Do you ever stay up tossing and turning in bed, even though you just want to fall asleep? Does insomnia bother you through the night, or do you have a hard time feeling refreshed in the morning even though you should have slept enough? How can we understand our own sleep habits and sleep schedules to make better improvements?
Issues with sleep are a common problem for many people today. Since sleep is an important health behavior that regulates our mental and physical condition, the effects of poor sleep are immeasurable. How can we improve our sleep habits once they are disrupted and how can we regain healthy sleeping patterns? Experiencing sleepless nights can make us feel uncomfortable and anxious about sleep itself and we may find ourselves desperate for deep sleep.
Sleep is a natural physiological phenomenon of the body and a difficult state to achieve through sheer willpower alone. If we want to break the cycle of sleepless nights, we need to guide ourselves into sleep in the most natural way possible. We introduce Sleep Scheduling; a cognitive-behavioral therapy approach to chronic insomnia.
The Basics of Insomnia
Generally, insomnia is defined by a lack of proper sleep for over a month with symptoms of fatigue, decreased motivation, decreased concentration, and loss of appetite. The cause of insomnia varies, including but not limited to day-to-day stress, psychological illnesses, or side effects of medication.
The hours of sleep required for a healthy lifestyle varies from person to person. Some people will feel sleepy during the day even after 8 hours of sleep and some people will function perfectly fine on just 3 hours of sleep. It’s also known that our necessary sleep time for health changes with age. It’s natural to require less sleep as we age, so sleeping difficulties are less of a concern when we age. These natural changes are not indicative of insomnia.
Check out the article below for more details on the basics of insomnia.
When we experience continuous sleepless nights, many of us try to spend more time in bed to maximize rest. However, this may lead our brain to signal our “place of sleep” (a.k.a the bed) as a place of activity or wakefulness, leading to further sleeplessness.
“Sleep scheduling,” allows the brain to understand the bed as a place reserved only for sleeping. The following points become important to achieve this:
・Spend time outside of bed until you actually feel sleepy
・Do not try and go to bed until you actually feel sleepy
・If you are struggling to sleep, get out of bed
What is Sleep Scheduling?
Sleep scheduling is an effective approach for people who experience daytime discomforts due to long term insomnia. If you are not currently experiencing any symptoms of insomnia, be careful as this may disrupt your sleep cycle.
1. Understand Sleep Efficiency
Before we implement a sleep schedule, we must first understand our sleep habits. It’s important to know how long it actually takes to fall asleep once we get into bed and how long the sleep felt when we wake up the next morning. A good way to do this is by keeping a “sleep journal” to record our everyday sleep habits. Once there’s a good understanding of our sleep habits, we can calculate sleep efficiency (the ratio of our actual sleep over time spent in bed). Use the equation below to calculate your sleep efficiency.
For example, if you got in bed at 10:00 PM and woke up at 8:00 AM the next morning, you will have spent 10 hours in bed. Within that time, let’s say you felt like you actually got 6 hours of sleep. In this case, your sleep efficiency would be 60%. The goal is to achieve an average of 85% or more for adequate weekly sleep efficiency.
2. Go To Bed Later to Improve Sleep Efficiency
Once we grasp a good idea of sleep efficiency, adjust bedtime to 15 – 30 minutes before the actual sleep time in order to get closer to the 85% average sleep efficiency. If, as in the example above, you sleep for 6 hours and wake up at 8:00 AM, you should adjust bedtime to be at 1:30 – 1:45 AM. Until then, spend time outside of the bedroom to condition your body and brain to believe that the bed is strictly for sleeping only.
3. Gradually Lengthen Sleep Hours
Once the average weekly sleep efficiency exceeds 85%, gradually increase sleep time by either going to bed 15 minutes earlier or waking up 15 minutes later. Aim for a sleep duration that will not negatively impact daytime activities. These adjustments to our sleeping habits may temporarily make us go to bed later and wake up earlier. However, concentrated sleep hours can improve our subjective satisfaction towards sleep quality
Sleep scheduling can be an effective way to improve insomnia, but the root cause of it still needs to be addressed. If insomnia is caused by illness or side effects of medication, we should make improvements based on the guidance of a professional doctor. Make sure to carefully determine the cause of sleeplessness, before taking appropriate measures for improvement.
Better Sleep Habits Lead to More Fulfillment
Sleep is a vital behavior to our health that sustains life. Sleep also occupies one-third of our lives. Good sleep habits help us maintain good physical and mental health. It contributes to our ability to reach full potential and further grow.
It’s not easy to change the lifestyle we already have to adjust for better sleep. Although, with its benefits of creating a healthier and more fulfilling life, it will be well worth the effort.
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Munezawa, T., & Mishima, K. (2009). Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia. Journal of Mental Health, 55, 71-78.
National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry. Support Manual for Sleep Disorders and Sleep Problems. Retrieved from: https://www.ncnp.go.jp/nimh/behavior/phn/sleep_manual.pdf