Medical Questions > Mental Health > Sleep Disorders Forum

I can only sleep for 3 hours

I have quite a complex condition that my doctor cannot understand (or isn't listening properly). Sorry for the length of this comment but this is the only way I can explain it;

I'll start during my (UK) college years age 16-18. I was in 9-4 so it was regular hours. I had no problems sleeping. I would go to bed around 11pm and get up 7.30am and not feel particularly tired to the extent that I could function. Weekends I would go to bed any time between 12-2 and would sleep for anything from 10-12 hours.

When I started university (aged eighteen) I would be waking closer to 7am and working till around 5. After uni I'd be really tired so go have a nap. I'd have to set my alarm otherwise I'd sleep from 5pm through to a.m and mess up my sleeping pattern. So I'd always set my alarm for around 3 hours later. So I'd be going to bed around 6pm and waking at 9pm whenever I was in uni (around 3 days a week). The other days of the week I would go to bed around 11pm and sleep 10-12 hours no problem as I didn't have to get up early for anything. I did this throughout my 3 years at uni. From here a condition has developed which I cannot shake.

This condition is that I am automatically waking up after 3 hours (sometimes fewer) as if my subconscious is used to waking up to an alarm. Problem is there is no alarm- I need to sleep for 8 but cannot get more than 3 hours sleep.

At 21 I started a job, 9-5. After work I'm shattered but as my evenings are my only time to do stuff I don't go to bed for a nap after work as it would keep me awake into the a.m which would just have a knock on effect on the next days work. So after work I'll wait till 9-10pm and go to bed. (I have however in my efforts to resolve this I tried having an hour nap to see if that works but it doesn't)

My problem is that now when I go to bed feeling tired my mind thinks it only having a nap so I can only sleep for 3 hours. I wake up and then I don't sleep for the rest of the night. So I wake up at around 1am and then stay awake and got to work. This then perpetuates itself. I am exhausted again the next day. Fail to function and feel rough. By Thursday its like a hangover, I become completely unsociable, unable to read or do anything that requires concentration. Any slight inconvenience sends me into a rage.

When it gets to Friday I'm in sleep arrears so at 9pm-10pm I go to bed then wake up as usual at 1am. Then I'll fall back to sleep at around 7am on Saturday morning as I don't need to be up for work. Now I'll sleep till around 5pm so completely lose my Saturday. Saturday night around 1am I'm not very tired, so perplexingly this helps me sleep better, I'll sleep for 10-12 hours into Sunday. Sunday night I sleep fine but then it all begins again on Monday.

I have tried every variable and its conclusive that my mind is preset to sleeping 3 hours. Ironically it is when I feel exhausted that I am more likely to sleep for only a few hours. As said, on the nights like my Saturday where I have had around 10 hours sleep I can go to bed the following night and sleep through. I've tried every method, get up when I can't sleep, didn't work, stay in bed when can't sleep, doesn't work.

I have seen my doctor who is baffled by this though he is too impatient/busy to listen to the full backstory that explains WHY my mind is set to 3 hours. He has given me Temazapam and an alternative which do not work. My problem is not getting to sleep it is staying asleep. He cannot figure out how these pills do not knock me out. I got so angry/ desperate that I exceeded the stated dose, from 1 pill gradually up to 4 which still didn't work. His only thoughts on it are that is could be depression, but the only depressing part of my life is the fact I can't sleep. I don't think it is depression at all. It is an auto response that I cannot get out of. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to sleep altogether, but it is only when I am exhausted. Naturally he cannot understand my theory as I am effectively saying that I am too tired to sleep. But this is the case. When I'm not particularly tired I sleep without any problems.

Firstly my question (and the one I would request you address first as it is the most important question I am asking) is does anybody recognise this condition? Does it have any name or a derivative of any other condition. I hope being able to pigeonhole the condition will make my doctor understand.

Secondly is there any recommended treatment? By this I mean actual treatment and not the generic advice that SO many people patronise me with. My mother being the worst "Its because you are getting angry that you are waking up." No I'm not. Its a regular part of life to me. I don't wake up and think what is happening here then? Then I get others telling me "no you just need to stick to a regular sleep pattern". Even though I do have a regular sleep pattern (just not their exact hours). In fact the only depression I could get from this is arguing from the number of people that either tell me that its not a problem, or somehow interpret it that I am somehow consciously participating in keeping this condition.

