Gone are the days of bragging about how little sleep we get because we’re using our time in more “productive” ways. Thanks to the extensiveness to which sleep has been studied, we know we need sleep in order to get anything done at all—in fact, one recent study found that losing just 16 minutes of sleep can make your workday less productive. And if that’s not enough to convince you of just how important sleep is, research has also found that sleep deprivation is linked with Alzheimer’s protein and heart disease.
For some people, this is an easy fix: Just get in bed a few hours earlier, and you’re clocking your recommended 7 to 9 hours, no problem. Unfortunately, a good night’s sleep is hard to come by for many people in the United States, because an estimated 60 million Americans are affected by insomnia each year.
For the people who lie awake all night counting sheep, having such an abundance of information on sleep floating around the internet at all times might actually make sleep even more difficult to come by. “Suffering from insomnia is hard enough, but obsessively reading about how sleep deprivation can negatively affect your health can actually compound your sense of distress and powerlessness,” explains Shira Myrow, LMFT.
Kelli Moran, a clinician at the New York-based therapist group Octave, agrees that the many articles and studies out there can pile on added pressure for people who are struggling to fall and stay asleep. “Not being able to sleep can be demoralizing and lead to feelings of shame and self-judgment,” she explains. “Try not to get sucked into all the information telling you that eight hours of sleep is the be-all and end-all."
How to manage the anxiety around the importance of sleep when you can’t fall asleep at all.
If reading about the correlation between sleep deprivation and heart disease is driving up your anxiety and leading to more obsessive thinking about sleep, try to avoid reading about sleep’s importance at all. Instead, put that energy toward utilizing tools that can help you manage your insomnia.
“If you’ve found a trick that consistently reduces your anxiety around insomnia, hold onto it,” suggests Myrow. “When we feel anxious, it floods our bloodstream with stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) which can activate our body. The stress response can make you more hypervigilant, which will perpetuate the insomnia cycle.”
She adds that there’s not a one-size-fits-all trick for everyone and that you have to figure out what works best for you. One tool that has proven consistently helpful for chronic insomnia sufferers, though, is cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia (CBTi), is the gold standard, evidence-based treatment for insomnia,” Moran explains. “It’s a short-term intervention that can improve the quality and quantity of sleep. When taught by a trained clinician, it’s more effective in the longterm than any other treatment for insomnia.”
Sleep tricks to try tonight.
On top of slowly backing away from the many sleep-related articles out there, there are a lot of tricks you can use to fall asleep faster and hopefully sleep through the night. While CBTi may be a good idea down the road, you can start with a few more basic tricks beyond some of the standard rules, like avoiding caffeine too close to bedtime and keeping electronics out of your bedroom.
Doctor Sujay Kansagra, a sleep expert at Mattress Firm, suggests starting by taking a hot shower at night. “A hot nighttime shower can help you sleep better by artificially raising your body temperature,” he says. “The subsequent fall in your temperature helps you get to sleep.”
Temperature adjustments in your bedroom can help, too: If possible, try keeping the temperature around 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. And once you’re actually in bed and having a hard time falling asleep, try a mental trick called “paradoxical intent.” “Paradoxical intent is calmly thinking about staying awake instead of trying to fall asleep,” says Kansagra. “By thinking about staying awake, you’ll decrease the anxiety around the process of falling asleep, which will often times paradoxically help you go to sleep.
It eases the performance anxiety around sleep.”
Here’s to channeling all that anxious sleep energy away from articles on the internet and toward finding both long and short-term solutions to your insomnia.