Oh, sweet, sweet, sleep.
Dr. Elaine Aron recommends that HSPs “spend 8-10 hours in bed each day, sleeping or not.” (source) I totally agree!
I love my sleep. “Getting enough sleep” is never a question for me. It is essential. I love feeling comfortable and clean and cozy in a fresh bed.
(Morning) People always say, “Your body will get used to waking up early. I can wake up without an alarm clock!” NOPE. I’ve been trying to “get used to” waking up early for a couple decades and it’s not happening. I think that’s one of my favorite things about working for myself–I can stay up late and wake up late, too.
On days when I don’t get at least 7 hours, it affects me hugely. I feel sleepy all day. I can’t power through or ignore it. The feeling is so strong–and I just want to sleep so badly that I can’t think about anything else. So, I’m highly sensitive to not getting enough sleep.
When I hear stats about how adults or schoolkids or whoever aren’t getting enough sleep, I don’t relate. I would find a way to get more sleep. No matter what. Somehow.
This is also why the idea of having kids terrifies me. I think the lack of sleep would seriously impair me. I’m not joking. It would be a serious matter that would leave me unfit to parent.
Here is an excerpt of a post from my travel blog back in 2013, including my most extreme example of REQUIRING sleep!
We had a 9 hour flight to Bangkok and I was not able to sleep at all. It was probably the most consistently turbulent flight I’ve ever experienced.
We arrive in Bangkok at around 6am and I’m bummed because I know that when I don’t get any sleep all night, I am ruined for the entire day. I must have my sleep or I’m just awful to be around and confused and dumb all day.
When we arrive at our guesthouse, they tell us we can’t check in until 2pm. I am epically disappointed.
That means we have 5 hours before we can check in. There is no way I am just going to hang out for 5 hours. I AM GETTING MY SLEEP ONE WAY OR THE OTHER!
Even though we’ve just arrived in a new country and Jim is ready to explore, the prospect of facing a hot, humid day on zero sleep is just…NO. I can’t do it. I cannot go an entire night and day without sleep. I would feel like I was suffering all day. (sound like I’m exaggerating? This is why I’m an HSP.) Jim goes along with my crazy whims because I’m probably already acting like a mental patient and he knows not to poke the bear.
We leave our heavy bags at the guesthouse and wander aimlessly in the streets of Bangkok. My goal is to find a really cheap hotel that will let us check in right there and then so I can sleep. My only requirement is air conditioning and a clean bed free of bedbugs and, if I’m being picky, roaches.
Finally, we walk into this grimy, very budget mom-and-pop place, and the old lady says we can get a room without TV for 650 baht, which is like $20. Jim tries to bargain but she doesn’t budge. We take it.
The room was very basic. I took a quick shower then went right to bed. When I woke up a few hours later, there was an ant crawling on me but it did not phase me for a second. Funny how you get used to things like that.
UPDATE: I wrote this post over two years ago and a lot has changed since then. I now struggle with insomnia and sleeping in strange places can sometimes be difficult for me. Sleep patterns can change throughout our lifetime. But the one thing that hasn’t changed for me is that I require a lot of sleep to feel good. When my insomnia was its worst, and I truly could NOT fall asleep at night, I didn’t even feel human the next day. I think other people can “suck it up” better than I can. When I am sleep deprived, I can’t think about anything else.
A lot of restoration takes place while we “rest.” But out of necessity, I have learned that exposure to early morning light helps clear brain fog (just don’t make me do it every day 🙂
This is so true! My parents never understood this, and many times I nearly broke mentally because they didnt want me sleeping past 10 am. Since I was always so tired, and usually still am, I would go to bed at 8 and sometimes earlier because I was just so tired. Unfortunately I have always had bad insomnia and so even though I lay down very early, I generally dont fall asleep until after 11 (on a really good night) but usually half past twelve and frequently in the ams. This is bad because I have early morning commitments. I absolutely CANNOT get up before 8. It doesnt matter what time I set the alarm. I’ve tried 7:00, giving me more times to hit the snooze as well as 7:40, giving me more time to rest but less to get ready. I usually only fulfill a little over half my sleep requirement at night, and I am miserable ALL DAY. And coffe does almost nothing for me. Energy drinks work, but I hate how they make me feel. I find if I am able to sleep in late till the time I naturally awake (typically 11-1 after falling asleep at 12-2 am) Then I can work all day and into the night without issue.
due to my lack of sleep at night, I absolutely need a resting period at midday. I dont feel any better afterwards, because I can never sleep, but while Im relaxing I feel good. I always feel miserable when people or responsibilities drag me back out.
