Can’t Sleep? Here Are Some Surprising Strategies That Work
Kanebridge News
Share Button

Can’t Sleep? Here Are Some Surprising Strategies That Work

The pandemic has given us a year of lousy sleep and insomnia. Here’s what to do.

By Elizabeth Bernstein
Wed, Mar 24, 2021 3:14pmGrey Clock 6 min

How are you sleeping?

After one year of a pandemic—and a lot of disturbed slumber—it’s clear that our usual sleep strategies aren’t working. Scientists say many of the things we do to chase sleep are actually hurting us, and recommend a counterintuitive approach instead: Stay in bed for less time, not more.

I’ve been battling insomnia lately. I know I’m not alone. Approximately 40% of the population has had sleep problems during the pandemic, according to a meta-analysis of 44 studies from 13 countries published online in February in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

The pandemic has been a significant source of stress and worry. Our daily routines have been disrupted, affecting our circadian rhythms. And social isolation has led to mental-health problems such as depression and anxiety.

“Our brains have to feel like the world is safe and secure to be able to fall asleep,” says Wendy Troxel, a clinical psychologist, certified behavioural sleep medicine specialist and senior behavioral and social scientist at Rand Corp. “Sleep is a vulnerable state.”

We all know we’re supposed to have good sleep hygiene—keep a consistent schedule; use the bed for sleep and sex only; avoid alcohol, caffeine and bright lights before bed and practice other healthy sleep habits. This is important. But the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recently declared it’s not enough to solve chronic insomnia. In an article published online in February in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, it recommended a series of treatments collectively known as cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia, or CBT-I.

Unlike run-of-the-mill sleeping problems, insomnia is a clinical disorder. We have insomnia when we have difficulty falling or staying in sleep three or more times a week, and this lasts a month or longer, leading to daytime consequences, such as fatigue, mood changes or difficulty concentrating. Sleep experts believe insomnia is triggered in part by the fear and anxiety we have about not sleeping.

The brains of people with insomnia act differently than the brains of people who are sleeping well, according to Daniel J. Buysse, a professor of psychiatry and sleep medicine specialist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Dr Buysse has conducted PET scans of people who sleep normally and people with insomnia. In people with insomnia, parts of the brain involved with self-reflection and monitoring the environment show higher levels of activity during sleep compared with normal sleepers.

Ironically, insomnia is also driven by the things we do to try to solve it, experts say. We start to chase sleep—waking up later, taking naps, going to bed too early. This diminishes our sleep drive, which is our body’s need for sleep. It makes it harder to sleep when we’re supposed to. And it creates a vicious cycle: More time in bed means more opportunity for frustration and failure. Before long, we’ve taught our brain to associate our bed with the negative emotions we feel lying there.

“It’s Pavlovian,” says Philip Cheng, a clinical psychologist and sleep researcher at the Henry Ford Sleep Disorders and Research Center. “If you spend a lot of time in bed worried and frustrated and miserable, in time your brain learns that your bed is a place to do all of these things but sleep.”

CBT-I focuses on breaking this loop by helping us change the thoughts and behaviours that are counterproductive. Research shows it may have lasting effects—not just fixing our sleep problems in the present but helping us form a sort of sleep resilience. A study conducted by Dr Cheng and colleagues and published online in November in the journal Sleep found that people who received CBT-I years ago have been sleeping better and have better mental health during the pandemic than those who did not.

The treatment is typically six to eight sessions with a therapist, but there is an abbreviated version, as well as online programs to try at home. The primary component is “sleep restriction,” also called sleep retraining, which is limiting the amount of time we spend in bed awake. To track this, we calculate our “sleep efficiency number,” which is the percentage of time we’re in bed that we’re asleep. The goal is at least 85%.

To help boost our sleep efficiency, we should avoid going to bed unless we’re sleepy. (I’ve learned the hard way that being bone-weary exhausted is not the same thing as sleepy.) And we shouldn’t stay in bed unless we’re asleep. If we’re having trouble falling asleep, we should go to another room, keep the lights low and do something pleasant but not too absorbing. Read a book. (No screens!) Do a crossword. Listen to some soothing music.

We need to wake up at the same time every day. (Yes, weekends too.) This helps regulate our circadian rhythm and keeps us from sleeping late, which would harm our ability to sleep the following night. To figure out when to go to bed, calculate the amount of time you are actually asleep during the night. Then subtract that from the time you need to wake up. That’s your bedtime, for now. (Don’t give yourself less than 6 hours in bed.) As your sleep gets back on track, start lengthening your time in bed slowly, by 15 minute intervals, to try to increase your sleep duration.

Finally, we need to challenge our thinking about our sleep. When we tell ourselves we “can’t sleep” or “won’t be able to function” the next day, we’re causing ourselves a lot of anxiety, which further interferes with our sleep.

