Sleep restriction therapy is perhaps one of the most popular non-drug insomnia treatments in the UK, all of Europe and the USA. If you get a consultation with a sleep specialist, he unfortunately can advise you to try this method. Several interesting books have been written on this topic, for example, John Widman’s book “In a Desperate Search for Sleep”.
At first glance, it seems that sleep restraint therapy is simply a stricter version of sleep hygiene: it provides a set of rules that should instill good habits, lay the foundation for natural sleep, and normalize the daily routine. Many people who suffer from insomnia resist any rules, believing that they all work the same. However, this is fundamentally wrong. Next, I will tell you that simple sleep hygiene is not always enough to get rid of the problem, but it is impossible to eradicate insomnia without it. Sleep restriction therapy works differently: strict adherence to a set of uncompromising rules only increases the lack of sleep.
The main idea of this therapy is to severely limit the period spent in bed, but the recommended time is constantly variable. Some doctors advise you to sleep as long as it is enough for life support … It is not enough to feel cheerful and happy, but only to continue to live. For most people, this is 5–6 hours. Other doctors believe that in bed you need to stay as much time as you usually sleep at the moment. That is, if you usually sleep 4 hours, you need to spend the same amount of time in bed.
For example, if you limit the time to five hours, and you need to get up to work at 6.30, it means that you must lie down no later than 1.30. If you are unable to fall asleep in 15–20 minutes, you need to get up, go to another room and come back only when you feel sleepy. This will be repeated until you fall asleep, if necessary – all night. And no matter how much you have overslept in the end, you must get up at 6.30, even if you have not fallen asleep. Sleeping during the day is strictly forbidden, and the next time you are allowed to close your eyes only the next night at 1.30.
The philosophy of sleep restraint therapy is simple: by tightly limiting the time you spend in bed, you force yourself to sleep. It is assumed that even people suffering from chronic insomnia will be so exhausted that they will not be able to resist the sleep instinct. In a state of such a lack of sleep, the breakdown will outweigh the ability to continue to be awake, and eventually you will fall asleep. Once you get used to sleep so little, time in bed can be gradually increased, for example, by 15 minutes over a certain period.
Sounds logical? Try this method!
Sleep restriction therapy is quite logical and has the right to success, but for me, for example, this is real torture.
I warn you: you will need inexhaustible motivation and inhuman strength to get through this program. Following these rules is almost impossible.
Many consider sleep restraint therapy too harsh and uncompromising, and for some (including me) it is a real torture.
As an example, imagine the following situation. I was written about her by people who were disappointed in the therapy of sleep restriction. Suppose you begin to follow this program and limit your sleep time to five hours. During the first week in most cases you cannot fall asleep in the first half hour, so you have to get up several times. In other words, you still can’t sleep for five hours a night. Now imagine that one day you cannot bring yourself to get out of bed after a 20-minute attempt to fall asleep. It may be winter now, the heater is off, and you don’t feel like wandering around in cold rooms. Because of this, you remain lying down. You sleep badly, worrying about breaking the program. At 6.30, the alarm goes off, and you force yourself to get up and go to work. All day you are acutely lack of sleep and feel bad. Finally, at 1.30, when you need to go to bed again, you are tense and troubled because you broke the rules last night. Suddenly it will negatively affect your ability to sleep today? Naturally, in 20 minutes you do not fall asleep and force yourself to get up and spend some precious time for rest outside the bed. At 3.30 you return to bed, and you only have three hours to sleep.
Finally, at 4 in the morning you fall asleep with a strong, welcome sleep. Your body and mind are relaxing. Sweet dreams are replaced by a delta-dream, and you relax. But then … oh, horror! At 6.30 an alarm goes off, which severely deprives you of a better sleep in recent weeks. This is monstrous! Getting out of bed after a sleepless night is unpleasant, but waking up after a short sleep is even worse! It is unbearable. The desire to sleep is so strong that resistance to him turns into torture. Worse, it’s Saturday, and you don’t have to go to work.
You turn off the alarm, but the dream is still with you, it continues to seduce you. You can fall asleep again after a second if you don’t get out of bed immediately. You understand that you need to get up right now, otherwise the program will be disrupted. But you need to sleep, right? After all, today is Saturday. Sleep is useful, because it will help you to relax, and it will be up to half an hour to sleep … too late. You succumb to the all-consuming sleep instinct and wake up after three hours, alert and rested.
But instead of enjoying a good night’s sleep, you reproach yourself for breaking the program. You may feel physically fine today, but your hopes for sleep the next night disappear, and this spoils you all day.
The same thing happens if you inadvertently fall asleep on the train, returning from work, or on the couch in front of the TV after dinner. If you are awake 19 hours a day, the chance to avoid drowsiness becomes simply insignificant. When a wonderful dream feeling encompasses you on a train, you need unimaginable willpower to resist it. The problem is that every such short sleep is a violation of sleep restriction therapy.
To explain this, you need to understand how this program works: therapy stimulates a lack of sleep. Thus, the more you sleep, the less lack of sleep is felt. Time spent in bed should increase gradually, allowing the day regimen to normalize. So, any sudden deviation from the program means that the effect of lack of sleep is reduced. Therapy is based only on this principle, therefore, if you do not observe it, you will not be able to return healthy sleep in other ways. So, even a short day nap can be quite pleasant, it can save you from the feeling of eternal lack of sleep. The idea of therapy is to make sleep easy and natural, keeping you awake for such a long time. However, in reality, a person’s tension increases each time the slightest inevitable deviation from the program occurs. Paradoxically, sound and healthy sleep throughout the night at the beginning of the program is not an achievement, on the contrary, it means failure.
My heart breaks every time I receive messages from desperate people who stopped sleep restriction therapy because they could not bear it, or from those who broke the rules and now do not understand why the program is not working. In my experience, sleep restriction therapy cannot help you, as it initially sets you up for failure. She promises to help even people with chronic insomnia, but instead punishes them for the slightest violation of her barbaric rules. Sleep restriction therapy is cruel and ineffective. Try it if you want, but I would not recommend it to even the worst enemy.