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  • Dr. Lauren Fontenot

Hectic Days and Stressful Nights: Keys to Coping with Insomnia

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

“I am no longer an early bird, or a night owl. I am some form of permanently exhausted pigeon.” I laughed as I read this, thinking that most people can relate to this sentiment. As days get busier, stress from daily life, emotional struggles, and shifts in routine can wreak havoc on the quantity and quality of our sleep. Approximately 30% of the US population complains of regular sleep disruption, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking too early. When these disruptions become chronic, it’s called insomnia.

Insomnia is strongly tied to our mental and physical functioning – whether it be feeling foggy and being unable to concentrate during the day, having low energy, or feeling angry or sad. Since so much of our daily ability is reliant on good sleep, a lack of sleep can become stressful, in turn making it hard to sleep as we toss and turn, stare at the clock, and bargain: “If I fall asleep now, I can at least get two hours…” Day in and day out, sleep disruption and resulting stress can become a vicious cycle: not getting enough sleep leads to stress, stress keeps us from falling asleep.

Whole books have been written on improving sleep. Internet searches yield thousands of results: medicines, behavioral changes, gimmicks. Recent research has called into question the long-term effectiveness of sleep medications as they can cause dependence and only work as long as you take the medication – they contribute to the cycle. On the other hand, behavioral changes are showing more promise at reducing sleep disruptions and a new evidence-based treatment, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) has provided better long-term results when compared to sleep-related medications.

Before turning to psychotherapy for your sleep, try these strategies to see how they may improve your sleep.

Make your bedroom favorable for sleep. Keep light, noise and the temperature low. Keep your bed for sleep only.

Create a quiet, relaxing bedtime routine. When we’re little we need a routine to get ready for bed: dinner, bath, pajamas, bedtime story. We forget that when we’re adults we need this too. Relax your body. An easy way is “triangle breathing:” inhale for 3 seconds, hold for 3 seconds, exhale 3 seconds.

Go to bed ONLY when you’re sleepy. If you try to force sleep, you will only be more frustrated. If you aren’t sleepy, do something boring or relaxing. If you’re in bed for 20 minutes and can’t fall asleep, get up and do other quiet activities until you’re tired.

Build up a “sleep appetite.” Wake up at the same time every day. Resist the urge to sleep in, even if you have had a bad night of sleep. Avoid daytime napping. Napping before sleep is like eating a big snack before dinner. If you nap during the day, you won’t be ready to sleep at night – just like if you eat before dinner, you won’t be hungry. Get regular exercise. Tiring out your body will lead increase your body’s hunger for sleep.

Remember! An occasional poor night of sleep is normal. Continuous sleepless nights are not! If you’re coping with chronic insomnia, strategies like these may be part of the, but not the whole, solution to better sleep. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (or CBT-I) is a short-term (6 sessions or less) treatment featuring an individually tailored therapy package in which behavior changes like those mentioned above are coupled with individualized strategies to retrain your circadian clock. Research has shown that most individuals who complete CBT-I successfully report improved sleep. Dr. Fontenot has several years of experience providing CBT-I. Want more information? Visit the link below to watch a short video about CBT-I and learn more!

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