When you have a particularly nasty insomnia problem, and it seems that no matter what you do (sleep hygiene, supplements, herbal remedies, medication) it just won’t go away, you will want to try this. This method is called “sleep restriction”, and it’s one of the most “brute force” methods around to get your sleep back on track.
This often succeeds where everything else has failed. It may be uncomfortable to do at first, but the results can be spectacular. We are using the natural sleep pressure you build up during the day to help us reboot your sleep.
So here, in a very simple, truncated, form are the steps you need to take to try sleep restriction:
- Calculate the amount of time you actually spend asleep in bed at night. Not the time you spend in bed, but the actual time you think you are asleep (keep a journal). The absolute minimum time, regardless of how much you sleep, is 5 hours. Hopefully, you get a bit better than that. For the purposes of our example, we’ll say you sleep 4 hours a night, so the number we’ll use here is the minimum – 5 hours. If you sleep 5.5 hours a night, use 5.5.
- Use the time you need to be up in the morning as your starting point. Let’s say it’s 6:30am. Work backwards from that starting point to determine your new bedtime. In our case it would be 6:30am – 5 hours = 1:30am. Go to bed at 1:30am for the next two weeks, regardless of how tired you feel. Wake up at 6:30am every day as well, regardless of how well you’ve slept that night. Hopefully, sometime during the two weeks you will start to sleep through the whole night. If it doesn’t happen, and you can seriously say you’ve given it a real try, extend the experiment another week. If this still fails, seek out a sleep clinic!! You have a bigger problem than can be solved here!
- If you’re at Step #3, we assume you’re now sleeping through the whole 5 hours. Now, extend the time in bed another 15 minutes (some are courageous and extend it by half and hour, but that may be stretching things for now). That means bedtime will now be 1:15am. Still get up at 6:30am.
- After a week of doing this, and sleeping through the whole time, extend it another 15 minutes – making bedtime 1:00am. If you are not sleeping through the whole time, continue another week. If this fails, cut back to 5 hours and try it over again. Repeat the above, taking 15 minute steps every week.
- When you are over 7 hours total sleep, you are now looking for the new “set point”. This means that sometime in the next few weeks you’ll get to a time where sleep is not improving anymore. For example, when we are going to bed at 11:15pm, and waking up at 6:30am, we find we aren’t sleeping any more than from 11:30pm-6:30am. At this point revert back to your previous “best sleep” times and stay there – this is your new bedtime and risetime.
Actually, I’ve never heard of this method failing to reset sleep times. You must have a serious sleep disorder if this “brute force” method doesn’t work for you!!