Today we look at how to conquer insomnia and some tips on how to get you back into a normal sleeping routine.
Sleep is a basic brain function which means that we should all be able to get the rest we need. Unfortunately for many of us sleep does not come easily. The good news is that poor sleep is almost always related to our behaviour or state of mind. True insomnia is rare and is usually linked to brain injuries or developmental delays. It is also relentless and endures throughout the life cycle. True insomniacs are also very tired, but cannot fall asleep.
For the rest of us, poor sleep is usually highly treatable. Most poor sleepers have some form of “psychological tension” such as anxiety, stress or depression. These mood problems and the worrying that accompanies them cause sleep disruptions. This is why talk therapy is one of the key recommendations for those who cannot sleep properly.
When sleep is difficult, it is also easy to start obsessing over sleep. This in turn leads to anxiety and poor sleep. Here once again talk therapy is usually the best approach. A specific type of therapy known as cognitive behavioural therapy is usually the most helpful.
Poor sleepers also tend to spend more time in bed in an attempt to get the sleep they need. Unfortunately, this strategy is counterproductive leading to sleep fragmentation, difficulty falling asleep, more frequent awakenings and decreased sleep quality. If you are not sleeping well, avoid naps and do not spend excessive time in bed.
Sleep restriction and why it works
One of the best ways to improve your sleep is to use a technique known as sleep restriction. The idea is to create a mild state of sleep deprivation, and thus promotes more rapid sleep onset and more efficient sleep. For a week, estimate and keep track of the average time you sleep per night. Once you know how much sleep you are getting, limit the amount of time you spend in bed to the amount of sleep you have been averaging. When you are sleeping for more than ninety percent of the time spent in bed for a week, dedicate fifteen minutes more in bed per night. If your sleep quality degrades to the point where you are spending less than eighty percent of the time in bed sleeping, deduct fifteen minutes to your sleep time.
You should also avoid staying in bed if you cannot fall asleep after fifteen to twenty minutes. Only go to bed when sleepy and get up at once in the morning. You want to associate your bed and bedroom with sleep and sex, nothing else.
Natural sleep aids can also be tremendously helpful. These include melatonin, 5-HTP, valerian, theanine, GABA and magnesium, amongst others. Sleep aids are usually most useful when it comes to resetting circadian cycles and breaking the vicious cycle of insomnia.
There is also exercise of course. Physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce the time needed to fall asleep and nighttime awakenings. If you are trying to improve the quality of your sleep, you should be active for more than an hour per day.
Technology also plays a huge role in one’s quality of sleep. White noise, bright screens and our obsession of always being “connected” and on our phones. You can ready more about how technology affects your sleep here and here.
This in a nutshell is how you can get control of your insomnia. If you’d like to chat about a more detailed plan to get you back to sleeping you can book an appointment with me at the clinic.
Dr. Ludovic Brunel graduated with a degree in Human Nutrition from McGill University in Montreal and pursued his studies in Naturopathic Medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.