Who has struggled before with insomnia? If stress and anxiety keep you awake at night, you aren't alone! The Institute of Medicine previously reported that 50-70 million people in the U.S. are affected by insomnia. When you aren't sleeping at night, everything from your mood, mental acuity, sense of humor, capacity for empathy and even snack cravings are negatively influenced. Fortunately, with the right interventions and help, you don't have to accept that insomnia has to be a permanent part your life.
Insomnia is one of the most frustrating experiences that can occur on a day-to-day basis. You know the drill: you’re lying in bed, ready to fall asleep. But no matter how many sheep you count, sleep just doesn’t come. Then you start the alarm clock countdown: you’re staring at your alarm clock, calculating exactly how many hours of sleep you’ll get if you fall asleep… now! Ugh, that didn’t work. Okay, I’ll get 4 hours and 23 minutes of sleep if I fall asleep… now! If this is all too familiar, read on to find some actionable, science-based ways to fall asleep quickly and easily.
If you suffer from insomnia, you aren’t alone. In 2008, the Institute of Medicine reported that 50-70 million people in the U.S. are affected by insomnia. For women, the statistics are even worse: Women are 1.4 times more likely to suffer from insomnia than men. The short definition of insomnia is when individuals have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. This can include being unable to fall asleep in the beginning of the night, waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to fall back asleep, or waking up too early in the morning. Among those who suffer from insomnia, the disorder has varying degrees of severity. There are three main classifications of insomnia: transient, acute, and chronic. Transient insomnia occurs for days to weeks. Acute insomnia lasts from three weeks to about six months, and chronic insomnia can last for years. Short-term stress or changes in the environment generally affect transient and acute insomnia, as opposed to chronic insomnia.
While there are numerous drugs on the market that claim to relieve insomnia, the best way to combat the disorder is through behavioral treatment. Sleeping pills often come with the risk of dependency and usually only cause people to fall asleep 10 minutes before they normally would without the medical assistance. What’s more is that sleep quality can be negatively impacted by these drugs. Cognitive behavioral therapies have no risk of dependency and can be more effective than medication.
Stimulus control therapy
Stimulus control therapy means associating your bed and bedroom with sleep, and only with sleep. When we read, watch television, or do other non-sleeping activities in our bedroom, our brain associates this room with being awake and active. By re-associating the bed and bedroom with sleep, our brains then adjust to going to sleep and staying asleep when in bed. Stimulus control therapy can be very helpful in establishing a consistent sleep-wake schedule.
The following steps are designed to create the association between sleep and your bed.
Go to bed only when you are sleepy
Get out of bed if you are unable to sleep
Use the bed/bedroom for sleep (and sex) only (no reading, watching television, talking on the phone, etc.)
Create a bedtime ritual, such as playing a certain sound or music when you go to bed or meditating
Go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day
CBT includes the methods listed below combined with health practices and environmental factors that can promote or inhibit sleep. Factors like caffeine consumption, exposure to light, and room temperature can all affect sleep quality.
When experiencing insomnia, it’s helpful to relax your body as well as your mind. Relaxation procedures aimed at relaxing both body and mind include progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, imagery training, meditation, and ambient sounds. Trying several of these techniques can help you find the ones that are best for you.
Worrying too much about if you will experience insomnia or continuously checking how long you have been awake will impair your ability to fall asleep. It can be difficult to ignore your insomnia, but thinking about it will only further impair your ability to fall asleep. Reducing the amount to time that you think about or monitor your insomnia will help you to conquer it. When you find yourself worrying about if you’ll be able to fall asleep, try one of the relaxation methods described above such as focusing on breathing or relaxing your muscles. If you can’t sleep, be sure to get out of bed until you are sleepy again so that you don’t associate your bed with wakefulness.