After weeks of having trouble sleeping, I signed up for an online version of CBT-I and started tracking my sleep. I’ve set (and kept!) a consistent wake-up time and have become more careful about sticking to a steady daytime routine. I started going to bed later—I’m a natural night owl but had been trying to force myself to go to bed earlier, thinking I could catch up on sleep. And once I’m in bed, if I can’t sleep, I get back up and read until I feel my eyes starting to shut.

I’ve also tried to stop stressing myself out with thoughts such as: “I’ll never sleep tonight.”

It’s all helped a lot. But I still need practice. So when I got into bed one recent night, I opened my sleep app and clicked on a link that said “Help me get to sleep now.” A recording of a man’s voice told me to find a mark on the ceiling to focus on. “Your goal is to stay awake. Don’t let your eyes close,” he said. He was deploying a technique therapists call paradoxical intention—in an attempt to distract me from focusing on trying to fall asleep. “Stay focused on that spot,” he continued.

Then he told me to notice how my eyelids were getting heavier. He acknowledged that it would probably feel like a relief to close them.

“Resist! Resist! Resist the temptation to close your eyes, even as they feel heavier and heavier!” he said. “Remember your goal here is to remain awake.”

I don’t know what he said next. I was asleep.

 

Tips to Help You Sleep

Practice good sleep hygiene. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep. Keep consistent wake-up and bedtimes. Keep the bedroom cool, quiet and dark. Use the bed for sleep and sex only. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and exercise before bed. Turn off your screens 30 to 60 minutes before trying to go to sleep.

Don’t chase sleep. Don’t go to bed early. Don’t sleep late. Don’t nap. You’ll diminish your sleep drive, making it even harder to go to sleep the next night.

Don’t go to bed until you’re sleepy. Learn the difference between tiredness and sleepiness. (Sleepiness is when your eyes are drooping.) And limit your time in bed to the amount of time you are asleep, plus half an hour.

Don’t stay in bed unless you’re asleep. Tossing and turning in bed reinforces your brain’s association between wakefulness (and negative emotions) and the bed.

Re-establish daily routines. Have a morning routine. Eat meals at the same time. Exercise at the same time (not too late). Log off work at the end of the day and take a walk.

Stick to your natural circadian rhythm. You’re not going to be able to easily change whether you’re a night owl or an early bird. Recognize when you sleep best and stick with it.

Have a bedtime routine. Just like a child. Establish a daily wind-down time. Then take a bath. Read a book. Relax.

Stop catastrophizing. Quit telling yourself you won’t be able to sleep, or to function the next day. Ask yourself if these thoughts are really true. Replace them with positive thoughts. (“A bad night of sleep is not the end of the world.”) Then try to focus on something else. “People who sleep well don’t think about sleep all the time,” says Wendy Troxel, a certified behavioural sleep medicine specialist.

Keep a worry journal. “Sometimes we worry because our brain is telling us to not forget something,” says Philip Cheng, a sleep researcher at the Henry Ford Sleep Disorders and Research Center. If you write your worries down during the day, “when worry comes at night you can tell yourself you’ve already documented it.”

Practice gratitude. If you find yourself starting to ruminate in bed, think about the things you are grateful for, or savour your favourite moments from the day. This will train your brain to associate the bed with pleasant thoughts. “And it gets us back to feeling safe,” says Allison Harvey, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and director of the Golden Bear Sleep and Mood Research Clinic.

Listen to someone else’s voice. A pleasant but unexciting audiobook is ideal. Turn it on low volume when you go to bed. This will distract you from your thoughts.

Try CBT-I. The website of the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine allows you to search for a therapist in your area. Some health programs, such as the Cleveland Clinic and the Department of Veterans Affairs, have programs. And app versions such as Sleepio and Somryst were developed by researchers.



MOST POPULAR
11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

Related Stories
Money
A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now
By CALLUM BORCHERS 14/06/2024
Money
The unexpected reasons Australians are retiring earlier than planned
By Bronwyn Allen 14/06/2024
Lifestyle
Stressing Over Your Next Home Renovation Project? Let AI Handle It.
By NANCY KEATES 13/06/2024
A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now

Companies are eager to hire strong players who use hybrid work schedules to schmooze clients on the course

By CALLUM BORCHERS
Fri, Jun 14, 2024 5 min

Standout golfers who aren’t quite PGA Tour material now have somewhere else to play professionally: Corporate America.

People who can smash 300-yard drives and sink birdie putts are sought-after hires in finance, consulting, sales and other industries, recruiters say. In the hybrid work era, the business golf outing is back in a big way.

Executive recruiter Shawn Cole says he gets so many requests to find ace golfers that he records candidates’ handicaps, an index based on average number of strokes over par, in the information packets he submits to clients. Golf alone can’t get you a plum job, he says—but not playing could cost you one.

“I know a guy that literally flies around the world in a private jet loaded with French wine, and he golfs and lands hundred-million-dollar deals,” Cole says.

Tee times and networking sessions have long gone hand-in-golf-glove. Despite criticism that doing business on the course undermines diversity, equity and inclusion efforts—and the fact that golf clubs haven’t always been open to women and minorities —people who mix golf and work say the outings are one of the last reprieves from 30-minute calendar blocks

Stars like Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie West helped expand participation in the sport. Still, just 22% of golfers are nonwhite and 26% are women, according to the National Golf Foundation.

