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What happens when you simply cannot get a good night’s worth of sleep? Do you feel like you have tried everything, and it is still not working? There is a solution out there, and it really is something that I think can work to help you get some rest. Want to learn more, let’s discuss today what you might want to do when your insomnia keeps keeping you up at night.
Insomnia and Sleep Troubles
It is just a fact: everyone definitely has the capacity to sleep. I have heard it right from my good friend Dr. Michael Breus, the Sleep Doctor (1), and he has told me that no one’s “sleeper” is broken. This means that while everyone has the capability to sleep, though, some have trouble being able to get good sleep. What does it mean? It means that people struggle.
- Simply falling asleep in the first place
- Staying asleep (waking up throughout the night)
- Getting quality sleep and waking up refreshed
Insomnia is a huge problem on its own, and even when it is not full-fledged insomnia it can still be an issue. If you have not gotten enough sleep, you put yourself at risk in all kinds of ways. When you do not get enough sleep, you put yourself at risk for:
- Car accidents
- Weight gain
- Brain aging
- Mental clarity
- Chronic disease risk
Key Insight: Sleep is essential, and it is not something that you can take for granted. If you feel like you are not getting enough sleep, even if you are getting a little, it might be time to try and get to the bottom of your problems and find a solution that works for you.
Some have found success using sleep aids, like pills, in order to get to sleep at night. It gets to a point where you might not be sleeping great with the medicine, but it is even worse if you were to stop. It is not really a solution at all since it is pretty much lose-lose no matter how you look at it – either you do not get good enough sleep, or you do not get it at all.
Bottom Line: If all it takes is some simple lifestyle changes, do it! Sleep is essential, and if you can make little changes in your life to improve your sleeping conditions you need to act on it today. If it is a little bit more complicated than that, and it takes more than a few quick changes, there is also something that I am really excited to share with you.
When you go to sleep, there are two conditions at play. They are:
- Your body has a sleep rhythm, meaning that it expects sleep at certain times.
- Your body expects sleep pressure, which is sleep at certain frequencies.
Think about it in terms of food. Throughout every day, there are certain times when you start to feel hungry – whether it’s at 7 o’clock in the morning, at noon, or at around 6 o’clock at night. This is a frequency where you feel hungry. Sleep rhythm is where your body becomes conditioned to seek out sleep at certain times, which for most of us is after the sun goes down.
On the other hand, the pressure we are experiencing is how ravenous we are for whatever it is that we are seeking. When it comes to food, it’s that intense feeling of hunger that we might have just before we normally eat – but we could also have it all day. Sleep works the same way, you might not normally fall asleep at 10 in the morning, but you might feel tired. This is sleep pressure at work.
Key Insight: As we dive into the concept of wake therapy, I want you to hold onto these concepts and this information. What wake therapy does, in a nutshell, is where you build up that sleep pressure and use it – in a controlled way – where you get your proper sleep rhythm and duration back where it belongs.
The initial drawbacks of wake therapy, the ones we might need to consider before we even begin, is that it can put your body on a very strange schedule to begin. It is also a process where you have to skip sleep entirely for the first day, which can be awkward and difficult. But, if you have the time and the ability to commit to it, it has the potential to change your life. All you need is a long weekend!
Case Study: Wake Therapy
I think back to a patient that I had once, who was operating on about three hours of sleep (on sleep medications). If she missed her medications, though, she was only guaranteed about an hour of sleep. This obviously was not working for her, and she was a wreck – and she knew it because it honestly does not feel good to miss out on that much sleep. You can feel it, and you know how bad it can feel.
This patient, in particular, described her symptoms due to her lack of sleep:
- Her short term memory was gone
- She always felt anxious
- She lacked energy in so many ways
- There was terrible pain brought on by fibromyalgia
When she first came in, it was because she was seeking out a natural sleep aid so that she did not have to rely on her sleeping medications any longer. What I told her is what I will tell you today, and is something that you should really take to heart:
Key Insight: There really is no natural alternative that does what those medications are able to do. They just do not exist, because these pills – unfortunately – rely on causing your body harm in order to get you to sleep. If you did the same thing with something more natural, it would still cause harm. Ultimately, the question is not what the natural alternative to those pills is, but how do you get your body back to working better again?
