Fixing insomnia caused by “no sleep pattern”

Q:  My sleep schedule is all over the board.  On a good night I sleep only about 4 or 5 hours.  I go to bed late and get up early, awaken exhausted, then typically nap for a couple of hours in the afternoon.  Now I’m worried because I read all the coverage in the media about how bad insomnia is for health.  How do I fix this?

A:   Sounds like you may have a circadian rhythm issue, possibly not dissimilar to jet lag.

Consistency in your sleep schedule should help.  Start with deciding what hours you want to sleep, and what hours you want to be active and awake, keeping in mind the normal recommended range of 7 to 9 hours for most adults.  Then set and keep a consistent sleep-wake schedule 7 days a week to allow your circadian rhythm and sleep drive to adjust.

When setting your schedule, also consider that the physiology of the human mind-body system has evolved over the millennia to be active during the day, and sleep at night.  That’s how our physiology is designed to work, on many different levels.

It may take a few weeks to fully adjust to your new schedule, depending on how different it is from your previous schedule.  But be patient.  If you haven’t previously had insomnia, you should be able to adjust and restore better sleep as your homeostatic sleep drive and circadian rhythm synchronize.   These two internal processes largely control sleep.

This process of re-establishing a normal circadian rhythm is very similar to what travelers do when recovering from jet lag.  Generally, most people take about a day to adjust to each hour of time difference.  So if you were to cross 7 time zones, it would take on average about a week to more fully adjust to your new time.  And of course such adjustments are made successfully by literally thousands of travelers every day around the globe.

You might also reconsider your idea of napping.  It is very difficult for most people to sleep soundly through the night when taking long daytime naps.  To protect your prior wakefulness, which is helpful for ensuring robust sleep through the night, try to limit yourself to no more than about a 20 minute nap, and at least 5 or more hours prior to your usual bedtime.

In the meantime, try to let go the worry, which only tends to fuel insomnia.

And you sure are right about the one-sided media coverage about insomnia.  We are constantly bombarded with bad news about how awful insomnia is, even though the reality is most of us are quite capable of adjusting to sleep deprivation, at least over the short term.  This is not meant to minimize the importance of establishing a lifestyle supportive of good sleep, just to help put things in a more realistic perspective.

Be confident you can fix this, and in so doing you’ll probably be able to function just fine.

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

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2 Comments on “Fixing insomnia caused by “no sleep pattern””


  1. […] to in effect “stack the deck” in your favor for better sleep.  Setting and keeping a consistent sleep schedule, minimizing negative sleep thoughts, controlling stress, and managing anxiety are all part of a […]


  2. […] to in effect “stack the deck” in your favor for better sleep.  Setting and keeping a consistent sleep schedule, minimizing negative sleep thoughts, controlling stress, and managing anxiety are all part of a […]


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