart phones.
Rule out sleep apnea at a sleep clinic
If the above list is basically being adhered to and sleep disturbances still occur, try the following experiments:
Eat protein before bed, such as a piece of turkey or a couple spoonful’s of cottage cheese. This will stabilize your blood sugar. One cause of sleep disturbances is dropping blood glucose and the resulting sudden release of adrenaline.
Have a Lizard Brain Treat ready: a ¼ cup of juice and one handful of nuts will often help you get back to sleep within 30 minutes rather than 2 hours. For early morning nightmares, if they are consistent, and you wake to go to the bathroom, have the juice and nuts - this will keep your blood glucose up and prevent an adrenaline release by keeping your brain fueled. Try this for at least 5 to 7 days to see if it works.
Work with a therapist to address how you understand anxiety and any past trauma.
Create cues of safety during sleep. The problem and blessing of sleep is that you are not time oriented. In your brain, the past can be present and the future can be worried about. Historic memories can replay past trauma or only parts of past trauma, such as the emotions, the sounds, or the sensations. Creating a sensory experience that your brain can monitor will help indicate that it is the present moment and safety is being sustained through the night can help. This takes a little internal work to overcome what your “rational brain” will say. I have clients who just keep asking “what do I need to feel safe while sleeping?” Some women have put a lock on their bedroom door even though the house is locked and they have a large dog. One person tied a string to the door of the bedroom and to a vase that would break and wake them up. Sometimes it just helps to take a flat sheet and wrap yourself in a cocoon. Playing sounds of the ocean might help.
Sleep patterns are challenging to change because for the most part our conscious observer mind is asleep and is only receiving partial information. So when deciding to do a sleep experiment be sure to try it for at least 5 to 7 days. If the experiment works, try to be consistent for at least 6 months to rewire the new sleep habit.