We live in a fast-paced, continually-harried, perpetually-connected world that doesn’t tend to value sleep. Being in a state of exhaustion has an immediate impact on our cognitive function, leading to forgetfulness, carelessness, and a lack of focus.
The external pressure to dismiss sleep because of work demands, family responsibilities, etc. is intense, but for our own well-being and happiness we need to cherish our sleep. The cost of not doing so is too high.
Prescription sleep aids are the norm when it comes to treating sleep disorders, but most times they aren’t necessary. There are other natural means to improve your sleep.
Below are 6 ways to enhance your slumber using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques. These techniques are effective ways to help you shift gears bringing you into deep sleep mode.
1. Keep the same sleep schedule every night
Although it’s tempting to sleep in on the weekend after sleeping less during the week, it’s not a good idea. A recent study done at Baylor University demonstrated that irregular sleep schedules are linked to impaired cognitive function, particularly in attention and creativity. Scientists also found that a continuous pattern of erratic snoozes can manifest as other mental health issues, like depression and anxiety.
Catch-up sleep is characterized by abnormal brain waves as the brain tries to resynch itself with the body’s circadian rhythm. This can produce detrimental effects on mental functioning for many days afterward. The study points out that consistent habits are at least as important as total length of sleep.
Ideally, go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday. It’s healthier to take a nap if needed later in the day rather than sleeping in.
2. Listen to ‘Pink Noise’
Pink noise is similar to white noise, but scientists at Northwestern University say the sounds are more balanced, and therefore, more soothing than white noise. In a series of tests, the researchers at Northwestern delivered the pink noise to participants in short bursts during sleep. Results showed participants had better cognitive function after waking than they did after a night without pink noise.
They feel this is a simple and safe approach to improving sleep quality and enhancing memory as an added benefit.
You can find pink noise audio clips on YouTube to try. Check out this one called, “Baby Sleep Miracle”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iim2OkiEJLg. Reading the comments, people are having success using pink noise to put their babies and themselves to sleep!
3. Write your thoughts down
If you find that racing thoughts keep your mind active at night, write those thoughts down and leave them on the page. Ruminations about the past and worries about the future are two of the most common contributors to difficulty falling and staying asleep.
I keep a notepad on my bedside table where I write my to-do lists, ideas, and any other thoughts that pop into my head as I go to bed. Then I say to myself that it’s written down, so I don’t have to think about it now.
Do you do a lot of problem solving in bed? This type of thinking also robs you of a good night’s rest. Try writing the problem down before bed and you may find you come up with a great solution in the morning!
4. Get up if you can’t sleep
Lying in bed when you're awake can become a habit that leads to poor sleep. When that happens, sleep experts advise getting out of bed, then going to another room and reading for awhile instead. Reading a book is more likely to make you drowsy so that you’re able to go back to bed and fall asleep.
This is a proven technique to retrain your brain to associate your bed with nodding off fast. Sleep therapists use this strategy as one of the first steps for people who have difficulty falling asleep and remaining asleep.
5. Make your bed a technology-free zone
Electronic devices, such as the T.V., laptop, and smartphone, create too much stimulation before bed. Whatever you do as you go to bed will set the tone for the night. If you’re checking email, watching an action-packed T.V. show, or doing online shopping on your smartphone, your brain will become activated with these stimuli. So, you’ll have difficulty falling asleep or maintaining deep sleep cycles.
Also, the light emitted from these electronic devices disrupts the melatonin releasing process that regulates your sleep. My recommendation is to turn off your smartphone, computer, and T.V. at least half an hour before bed.
6. Try online CBT programs
If sleep is a big problem for you and you’re seeking more guidance with a personalized plan using Cognitive Behaviour Techniques, there are two online CBT courses you may want to consider – Sleepio and SHUTi.
Quick note – I have no affiliation with either of these programs. Also, I haven’t used either of them myself. However, based on my research and reviews, I think both are innovative in their approach for delivering tailored CBT solutions to a greater number of people. Either one can be an effective tool for sleep enhancement.
Sleepio and SHUTi train users on CBT skills in order to improve sleep hygiene, change poor sleep habits, and transform negative mindsets and views about sleep.
Here's a short run-down of the two programs:
In a randomized, placebo-controlled trial, Sleepio was shown to help 75% of people with persistent sleep problems to improve their sleep, compared with the placebo and no treatment conditions. This study also found the Sleepio group rated their quality of sleep as having more than doubled and their energy and daytime wellbeing levels increased by more than half during the daytime. Most importantly, these improvements were maintained at the two-month follow-up point.
The Sleepio program costs $300 U.S. for 12-month access. For that you get a customized sleep plan, weekly check-ins with ‘The Prof’ (virtual sleep therapist) to review your progress and make adjustments, various sleep tools (sleep diary, relaxation audio files, etc.), sleep library with videos and articles, and access to the Sleepio online community forum. The platform can be accessed via computer, tablet, and smartphone.
In a randomized clinical trial of those with chronic insomnia, SHUTi significantly improved sleep (over half received insomnia remission status) compared to those who received only patient education. This study demonstrates that, like Sleepio, it’s an effective program to improve sleep health.
The SHUTi program starts at $149 U.S. for 26-week access, or you can get 12-month access for $215 U.S. For that you get a customized sleep plan, various sleep tools (sleep diary, printable reference materials, etc.), interactive ways to practice and test the application, progress reports, and the option to integrate with the Fitbit™ Activity and Sleep Tracker.
Both sites offer short questionnaires so you can determine if the program is the right fit for your needs (although, admittedly, my market research background favours the Sleepio questionnaire).
Check if it’s covered through insurance…
You can also check your health insurance plan to see if this type of program is covered. If it isn’t, you can contact your Human Resources department in writing and request for it to be added to your company’s extended insurance plan (just like what you can do for holistic nutrition services, hint hint 😉).
It’s necessary to point out that CBT isn’t a magic bullet for all sleep issues. If your insomnia is the result of chronic pain or sleep apnea, for example, you’ll need to address those root problems first to resolve the insomnia symptom.
Care to share any of your tips and tricks for getting a better night’s sleep sans sleeping pills? Please do so below!
Carey, B. (2016, November 30). “Chronic Insomniacs Are Helped by Online Therapy, Study Finds”. The New York Times. Retrieved September 2, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/30/health/insomnia-online-therapy.html?mcubz=0
“CBT for insomnia – the Science Behind Sleepio”. (n.d.). Retrieved September 02, 2017, from https://www.sleepio.com/cbt-for-insomnia/
De Graaf, M. (2017, August 3). “Half of America is Sleep-Deprived Due to Longer Working Hours and Longer Commutes than Ever Before, Study Reveals”. Dailymail.com. Retrieved September 2, 2017.
Espie, C. A., et al. (2012, June 01). “Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Chronic Insomnia Disorder Delivered via an Automated Media-Rich Web Application”. Oxford Academic. Retrieved September 02, 2017, from https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article-lookup/doi/10.5665/sleep.1872
Ritterband, L. M., PhD. (2017, January 01). “Effect of a Web-Based Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia Intervention”. Retrieved September 02, 2017, from http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2589161?resultClick=1
Rubin, B. M. (2017, July 28). “Here's Something that Can Improve Your Memory - and Help You Sleep”. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved September 02, 2017, from http://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-something-that-can-improve-your-memoryand-help-you-sleep-2017-07-21