Many experts recommend cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of insomnia. CBT corrects the thought patterns and behaviors that can cause or worsen insomnia, with help from a psychologist. But many of the strategies can be done on your own. Here’s how.
For seven to 10 days, track the time you get into bed, the approximate time you doze off and the time you wake up. Gathering this information will help you determine how much sleep you need and the best time for you to actually fall asleep. While you may go to bed at 10 p.m., you may not fall asleep until 11 p.m., which suggests that your circadian clock sets a later bedtime than you do.
“Sometimes, our desire for sleep has nothing to do with our own underlying circadian clock,” says Helene Emsellem, MD, director of the Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and author of Snooze or Lose. “Getting in tune with your circadian clock is the first step in understanding your insomnia.
Restrict Your Time In Bed
Once you’ve determined how much sleep you need, work backward to figure out your bedtime. For instance, if you need seven hours of sleep and get up at 7:30 a.m., you shouldn’t hit the hay until 12:30 a.m. When you’re able to fall asleep without long bouts of insomnia, you can go to bed a little earlier. But try to spend most of the time in bed actually sleeping. “Sleep restriction is based on the idea that time spent awake in bed is counterproductive,” says Nancy Foldvary, DO, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Cleveland Clinic and author of The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Sleep Disorders.
Use a book lamp tonight to do your reading. Limiting the amount of light at night will strengthen your body’s natural drive for sleep.
By limiting your time in bed, your brain learns to associate bed with sleep. The technique is also effective because it creates a mild form of sleep deprivation, especially in the beginning, says Donna Arand, PhD, clinical director of the Kettering Sleep Disorder Center, in Kettering, Ohio.
“The sleep deprivation makes it easier to fall asleep on subsequent nights and also begins to reduce awakenings during the night,” she says. “This forces the sleep time to be consolidated. The body and brain soon learn to reestablish the connection of being in bed with being asleep.”
Get Out of Bed
Lying in bed awake repeatedly teaches you to associate your bed with anxiety, which perpetuates insomnia. To break this association, get out of bed if you’ve been awake for 20 to 30 minutes. Do something monotonous like folding laundry or reading a book. “You want to take your mind off thoughts about not sleeping, but you don’t want to do anything that will activate or arouse the body or brain,” Dr. Arand says.
Once you feel sleepy, go back to bed. If you’re awake 20 to 30 minutes later, get up again. Repeat the process until you fall asleep. “This technique works because of the conditioning effect,” Dr. Arand says. “It also reduces the stress and anxiety that occurs when people are lying awake in bed.”