Anxiety about sleep is a problem for some insomnia sufferers. Fear of sleeplessness is the main thing keeping them awake at night.
Here’s how sleep anxiety develops and how to tone it down.
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.
We’re often told there’s no objective test of insomnia.
But now a research group in Switzerland is claiming they’ve found an objective marker of insomnia: brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF.
“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?”
“I’m on Day 4 of SRT and it isn’t going well,” Jenny wrote recently. “I finally had an appointment with a sleep therapist last week. He talked to me about SRT and gave me a 7-hour sleep window, from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. My usual bedtime is 9:30 so I had some apprehensions. But I started 4 days ago.
“Since then I haven’t slept more than 3 hours a night. It’s really hard for me to stay up till 11, and then when I get in bed I’m wide awake! In the morning I’m so tired I can hardly keep my eyes open! Is this normal? I’m afraid I may be a treatment failure. Any advice?”
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?