If you suffer from chronic insomnia, you’ve probably worked with your doctor or a sleep specialist on ways to get better quality sleep. But sometimes life can thwart the best-designed sleep plans. Travel, a newborn baby, shift work, and other disruptions can get in the way of your insomnia-fighting habits.
Interruptions in sleep schedules can be difficult for everyone. But when you have chronic insomnia, you’re already late.
“You haven’t built up the same reserves of sleep,” says Tracy Chisholm, PsyD, a behavioral sleep medicine psychologist at Portland VA Medical Center. “You will probably have an even harder time recovering from additional sleep disturbances because you were already struggling to function with less than a full tank. “
You’re also more likely to dwell on the sleep you’re losing, which can trigger a negative feedback loop. “In other words, you care more about it,” says Chisholm. “And guess what definitely doesn’t help improve your sleep?” To worry. It can become a vicious cycle. “
Prepare for disruptions
There are practical steps you can take to help prevent or manage sleep loss in situations beyond your control. You can also try to adjust your state of mind.
“A lot of times people go into scenarios like traveling assuming they will have trouble sleeping, but sometimes a change in environment can actually help you sleep better,” says Ina Djonlagic, MD, neurologist and health specialist. sleep medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Bottom line: don’t expect the worst, but practice good habits to prepare yourself in case things go wrong.
Here’s how to get you back on track when certain situations disrupt your sleep schedule.
Travel and time changes
Different time zones, weird beds in weird rooms, environments that aren’t comfortable – there are a myriad of ways travel can prevent you from getting your ZZZs. Try these tips before your trip:
Avoid jet lag. Slowly adjust your sleep schedule at home before you go.
“About a week or two before you leave, start shifting your bed and wake times in small increments, to better match your destination time zone,” says Chisholm.
If you’re going somewhere very far, wait until you get there and start by tracking local eating and sleeping times, Chisholm says. Go to bed in the evening and get up when it is daylight.
Try temporary aids. Some people find that a low dose of melatonin or prolonged exposure to light is helpful when traveling. “Good timing of these interventions is the key to effectiveness,” says Chisholm. “Consult a sleep specialist if any of these approaches interest you. “
Living with a newborn baby. Babies don’t spare anyone from trouble sleeping. You are at the mercy of your newborn baby’s sleep-wake cycle, which will not be the same as yours. “Babies have much shorter sleep cycles than adults – 50 to 60 minutes, as opposed to our 90 to 110 minute cycles,” says Chisholm. Babies also need to eat every 2 to 3 hours.
The key is to sleep well when you can and know that things will gradually improve. You can try to:
- Sleep when your baby is sleeping.
- Build up a supply of breast milk by pumping between feedings, and have a partner, friend or family member take charge of the feedings when you sleep.
The term “shift work” can include evening, cemetery or early morning shifts, as well as fixed or rotating schedules. Rotational schedules that change from day to day tend to be the worst for sleep. Switching your days and nights can be harmful to your health.
“Unregulated hours are so difficult that my best advice is to try and see if you can work a different schedule that better matches healthy sleep patterns,” says Djonlagic. If this is simply not possible, you can try to:
- Keep the same bedtime, waking, and eating times every day of the week, even on your days off. This helps keep your internal clock regulated around your work schedule.
- Give yourself plenty of time to relax after work before trying to fall asleep. Don’t come home and you crash.
- Use earplugs or white noise to help you fall asleep and stay asleep without interruption if you sleep during the day. You can also wear an eye mask and use blackout curtains.
- Stay ahead of your brain. “If you come home just as the sun is rising, consider wearing blue light blocking glasses so your brain doesn’t think you’re about to start a whole new day,” says Chisholm.
Stress activates your fight-or-flight response, which is not at all restful. In fact, it prevents sleep.
“From your body’s point of view, it’s like trying to sleep while a saber-toothed tiger is hiding just outside your cave,” says Chisholm. She recommends these tips:
- Create a relaxing sleep routine that you follow every night. Make sure the last steps of this routine involve some non-stimulating activity that you enjoy. “I often recommend that people with insomnia read, listen to audiobooks or soothing music, or practice relaxation techniques,” says Chisholm.
- Avoid watching the news or discussing intense topics right before bed. Doing these things can keep your mind and body from feeling relaxed.
- Exercise regularly, but be sure to finish at least a few hours before bed.
- If you have a lot on your mind, write them down at least an hour before bed to help your brain “let go” just for the rest of the night. You can always go back to your notes in the morning.
- Consider asking your family, friends, or professionals for support to help you deal with stress.
“The most important thing to keep in mind is that if you already have chronic insomnia, don’t wait to get treatment, especially if you expect more trouble sleeping,” says Chisholm. “Treating chronic insomnia first can help you cope better when these common sleep disruptors arise.”
Our sincere thanks to