About a third of the adult population is plagued by symptoms of insomnia, while 10 percent suffer from the actual disorder, but those figures can taper drastically with a simple fix, according to research published in the international journal SLEEP.
In the study, researchers from Northumbria University in England separated 40 adults with acute insomnia into two groups (each with nine males, 11 females). Both groups were asked to keep sleep diaries to record the duration and quality of sleep and complete the Insomnia Severity Index to measure the nature, severity, and impact of their insomnia seven days before one group received treatment.
The control group received no additional support, while the other received a one-hour one-on-one cognitive behavioral therapy session and a self-help pamphlet to read at home. In the therapy session, participants were introduced to the principle of sleep restriction; they were encouraged to spend only the time in bed required for sleep. They were coached to lie in bed for 15 minutes and if they couldn’t fall asleep in that time frame, they were told to leave the bedroom. The idea is to associate the bedroom with sleep, not the stress and frustration that goes along with sleeplessness. Then, using their recorded sleep diaries, the lead researcher prescribed a time for each individual to go to bed and a time to rise to improve their sleep efficiency. The self-help pamphlet included information on how to recognize and act upon the symptoms of insomnia (called the “3D” approach): Detect (how to record their sleep diary), detach (how to control stimulus that could lead to disrupted sleep), and distract (instructions on how to use cognitive control and imagery to distract their mind.)
Within one month after treatment, 60 percent of participants reported improvements in their sleep quality. After three months, figures rose to 73 percent. As you might expect, 70 percent of those in the control group requested to be given the same treatment.
If you’re suffering from acute phase insomnia, this could be the difference between a good night’s sleep (every night) and the more dangerous side effects of insomnia like depression. If you don’t want to go to therapy, give the “3D” steps from the pamphlet and sleep restriction a shot:
1. Detect: Learn how to record in a sleep diary so you can recognize patterns. Report the time you intended to wake up, the actual time you woke up, whether you woke up throughout the night or slept restfully, how you felt during the day, if you took any naps, etc. Try using this sleep diary from the Sleep Foundation.
2. Detach: Learn how to control stimulus that could lead to disrupted sleep. For example, use blackout curtains, cover any small light from television sets and wear a sleep mask to limit light disturbances; use ear plugs or listen to ambient noise to limit sound disturbances; and sleep with a fan or air conditioner (or sleep naked) to stay cool throughout the night since a raise in body temperature can disrupt your sleep.
3. Distract: Learn how to use cognitive control and imagery to distract your mind. Individuals with insomnia tend to worry and ruminate over problems, converting them into visuals as they lie in bed. Research shows verbally addressing these concerns before bed reduces its chance of appearing in your mind, disturbing sleep.