Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Loneliness, shame, guilt and sleep

October 4, 2011

Intensely negative emotions like shame, guilt, anger, frustration, loneliness, sadness, and worry can and will contribute to insomnia.

When these sorts of negative emotions recur on a regular basis, they underlie and contribute to anxiety, which like stress, is one of the main culprits involved with sleeping problems.

There are effective ways to deal with anxiety. We can’t eliminate it entirely, that’s unrealistic to expect. But we can tone it down a bit. Doing so significantly helps produce better sleep.

One effective way to manage the recurring negative thought patterns that cause anxiety is to approach the problem at a mental, or cognitive, level. Cognitive therapy is in fact designed to do exactly this.

Cognitive therapy is an objective and straightforward way to understand and identify these recurring negative thought patterns, which then enables you to deal with them constructively.

Recurring negative thought patterns usually result from some underlying cognitive distortion. In other words, we’re not accurately perceiving what’s really out there, often in our relationships with others. Or we view our experience in an unrealistically negative light. These are just two examples, but there are a number of generally recognized categories of thought distortions.

One of the great accomplishments in cognitive psychology in recent years has been the work in identifying a number of these thought distortion categories. These broad categories allow us to compare our unique personal experience with a larger psychological concept to understand how we distort reality.

For many reasons, distortions are actually very common. Most of us do it at some level. It’s not some inherent defect, but rather something that you can control.

By identifying your unique recurring negative emotions and comparing them to these broader distortion categories, you may be able to more easily see your own distortions. And importantly, learn to safely disregard them. In other words, you learn that letting them go will not hurt you. In fact it will help you immensely.

Specifically for insomnia, the Sleep Training System includes a component on anxiety management. You learn effective ways to identify your own recurring negative thought patterns, and then step-by-step learn how to safely disregard them.

Anxiety management is just one part of a comprehensive solution for better sleep without drugs. Help, if you are looking for it, is definitely out there.

So what do you think. Do you recognize anxiety in your own life and does it cause you sleeping problems? How do you manage anxiety?

A surprisingly simple way to counter the blues of winter

September 30, 2011

With days now rapidly getting shorter and nights getting correspondingly longer, our biological clocks must adapt to a different seasonal rhythm from the long days of summer.  Many of us adapt to this seasonal change with no problem at all; but for some of us the short days of fall and winter can lead to a seasonal form of depression known as SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Fortunately, we all have available a surprisingly simple and free solution to help counter the effect of short days and long nights:  light, and especially in the form of natural sunlight.

SAD was first recognized in the early 1980s, and it affects more those living in higher latitudes, where days can be significantly shorter than in lower latitudes.  SAD has many symptoms, but typically involves a feeling of lethargy, excessive sleeping, and overeating, especially of carbohydrate-rich foods.  The neurotransmitter serotonin seems to play a role in the craving of carbs.  Melatonin, a sleep hormone naturally produced in the brain’s pineal gland, also is involved.  The pineal gland produces melatonin when it starts getting dark, and reduces production with exposure to light.

The simple solution that behavioral researchers have found for SAD is exposure to light.  The best form of light to treat SAD is natural sunlight, because of it’s brightness and full electromagnetic spectrum, but any bright light will help.  Some experts say exposure to sunlight first thing in the morning is ideal to treat SAD, others say the time of day doesn’t matter.

If for any reason getting out into the sun isn’t possible — as is the case for a few weeks of the year in Alaska — specially designed full-spectrum light therapy boxes are available to treat SAD.  But for most of us such devices are probably not necessary.

If you begin to feel the seasonal winter blues coming, try getting outside for an hour or more each day.  Walking, exercising, yard work, whatever you can do outside to move around in the sun will have a beneficial effect.  If you do it first thing in the morning, you also help to resynchronize your natural biological clock for a new day, which helps produce better sleep.  But getting out and about anytime in the sunshine is better than no time at all.

If you are having trouble sleeping during the long winter nights, it’s especially important to maintain a regular sleep schedule.  The Sleep Training System, an online downloadable program based on cognitive-behavioral therapy, will help you determine your ideal sleep timing, and how to create an optimal environment for robust sleep.

Better sleep for college and high school students

September 16, 2011

Sleep problems for students in high school and college are surprisingly common, considering this age group generally does not face the same kinds of issues that come later with normal aging.  Fortunately there are a few simple guidelines that will generally help most young adults sleep better.

