Insomnia feeds on you trying to sleep

People who suffer from insomnia often find themselves trying everything under the sun in a frustrating and seemingly futile attempt to get a good night’s sleep.

However, these all-consuming efforts can do more harm than good. They feed the problem they need to solve, an expert said News week.

Dr. Jade Wu is a behavioral sleep medicine specialist and researcher at Duke University School of Medicine. Over the course of her career, she has helped hundreds of patients.

Stock image of a man in bed struggling to sleep. Insomnia thrives on sleep exertion, Dr. Jade Wu to Newsweek.

Figures from the American Sleep Association show that 10 percent of American adults suffer from chronic insomnia, which can seriously disrupt daily life. Many more have short periods.

In her new book Hello Sleep: The Science and Art of Overcoming Insomnia Without Drugs, Wu provides an easy-to-follow guide for people with insomnia. The goal is to shift the focus from trying to control sleep to building a healthier and more lasting relationship with it.

Wu says that even if you suffer from insomnia, you already know how to sleep – your rest is not broken. The path to recovery lies in refraining from treating the problem as a technical problem to be solved with formulas, ‘hacks’ or products.

One of the main issues perpetuating chronic insomnia is “sleep exertion,” according to Wu. This includes anything you do or think intentionally to induce sleep or become a better sleeper. This effort can involve any number of behaviors or thoughts – some common examples Wu includes in her book include:

  • Trying very hard to clear your mind or turn off your brain at night.
  • Trying to find the best sleeping position or perfect bedtime routine.
  • Make sure you go to bed early so that you have enough time to put in enough hours.
  • Trying to drum up a positive attitude about sleep leading up to bedtime.
  • Avoid drinking fluids in the late evening to minimize nighttime urination.
  • Using special sleep meditations, soundtracks, or binaural beats to induce sleep.
  • Buying or consuming products that claim to induce sleep.
  • Exploring a rabbit hole on the internet about sleep and insomnia.

While each of these individual examples of sleep effort may seem like a good idea, they can counterintuitively cause you to fail. Hard work is usually seen as something to strive for in today’s society. However, when it comes to trying to sleep, too much effort often backfires, according to Wu. This can lead to an unhealthy relationship with sleep that can prolong insomnia.

Constantly thinking about sleep and strategizing how to get more of it can increase conditioned hyperarousal. People with insomnia experience this when they try to fall asleep, which further exacerbates the problem. Sleep exertion can make the individual more anxious. It can draw attention to the problem or increase frustration around it.

Wu compares the concept to quicksand: The more you struggle with the unwanted wakefulness — by, say, trying your best to relax or thinking about how you should sleep — the worse the problem gets.

The problem can be exacerbated by the “sleep hygiene” advice that is usually offered as a solution to people struggling with insomnia by well-meaning healthcare professionals and organizations.

Sleep hygiene refers to a checklist of recommendations to promote restful sleep. These range from avoiding screens late at night; taper before going to bed and don’t eat too late; to get exposure to light and exercise during the day; and make sure your room isn’t too hot.

Wu says that while such guidelines can be helpful in preventing some sleep problems, they don’t necessarily address the underlying causes of insomnia.

“They’re generally not helpful if someone already has insomnia,” Wu said. “In fact, putting too much emphasis on perfecting sleep hygiene can backfire, as sleep exertion increases anxiety and makes insomnia even more likely.”

It is also often untenable for people to follow all guidelines for long periods of time. There are many recommendations and everyday life has many obligations.

Wu said treating insomnia with sleep hygiene is like trying to treat a cavity with oral hygiene — at this point it’s too late and the focus is misplaced.

“Sleep hygiene is not the answer, nor the blame, for your insomnia. Some of it may be helpful to you, some of it may not be, but that’s not the starting point,” Wu said. “Start building a good relationship with your sleep where you figure out what you need.

“Even the term ‘sleep hygiene’ really casts a judgment on people who suggest, ‘Oh, you’re not hygienic enough, and your bad sleeping habits are why you’re not sleeping well,'” Wu added.

“What I want to do is give people a bigger and more sustainable framework. If you just give people a list of things to do and tell them they’re bad for not doing it, it’s not very feasible.”

Wu said she hopes people create a healthier relationship with their sleep, one where they don’t have to try hard to manipulate and control it. According to her, this is a futile undertaking.

A woman with a sleeping problem
Stock image of a woman with a sleeping problem covering her head with a pillow in frustration. Many people with insomnia experience hyperarousal when they go to bed, making it difficult to sleep.

The researcher also said that a one-size-fits-all approach and rigid rules when it comes to sleep messages are not necessarily beneficial. Instead, Wu wants to empower people to trust themselves and their own individual sleep patterns.

“If we find the right tone of amicable relationship with sleep, it’s a lot easier to trust that your sleep is taking care of you,” Wu said.

“People fall within a spectrum of how much sleep they need. And so if we get the same message — you should sleep eight hours; you should set your room temperature to this number of degrees, and so on — that might not be the right answer for people .

“Our sleep needs also change over time, depending on our age, lifestyle and other factors,” Wu said. “So instead of trying to achieve a very specific amount of sleep, it’s much better for our health and our relationship with sleep to be flexible. As long as you protect your sleep environment and sleeping arrangements, you can listen to your body’s sleepy sounds .” signals to know if you’re getting enough.”

It’s important to note that perfection is neither necessary nor sufficient for sustainable sleep health, Wu added. Creating a good relationship with your sleep means taking good care of it without being overbearing; it also means having some meaningful boundaries, but not being governed by rigid nighttime rules.

Turning away from sleep effort

Instead of working harder to try to fall asleep, Wu said letting go of the struggle could be a “game-changer.” She has some tips for dealing with this.

One recommendation is to “accept reality.” Notice what’s happening right now without analyzing and evaluating what’s going on – or trying to sleep – when you’re lying awake in bed.

“Likewise, if you’re wide awake at night, you can recognize that, yes, you’re awake now, it’s already happening, and your waking won’t magically turn into drowsiness just because you and your fluttering brain do this. really, really want reality to change,” Wu wrote in her book.

The second tip is to ask, “What would a good sleeper do in this situation?” and act appropriately. This sends a signal to your body that insomnia is not an ever-present threat and that it is safe to relax. It can also help address a person’s entrenched identity as someone who is a bad sleeper.

“If our actions indicate that sleep is fragile, our bodies will make us more aware of wakefulness at night, making us more likely to wake up and stay awake,” Wu wrote. “If our actions indicate that changes in our sleep routine are dangerous, our bodies will react fearfully when our sleep routine is disrupted.

“However, if our actions indicate that sleep is resilient and adaptable, and that our relationship with sleep is firm enough to withstand some turbulence, our body will lessen arousal, confident that it needn’t be wary of danger. ”

Finally, if you can’t sleep, Wu recommends not checking the time. Watching minutes and hours go by while you can’t sleep can increase feelings of anxiety or frustration. It is not useful in any way. Cover the clock and put your phone out of reach.

Insomnia feeds on you trying to sleep

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