Stressing Over Your Own Insomnia Could Just Make It Worse

So here are some tips for a better night's sleep.
We need to talk about sleep, though with a focus on solutions.
We need to talk about sleep, though with a focus on solutions.

There has never been more of a focus on the importance of sleep. Which, obviously, is a good thing.

There are apps to help you track it, therapies to (hopefully) induce it and all manner of books on the topic of sleep in general.

Though, could focusing on getting a bad night's sleep, or being a 'bad sleeper' in general, only make things worse in those people?

"Feeling bad about the quality and quantity of our sleep is the new zeitgeist, " Dr Grunstein, Professor of Sleep Medicine and Head of Sleep and Circadian Research at the University of Sydney's Woolcock Institute of Medical Research told The Huffingon Post Australia.

One in three Australians experience some form of sleeping problem, which is unchanged from 20 years ago, but these days more of us feel dissatisfied with our sleep -- despite little sign that insomnia is on the rise, or that we're getting less sleep.

"There are a number of published studies now which looked into these 'time use' surveys from the early 90s versus now, and there really isn't much difference in what people say in relation to how much sleep they're getting," said Dr Grunstein.

"People now complain more about their sleep, they report that sleep quality is worse, but if you look at most countries around the world, there hasn't been a dramatic change in hours of sleep in the past 20 years. People then ask us to compare now to 50 years ago, but of course the quality of the data from 50 years ago is not strong. The data and questions we use now is virtually identical to what was used years 20 years ago, and the findings suggest that when it comes to sleep duration, there really isn't much difference."

So if we're complaining about it more, but roughly getting the same amount of sleep as 20 years ago, what does this mean for poor sleepers?

"We are creating insomnia in a way, because if you take a look at a person prone to insomnia, they're generally more anxious, they're more perfectionistic, they're a bit more obsessive -- they are personality characteristics which are predisposing factors to insomnia. You then tell that person that they're in a world that is in a sleep crisis and you make their anxiety and worry worse."

"From a treatment perspective, we invest a whole lot of effort in trying to correct 'dysfunctional beliefs' which consists of congenital behavioral therapy for insomnia. So these patients opening a newspaper or watching TV and seeing reports on poor sleep doesn't make our job any easier, it doesn't help those sort of people," Dr Grunstein said.

So while focusing on the importance of sleep is very important, information on solutions are critical in aiding those who are prone to insomnia and poor sleep.

Don't spend more time in bed

The response to feeling like you've had a bad night's sleep is to not spend more time in bed.

"The general response is to think "gee I had a bad night's sleep last night, I am going to spend an extra two hours here." Now that may work for someone who is generally a good sleeper but had a bad night due to working or partying, but for someone who is prone to insomnia, that's not the best approach. Infact the opposite is what they need to do -- they need to try to consolidate their sleep by shortening their time in bed, as a response to insomnia," Dr Grunstein said.

Allocate a specific time for worry

"Another thing people should do is to ensure that they allocate time for worry during the early evening, rather than leaving it all until late at night. The best strategy is to set aside 20 minutes worry time -- write down a list of all the things you're worried about, what you have to do at work tomorrow, whatever is on your mind -- and try and do that in the hours prior to bedtime," Dr Grunstein said.

Understand that wake is part of sleep

"We measure sleep every night for clinical purposes, and the normal 'arousal index', so a change in the brain wave pattern to indicate that someone has woken up, for most people is around 20 times an hour. So every time you change body position, your brain wakes up," Grunstein said.

"You only remember episodes, though it varies from person to person, if you have 15-20 seconds of 'awake' activity before a person actually remembers. So saying that waking during the night is bad can me misleading. Waking is part of sleep. The problem is really people's perception -- if you actually woke someone who is prone to insomnia and asked them how long they have been asleep for, they will underestimate the time. A lot of our research is trying to understand why this is the case."

Enforce regular sleep hours

Regular sleep hours are also really important.

"People should try and get up at the same time, even if they can't get off to sleep in the night, they need to get up in the morning and get light exposure. A more regular bed and wake time, and not sleeping in as compensation for not sleeping is very important," Grunstein said.

Pick a wake time and stick to it.
Pick a wake time and stick to it.

"Insufficient or disordered sleep is now recognised as a major cause of reduced alertness, fall-asleep crashes, errors, and deaths in the workplace. It also raises the risk of poor outcomes and reduced survival from heart disease, diabetes, stroke, metabolic dysfunction and impaired mood and mental health," Grunstein said.

Sleep Is Crucial

"Sleep is just as crucial as eating and drinking. We need people to recognise that, both in the workplace and at home -- sleep is something that needs to be protected and that it's precious."