In school, when I had to get up before seven every day, I was especially bad. In highschool I got bad grades because I was so tired all the time. It was to the point during senior year that I was having psuedo siezures because I was so extremely stressed. Due to my state of exhaustion, I lost control of many of my cognitive functions, and my emotions. I was very angry and I would yell and cry. I experienced a lot of dissociation, trouble understanding, and memory problems. And its not like Im stupid, I got a 27 on the act (all subjects 30 or above but then math was a 23 :/ )
Its under better control now, but everything would be nicer if I could just sleep and not just ‘being an adult means youre going to be tired!!’ like no I refuse to accept this notion.
Hi Megan, thanks for your comment. I’m so sorry about your insomnia, that sounds terrible!! I experienced it for the first time in my life last year and couldn’t believe how much it messes up all aspects of life. Have you been able to speak to a therapist or medical professional about your sleep issues? I have come a long way since my worst days but it took a lot of work–changing my computer habits, meditating, trying to think differently, giving myself permission to try different things, and more. If you have not gotten professional help, please try! There must be some ways to help get your sleep cycles a bit more regular, so you can feel better.
Could you have copper toxicity? It affects everyone differently, and nearly everyone is affected in one way or another. Nutritional Balancing with hair mineral analysis can help this. Worth googling if you choose.
Oh boy. You are SO RIGHT about sleep! I MUST get it. I will go to great lengths to ensure I do. I get 7-8 hours at night, then 2 hours when I get home from work. I am mentally exhausted after work, which makes me feel physically exhausted. Only sleep will restore my balance. There have been times (just a few) when my body has shut down and fallen asleep of it’s own accord due to more stimulation than it could handle. Embarrassing, yes. Everyone who knows me is aware that I must get a nap (or at least an hour or two of quite alone time in the dark). People who don’t know me think it’s very odd, but to them almost everything about me is odd. 🙂 I have taken a nap in the middle of the day my entire life (47 years).
You shouldn’t fret about motherhood and sleeping. Kids sleep a lot too. The trick is to sleep when they do and save the chores for when they wake up or dad gets home. Take a nap before they get home from school.
My kids (3) are highly sensitive as well. Is it genetic or just a learned response?? It can’t be learned because they came from the womb that way. Deep feeling, passionate people from birth. They also take naps as grown ups. I never had to argue with them about sleeping and have never had issues with them about my need to sleep. All of us sleep a lot compared to the general population. Their dad is HSP/HSS. He likes adventure, but must have his naps as well.
The hard part is waking up in the morning. Now that I’m older with creaks and groans in my joints it’s not so hard, but when I was younger, and for my kids now, it can be next to impossible to hear an alarm clock if our body hasn’t had the appropriate amount of sleep. We’ve lost jobs due to lateness because of it. I bought an extremely loud alarm clock made for heavy sleepers, but after a months use our bodies become accustomed to the same sound coming from it every morning and it also is no longer heard while sleeping. I’ve learned to change the sounds every month to keep it unfamiliar. That is how important it is to get the proper amount of sleep for an HSP. Without it, without scheduling it, it can cause a heap of problems. Sleep has been an ongoing ‘problem’ for me my whole life.
Hi Karen, thanks for sharing! I, too, also have a hard time waking up in the morning. My entire life–even now as an adult, wow, do I love my sleep! I have heard of alarms that physically shake–maybe that would work for you? Changing up the sound of the alarm is a great idea, though. It’s so great that you know what you need, in regards to your daily naps. Who cares what people think, right? As long as it works for you! I think because we live so intensely, we put so much energy and care into everything, that our energy is sapped quickly.
Thank you for sharing! I can completely relate!!! I never understood how people could pull all nighters in school before exams! If I did that, I wouldn’t even be able to focus on the test! It’s nice to know we aren’t alone! Thanks 🙂
I am the only person that I know who goes to great lengths to ensure a full nights sleep! Sleepmask, earplugs, and sometimes Benadryl. Im a 911 Dispatcher and I rotate shifts every 2 months. My sleep is imperative since my work can be very stressful and high adrenaline! Im 41 and am HSP. So happy to find you guys!!
