Treating Insomnia: Going Beyond Sleep Hygiene

Sometimes getting a good night’s sleep seems like an unachievable dream. It’s time for bed, but once your head hits the pillow, you feel wide awake. Or, you wake up at 3am and toss and turn as your mind races. Feeling fatigued and finding it difficult to concentrate during the day, you hope to get to bed early or sleep in and “catch up” the next night or morning. And on and on it goes. 

It’s not unusual to have a temporary bout of poor sleep due to personal stress, illness, travel/jet lag, change in routine, etc.  However, for many millions of Americans, insomnia is a chronic, persistent issue. If you’re one of the 40 million Americans experiencing insomnia, here’s a few suggestions to get some ZZZs:

  • Focus on filling your daily sleep “bank”. 
    • Imagine your body’s sleep system as a savings account and you’re “saving up” for a restful, restorative sleep. Exercise and general physical activity throughout the day creates “deposits” to your account. Avoiding lingering in bed to “catch up” on missed sleep also allows your sleep account more time to accrue sleep deposits. So, don’t avoid exercise and do avoid snoozing your alarm to make sure you have enough savings to cash in on great sleep each night. 
  • Avoid making an “early withdrawal” from your sleep bank.
    • I get it, you’re tired because you didn’t sleep well at night and you want to take a quick power nap. While a periodic afternoon siesta has its benefits, for insomniacs, daytime napping equates to making an early withdrawal from your sleep account. Regular dozing means you’re likely to end up short when you’re ready to “cash in” at bedtime—resulting in poor quantity or quality of sleep. 
  • Learn to relax and wind down.
    • You may have noticed you don’t come with an “on and off” switch. In fact, you may find your mind shifts into high gear as soon as you’re “supposed” to be sleeping. A good rule of thumb is to wind down 30-60 minutes before bedtime. During this “buffer zone”, plan to switch from high-stress, mentally or emotionally-demanding activities to minimally engaging, relaxing activities. For example, taking a relaxing shower, listening to calm music, putting away work and work emails, and stretching or meditating are great ways to prep for sleep. If you tend to have a racing mind at bedtime, journaling your worries, creating a to-do list, and mindfulness meditation can help you quiet an unruly mind.
  • Work with—not against—your body clock. 
    • An integral part of your body’s sleep system is your circadian clock. This biological clock, among other functions, manages sleep and wakefulness with hormonal and environmental cues. A great environmental cue that prompts wakefulness is sunlight exposure. So, forgo the black-out blinds and wake up to natural sunlight. Feeling fatigued in the morning? Open your blinds and sit in the sunlight for 15-30 minutes to set wakefulness in motion. Late night snacking can also sabotage your natural body clock’s signals. Eating close to bedtime can interfere with your circadian clock’s efforts to prepare your body for sleep. Try not to eat or drink anything within 2 hours before your bedtime. 
  • Make a game plan with an expert to improve your sleep.
    • You don’t have to figure it out on your own. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is a first-line treatment for insomnia. It involves an assessment and personalized treatment plan to help identify your particular obstacles to restorative sleep and implement appropriate strategies to improve sleep.

Contact Dr. Smitha Bhat at 630-699-2589 to schedule an appointment or for more information about CBT-I. 

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