Say what? How is sleep deprivation ever a good thing?
I know, it sounds counterintuitive at best—and counterproductive or even harmful at worst—but forced sleep restriction in the short term is one of the methods used in Cognitive Behavioural Insomnia Therapy, or CBiT.
CBiT is a way to treat insomnia, or poor sleep, without the use of any pills or medication. Instead, it focuses on helping people build good habits and associations with their beds (and bedrooms), and uses some other interesting techniques, such as relaxation therapy, biofeedback, as well as sleep restriction and sleep deprivation to help people sleep more effectively.
You can read more about CbiT here (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/in-depth/insomnia-treatment/art-20046677), but today we’re going to talk about sleep restriction and deprivation and how it works.
Restricting Sleep to Benefit Future You…
Often people who have trouble sleeping find themselves lying in bed awake, frustrated that they’re not falling asleep. So the idea here is to get you super tired over the course of a few nights by restricting your sleep, which then makes you more tired the following nights, and ultimately helps you develop more consistent bed and wake-up times.
It’s actually pretty systematic in how it works in practice. Here’s how to give it a go:
- Calculate how many hours of sleep you’re averaging a night right now. Let’s say this number is 6 hours.
- Figure out your normal, consistent wake up time (If you don’t have a ‘normal’ time, commit to waking up at the same time as much as work/life allows). Let’s say this time is 6 a.m. 6 a.m. is now your daily wake-up time.
- Work back from 6 a.m. to calculate what time you need to go to bed to log 6 hours of sleep: This means midnight. Your new bedtime is midnight and your new wake- up time is 6 a.m. (Doesn’t sound like enough sleep, right?)
- Go to bed at midnight and get up at 6 a.m. every day/night until you experience 7 days in a row of successfully going to bed at midnight, waking up at 6 a.m. and experience little to no restlessness in the night. For most people, this happens faster than people think it will because they’ll find themselves not getting enough sleep for a few days—especially if they don’t fall asleep right away at midnight—and then being more than ready for bed well before midnight the following nights. At this point, and only at this point—after you log 7 good nights of sleep—you can set your bedtime 20 minutes earlier: Your new bedtime is 11:40 p.m.
- Repeat this cycle, changing your bedtime by 20 minutes after one week of good sleep at your current set bedtime. Pretty soon, you’ll be falling asleep at 10 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m.—getting your 8 hours of sleep—without trouble. Or at least, that’s the hope, and that’s what those who have had success with sleep restriction via CBiT have experienced.
While we’re at it, here are 3 more tips associated with CBiT that make a whole lot of sense to me in concept:
3. Lose the Clock
Many people wake up and look at their phones or clocks to see how many more hours or minutes they have until their alarm goes off. The problem here is twofold:
One: Looking at the clock makes you subconsciously more anxious about the amount of sleep you’re getting, or aren’t getting, and often makes your sleep troubles worse.
Two: Opening your eyes, picking up your phone, seeing the bright light shine in your eyes etc wakes you body up more than it would have had you left your eyes closed, your body still, and simply gone back to sleep.
2. Lose the App
There’s an app for everything, as they say, and sleep tracker apps are no exception: They can tell you information, such as how many hours of sleep you log each night, how deeply you’re sleeping, how many times you stirred in the night, and how many times your body woke up completely.
Trying a sleep app once or twice might be a good idea, but becoming consumed with it can backfire, because now you find yourself even more concerned about your sleep, and should you experience a poor night’s sleep, there you are stressing and putting pressure on yourself about needing to ensure you get a better sleep the following night to make up for the bad sleep the night before. This stress and pressure can contribute to a restless, stressed out sleep. And on and on the cycle goes.
1. Lose the Nap
Napping can be great, and if you’re a good sleeper who naps here and there, keep on with the naps. But if you’re struggling with sleep at night and rely on a nap during the day to get you through the week, eliminate the nap for a month and replace it with a consistent bedtime and wake up time.
At the very least check out this chart that tell you about more and less appropriate nap times for what you’re after (By the way, a 3-hour nap isn’t a nap! It’s a full-blown sleep):
Read more about ideal nap times here: (https://sleep.org/articles/how-long-to-nap/).
Sleep well, and report back if you decide to try short term sleep restriction and let us know about your experience.