People come here looking for solutions to sleep problems. Some read about sleep restriction, a drug-free insomnia treatment, and decide to try it on their own. It’s not rocket science: insomnia sufferers who follow the guidelines often improve their sleep. It’s empowering to succeed.
But self-treatment is not the right approach for everyone. Sometimes insomnia is complicated by another disorder, or what looks like insomnia is actually something else. In both cases, the best thing to do is to have yourself evaluated by a sleep specialist ASAP.
Psychophysiologic insomnia: This was my diagnosis when I finally decided to see a doctor about my sleep. I didn’t like the sound of it. “Psycho” came before “physiologic,” and to me the implication was that my trouble sleeping was mostly in my head.
My insomnia felt physical, accompanied as it was by bodily warmth, muscle tension, and a jittery feeling inside. I was anxious about sleep, too, and my thoughts weren’t exactly upbeat. But surely putting the psycho before the physiologic was putting the cart before the horse?
A few weeks ago I got an email from Julie, who’d written to me about her insomnia before. Here’s how she began:
“I am happy to share with you, 5 months later, that I am sleeping peacefully and soundly! It didn’t happen overnight, but my improvement did happen because of the sleep restriction you recommended!”
“This woman is persistent,” I thought, and read on. I discovered that, while Julie’s first attempts at this insomnia treatment were strikeouts, rather than give up, she found ways to modify the sleep restriction protocol so it eventually worked.
Insomnia sufferers write to me often with complaints about sleep-related worry and anxiety.
“The more important the next day is to me, the harder it is for me to sleep,” Jessica says. “So I worry about not sleeping and then it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Finding a solution to this problem can be tricky. It may require experimentation before you home in on a strategy that works.
Is there an association between noise sensitivity and insomnia? I think there might be, and the interviews I conducted for my book reinforced the idea. Apartment dwellers and city people often complained that noise at night—whether from inside or outside their buildings—made their insomnia worse.
Here’s some research showing that people with insomnia have a harder time with noise than others.
It used to be that the only predictable thing about my insomnia was that it occurred at times of high drama. Anticipation of a trip to the Canary Islands? Nothing like a little excitement to keep me awake at night. Difficulties with a colleague at work? Stress, too, was a set-up for trouble sleeping. Whenever my life got the least bit interesting or challenging, sleep went south.
But sleep is easier to manage now that I’m able to see more patterns in my insomnia and the insomnia of others.
I just got back from a three-week trip to Canada, and I slept fabulously most of the time. Insomnia caught up with me just two nights out of 20. That’s as good as it gets.
Sleep doctors claim that people with insomnia often sleep better on vacation. “Of course you slept better on your trip,” I can imagine them saying sagely. “You were away from life stressors, you were away from your bed and your worries about sleep. Why wouldn’t you sleep better in places where anxiety hasn’t taken root?”
I have a different explanation for why I slept so well on the trip.
Jessica recently wrote with concerns about sleep restriction.
I’m on Day 6 of sleep restriction and I don’t think it’s working. The first 3 nights were miserable. I kept looking at the clock and thinking, just 4 more hours to sleep, just 3 more, just 2 . . . I had so much anxiety I hardly slept at all!
Am I just going to have to resign myself to insomnia for the rest of my life? Honestly I’m on the verge of giving up.