Yes! I sometimes wear eyeshades and I have earplugs nearby in case there is unexpected sound. I have taken half a Xanax before bed on nights when I am having anxiety and it is nice. Benadryl would be similar for me 🙂
Sylvia, how do you like being a 911 dispatcher? Very curious to hear how that would be for an HSP.
I just looked up ‘highly sensitive sleeping problem.’ Cause I couldn’t sleep. I’ve been like this all my life. And I finally found out why. I am happy to know that nothing is wrong with me.. I’m glad to know that there are people like me. But I still can’t sleep because I care about what other people think.(the fact that they probably don’t understand me). I know it’s stupid and I am so angry with myself cause I have to look over two kids and things are tough…I count the hours of my sleep and how much I miss out. I have to fill this in or that’s all I could think about. I didn’t get much sleep cause my daughter kept wakin up. I ran out of sleeping pills.. Hope my writing will help me sleep. Sorry about my worries.
Just wished someone would hear and understand my frustration.
Hi Jeemin, I’m sorry to hear about your frustration. Have you talked to your doctor? Perhaps an anxiety medication for nighttime could help, or maybe there are some other solutions. You deserve your sleep.
I’m so glad you replied. It’s so nice to know that someone is listening. I am thankful that there are people who care and understand. I did buy Melatonin. Hoping to take care of my problem in a natural way. If this doesn’t work, I will go see a doctor.
Once again thank you Kelly for your kind words!
Yes! This is SO me! I’ve tried for years to “power through” only getting 8 or less hours of sleep but it is absolutely miserable. I need bare minimum 10 hours of sleep (I can “get by” with 9 hours, but I have to make up for it later).
I dream of being a mother, but just like Kelly I am genuinely terrified of not getting the sleep I need as a mother. And when I don’t get enough sleep, even for one day, I get super depressed.
I have a friend who had a baby in grad school. She took a week off to have the baby, then her and her husband tag-teamed taking care of him when she went back to school. She described the balancing act as “not really that hard, it’s actually pretty easy.” Arrrg! What I would give to have that kind of stamina, to be able to get by so easily on 7 hours of sleep like she does, and “have it all” (by that I mean great career + awesome family life, which she by her own admission has, she says so kind of sheepishly though because she knows she has it good and doesn’t want to make people feel bad–like me).
The professor over her grad work, who was not fond of children and he himself had been married 30 yrs with no children of his own, never actually acknowledged that my friend was even pregnant–and get this, my friend thought that was FUNNY. If he absolutely had to say it, he would simply refer to his as her “problem”, and he wasn’t joking. But my friend just thought this was quirky and it didn’t bother her at all. Just bringing this up to show how differently my non-hs friend handled a situation with ease that I would have found wildly offensive.
I always compared myself to her because we started our undergrad at the same time, had the same major, had practically every class together some semesters, and when I first met her, we instantly connected and became best pals.
One day I had to accept though, that for me its not just a matter of “putting my mind to it” and trying harder. I just can’t handle (gracefully at least) the same load that other, non-hs people can handle.
Most the moms that I know that are able to easily balance a career and family I come to find are the type of people that naturally only need 6 or 7 hours of sleep.
I have to tell myself that, ya, if I had 4 more hours everyday like a lot of my non-hs friends do, then I’d get a lot more done too. I could hold a job, raise a family, plus have time to relax and have fun.
It’s been a long time coming for me to accept myself and my limitations. Now the hard part is convincing the other people in my life (i.e. significant other) that nothing is “wrong” with me. That’s a toughy. I wish I had discovered that I was an extroverted sensation seeking HSP when I was dating my ex. Showing him the podcasts really could have helped him understand where I was coming from and that I just wasn’t lazy or not trying hard enough.
There is nothing more insulting I feel like to an HSP than “you need to try harder”. If anything, I feel like I’m “trying harder” than most people around me.
I’m more stressed out about doing a good job, being my best, trying to live my values than they can ever possibly imagine, but to them they just see that I’m not measuring up.
AMEN!!! x 100
Before I bumped into this article, I had no idea that there were HSP’s who are also heavy sleepers. Elaine Aron said that most of us are light sleepers in her blog (though she doesn’t say the percentage). Your Bangkok story is truly amazing when you consider that most people (non-HSP’s included) have trouble sleeping in unfamiliar places. As a ticklish person, an ant crawling over me would drive me nuts. I could never get used to that.
