If you find yourself tossing and turning throughout the night, new research suggests that your cozy bed may be part of the problem. A recent study by the Penn Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program found that spending more time in bed actually makes it harder to sleep. While it seems counterintuitive (How are you going to fall back to sleep if you are not lying in bed?) research suggests that those who wake up early and can’t doze off right away should just begin their day instead of staying between the sheets. This includes if your alarm isn't set to go off for another two hours and the birds aren't even awake yet.
According to the preliminary findings, by restricting time spent in bed 70 to 80 percent of people experiencing sleep trouble can prevent it from turning into chronic insomnia. So the best way to fight insomnia, according to science, is to give up on those needed Zzzs. Sorry, everybody.
Researchers evaluated sleep journals kept by 539 participants over a six-month period. They divided 394 of the subjects into three groups: “good sleepers,” good sleepers “suffering from acute insomnia and then recover,” and good sleepers “who transition to acute insomnia and then to long-term chronic insomnia.” According to the study, a consistently good night’s rest is hard to come by. Of the good sleepers, 20 percent experienced insomnia at least once a year. Forty-five percent recovered (and continued to get a satisfying rest), while 48 percent continued to be plagued by periodic spurts of insomnia. The final seven percent of "good sleepers" transitioned from acute to chronic insomnia.
In a press release, Dr. Michael Perlis, first author of the study and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at UPenn, says those who suffer from insomnia usually develop behavior that only exacerbates their nighttime woes, “They go to bed early, get out of bed late, and they nap.” Of course, it makes total sense that individuals who feel sleep deprived would take advantage of every opportunity for rest, but napping is only a short-term solution. “The problem in the longer term is it creates a mismatch between the individual’s current sleep ability and their current sleep opportunity; this fuels insomnia,” says Dr. Perlis.
Researchers also found that good sleepers stuck to a regular sleep schedule, spending the same amount of time in bed each night. Those who suffered from acute insomnia spent less time in their comfy beds, and those who suffered from chronic insomnia increased the amount of time they spent in bed as their condition worsened. The idea that people will “expand sleep opportunity to make up for sleep loss” has been around for some time, but this research is the first to confirm it’s harmful side effects. The data will be shared at the annual conference of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society tomorrow.
Electing to stay awake, rather than fighting to get back to sleep is one of the strategies used by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help with insomnia. This therapy was elected by the American College of Physicians as the first choice of treatment for chronic insomnia last month. It was found to improve symptoms without the use of pharmacological aids.
As many as 50 percent of Americans suffer from insomnia each year, and Dr. Perlis thinks it is time we change the way we view sleeplessness. "It’s hard to imagine how chronic insomnia is anything but bad…and the clinical research data support this position given chronic insomnia’s association with increased medical and psychiatric morbidity," he stressed in the study's press release.
If you have trouble sleeping, try and stick to a regimented schedule — even if your body is begging for a few more minutes. Laying in the dark till the alarm goes off does more harm than good, so get up and make some coffee!