Using sleep restriction to treat insomnia

Sleep restriction therapy is one of the most powerful and effective methods to treat insomnia.  Numerous clinical studies have documented the remarkable potential of this technique.  As one example, the Mayo Sleep Center in Rochester Minnesota reports this technique as part of their program often totally eliminates insomnia in about 8 weeks.

The basic idea with sleep restriction is to reduce the amount of time in bed in an effort to increase sleep drive, one of the key systems that control sleep.  In the downloadable Sleep Training System, we cover this method extensively in the “Sleep Timing” section.

Sleep timing methods accomplish several things.  The primary goal is to both increase your sleep drive, which tends to produce more robust sleep, while also leaving you feeling reasonably refreshed and performing well the next day.   Another benefit is to increase your sleep efficiency, meaning how well you use your time in bed.  Sleep timing allows you to match more closely the amount of time allowed for sleep with the amount of time actually spent sleeping.

Restricting sleep is not for everyone, however.  Those with obstructive sleep apnea, for instance, should probably not be cutting short the amount of time allowed in bed.  That’s one reason why a medical checkup is a good idea for anyone experiencing sleep problems.  And of course if this method causes you to feel excessively sleepy during the day, do not drive, operate machinery, or try to perform any task that could put you or anyone else at risk.

A detailed sleep log is necessary to use sleep timing techniques, both to implement the method and to track progress.  The STS includes easy-to-complete sleep logs for every night of the 6-week program.  A good sleep log only takes a minute or two to complete in the morning, and enables you to accurately compile the information needed to understand your sleeping patterns.

With this method, you first restrict the amount of time allowed for sleep, then, if you are sleeping well, you try adding about 15 minutes every two weeks or so. It is something of an evolving process tracked with sleep logs.  Everyone’s different, and you go with the timing that works for you personally.

Once you are satisfied with your sleeping patterns, you stop adding time in bed to protect your sleep drive.  That timing will be unique to you, and generally is a number that both keeps your sleep drive high while leaving you feeling reasonably refreshed the next day.  For most adults, this number averages somewhere between 7 and 9 hours.  But it’s a moving target that changes somewhat as you age and is also dependent on a number of other variables like exercise, stress, and diet.  So it is not set in stone.

Sleep restriction is most effective when used in conjunction with a comprehensive sleep training program that includes cognitive methods for addressing negative thoughts, reducing stress, and managing anxiety. Those are major contributors to sleeping problems for many if not most insomniacs, and if left untreated, may contribute to a relapse.

The cognitive or mental component to better sleep is crucial.  For most insomniacs, because self-limiting attitudes and inaccurate beliefs about sleep become so automatic and ingrained, addressing them effectively through cognitive methods helps treat the root cause of many sleep issues.  So for many of us, improving our attitudes, beliefs, and expectations have an even bigger benefit on our ability to sleep than just sleep timing alone.

Both are important, make no mistake. The behavioral and the cognitive working complementarily together combine for a comprehensive and effective solution. Each alone is helpful; together they are exceptionally powerful at producing better sleep.

There is another significant benefit to learning cognitive methods for sleep improvement.  Once you learn the concepts, you realize you can apply the same methods to virtually any part of your life in which you have the capacity to improve. It not only helps with better sleep, stress management, and reducing anxiety, but these same tools can also help you achieve your most important and meaningful life goals.

And moving toward your goals in a meaningful way is one of the best ways to sleep better!

Sleep timing, other useful behavioral tools, and cognitive restructuring methods are all covered in detail in the Sleep Training System.  Feel free to contact us with your questions about sleep.

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, sleep

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8 Comments on “Using sleep restriction to treat insomnia”


  1. […] it could also be that you are allowing too much time in bed.  It may be counterintuitive, but reducing the time allowed for sleep has the effect of increasing sleep drive, and that increase may help reduce middle of the night […]


  2. […] core CBT method is sleep restriction.  There are a number of variations to this method, but the basic idea is to only allow the amount […]


  3. […] so that they work best for our own specific needs is a good idea.  Another example of this is with sleep timing, another core CBT […]


  4. […] You will also help yourself a lot by learning some basic fundamental facts about sleep, such as this:  our physiologic requirement for sleep is far stronger than insomnia.  Sleep for us all is at some point irresistible.  You can use that fact to your advantage with sleep timing methods. […]


  5. […] is a key component in cognitive behavioral therapy specifically designed for insomnia (CBTI), and its benefit has […]


  6. […] the law of prior wakefulness, the fact that we cannot not sleep.  SRT tends to rev up your homeostatic sleep drive, which in concert with your circadian rhythm, are the two most important internal […]


  7. […] consist of some combination of stimulus control, sleep hygiene, consistent sleep timing, stress management, relaxation training, and control of anxiety.  Any of these issues, if not […]


  8. […] on the negative sleep thoughts that are likely fueling your insomnia to some degree.  Another is sleep timing, a behavioral method which enables you to set and keep sleep supportive schedule specific for your […]


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