“I have nights when I can’t sleep at all and other nights when I sleep a lot,” Philippa wrote last week. “If I don’t fall asleep straight away I find I often don’t sleep the whole night! Do you think sleep restriction would work for me?”
My answer to Philippa’s question is an unqualified “yes.” But first I want to look at sleep that’s inconsistent and unpredictable and how anxious it can make you feel.
Lately I’ve been hearing from people who improved their sleep using sleep restriction or full-blown CBT for insomnia (CBT-I) and then experience a relapse. They have a few bad nights and fear they’ve lost all the gains they made. Here’s how one reader recently described her plight:
“I realize that sometimes I will get scared when I have one or two bad nights once in a while. I’m afraid that insomnia will haunt me once again. Is this normal? What can I do?”
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.
Will there ever be a morning-after pill prescribed for insomnia? Wouldn’t that be nice. Insomnia wouldn’t be half as bad if it weren’t so debilitating the next day. No fatigue to contend with, no brain fog, no low mood. White nights could even be enjoyable if we knew in the morning that we could resort to Plan B.
For now there’s no simple way to avoid insomnia symptoms that occur in the daytime. But there are ways to minimize their impact, whether the bad nights come often or just once in a while. Here are 6 habits I find useful and maybe you will, too.
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.
People usually think of insomnia as a problem of the night, but it’s more than that. Poor sleep puts a damper on the day and affects our performance on the job.
This week is Sleep Awareness Week. To call attention to the fact that the effects of chronic insomnia are 24/7, I’m posting my final book trailer, where I discuss the daytime symptoms of insomnia and offer a few tips for coping after bad nights.