I’m a light sleeper and I couldn’t nap even in preschool (unless I’m very sick). I can get by on 6 hours but a lot of stuff can keep me up at night. This includes noise, anxiety and IBS. The worst is when my stomach rumbles from gas. When noise comes from your own body, it’s truly inescapable. Unfortunately, lack of sleep makes us more sensitive, which puts light sleepers in a vicious cycle. Elaine Aron’s advice to stay in bed when you can’t sleep doesn’t work for me though.
Thanks for your comment. It’s funny, a lot has changed since I posted this. I now struggle with insomnia and sleeping in strange places is more difficult for me. I should update this post!! 🙂
Finally,I have found my people! I thought I was failing at life – but after stumbling on this blog my needs are starting to make sense, starting to seem ok. What a relief 😌
When I take an overnight train trip to visit friends in another city, invariably I get no sleep due to overhead lights, uncomfortable chairs and noisy passengers etc. My guilty secret is that once in the city I’ll check into a hotel for 3-5 hours before I tell my friends I’ve arrived. In the cocoon of my hotel room I’ll sleep, but also soak up the stillness and white noise, as if I’m “drying out” from the stimulation of the journey. Doing so means I have the energy to cope with (and even enjoy!) the socialising ahead. It also means I’ll be decent company!
I’m grappling with the issue of whether to have kids because I NEED sleep/time in bed (and lots of it) to function in the world. Regular down time is as crucial to me as food or medicine, but far less socially acceptable – especially for a prospect mum.
Thank you so darn much for validating my (previously shame-filled) fears, Kelly.
My best wishes, Amy
Thanks for the comment Amy! I love your tip to check in the hotel early alone :))
Everyone always says I sleep way too much. I prefer to sleep 10- 12 hours. I am a mom. I am also a night owl. Becoming a mom wasn’t bad because my son’s schedule was like mine, up all night, and sleeping during the day. My ex-husband helped a lot and so I was able to get more sleep. But I did struggle when my son was younger with not getting enough sleep and having to get up early to work. But I made it. I LOVE being a mom and my son is also a highly sensitive introvert and he sleeps a lot as well. Even though he is a teenager now, things have been great being a mom. Especially since my ex-husband is out of the picture completely!!!!!! I still wish I had been able to have had at least one more kid but it wasn’t meant to be.
This is so me! I’ve always needed 10-12 hours. Now that I’m in my late 30’s, I seem to “only” need 8-10. I’ve also always been a night person. Allowed to do what it wants, my body would stay up all night and sleep all day. 😂 Maybe the nighttime is easier to thrive in because there’s less stimulation to overwhelm us?
As a HSP I have struggled with not being able to fall asleep and stay asleep since my 20’s and I am now in my mid 60’s. I wake up tired on most days and crash in the early afternoon.
I have resorted to medication to help with my sleep issues and at least I get a block of hours sleep but it does not address the root cause.
I worked for 20 years and I had to adjust to being sleep deprived.
Now I am retired and I can adjust my schedule to get more rest during the day and cat nap.
I have to have my down time in order to function in the world.
I am grateful that more studies have been done to support HSP.
Wow. I could relate to every word of your travel blog except for the cheap hotel and being able to just fall asleep anywhere. My shame story is that I need 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night, every night. I’m almost 60 and have been trying to talk myself out of this for a lifetime. You can do all the woo woo stuff in the world, work on manifesting the life you want regardless of sleep and NO…..I can’t seem to get past my utter requirement for sleep for a good day. I do not use alarm clocks 90% of the time bc they often wake me on a bad sleep cycle. I have had my sleep cycles tested and most of my REM comes in the last 5 hours of my sleep-so my best sleep is generally after about hours 7 hours. Which is why I need to stay sleeping. I now use ambien but am obsessive about limiting it to 3 maybe 4 days a week max and I hope to get off of this habit. What is helping me is my “decision” to not let myself focus or engage with any thoughts relating to the physical body during the day because I get hooked into thinking too much about how tired I am or how I feel. I’m not really an HSP but I definitely have an HSP body, so I will constantly say to myself, “oh that’s a thought about a body part. No. I don’t do body parts . Goodbye thought”. This is very helpful. Sometimes I oversleep but generally I trust the wisdom of my body to allow me to sleep the perfect amount. I am a dietitian and intuitive eating coach of sorts and I am trying to apply these same concepts to sleep. We are our own healers.
