Sleep has never been a problem for me – usually I fall asleep a few minutes after I get into bed. But since I downloaded a sleep-tracking app, I’ve been unable to get a good night’s rest. I thought maybe I was anxious because of the app, but even after deleting it, my issue persists. I’m not under any unusual stress but still it’s bothering me. Can you recommend something that may help?
From a reader who wishes to remain anonymous.
Answered by Dr Harry Horgan, Clinical Psychologist, German Neuroscience Center
Dr Harry Horgan, Clinical Psychologist, German Neuroscience Center
I am sorry to hear that sleep has been a problem for you recently. It is difficult to overstate the importance of adequate sleep for our physical and mental health.
When sleep difficulties arise, particularly problems with getting to sleep, it is always a good idea to review our 'sleep hygiene'; a term that covers implementing good sleep habits.
What are good sleep habits?
- A regular sleeping time;
- Avoiding daytime napping;
- Restricting caffeine consumption for at least 6 hours before sleep;
- Avoiding large meals or vigorous exercise one hour before sleeping; and
- Ensuring a dark, quiet room with a comfortable temperature.
With your case specifically, I wonder whether the disruption of your usual sleep pattern with a sleep-tracking app might an unhelpful 'conditioned response'. Behavioural psychology shows us that we can develop associations between experiences and environments that can help or hinder us.
It is very common for people who experience insomnia to understandably associate their bed with frustration and anxiety.
A useful way of correcting this association is to keep the bedroom only for the final stage of our getting-to-sleep-routine. This can be achieved by waiting until we are feeling very sleepy before getting into bed e.g. by reading a book in the living room until we reach this point. Then retiring to bed immediately.
If sleep does not come within 20 minutes, return to the living room and try again. Over a period of days and weeks, we can more firmly establish the association between sleepiness and our bed.
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