I rarely drink, don't do drugs etc. I have no vices. My lifestyle is not a factor in this. I am a rational person and am not particularly stressed. Hokum such as breathing exercises or writing down non-existent problems at night etc are not the kind of advice I am after.

I have been awake since 4am. I'll go back to bed after posting this at 5.03am. I have to be up for work for 7.30am so I'll lie awake for an hour then go to work absolutely exhausted as normal and have another day utterly p'd off.
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First Helper Bling_zip
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replied June 25th, 2011
A recent sleep study now suggests taking Melatonin 3 hours before bedtime. The lowest dose 3mg. I had a similiar problem and this is what my Dr. recommended. It actually works 90% of the time for me. As we age the "Melatonin Balance" gets out of whack this could help bring up levels and balance it out in our brains. Hope you give it a try:) The best part is it's NOT a drug! You'll find it in any vitamin section. THREE hours BEFORE actual sleep is important to remember:D
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replied October 6th, 2011
I've been having the same problem. I work full time night shifts and sleep during the day. Normally I sleep 8am to 3pm but lately I wake up around noon and I can't go back to sleep. I get up, make coffee and start my day and I have become very sluggish and tired allt he time. i take a nap at night before work but I would rather sleep a full night and not nap. I am going to try the melatonin trick Smile

Have you tried it nosleepdan?
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replied December 30th, 2011
Instead of pills, try something that will get your mind and body at ease because maybe your mind is way too alert or maybe your a Very light sleeper that a sound wakes you up? The key is to get into a deep sleep, maybe thats not whats happening...try exercise before bed or soothing music but whatever you feel could best relaxc your mind and body. I think you need to work on it when you get more time during weekends and find some sort of healthier strategy...



I have somewhat the same problem and i find little things change my sleep and mind you, I'm still experimenting and figuring out how i react but try it, some of it works for me. I'm not a fan of medication especially if ur going to take it everyday and mind you, your body becomes resistant to pills eventually and u need a more concentrated dosage when it does...too unhealthy

i hoped i helped a little
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replied December 30th, 2011
Instead of pills, try something that will get your mind and body at ease because maybe your mind is way too alert or maybe your a Very light sleeper that a sound wakes you up? The key is to get into a deep sleep, maybe thats not whats happening...try exercise before bed or soothing music but whatever you feel could best relaxc your mind and body. I think you need to work on it when you get more time during weekends and find some sort of healthier strategy...



I have somewhat the same problem and i find little things change my sleep and mind you, I'm still experimenting and figuring out how i react but try it, some of it works for me. I'm not a fan of medication especially if ur going to take it everyday and mind you, your body becomes resistant to pills eventually and u need a more concentrated dosage when it does...too unhealthy

i hoped i helped a little
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replied January 20th, 2012
Seroquel and coffee works wonders. Seroquel is prescribed be your doctor. Research it!
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replied August 3rd, 2012
I have been having the same issue, I am a night shift worker and I sleep from 9AM to about 12-1. I belive it is an old survival instinct where during times of high stress as in during a war time situation, the body naturally only sleeps so much at a time as it must stay alert at all times. This simply means that the stress of not sleeping well is whats causing me to not sleep well. I have found no solution as of yet but I hope this insite is helpfull.
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replied August 7th, 2012
I can only sleep for 3 hours
Hi Nosleep Dan, I've found your post over a year later, but I found it by googling "3 hours of sleep". Perhaps you've guessed then that I googled that because I too, have a similar issue. I'm sorry, I don't know that I have a proper solution for you, but just to let you know that I know the feeling all too well. However I've seemed to have some "minor" if inconsistent success at times where this is concered....

I've found for example that certain supplements have helped me a couple of times to sleep through:

1) RELORA: this is a patented supplement of magnolia bark and another herb (the name escapes me right now), that's meant to decrease cortisol and promote relaxation. Don't know its availability in the UK, but I have found that using it had in the past helped me to sleep through, and I felt rested and "balanced" when I woke up..... .the problem is, I no longer seem to respond to Relora anymore, even after having stopped using it for several several months....