I seriously could have written this post. A big reason I chose not to have children was the sleep factor. I can’t get used to no or little sleep and chronic lack of it would quickly destroy me (among a million other things that come with parenting) I’m a disaster after only
1 night of not enough sleep. I used to be a teacher and had to be up and out by 7. People would say “but then you get done with work at 2 and have the whole day!” But what they didn’t understand is that after work I was capable of
nothing. I had to go home immediately and nap for at LEAST an hour because I felt like complete shit. There’s no powering through, or drinking loads of caffeine for me. I need 9-10 hours every night or else my day is nearly ruined (otherwise I need a nap) I love this post b/c I’m sick of apologizing for, and feeling wimpy about, my sleep needs. It’s who I am and how I am.
Sleep has always been an issue for me. Falling asleep, staying asleep, being a light sleeper, all of the noises and lights, etc. that keep or wake me up. I’m definitely a night owl as well and resent mornings with a passion. I could get a lot or a little sleep and still have a very difficult morning. I have functioned off of very small amounts of sleep for most of my life, but I know it has not served me well at all.
I had jobs where I had to be working and being friendly to people by 6am for a long time and when I stopped doing that and started my day later, I found I felt so much better – even if I wasn’t sleeping more hours.
I love my sleep, but I hate to go to sleep. Once I’m sleeping I hate having to get up. So strange. I think it’s because the night feels calming to me. I feel it is more me time. I think one of my biggest pet peeves is people being noisy in the morning. I find it disrespectful and it starts my day off all wrong.
I love white noise machines or very soft jazz to help cover other noises that irk me. It’s funny how some sounds can really get to us but others are so soothing. Some loud things I enjoy very much but others I can’t stand (it can also be situational or depend on how much I’ve been overstimulated leading up to it).
I’m really loving seeing all of these stories and knowing I’m not alone (and it’s helping me understand my son’s HSP better too, because we are all still nuanced in what we are sensitive to).
Really loving seeing this. I am close to forty and I am figuring out that I am not a highly functioning person. My need for a lot of sleep and rest overrides my desire to be busy busy busy all the time with no break and no stop. This is my personal limitation. I accept it. Glad I am not alone. I am definitely not a lazy person. My body just needs more sleep than others.
As an HSP introvert , I just went through a horrible year. I was having difficulty sleeping. (Iv’e have difficulty sleeping all my life because of HSP trait) Long story short…I had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 1998 and then again in 2005. I was prescribed the same antidepressant for 14 years. Throughout these 14 years I was also prescribed ativan for anxiety. As well, I was prescribed a variety of other medications to help with sleep. WELL, menopause arrived and everything changed. I was instructed to taper off all my meds due to side effects. This past year, for some reason, psychiatrist decided to prescribe different meds for sleep instead of putting me right back on my antidepressant (which also helps for sleep). I feel physically sick sharing this, but I will share because for ANY HSP who has a doctor who is considering placing them on ANY antianxiety med or antidepressant, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE try to find a psychiatrist who is willing to read about the HSP trait. We are very sensitive to medication as well! I became very very sick on 6 different oversedating medications to the point I wanted to die and had to go to ER 5 times because of side effects. If any HSP tries any medication for sleep, please make sure your doctor starts you off at the lowest dose. For some reason the psychiatrist I have is a high dose person. I tell doctor’s it’s like i have the nervous system of a child…so children’s doses. I returned to taking the same antidepressant that I took for 14 years. I have to take it in the morning now because I have side effects that keep me awake. There are many other HSP websites about sleep. I would suggest to all HSPs to read as much as you can. I read in one article that waking up to an alarm clock isn’t a good idea for an HSP because if the alarm clock goes off during our REM (deep sleep) sleep, our sensitive nervous system gets jolted and we are frazzled for the day! I know this can be impossible for some HSPs who have to go somewhere in the morning…I understand…I was sick for 30 years, not knowing I was HSP and waking up everymorning dragging myself out of bed. I send all my good wishes for great health and happiness to all HSPs….we certainly deserve it!