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To beat Insomnia, sleep less

A counterintuitive approach to solving your sleep ailments

George has chronic Insomnia. For months, he has tried Buzzfeed-endorsed sleep hygiene rituals — he drinks chamomile tea, turns off blue screens, wears special glasses, and sets his noiseless bedroom to 68 degrees — but nothing has worked.

The problem?

George is trying too hard. While counterintuitive, the best way to solve sleep problems is to try less.

Don’t believe it? Ask any of the great sleepers you know. They probably have no elaborate sleep rituals. They don’t spend any time thinking about their sleep. They just sleep.

A solution to Insomnia that is simple but takes some discipline to follow: sleep a lot less before you start sleeping more. This sounds crazy but going to bed later than you usually would and only when you are very sleepy is the best clinical solution for insomnia.

How does it make sense?

Insomnia is performance anxiety built from a loss of confidence in the ability to sleep. Instead of trusting your body to fall asleep on its own, your mind starts to worry about sleep. The more effort you put into sleep, the more your mind is aroused and the less likely you are to sleep. By going to bed later and only when you are sleepy, you are giving control back to your circadian rhythm. You are also training your mind to associate your bed with sleep and not wakefulness.

Below is a set of steps to restrict your sleep and beat Insomnia -

  • Set a regular wake up time, say 7 am, that gives you enough time to function both on weekdays and weekends. Stick to this wake-up time regardless of how you slept the previous night. Avoid the temptation to sleep in.

  • Choose a bedtime that leaves you with 5.5 to 6 hours of sleep time. If your wake up time is 7 am, this should be around 1 am.

  • Do not go to bed before this target sleep time. Avoid napping during the day or sleeping before your target bedtime. If you aren’t sleepy yet by your bedtime, do something relaxing like reading a book or listening to music. Do not get into bed until you are very sleepy.

  • If you're in bed for more than 20 minutes and haven’t fallen asleep yet, get out and do something else.

  • Get out of bed as soon as you wake up. If you wake up a little before your set wake up time, don’t linger in bed, get out of bed immediately. Avoid the urge to sleep in past your set wake up time.

  • When you wake up, note down the following —

    1. The time you went to bed

    2. The time you went to sleep

    3. How long you were awake at night

    4. The time you woke up

    5. The time you got out of bed

  • At the end of each week, calculate the ratio of the average time you spent sleeping by the average time you spent in bed (Formally known as sleep efficiency).

    1. The time you spent sleeping = 4. - 2. - 3. (Variables from the previous step)

    2. The time you spent in bed = 5. - 1.

    3. Sleep efficiency = Sum of 7 days of time slept / Sum of 7 days of time in bed

  • Use this efficiency to change your bedtime for the next week

    1. If this efficiency is < 0.8: Move your bedtime ahead by 15 minutes (Eg: from 1 am to 1:15 am)

    2. If this efficiency is > 0.85: Move your bedtime behind by 15 minutes (Eg: from 1 am to 12:45 am)

    3. If it is neither: Repeat the same bedtime.

Keep repeating the above steps until you are getting the amount of sleep you need.

As you increase the window within which you sleep, you will find that you spend less time thinking about sleep. When you feel comfortable, you can stop calculating your efficiency. If you ever have a bad night of sleep, you can always reset your schedule and follow the technique.

If you’d like professional help from a coach and an easy way to track your sleep window, we built an iOS app for it! You can download it by clicking the button below-

Please feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or if this technique helps!