Can chronic insomnia make you less attractive? speed up the aging of skin? cause irreversible damage to your face?
I heard these concerns as I interviewed insomniacs for my book. But recently I decided to check into them after receiving an email from a woman whose anxiety about her appearance was extreme:
Rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep) is when most dreams occur. Episodes of REM sleep also help defuse negative emotions and improve the learning of motor skills.
Until recently, insomnia wasn’t thought to be a problem of REM sleep. Insomnia, the thinking went, was caused mainly by phenomena occurring—or failing to occur—during quiet, or non-REM, sleep: insufficient deep sleep, for example, or wake-like activity occurring in other stages of non-REM sleep, resulting in insufficient or poor sleep.
In the past few years, though, REM sleep has become a suspect in the quest to identify what causes people to wake up frequently in the middle of the night and too early in the morning. (This type of insomnia is called sleep maintenance insomnia). Here’s more about this intriguing proposition.
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?
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.
It’s cruel to blame people for health problems they have little if anything to do with creating. Yet the urge to do so is powerful when the true causes of an affliction remain unknown. In the 20th century many illnesses were seen as psychological or behavioral problems, and insomnia was one.
We’re in the 21st century now, and biology and neuroscience are teaching us that the causes of many chronic disorders and serious diseases are complex. But some people still regard insomnia as stemming from “bad” behavior or as “all in the head.” Here’s my take.
Insomnia doesn’t often get front-page coverage, but it did on Tuesday. Benedict Carey of The New York Times reported on a study of people under treatment for depression. The results showed that nearly twice as many subjects were cured of depression when—in addition to taking an antidepressant or a pill placebo—they received cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia.
It’s time to reassess the relationship between insomnia and depression.
Some insomnia sufferers who visit my website head straight for the posts on sleep restriction. So I decided to create a video trailer where I could talk about my own experience of sleep restriction: how off-putting the idea was at first, and the results I later achieved.
Dr. Oz’s tip for curing insomnia—wearing heated rice footsies to bed (see my blog last March)—may have led to second- and third-degree burns for TV viewer Frank Dietl, but Oz is not responsible for the injuries, the New York Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 3. Moral of story? Take the advice of tele-evangelist health gurus with a grain of salt.
But let’s get back to the notion that heating the extremities might help to promote sleep. For some of us, this may be a useful strategy.