Because of my work as a nurse, I have to get up at 5:00am. It is just the anticipation of this unpleasant hour of waking that seems to keep me from having uninterrupted sleep. I tend to fall asleep easily, sleep for three hours, then go through waking/sleeping/waking cycles about an hour apart until 5:00am. During these cycles I never really have deep (REM?) type sleep.
As a result I’m very tired during my rather stressful 12 hour nursing shifts.

My guess at an interpretation of this is that somehow my subconscious knows that something unpleasant is going to happen while sleeping (I will be forced to wake up early against my will, so to speak), and it is the anticipation of this jarring interference that keeps me from relaxing into sleep.

Do you know of any strategy for this, other than changing jobs or schedules?

A: This is a very important question, as I know many others struggle with sleep issues. The behavioral components have to do with changing your anticipatory response. Along these lines I would recommend doing an evening gratitude list, reviewing everything that has happened during the day that you are thankful for. Large or small appreciation along these lines tends to reorient us with a positive mindset. At this same time I would also identify at least one thing you are proud of within the last 24 hours and one thing you are looking forward to the next day. These brief exercises will help you highlight the positive aspects of the past, help you feel better in the future and give you something to look forward to the next day.

You may also want to get a consult from knowledgeable people at your local health food store, or from a nutritionist or registered dietitian on such natural remedies as GABA, tryptophan and teas that have natural relaxants such as valerian root. Of course restricting caffeine later in the day would be important.

Let us know how this goes!

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral