Did you know that stress can cause insomnia? Over time, sleep disruption can “take on a life of its own” even after the stressor has ended. Loss of sleep itself can become a new stressor, and this combination can maintain insomnia symptoms for long periods. Here are some sleep strategies that can help keep sleep on track and prevent insomnia disorder.

Insomnia can develop due to stress. Loss of sleep itself can become a new stressor.

Get the sleep your body needs, but don’t spend too much time in bed.

Go to bed when you are sleepy and get out of bed when you naturally wake up.

A. If you are having trouble falling or staying asleep, or waking too early, set a regular morning get-up time and track sleep one to two weeks using a sleep diary.
B. If you are still struggling, cut down your time in bed by 15 or 30 minutes. The goal is to cut out the time you spend awake in bed. Do this until your sleep improves.

Reserve your bed for sleep.

Don’t let work, worry or other activities into your bed. Do not problem solve, watch TV or use your smartphone in bed. Keep bedtime reading, if it helps you fall asleep, brief (10 to 15 minutes). If you are not falling asleep, get up for a while and do something relaxing. When sleepy, go back to bed.

Disconnect and wind down 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime.

Prepare for sleep: get ready for tomorrow and set aside the news and social media. Meditate, pray, engage in mindfulness, read a book, listen to music, talk with your partner. Figure out what winds down your day.

Reduce the impact of worry, anxiety and stress on your ability to fall sleep.

Worry and rumination are the enemy of sleep. Here are some helpful strategies:

A. Mindfully accept challenges and know that you are not alone in your worries.
B. Identify one step you can take today to feel less worried. Taking control and having a plan can reduce anxiety.
C. Take a different viewpoint: If feeling anxious is getting in the way of sleep, develop thoughts that make you feel relaxed. Write them down and keep them handy. For example: “I’m having a hard time sleeping because the situation is stressful, but having good sleep habits and routines will help me get back on track quickly.” Or, “It’s normal for my brain to be a little more active these days, and taking some time to relax at the end of the day will help me to sleep better.”

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia

Many people will find their sleep improves with these tips. If your sleep does not improve, or it worsens, contact your VA provider for assistance.

Your sleep difficulty might be Insomnia Disorder, which can be treated effectively with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, the “gold standard” for insomnia care. It’s a five-to-six session, medication-free treatment that can be conducted in person, over the phone or using video technology.

Your VA provider can work with you to determine the best steps to address your sleep trouble.

This story was prepared by specialists at the National Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia Training Program.

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Published on Jul. 22, 2020

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