“Can’t sleep and don’t want to take drugs”

Q:  I’m in my late 20s, with occasional insomnia.  It usually takes me awhile to fall asleep, then I don’t feel rested in the morning when I have to get up for work.  I try to lead a healthy lifestyle with exercise and a good diet, so I suspect this may be psychological.  I don’t want to take drugs, so what else can I do to help myself sleep better?

A:  You are right there probably is a psychological component, but there also likely is a significant circadian component as well.

By way of background, the two most important internal systems controlling sleep are circadian rhythm and homeostatic sleep drive. The two components, when synchronized and working well together, can make sleep when you want practically irresistible.

Consistency helps the two systems work better together.  For most of us that means setting and keeping the same wake up time each morning, 7 days a week.  It also means keeping a consistent bed time each night as well.

If you are not drowsy when you normally go to bed, you might try setting a later bed time, while keeping your wake time consistent.  In other words, see what happens if you reduce the amount of time you allow in bed.  This may have the effect of ramping up your sleep drive to produce faster sleep onset.

If you are otherwise healthy, doing something as simple as reducing from 8 to 7 hours in bed per night may be all you need to restore sleep to where you want it.  And as your sleep improves, you may be able to incrementally add in more time in bed.  However, be cautious about reducing to less than 7 hours  in bed, which is at the lower end of the normal range for most adults.

Of course watching any caffeine intake, getting daily exercise, minimizing stress before bed, and so forth, are also important.

If this continues to bother you, then a check up with your doctor is important to either treat or rule out an underlying medical issue.

As for the psychological part, you are right in that recurring negative thoughts about sleep are a potent fuel for insomnia.  For solutions, check out adult sleep training methods based on CBT — cognitive behavioral therapy. There are many powerful tools you can use to get your thoughts under control and help restore normal sleep.

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

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