Summer: the best time of year for this Insomnia cure

Summer: the best time of year for this Insomnia cure

2 Aug 2017 12:00 AMRosemary Clancy

For chronic, conditioned insomnia, doing Time in Bed Restriction in summer is easier than waiting until winter.

SUMMER’S HERE for those insomniacs in the northern hemisphere. Have you found yourself conditioned to wake at 3.23am on the dot, then spend the rest of the night tossing and turning in bed? Now’s the easiest time to do that dreaded time-in-bed restriction that your sleep psychologist has been talking about. The one that will untrain your conditioned insomnia in the bed environment. So instead of hours laying awake in bed sleepless and frustrated, you train your brain to associate bed with sleeping. The one you responded to with “Wait. I’m supposed to get out of bed in the cold?!!”

There’s something so energy-sapping about insomnia, the way it makes us desperately vigilant about the costs of sleep deprivation ; so of course we try to shore up sleep by staying in bed longer. So we sleep later and later into the morning, even staying in bed until the afternoon on weekends, in a bid to make up our sleep debt.

This all seems to make sense. Why wouldn’t you actively try to combat sleep deprivation by doing whatever gets you more sleep? The first step must be more time in bed, surely. After all, the consequences of sleep deprivation are clear, both short and long term: poorer alertness and functioning, impaired thinking and memory, agitation and emotion regulation problems. Increased risk of accidents and work injuries, worse mental health.

But no, as it happens, staying in bed – especially to “rest” (um, is wakeful frustration and fits of semiconscious drifting really what you’d call restful?)– is worse than getting out of bed. When you are unable to sleep and get out of bed you start training your brain that bed is the right place to sleep, and the right place to be awake is – somewhere comfy and calming but not bed. Whether getting out of bed if you cant sleep within 20 minutes, or only giving yourself enough time in bed to capture the likely hours of sleep with little buffer time, the principles of restricting your time in bed are the same. Training your brain to reassociate bed with sleep means only going to bed when sleepy, and only staying in bed when you have a good chance of dropping off to sleep soon.

The devil is in the detail, of course. It’s not as easy as it sounds. And no-one wants to get out of their warm bed in the winter months. So with summer here, and increased body temperature making it harder for many to remain asleep, this may be the right time to practice Time In Bed Restriction, to condition good sleep habits to your bed.

If you want to know more about time in bed restriction and other behavior change strategies that help you relearn good sleep, read up a bit on this and ask us your questions. The sleep advice you see on hundreds of websites has a lot of good “sleep hygiene” tips with solid science backing them, but there’s usually not much detail on how to “do” time in bed restriction. And let’s face it; it’s the one “better sleep” tip we tend to glide past as we focus on all the advice about lighting, temperature, sound levels, pillows, nutrition and sedative use. And yet to untrain chronic insomnia it may be the most important change of them all.

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