First, this age group faces the unique challenge of synchronizing a biological clock that often experiences a day that lasts much longer than 24 hours.   In fact, it’s common from about age 14 through 30 to experience more of a 28 to 30 hour day instead of a 24-hour day.  This means 11 p.m. may feel more like 7 or 8 p.m.  And 7 a.m. may feel more like 3 or 4 a.m.  Sure, those hours can make it tough to sleep! So resynchronizing your biological clock each day back to a 24-hour circadian rhythm is important.

Recalibrating to a 24-hour day is simple if you make a commitment to do this:  get up at the same time every day, consistently without fail, every day, as much as possible.  Use an alarm clock.  Get up and out of bed ASAP and expose yourself to bright light immediately, preferably indirect sunlight.  This gets your biological clock restarted in subtle but profound ways.  Do not allow yourself to sleep in on weekends or any other day.  Consistency is important.  Your sleep system thrives on this sort of regularity.

Second, set a consistent bed time.  We suggest for this age group to allow at least 8 even 9 hours to start, and see how you do. If you’re tossing and turning, cut that back a little by going to bed a little later (keep your wake-up time set) and see what happens. You’ll soon discover your best sleep timing.

Third, be sure to schedule some time for exercise every day.  Tire yourself out mentally and physically every day, and you’ll sleep better at night.

Fourth, try to avoid or at least minimize any caffeinated beverages or foods with caffeine (there are many, including chocolate) after lunch.

Fifth, allow yourself a relaxing wind-down period before bed.  This can be something like a relaxing bath, getting your clothes ready for morning, reading something enjoyable, just whatever you like doing and find relaxing so you can let stress go before bed.  Developing a consistent cool down routine every night helps prepare your mind and body for sleep.  Avoid any sort of stress during this wind-down time.

Think of it like this: your mind and body are like a finely-tuned machine designed to automatically get all the sleep you require. Then relax and let go the worry about sleep.

All of these ideas are part of cognitive behavioral therapy applied to insomnia.  For much more, including a comprehensive 6-week sleep training program, check out the Sleep Training System.

Good luck to all students.  Getting a good education is a great experience, a time to grow and learn and enjoy life.

Why some people sleep better on the couch than in their bed

September 14, 2011

Q:  I don’t sleep well in bed.  Seems like I toss and turn for hours.  Yet I can fall asleep with no problem on the living room couch.  Why?

A:  This may be a form of conditioned insomnia. Like the bell that made Pavlov’s dogs salivate, your bedroom can become a powerful cue that keeps you up.

If, for instance, you allow 8 hours for sleep but toss and turn for 5 of those hours, you are spending more time in bed awake and frustrated than actually sleeping. In this way you can become unwittingly conditioned to associate your bed and bedroom more with wakefulness and stress than with sleep.

On the other hand, an entirely different sleeping environment won’t have the same cues and associations as your bedroom. Some insomniacs toss and turn in bed, then move to the living room couch and immediately fall sound asleep. Or go on vacation and have no problem sleeping in motel rooms, in a tent, or just about anywhere besides their own bedroom. This sort of conditioning is actually fairly common among insomniacs.

This is one reason why many sleep experts suggest getting up and out of bed if you are tossing and turning in frustration. Don’t let yourself lie there for hours and hours.  Just go back to bed once you feel drowsy so you can reinforce the association of sleep with your bedroom.

There are ways to effectively deal with conditioned insomnia, both behavioral and cognitive. On the behavioral side, you can try creating as much of a stress-free bedroom environment as possible.  Getting rid of clutter or anything that might cause stress can help, as can avoiding any stressful activities in the bedroom.

But equally if not more important is to enter this negative cycle of insomnia at the mental level, and constructively deal with the thoughts, often subconscious, that you inadvertently associate with your bedroom and insomnia.

All of these methods and much more are covered in detail in a good comprehensive CBT for insomnia program, like the Sleep Training System.  The STS is a completely natural, drug-free method to constructively address the root problems that underlie primary insomnia.  For more information, we invite you to check

Is Napping OK for insomniacs?

August 30, 2011

Napping is somewhat controversial among sleep experts. Some say it’s OK, others say no.

Yes, napping can reduce the amount of prior wakefulness you take to bed with you from the previous day, and so reduce your sleep drive. But many people find this effect can be minimized with some prior planning.

Our take is napping is OK if it’s done at least 6 or more hours prior to bedtime, and the nap is no longer than about a half hour.  These conditions make it less likely the nap will negatively impact overnight sleep.

