- Nov 1, 2021
- 4 min
Overcoming Insomnia and Lack of Sleep Can Improve Your Life
Lack Of Sleep Affects Your Ability To Function In Day-To-Day Life For many people, sleep is a facet of life that seems inconsequential....
Founded by Inna Khazan, Ph.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist. Certified Biofeedback Specialist.
Are you unable to fall asleep at night because you’re anxious about tomorrow? Do you feel tired, irritable, and overly reactive to triggers the next day? Maybe you struggle to manage and regulate emotions—you’re quick to snap or respond in anger or get stuck in anxiety. Perhaps you have trouble staying focused or thinking straight. It’s as if your brain is a constant fog, robbing you of the energy you need to be productive at work or around the house.
Whether you’re dealing with depression, anxiety, chronic pain, or any other problems, your lack of sleep probably makes all your symptoms worse. Even your social life may be affected, as you find yourself too tired to go out after work or hang out with friends. You may even resist making plans days ahead of time because you’re not sure how you’ll sleep the night before.
In the midst of your frustration, perhaps you tell yourself: It’s just sleep. Why should it be such an issue? But the reality is that being stuck in an unhealthy sleep pattern can change your entire quality of life. Here, at the Boston Center for Health Psychology and Biofeedback, our goal is to help you break the habits that perpetuate insomnia, get the sleep you need, and wake up more refreshed and rejuvenated as a result.
Roughly 30-40 percent of adults in the United States wrestle with insomnia. For many people, insomnia has a waxing and waning course in their lives—but for others, it’s a life-altering problem. What’s more, insomnia is on the rise—according to the National Health Interview Survey, the number of people in the US who struggle with insomnia increased by eight percent between 2002 and 2012.
Why is insomnia so much more prevalent today? Put simply, most of us are so busy, overworked, and stressed out that there is little time to pause and unwind. Our society is so obsessed with success that high-achieving people often end up competing with each other over who can get the least amount of sleep. Functioning on just a few hours of sleep is sometimes portrayed as a superhuman power.
In reality, however, this portrayal is false—we don’t have the ability to function properly on insufficient sleep. Multiple areas of functioning suffer. Our ability to think clearly, regulate our emotions, work productively, and even experience joy in life are all diminished.
In the face of your sleep difficulties, you may be tempted to simply try harder. But the very concept of trying to sleep is a physiological oxymoron. Think about it this way: trying to do something involves activation of your nervous system, but sleep requires you to turn off activation and turn on your relaxation system. Your nervous system cannot be both activated and relaxed at the same time.
In order to maintain a healthy sleep routine, you have to give yourself permission to stop trying to sleep and allow your nervous system to wind down. Nonetheless, this is easier said than done, and isn’t always possible alone. By coming to therapy, however, you have a chance to work with a trained professional to overcome unhelpful sleep habits so you can feel more energized each day.
There’s often a sense of shame that goes hand in hand with sleep problems. It’s just sleep, you may tell yourself. Why should something so small and ordinary be affecting my whole life? But therein lies the catch: trouble sleeping is a serious issue. Here at the Boston Center for Health Psychology and Biofeedback, we recognize how severely insomnia can impact your ability to enjoy life. That’s why we provide a safe, nonjudgmental space where there is no shame in admitting how much trouble sleeping bothers you.
The core approach of our Boston, MA-based practice is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia (CBTi). The goal of CBTi is to change the unhelpful habits that contribute to insomnia. This is done by focusing on the behavioral, cognitive, and physiological aspects of your sleep issues.
Exploring the behavioral aspect of insomnia means looking at the association between bed and sleep. Specifically, we are interested in how this association has been disrupted in your life and how unhealthy habits have trained your body not to relax when you are in bed. For instance, imagine a stretch of time when you can’t sleep well because you’re stressed about an upcoming event. Even when the event passes and your stress goes away, your body learns that getting in bed means worrying, not sleeping. In this way, insomnia often takes on a life of its own even when the stressful event is gone.
Through CBTi, you will learn to re-establish the connection between bed and sleep by reducing the amount of time you lie in bed not sleeping. Initially, this means reducing the number of hours you spend in bed—a process called sleep restriction. While it may sound counterintuitive, sleep restriction can prevent you from wasting long periods of time lying awake and restore the association between bed and sleep. After spending less time in bed for a couple of weeks, you may find that your quality of sleep has improved. You and your therapist will then design a schedule for increasing the amount of time you have in bed. Eventually, after new sleep habits have been established, you will find it easier to sleep for longer periods of time again.
Meanwhile, the cognitive side of CBTi involves retraining your brain to relate to sleep differently. To do so, we will teach you mindfulness-based skills that focus on allowing your body to sleep rather than trying to sleep. That means learning how to disengage yourself from conscious attempts to will yourself to sleep so that your brain can relax when you are in bed.
Finally, the physiological side of CBTi trains your body to reduce activation and prepare for sleep. When you try hard to sleep, the stress-activation part of your nervous system becomes too strong for your body to wind down. Our goal is to help you strengthen the relaxation part of your nervous system so that you can let go of unnecessary stress activation and allow yourself to sleep.
As long as you are willing to follow the steps of CBTi, you can improve your quality of sleep and, most importantly, your quality of life. Oftentimes, when sleep issues are resolved, it becomes easier to address other challenges in your life. Our hope is that maintaining a healthier sleep pattern will empower you to tackle those challenges and live up to your full potential.
Sleep medication is often effective in the short term, but after about three months of taking it regularly, the effects tend to wear off. What’s more, sleep medication can’t provide you with any skills. In sleep therapy, you will learn skills, habits, and routines for healthier sleep that can last for the rest of your life.
The idea behind sleep restriction is not about cutting down on how much you sleep, but on how much time you spend trying to sleep. For the first couple of weeks, you may find that spending fewer hours in bed is unpleasant. But when you stick with it for a couple of weeks, your sleep will become more consolidated, you will start feeling better, and you will be able to gradually extend the amount of time allotted for sleep.
If you’ve researched tips for better sleep, you probably already know to avoid bright lights, screen use, and having coffee too close to bedtime. All of these strategies are important and give you a head start in sleep therapy. But ultimately, sleep hygiene is not sufficient in and of itself to improve sleep. It often keeps you stuck in the cycle of trying to will yourself to sleep. To truly heal from insomnia, you have to retrain your body and brain to associate your bed with sleep and reframe your mindset so that you’re not constantly trying so hard to sleep.
If you wish you knew what to do for insomnia, we would be honored to help you get your energy back by breaking out of unproductive efforts to sleep. To begin the healing process, you can email us, use the contact page, or call our Boston, MA offices at 617-231-0011 for a free, 15-minute phone consultation.