To lure more people, clubs have relaxed rules against mobile-phone use on the course, embracing white-collar professionals who want to entertain clients on the links without disconnecting from the office. It’s no longer taboo to check email from your cart or take a quick call at the halfway turn.

With so much other business conducted virtually, shaking hands on the green and schmoozing over clubhouse beers is now seen as making an extra effort, not slacking off.

Americans played a record 531 million rounds last year. Weekday play has nearly doubled since 2019, with much of the action during business hours , according to research by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom .

“It would’ve been scandalous in 2019 to be having multiple meetings a week on the golf course,” Bloom says. “In 2024, if you’re producing results, no one’s going to see anything wrong with it.”

A financial adviser at a major Wall Street bank who competes on the amateur circuit told me he completes 90% of his tasks by 10 a.m. because he manages long-term investment plans that change infrequently. The rest of his workday often involves golfing with clients and prospects. He’s a member of a private club with a multiyear waiting list, and people jump at the chance to join him on a course they normally can’t access.

There is an art to bringing in business this way. He never initiates shoptalk, telling his playing partners the round is about having fun and getting to know each other. They can’t resist asking about investment strategies by the back nine, he says.

Work hard, play hard

Matt Parziale golfed professionally on minor-league tours for several years, but when his dream of making the big time ended, he had to get a regular job. He became a firefighter, like his dad.

A few years later he won one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the country, earning spots in the 2018 Masters and U.S. Open, where he tied for first among non-pros.

The brush with celebrity brought introductions to business types that Parziale, 35 years old, says he wouldn’t have met otherwise. One connection led to a job with a large insurance broker. In 2022 he jumped to Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates in Wellesley, Mass., which recognised his golf game as a tool to help win large accounts.

He rescheduled our interview because he was hosting clients at a private club on Cape Cod, and squeezed me in the next morning, before teeing off with a business group in Newport, R.I.

A short time ago, Parziale couldn’t imagine making a living this way. Now he’s the norm in elite amateur golf circles.

“I look around at the guys at the events I play, and they all have these jobs ,” he says.

His boss, Chief Executive Chip Gibson, says Parziale is good at bringing in business because he puts as much effort into building relationships as honing his game. A golf outing is merely an opportunity to build trust that can eventually lead to a deal, and it’s a misconception that people who golf during work hours don’t work hard, he says.

Barry Allison’s single-digit handicap is an asset in his role as a management consultant at Accenture , where he specialises in travel and hospitality. He splits time between Washington, D.C., and The Villages, Fla., a golf mecca that boasts more than 50 courses.

It can be hard to get to know people in distributed work environments, he says. Go golfing and you’ll learn a lot about someone’s temperament—especially after a bad shot.

“If you see a guy snap a club over his knee, you don’t know what he’s going to snap next,” Allison says.

Special access

On a recent afternoon I was a lunch guest at Brae Burn Country Club, a private enclave outside Boston that was the site of U.S. Golf Association championships won by legends like Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. I parked in the second lot because the first one was full—on a Wednesday.

My host was Cullen Onstott, managing director of the Onstott Group executive search firm and a former collegiate golfer at Fairfield University. He explained one reason companies prize excellent golfers is they can put well-practiced swings on autopilot and devote most of their attention to chitchat.

It’s hard to talk with potential customers about their needs and interests when you’re hunting for errant shots in the woods. It’s also challenging if you show off.

The first hole at Brae Burn is a 318-yard par 4 that slopes down, enabling big hitters like Onstott to reach the putting green in a single stroke. But to stay close to his playing partners and keep the conversation flowing, he sometimes hits a shorter shot.

Having an “in” at an exclusive club can make you a catch. Bo Burch, an executive recruiter in North Carolina, says clubs in his region tend to attract members according to their business sectors. One might be chock-full of real-estate investors while another has potential buyers of industrial manufacturing equipment.

Burch looks for candidates who are members of clubs that align with his clients’ industries, though he stresses that business acumen comes first when filling positions.

Tami McQueen, a former Division I tennis player and current chief marketing officer at Atlanta investment firm BIP Capital, signed up for private golf lessons this year. She had noticed colleagues were wearing polos with course logos and bringing their clubs to work. She wanted in.

McQueen joined business associates on the golf course for the first time in March at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She has lowered her handicap to a respectable 26 and says her new skill lends a professional edge.

“To be able to say, ‘I can play with you and we can have those business meetings on the course’ definitely opens a lot more doors,” she says.

MOST POPULAR
11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

Related Stories
Money
A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now
By CALLUM BORCHERS 14/06/2024
Lifestyle
Stressing Over Your Next Home Renovation Project? Let AI Handle It.
By NANCY KEATES 13/06/2024
Money
The unexpected reasons Australians are retiring earlier than planned
By Bronwyn Allen 14/06/2024
0
    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop