You probably have trouble sleeping at least once in a while. Worry, stress, late-night eating or drinking, travel, and illness can all cause transient sleep problems. And as we discussed last week, the seasonal return to Standard Time can throw your sleeping schedule off until your body adjusts. If you occasionally have sleep problems, there are many sleep-promoting strategies that can help you when you’re tossing and turning.
However, if you frequently have difficulty sleeping, or if you rely on medication, you need a more in-depth approach to improving your sleep. Sleeping pills can act as a temporary insomnia remedy for acute sleep problems. If you are in severe pain, or going through a brief period of extreme stress, for example, the right medication can help you get much-needed sleep. However, over time these medications do lose their effectiveness. If you continually rely on sleeping pills, you lose the ability to get yourself to sleep and instead rely on artificially induced drowsiness. You’re better off in the long run strengthening your natural ability to sleep, even if it’s a bit of a challenge to tackle insomnia without medication. Fortunately, there’s a powerful insomnia remedy that’s available to anyone willing to put in a little time, effort, and planning.
The most well-documented method for overcoming long-standing insomnia is cognitive-behavioral therapy, a systematic approach to changing your thoughts and behavior around sleep. The cognitive aspect involves learning to stop worrying about sleep. Letting go of worry and anxiety about sleep allows you to relax and fall asleep more easily and sleep more soundly.
The behavioral aspect involves the various “sleep skills” you need to practice to support healthy sleep, such as engaging in a relaxing bedtime routine and reserving your bedroom only for sleep and sex. The most important behavioral part of this approach is sleep scheduling. Strategic sleep scheduling strengthens your body’s sleep system, and creates a positive association between your bed and sleep. You do it by carefully planning when you go to bed, get out of bed, and how much time you spend in bed. The goal is to spend a high percentage of your time in bed actually sleeping. Over time, your mind and body will associate your bed with sleep, and you’ll become increasingly confident of your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Surprisingly, good sleepers don’t necessarily sleep more than poor sleepers, they just spend a higher percentage of their time in bed actually sleeping! The ratio of time spent sleeping to time in bed is called sleep efficiency. Good sleepers spend 90 to 95 percent of their time in bed actually sleeping. People with insomnia, on the other hand, may sleep less than 65 percent of the time they are in bed.