Objectively measure your sleep to help control insomnia

Q:  “My insomnia is horrible.  It feels like I’m up all night, every night, for weeks at a time.  I’ve had physical exams and bloodwork done, and I am otherwise healthy.  I tried melatonin, and that helped for awhile, but now it stopped working.  I feel so helpless with this insomnia and dread the thought of going to bed.  What can I do?”

Many people experience mixed results with melatonin, which is sometimes used as a “natural” sleep aid.  Our position is that any artificial substance used to force sleep — whether herbal, over-the-counter, or a prescription drug — is only treating the symptom and not getting to the true roots of the problem.

Sounds like you’ve done good work trying to eliminate a medical cause for your insomnia.  Either treating or ruling out a medical basis is an essential first step.  If there is any medical basis, such as undiagnosed sleep apnea, you must treat this.  If there is no apparent medical basis, then you must look beyond drugs to find a solution, or you are only treating the symptom.

The best solution to treat the nonmedical basis of insomnia we know of is cognitive behavioral therapy.  As applied specifically to insomnia (CBT-I), this is a collection of powerful, common sense methods to help improve sleep.  CBT-I requires no drugs or artificial supplements of any kind to work.

There are a number of methods contained in CBT-I you might find helpful.  One of the most important is etablishing a disciplined sleep schedule. This is something you can control right away.  For many of us with insomnia, this may be the single most important action we can take to improve sleep.

You could start by setting a consistent wake-up time every day. Do not let yourself sleep in or you pay the price the next night. Then set a consistent bed time that only allows as much time as you need to awaken refreshed.

Depending on your needs, you might start with only allowing yourself something like 6 hours in bed per night. This for many people would have the effect of acutely increasing their homeostatic sleep drive, resulting in better sleep.  The exact schedule you use should be determined by use of sleep logs that document the details of each night.

Using a CBT-based sleep training program that provides sleep logs, you can objectively measure your sleep each night and determine your sleep efficiency. Surprisingly, most insomniacs average around 60% sleep efficiency (meaning about 40% of their time in bed is spent tossing and turning, probably frustrated and angry) despite the widespread but often inaccurate perception of not sleeping a wink for weeks at a time. This common condition is known as sleep state misperception.

Good sleepers average up around 90% efficiency, so even they spend some time up in bed. A reasonable target for most people is about 85%.

By making progressive adjustments over time, using nightly sleep logs, you can determine your optimum sleep schedule. This is critical to controlling insomnia.

CBT-I also includes a number of other common sense methods that help most everybody. These ideas include sleeping in a cool, dark, quiet bedroom. Avoiding anything with caffeine after noon.  Exposing yourself to bright light immediately upon awakening.  Getting physical exercise every day.  Finding meaningful and challenging mental stimulation every day, whether work related or not.

After all, it’s common sense: tire yourself out both physically and mentally every day, and you will tend to sleep  better at night.

All of these CBT-I components are included in the Sleep Training System (STS), an affordable, safe, and effective program that also includes components to manage stress and help control anxiety.  By taking a comprehensive approach, most people using CBT-I methods experience significant improvement.  Many become normal sleepers again.

For more information, or to ask a question about natural sleep improvement, please feel free to contact us.

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

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2 Comments on “Objectively measure your sleep to help control insomnia”

  1. […] fighting during this time.  Getting daily exercise is important for good sleep, as is having a consistent sleep-wake schedule.  And for someone in your situation, trying to find a positive social support network wherever you […]

  2. […] your sleep efficiency is about 88% (7 hours asleep out of 8 hours allowed for sleep), which also puts you in a normal […]

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