Sleep-onset insomnia—trouble falling asleep at the beginning of the night—has been one of the biggest challenges in my life. By now, having gone through insomnia therapy and spent decades observing how changes in behavior and the environment affect my sleep, I know what I need to do—and what not to do—to get the best night’s sleep I can.
If you’ve got sleep-onset insomnia, here are 8 do’s and don’ts that may help to regularize your sleep.
If you’ve got insomnia, you’ve probably heard of “worry lists.” Sleep doctors for years have been urging insomniacs to write our worries down before going to bed, claiming this will alleviate anxiety and sleep will come more easily.
Really? Write about looming deadlines and all the upcoming functions I have to prepare for before I go to bed? That’s sure to send my anxiety through the roof! (not to mention keeping me up for hours).
But the idea may not be as counterproductive as it sounds.
You’ve heard it said before: insomniacs typically overestimate how long it takes to fall asleep and underestimate the amount of sleep we get. Time and again, sleep experts ask us to estimate our sleep time. Then they conduct overnight sleep studies with polysomnography (PSG) and find, on average, that we fall asleep faster and sleep longer than we think.
Are insomniacs just unreliable when it comes to estimating time? What else might account for this discrepancy? Should we be reassured that we’re probably sleeping more than we think?
Would you wear a cap at night if it helped you fall asleep faster?
You may soon have the opportunity: the cap, a medical device for the treatment of insomnia, has received approval from the FDA, clearing the way for it to come to market.
A reader—I’ll call her Chantal—wrote in June with questions about insomnia and sleep restriction. A few weeks ago I heard from her again:
I’m now in week 6 of sleep restriction and I have to say my sleep is getting better. I mostly sleep for 5.5 hours a night. When I started it was 3.
But the last couple of nights, I’ve woken up in the middle of the night and had trouble falling back to sleep. I have no idea why I’m waking up. Do you have any tips for staying asleep?