I’ve described myself as a poor sleeper for years, thanks to Restless Legs Syndrome.
Several nights a week, I’ll feel as if I haven’t slept at all. Then I’ll be cranky all day, and torn between looking forward to going to bed or dreading another night of tossing and turning.
Naturally, I’ve read a lot of sleep self-help books 🙂
A few days ago I picked up The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix It by W. Chris Winter, M.D., a sleep medicine specialist.
I actually learned a few things that I think will help my future sleep endeavors!
Sleepy vs fatigued
Dr. Winter really doesn’t like it when patients tell him they aren’t getting any sleep.
Yes, you are, he says.
The bottom line is that true, honest-to-God sleep deprivation is difficult. In research situations, it can be damn near impossible to keep subjects awake for even relatively short periods of time.
The body’s sleep drive is too strong. True sleep deprivation leads to an overwhelming need to sleep—anywhere, anytime.
So if I’m lying in bed wondering why I can’t sleep, I’m not sleep deprived.
But I am fatigued, which means I’m not getting enough restorative sleep, or deep sleep.
Naps are OK, sometimes
According to Dr. Winter, sleep doctors have a saying:
An early nap adds to the previous night of sleep but a late nap subtracts from the upcoming night of sleep.
In other words, he says, if I want to nap I should do it around or before lunchtime. A later afternoon nap will mess with my sleep later.
That makes sense.
And a nap should be less than 30 minutes. Any longer than that risks leading to PNF, or post-nap funk.
Have you ever woken up from a nap feeling worse? I have. That’s because I slept too long and my brain went into deep sleep mode and didn’t want to come out of it.
Typically, our brain cycles from light sleep to deep sleep and back to light sleep before waking. When we go straight from deep sleep to being awake we end up with the fuzzy, headachy feeling of PNF.
Don’t stress and stay positive
A section of the book called “Insomnia Distress” had the most impact on me.
My negative attitude about sleep and my self-description as a poor sleeper—the insomnia identity— actually undermines my ability to sleep!
It’s the classic self-fulfilling prophecy: I believe myself unable to sleep so I can’t.
Dr. Winter suggests some basic Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) steps to help re-frame my thinking about sleep or lack of sleep. For one month
- I won’t talk about my sleep. If I’m asked directly about my sleep, I’ll respond with a simple “I slept fine.”
- I won’t blame things I do or don’t do on poor sleep.
- I’ll avoid any media (books, blogs, TV, internet) about sleep.
- I’ll remember my body benefits from resting (which I can control) even when I’m not sleeping (which I can’t control).
- I’ll tell myself I’m a good sleeper at least once a day.
- When I can’t sleep, I’ll practice meditation or imagine myself performing a task. I play violin, so I’ll imagine learning the fingering for a complicated piece of music.
- When restless leg symptoms keep me awake, I’ll remind myself that I can accomplish a lot even when I’m fatigued. And if I’m really sleepy the next day, I’ll make time to take a short nap.
Hopefully, after a month’s practice I’ll be much more skilled at sleeping!
Below are some other sleep books I recommend.