Therapy can help sleep problems. There are many links between psychological well-being and sleep. Sleep is the mind and body’s ability to rest and enter a state of peace and replenishment. During a stressful time or following a trauma or period of grief, the mind is working overtime and the body is producing more stress hormones. This is a time to make sure that you are giving them time to rest.
•First, make sure that you are doing everything you can to maintain proper sleep hygiene. This is where you make sure that your bucket of sleep you are trying to fill doesn’t have a bunch of holes in the side.
•Next, learn about the biological side of sleep. The best way to measure sleep recovery is not by the number of hours you sleep each night, but by the actual amount of time you sleep in relation to the number of hours you spend in bed? Your goal is to increase your “sleep efficiency”; good sleepers are asleep 90% or more of the hours they are in bed. Insomniacs are closer to 60%.
If you have chronic sleep problems, plan to track the number of hours you are sleeping and be in bed no more than 1 hour longer than your average. So if you’ve been averaging 5 hours a night, set a consistent rising time and get in bed no more than 6 hours prior to that. It is the tossing and turning and extra wakeful hours in bed that adds to the stress of not sleeping. Once you have reached 85% “efficiency”, add 15 minutes per week on to your bedtime until you are sleeping your desired amount.
Learn about body temperature and wakefulness. Did you know that Sunday night insomnia is not usually caused by the start of a busy workweek? (Give your psyche a break!) It’s usually because we sleep a little later on the weekends, and as a result the dip in body temperature that helps take the body to sleep also occurs later in the evening. So we compound the problem by getting up late on the weekend and then trying to get a jumpstart on the week by getting into bed early.
•Last, use some cognitive therapy for your sleep problems. Extensive research shows consistently that it is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that is more effective than any method in the short AND long term, including sleeping pills. When an insomniac’s pattern grows worse, the approach of nighttime is stressful and filled with worry. People have thoughts of “Oh no, I’m still awake” or “If I can just fall asleep now I’ll get 6 hours…5 hours…I just need 2 hours…” They develop a “meta level” problem — a problem about the problem. Insomnia is bad enough in practice that we don’t also need to compound it with these thoughts. When you cannot fall asleep within 20 minutes, read until you feel drowsy and try again. This particular practice is hard for insomniacs to accept: they want to believe that if they just lie there for 10 more minutes they will fall asleep. However, this contributes to the cognitive aspect of sleep problems and they learn to associate the bed with tossing and turning instead of rest. In fact, insomniacs are not typically drowsy during the day; their primary symptom is impaired mood. (Short-term sleep loss clients experience drowsiness.)
Insomniacs can remind themselves that even if it doesn’t seem like it, they do sleep. (Stages 1 and 2 of sleep are often overlooked by insomniacs, but Stage 2 especially is still good quality sleep.) Try keeping a list of positive thoughts to refer to throughout the day. Remind yourself that you can learn to sleep better, and if this is a new patch of sleep problems, remind yourself that you KNOW how to sleep and it will return.
Last, take comfort in several studies that show the ideal amount of sleep is NOT 8 hours; it is 7 hours and possibly less. Higher risk of mortality is associated with those who sleep 8 hours or more compared with 7 hours or less. Read more about this and the latest research in Say Goodnight to Insomnia by Dr. Gregg Jacobs of Harvard University.