“I can’t fall asleep Sunday nights,” 24-year-old Sloane tells me (name is obviously made up for confidentiality reasons). “Can you prescribe me something?”
As a sleep doctor, sleeping pills are always my last resort.
Why would Sloane struggle to fall asleep only on Sundays?
A few thoughts jump into my mind. Job stress? Weekend schedule? Alcohol and drugs on the weekends?
Many of my young patients have a very different sleep schedule on weekends. Monday to Friday, they sleep a typical 1130pm to 7am. Getting up for work is at a consistent time and their alcohol use is modest on weeknights.
Then, the weekend comes.
Friday night begins with a caffeinated drink to get extra energy for a night out. The night includes alcohol, possibly other drugs that disrupt sleep, and some energy drinks for good measure. Bed time is early Saturday morning. Even my patients who don’t “party” often stay up late on weekends watching TV or playing video games.
When Saturday morning rolls around, it’s pretty easy to sleep in until 11am or even noon.
Saturday night is another late night and Sunday starts with a solid sleep-in, and possibly an afternoon watching Netflix with a 1-2-hour nap included.
Suddenly, Sunday night arrives and they crawl into bed at 11pm expecting to fall asleep. But they can’t. Why? Can you relate?
By sleeping in Saturday and Sunday you have adjusted your body’s inner clock. By shifting your bedtime 3-4 hours later and sleeping in 5-6 hours later, you have essentially given yourself Weekend Jetlag.
If you slept until noon on Sunday, and possibly had a nap, your body is not ready for sleep at 11pm. It won’t be ready until much later. What’s worse, many people have additional anxiety Sunday night, anticipating stress from work or other responsibilities. Compounding this can be the use of certain drugs and alcohol, that can seemingly reduce anxiety in the moment, but cause something much worse – rebound anxiety.
All of this can lead to lying in bed for hours on a Sunday night, wondering why you can’t sleep.
Is the solution sleeping pills? Sadly, no.
You have two choices.
Option 1: Set an alarm for 8am Sunday morning, no matter how tired you are. That way, you will be ready for bed much earlier Sunday night.
Option 2: Delay the time into bed Sunday night until you are really tired. That may not be until 2 or 3am. And accept that when you wake up at 7am you will be exhausted. But, you will survive, and Monday night you will enjoy a deep sleep at your usual bedtime.
The worst thing you can do Sunday night is lie in bed for hours “trying” to sleep.