As a treatment for insomnia, sleep restriction therapy falls under the “behavioral treatment methods”. It also falls under the paradoxical concept of “less is more”. That may sound contradictory to you at first.
A paradox is, in fact, something that seems contradictory on the surface, but once you delve into the subject a bit you find that it makes sense.
Less is More
For example, I’ve been training for a marathon over the last several months. For a period of about six weeks I found that I was getting tireder and tireder, and my legs were aching all the time. I decided I was pushing too hard, so I backed off of my mileage and intensity. Instead of trying to run 70+ mile weeks I was only running 50 or so.
The result? After two weeks the pain went away, my energy picked up and I was able to slowly build the mileage back up to 60/week, and I was running faster. In my case, less running = more benefit.
The reason “less is more” is often true is because we have limited bodies and minds. We are designed to handle excesses for periods of time, but then we must have time to recover. If we eat too much for a few days we will gain weight if we don’t back off and return to a normal diet. If we exercise too long and too hard our bodies will begin to break down, until we back off and allow time to recover.
Similarly, our sleep can become disrupted because of a variety of issues, and the solution may be to back off. Sleep restriction therapy is a way of backing off temporarily and then slowly building back up to a normal level.
How Sleep Restriction Works
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What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a large and important topic. Whole books are written about it. Within this article I will highlight what is most important to know about the problem and some steps towards overcoming it.
First of all, insomnia is more of a symptom than it is an illness. The word insomnia comes from the Latin In (not) + Somnus (sleep). It literally means “not sleeping”.
Be that as it may, most insomnia sufferers get some sleep. The problem is that the sleep is either too short or of poor quality.
Everyone experiences a sleepless night of tossing and turning once in a while. This is normal and is not outside of healthy sleep. However, when insomnia becomes a regular occurrence it is a sleep disorder. There are three categories of insomnia, ordered according to duration:
Categories of Insomnia
- Transient Insomnia – Lasts less than a week. This type of insomnia can usually be connected with some kind of stress
- Acute Insomnia – From one week to one month in duration. Acute insomnia does not mean the person has not slept at all for a month, but that sleep has been difficult to initiate or sustain, or that the quality of the sleep has been very poor and unrestful.
- Chronic Insomnia – More than one month of poor sleep. Additional effects caused by long term sleep disruption may include severe muscle fatigue, aches and pains, hallucinations, lack of concentration, mental fatigue and double vision.
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Today I had a job interview. It was the first for me in many years. I usually do pretty well in job interviews, but I still get nervous beforehand. They are very stressful! I found out back in December that my “position is being eliminated”, so I consider this to be the first of potentially many such interviews over the coming weeks and months.
When interviewing for a job, of course you want to be at your best. You want to be prepared to answer all those questions, you want to be able to express yourself clearly, you want to know about the job for which you are applying, and so on. Another key part of good preparation is to be well rested. This can be a challenge. Sleep and stress don’t tend to mix that well. The butterflies that spring up don’t usually wait until right before the interview, but may start days beforehand. This can make sleep a challenge the night before, when it is most important.
Now, I am no stranger to the struggles of trying to sleep the night before a big event. I am a runner and a marathoner, and I always get a bit nervous before these stressful events, especially the marathons. In fact, marathons can make me feel a little anxious as much as a week beforehand. Also, a couple times a year I have to teach a forty minute lecture to over 200 people. And, there are other momentous (stressful) events that come up throughout any given year that can make sleep difficult. So, over the years I’ve developed a few tricks that help me to get through the nervousness, and I’m happy to report that last night I was able to sleep reasonably well. How was I able to do it?
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If you add regular exercise to your life you can expect to see an improvement in your sleep in a number of ways.
- You will fall asleep faster
- A greater percentage of your sleep will be in the deep sleep stages
- You will wake up less frequently during the night
Exercise is particularly valuable for older people, as the benefits all counteract the negative effects of aging on sleep. Physically fit older men fall asleep in less than half the time of their sedentary counterparts.
A study at the University of Washington found that even those who already sleep normally benefit from adding exercise. Test subjects saw an increase in the amount of time spent in deep sleep when they added aerobic exercise a few times a week.
Why Does Exercise Benefit Sleep?
No one is really sure of the exact reasons why exercise has such a significant impact on sleep. There are probably a number of factors, which include:
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