So as an example, if your normal bedtime is around 10 p.m., a good time to nap might be from 3 to 3:30.  Or choose an even earlier time if you felt drowsy.

Studies of human circadian rhythms show that it’s normal for a metabolic lull to occur after lunch. Many cultures in fact build this in with a siesta time in the afternoon.  So in this way napping fits right into our natural circadian rhythm.

Personally, I’ve found that a short nap, even if I just quietly relax and don’t actually fall asleep, leaves me feeling very refreshed for the rest of the day.  And it doesn’t seem to negatively affect my ability to sleep well that night.

But, and this is an important but,  everyone’s different.  You should experiment and see what works for you.  Try different variations.

For a consistently good night’s sleep, it’s also important to comprehensively address all the involved components.  These include such broad areas as sleep hygiene, sleep timing, sleep-supportive lifestyle practices, controlling negative sleep thoughts, and addressing excessive levels of stress and anxiety.

All of this is involved with CBT for insomnia. The Sleep Training System is a downloadable program that provides a comprehensive and user-friendly CBT-based approach for better sleeping.  By working all these areas simultaneously, many insomniacs have eventually become normal sleepers again.  And are able to enjoy a good nap now and then.

How to recalibrate your biological clock for better sleep

August 4, 2011

Ideally, our internal biological clock — our natural circadian rhythm — is synchronized closely to the daily 24-hour cycle of the sun. The reality is not that simple.

One factor is the constantly changing length of day and night throughout the year. Depending on your latitude and the season, there are wide variations in the amount of darkness or sunlight you experience each day, and the duration of daylight typically changes by a minute or two for each successive 24-hour cycle. To compensate, our built-in clock constantly adjusts to the changing of the seasons.

Another factor is normal human physiology. From about age 14 to 30, it’s common for our biological clock to slow down significantly from a normal 24-hour circadian cycle. Adolescents and young adults may experience more of a 26 to 30 hour day. So for this age group, when 11 p.m. rolls around it may feel more like 7 or 8 p.m. This is why it’s common for a teenager to be wide awake at a normal bedtime. And when it’s time to get up at 7 a.m., it may feel more like 3 or 4 in the morning. Hard to get up that early!

Fortunately, by about age 30 most of our biological clocks speed back up to a more normal 24-hour cycle.

Later in life, the biological clocks of some (not all) of us continue to speed up faster than a 24-hour cycle. So this is why 8 p.m. may feel more like 11 p.m. for someone in their 70s , and 4 a.m. may feel more like 7 a.m. This is but one change that age has upon our sleep system.

One way to maintain or recalibrate your biological clock back to normal is to use a consistent wake-up time each day, every day without exception, as much as possible. Then upon awakening immediately expose yourself to light, preferably daylight. This consistency supports better sleep, and is explained in much more detail in the Sleep Timing and Sleep Hygiene sections of the Sleep Training System.

For better sleep, make your bedroom a time-free environment

July 21, 2011

For most people, once the decision is made to sleep, it is time to rest and unwind — not worry about the clock.

Yet that’s what many insomniacs do.  Poor sleepers often obsessively check the time throughout the night, worrying about how long it’s taking to fall asleep, or fall back asleep.  Whatever time it is, it’s always the wrong time.

Constantly checking how much time you’re up is counterproductive if you’re continually reminded of how long you’re awake.  The habit of checking the time too often undermines good sleep.  Your clock then becomes another negative cue, a source of tension and frustration associated with bad sleep – but only if you let it.

So clock management is an important part of creating an environment conducive to optimal sleep.

One way to manage this is to not make it easy to see the time while lying in bed.  You want the clock to be readily available, but we suggest you situate the clock in such a way that to read the time you must at least rise up off your pillow and turn your head.

In other words, find a place to situate your clock where it’s there but not too easy to see.

While working the 6-week Sleep Training System, a bedside clock is necessary to use the interactive sleep logs.  But after you complete the STS and are no longer using sleep logs, you might benefit from not even looking at the time at all when you wake up in the night.  As long as you control what time you go to bed, and you’ve got the alarm to wake up when you want, you don’t have to worry about how much time has elapsed sleeping or awake.

Eliminating concern about the time is one way to help get to the point where the idea of sleeping is no longer a source of worry or stress at all.  When you reach that point, rest assured you are well on your way to becoming a normal sleeper again.

Personally, I make it a point to avoid looking at the clock at all when I wake up in the night.  I find it to be counterproductive and don’t even want to know.  Using the STS over time, you too will build confidence that your mind-body system will get exactly the sleep needed each night.