We might be able to consider wake therapy (2) as the big guns for those who have the very worst insomnia. The process typically takes 4 – 8 days, and it has been shown to work in even the toughest of cases. This is how you do sleep repair the right way, without the pills, and it has been shown to work.
Key Insight: For the first few days, you may be even more tired than normal. That is why it is important not to undergo this kind of therapy when you have a big presentation at work, or when you might be studying for a final exam. You need time, and you need to have an open schedule.
To start, it is helpful to estimate how many hours of sleep you are currently getting, even if they are broken up throughout the night in fits and starts. For example, if you finally fall asleep at 12, wake up at 2, cannot get back to sleep until 3, and wake up for the day at 5, this would be considered 4 hours of sleep. For our purposes, we will use this number in our planning.
Next, you will want to decide on your ideal time to wake up in the morning. Consider everything, your:
Think of the best time to start your day, if sleep was not an issue. For the purposes of our discussion today, let’s use 6 AM as our ideal time.
The general plan is that sleep is restricted to the number of hours you are currently getting, ending at your wake up time. What you will want to do is avoid sleeping at any other times of the day. Gradually, the scheduled sleep times are expanded. This results in your rhythms resetting because your body gets so tired the first few nights that you cannot help but fall asleep. Once you have gone about resetting your rhythms, good sleep is automatic.
Key Insight: Resetting your rhythms relies on increasing your body’s sleep pressure until you are so ravenous for sleep, that your rhythm cannot help but reset itself. Your appetite for sleep grows and grows, and then you get to a point where you cannot help but sleep.
The night before all of this begins, you cannot have any sleep. The idea is to steadily increase your sleep pressure, so depriving yourself of sleep (and staying up in whatever way possible) is going to be key.
Here is how it all works. Let’s say that you get 4 and a half hours of sleep on your own and that you would like to wake up at 6 AM. On the first day, you would stay awake until 4 ½ hours before 6 AM (the first night) – this would be 1:30 AM.
At 6 AM you would wake up, potentially using multiple alarm clocks. Immediately after waking, let your body know that this is the morning (otherwise known as your ideal time). You can easily do this by being outside in bright lights, moving in some way and being around people. This can be done in an easy way, like going to your local coffee shop and ordering from the barista.
During that entire first day, you want to do whatever possible to avoid napping. The next evening, you add 15 minutes to your sleep time without changing your ideal time for waking up. That would mean going to bed at 1:15 AM and then waking up at 6 AM. Again, wake up, be active and stay awake all day until bedtime.
Each night, go to bed 15 minutes earlier. Continue this process until you are completely satisfied with your sleep. The vast majority of those with longstanding insomnia can get healthy sleep again by following this process. Wake therapy is so powerful, many also use it to come off from sleep aids – in this case, though, you will want support and assistance from your doctor before doing this.
Bottom Line: Wake therapy works, and it works on a strict set of guidelines that rely on proper timing, brightness, and ensuring that you do not give yourself any leeway – no naps! If you really want to see results, then wake therapy might be your ticket to escaping the perils of insomnia for good.
Wake therapy has been tested, it has been proven to work, and the only times that I have not seen it work is when people did not follow the guidelines. It can be incredibly difficult to stick with, but it is so important if you want to get back to getting better sleep.
Better Sleep, Better Health
It might sound tough, but resetting your sleep rhythm can be life-changing. If you do it once, you do not have to do it again – so, doesn’t that sound worth it? You get to fall asleep when you want, you get to wake up when it works for you and your life. After all, what’s better than a good night’s sleep? Life is good with better sleep, but it is better with more and more information to help benefit your life. Take the Thyroid Quiz (3) today, while you are at it, and learn more and more about what is going on in your body.
Dr. Alan Glen Christianson (Dr. C) is a Naturopathic Endocrinologist and the author of The NY Times bestselling Adrenal Reset Diet.
Dr. C’s gift for figuring out what really works has helped hundreds of thousands of people reverse thyroid disease, lose weight, and regain energy. Learn more about the surprising story that started his quest.