It’s not always easy to find help for insomnia. Several people I interviewed for “The Savvy Insomniac” reported that their primary care doctors didn’t seem to take the complaint seriously or prescribed treatments that didn’t work.
I thought the situation must have changed since persistent insomnia is now known to be associated with health problems down the line. But a recent report on the Veterans Affairs (VA) health system shows that insomnia is still overlooked and undertreated by many primary care providers.
Here’s what you may find—and what you deserve—when you talk to your doctor about sleep.
Do you have a persistent sleep problem? Make cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia your No. 1 New Year’s resolution for 2017.
Here’s what you stand to gain, what may stand in the way, and where to find help.
You can train to run a marathon. You can train yourself to recognize Chopin. But can you train yourself to sleep (or train yourself not to have insomnia)?
Michael Schwartz, creator of the Sleep On Cue iPhone app, says yes.
When people ask what insomnia treatment helped me the most, I mention sleep restriction therapy (SRT) and exercise.
But I’d never seen SRT and exercise paired as equal partners in a therapeutic intervention for insomnia until last week. Trolling the Internet, I came across a study conducted in China to determine whether adding an individualized exercise program to SRT would result in better outcomes than SRT alone. The investigators came up with interesting results.
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.
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?
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.
“You know what I do that helps me sleep?” my husband’s Uncle Walter said to me. “You’re an expert on sleep, so you probably wouldn’t approve. But here it is: I listen to the radio. What do you think of that?”
“Do whatever works!” I replied.