2)L-ARGININE -an amino acid. I found quite accidentally that taking between 1500mg to 2000mg L-Arginine before bed, helped me to sleep through the night, and help me feel rested. Or if I awoke in the night, I went back to sleep easily. It was "accidental" because I was experimenting with it for supposed Growth hormone production for muscle building (had even used it before without the apparent sleep benefit), but found out this time that it helped me sleep. I googled it and apparently L-arginine has been found to help blunt cortisol release and promote decreased stress, so that might be how it helps. Sadly, again I seem to no longer respond to it...but you could still try it.

3) VITAMIN C: I'm not 100% sure, but I do think that taking some vitamin C -I've taken say 2000 to 3000mg and over, in divided doses before bed (so say 1000 to 1500mg late evening, then 1000 to 1500 more before bed)- might also have helped in terms of returning to sleep and somewhat beter quality sleep in general. Again, vitamin C has been found to help decrease cortisol.

You'll see the common denominator seems to be addressing cortisol release. From my little reading, cortisol is released during sleep, and there's a bit of a spike round about 2am. It seems that an exaggeration of this "spike" might be enough to awaken us -the "cortisol awakening response"- and perhaps what is happening is that this spike happens prematurely during our sleep cycle. Perhaps when we're under stress -and this includes having something on our minds or just being tense or anxious in general, even subconsciously- we're more prone to exaggerated release of cortisol.

I am not an expert in this area whatsoever; what I've shared here is my little understanding of what I've read, which could expand or altogether change with further understanding in the future.

But that's my little insight. I do firmly believe that that's the crux of the matter for me. Unfortunately I keep seeming to "over-ride" or develop tolerance to things that have worked before, and perhaps will need to find something else. But if you still have the problem perhaps you could try some of these things??

Or if you've since found a solution to this PLEASE feel free to share your methods with me.

Thanks!

B.
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replied August 11th, 2012
perhaps what it is that helps you sleep is simply knowing you may have found a solution? and then it stops working... perhaps there is some specific component that we have yet to identify. i do belive that due to the similarities i have seen in those of us who suffer from this and the lack of results from medicine that the issue is entirely psycological, we just havnt identified exactly what it is yet. i will continue to research the similarities among these cases and try to distill all the info down.
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replied August 12th, 2012
I agree that there is a psychological component to it; I've proven it in myself. However I wouldn't say it's *entirely* psychological. Perhaps the *origin* is psychological; but I think what then happens afterward is what I like to call a "physiological habit", where my body continues to have these sleep issues long after the episode caused by whatever psychological issue has passed. I continue to search for a solution -but I have a strong feeling that high cortisol levels at night -which may be part of the "physiological habit" I was talking about- may play a major part here.
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replied October 25th, 2012
melatonin doesnt work for me. any other suggestions?
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replied October 29th, 2012
I am having the same problem and it's been a month since i started going to bed when the sun is almost up. I have tried avoiding coffee and other activities during the night. I even eliminated tv before going to bed.

I would like to consult a doctor, but I have read something here about melatonin, is it safe to take?
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replied January 21st, 2013
I have the same issue. Three hours and that's it. The rest of the night I am a bit groggy but never get back to sleep.

A sleep study said that I needed a CPAP. I used it for about a year, but it didn't help. I suspect that no one at the sleep lab that I went to leaves without a CPAP recommendation.

I also have chronic pain in the base of my palms and the pads of my toes. They have tried treating me for fiber myalgia, but no joy. I tried Lyrica and Gabapentin. This pain is not in my bones or joints.

I think the two are related. From the start of 2011 to the start of 2012 I started sleeping better for no reason. I also noticed that the pain in my hands and toes was much better. When my sleep went back to the 3 hour per night pattern, the pain came back. Not sure which one might be causing the other.

I have been tested for carpal tunnel and had a nerve conduction study done. The Dr could not find anything neurologically wrong with me. Blood work for diabetes, cancer, AIDS and a host of other ailments turned up nothing. I am in excellent shape, competing in triathlons and marathons.

If anyone also has experienced this pain along with this limited sleep pattern, I'd like to hear about it and if you have any ideas as to what causes it.

My doctor has given up saying he just doesn't have the time to research it.
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