So what can you do to help manage insomnia?
The first step is to look at whats going on. One of the best strategies for this is to complete a sleep diary for a week or two.
The goal of a sleep diary is to look at your sleep and wake routine and how that may influence sleep quality and daytime sleepiness. Sleep diaries are easy to complete and can be done in a few minutes each morning. The dairy looks at your bed time routine, approximate sleep onset times, awakenings at night, awakening in the morning, naps during the day and other factors that influence your sleep.
A sleep diary can help inform you where and when you can make changes or this information can be used in your next appointment with your health professional, such as a sleep physician. The more information you have the better equipped you are to make changes.
This example sleep diary of data collected over a week, shows getting in to bed at 10:30pm on Sunday through Thursday nights, but not getting to sleep for a while, then waking after around 4 hours and having trouble getting back to sleep. On average during this week, they spent 8.8 hours in bed each night, but only averaged 5.4 hours of sleep. This led to an average of 3.4 hours awake in bed each night.
The example above shows how completing a sleep diary can give insights in to how your behaviour may be adding to your sleep problems. Often, people who are having trouble sleeping, go to bed at the time they wish they could go to sleep, rather than the time they are realistically going to sleep. Based on this example, the person would be better spending less time in bed, and not going to sleep until later, whilst maintaining the same, or even a little earlier getting up time. This wouldn’t result in less sleep, just less time awake in bed getting frustrated about not sleeping. Using a sleep diary to better match your time spent in bed to how much sleep you are actually getting is part of bed restriction or sleep consolidation, one of the most powerful non-drug strategies for managing insomnia.
Sleep Action Plan
Once the sleep diary has been completed the next step is to develop a sleep action plan.
- The first thing to complete in the action plan is your bed restriction program. Aim to keep a consistent arising time that you won’t sleep beyond, and use your sleep diary to set a realistic time that you won’t go to bed before. Remember, don’t put down when you wish you could go to sleep, but use your sleep diary data to choose a realistic time when the data shows you are more likely to fall asleep, and won’t be spending too much time awake waiting to get to sleep
- Next, make a plan of activities you can do out of bed if you wake during the night and aren’t able to get back to sleep. These need to be not overly stimulating, and not have the aim of necessarily going back to sleep, but distracting you from the thoughts of trying/wishing to get back to sleep.
- Finally note down some things that you will put in to place when you aren’t sleeping as well as normal, to reduce the effect of sleep not working as well. They should be activities that will both be conducive to good sleep and add to your sense of energy and well being throughout the day.
If you have an action plan well laid out it is much easier to implement strategies once you are too tired to think. Here’s an example of a completed sleep action plan.
Having a plan gives you a sense of control
By using a sleep diary, and having a sleep action plan, over time you will be able to pick up subtle changes in your sleep pattern and act on them before they become a problem. However, if you have ongoing problems despite using these measures you should discuss your sleep with your health professional. They may refer you to a sleep physician or a psychologist experienced in managing sleep disorders.
You can hear Dr Moira Junge (psychologist) and Dr David Cunnington (sleep physician) discussing some of the other non-drug strategies for insomnia they use here.
Need more information about how you can sleep better?
At Sleephub we understand the struggle people endure with sleeping problems which is why we have created a comprehensive FAQs page with information for those seeking information about sleep disorders and potential solutions.