- Inna Khazan
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. In our work-crazed modern world, it’s common for people to brag about how little sleep they get. In reality, however, sleep underlies every aspect of a person’s ability to function. Studies have shown that numerous brain functions, such as your memory, attention span, and ability to regulate your emotions, are greatly affected when you haven’t gotten much sleep. In other words, no matter how well you think you can function on little sleep, sleep deprivation hinders your ability to be successful and well-adjusted in day-to-day life.
As a result, addressing insomnia and sleep difficulties is essential in treating both physiological and psychological conditions. In addition to negatively impacting chronic pain, headaches and migraines, lack of sleep can exacerbate anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. When you’re not well-rested, you may find that you “snap” more easily and are aggravated by things that normally wouldn’t affect you. This is because lack of sleep takes resources away from the areas of the brain that are meant to help you regulate your emotions.
In fact, medical technology has unveiled a fascinating truth: that a sleep-deprived brain looks very similar to a brain that is actually asleep. A sleep-deprived brain produces slow brain waves that are supposed to occur only when you are asleep. Without enough sleep, your brain is literally slower and less efficient than when it is well rested. This is why it is so important to correct bad sleep habits. Doing so allows you to make improvements in your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
How To Get Your Brain Out Of Busy Mode And Into Sleep Mode
There are two very effective approaches to help you get more sleep, each of which addresses the issue from a different angle. The first is to take a step back and cut down on how much work you do every day and how late you work. This is important if you find yourself sleeping less in an effort to get more done. Working on important tasks too close to bedtime can make it harder for your brain to wind down and relax—your mind stays in busy mode when it’s supposed to be shutting down. Even when you hear your brain telling you, “But I just need to finish this last chore or complete this last work assignment!” it’s a good idea to turn off the busy mode and focus on winding down earlier.
Rather than working when it’s late, you can cultivate a nightly routine of meditation, focusing on your breathing, or light exercise (such as yoga, taking a walk, etc.). These activities will help you reduce the stress-activation part of your brain that is alert during the day and ease the stressors that prevent you from falling asleep. The key is consistency; making practices like meditation or breathwork a nightly habit can change your entire sleep schedule, which in turn can positively impact every area of your life.
On the other hand, insomnia is a problem for people who would like to sleep more but have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Insomnia disrupts the brain’s association of bed with sleep, leaving you unable to sleep when you are in bed. It often starts when something interferes with your ability to sleep for several nights at a time—perhaps a long stretch of work stress, a relationship problem, or an illness. As a result, your body slowly learns to associate bed with tossing and turning and stress and worry rather than sleep.
Research shows us that in order to reestablish the connection between bed and sleep, you need to reduce the amount of time you spend in bed trying to sleep. To accomplish this goal, you need to commit to not spending time in bed unless you are sleeping. That means getting out of bed if you are not asleep, waking up at a regular time, and initially, reducing the amount of time you spend in bed. This will help you cut out the stressful tossing and turning of insomnia.
Such an approach may seem counterintuitive, but restricting the amount of time you spend trying to sleep reinforces the association between bed and sleep and helps improve the quality of your sleep. And once the quality of your sleep improves, you can gradually give yourself more time in bed.
Lack of sleep is never a standalone issue, as it impacts your mental, physical, and emotional health. That’s why changing your sleep habits is so important. By giving yourself time to wind down before bedtime and reducing the amount of time you spend trying to sleep, you can win the battle over insomnia and bring positive change into every area of your life.
Don’t Let Insomnia Get In The Way Of Your Best Life
If you’re interested in pursuing therapy for sleep issues with us, you can head to our insomnia treatment page and learn about the cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTi) that we provide. If you wish to contact us at our Boston, MA office, go to our contact page, or call 617-231-0011. We're happy to provide a free, 15-minute phone consultation.