– Insomnia: The Science of Sleep Suggests 10 Tips –
It is just before dawn, what the Romans called the hour of the wolf. If you are awake, anxieties seem to howl, obligations taunt, and dawn will never come. Sleeplessness can haunt our nights and darken our days. We fall asleep easily and then awaken, wondering how to find our way back. As the Author F. Scott Fitzgerald noted, in “the dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning.”
There’s a science of sleep today, with its own language. There is sleep-onset insomnia (difficulty falling asleep), sleep maintenance insomnia (difficulty staying asleep). Sleep hygiene consists of practices and habits that promote nighttime sleep and daytime energy. Too much time in bed is believed to diminish sleep efficiency. As a result, sleep researchers suggest using beds only for sex and sleep, an unlikely change for those of us who read, work and talk on the phone in our beds.
Sleep restriction therapy (SRT), is a behavioral approach, a technique for treating insomnia without medications. Because insomniacs typically spend a long time in bed not sleeping, SRT involves limiting time in bed (TIB). To try this on your own, determine the best time to awaken and enforce that, no matter how little sleep you’ve had. Then determine your best bedtime and go to bed 20 minutes later. SRT increases your sleep efficiency – the percentage of your time in bed when you are asleep. Evidence suggests it’s as effective as pills.
Speaking of pills, experience shows that medications leave us feeling groggy and slow-moving. They also lose their effectiveness. Side effects and dependence lurk in the shadows. Over the counter sleep aids have been compared to war: easy to start, but tough to stop.
These factors have spurred sleep researchers to find less toxic approaches that depend on new behaviors and habits, rather than sedatives, which treat only symptoms, not the underlying causes.
Recommendations vary, but they include:
- Adopt a regular sleep schedule and get up at the designated time, even if you haven’t slept well, to synchronize your sleep/wake cycle.
- Power Down. The glow from a cell phone, tablet, or digital clock interferes with sleep.
- Avoid naps.
- Create a tranquil sleep space, cool, dark, and quiet. If there is ambient noise, create white noise with a fan or humidifier.
- Move the TV out of the room, turn it off before bed or use the sleep timer, if it has one. The changes in light emitted by the TV can mimic the light before dawn, confusing your biological clock.
- Block out the light from streetlamps as well as other sources of artificial light.
- Avoid stimulants and limit liquids and foods in the hours before bed.
- Restrict alcohol. Like some sleep meds, it can wear off at 3:00 am, awakening us.
- If you awaken, don’t check the clock or turn on the light.
- Exercise can help you fall asleep faster, sleep more deeply, and awaken less often. But avoid exercise just before bedtime.