So… After years of insomnia and half-hearted attempts at dealing with it, what finally worked for me? CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia). (Which, by the way, is nothing like the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy you may have heard about in psychotherapy.)
CBT for insomnia is a program of retraining your body to sleep through the night, by keeping a sleep log, analysing your baseline sleep patterns, then establishing a fixed wake-up time and pushing back your bedtime until you’re dead tired – forcing your exhausted body to sleep through the night.
If you’re awake for more than 15 minutes in the middle of the night, you leave your bedroom and do quiet activities until you’re sleepy again. Your bedroom is for sleeping and sex only. Nothing else.
(For a much better description of CBT-I and how to implement it, see the book Sink Into Sleep: A Step-by-step Workbook for Reversing Insomnia by Judith R. Davidson.)
Well, it works. But based on my own experience, it’s brutal to implement. My first couple of weeks after my new bedtime of 11pm and wake-up time of 5:30 a.m., I mostly slept through the night. But the few nights I woke up, I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I was really sleep deprived – to the point where at least one friend was concerned about how fatigued I was during the day.
(On CBT-I you’re allowed a 1-hour nap between 1 and 4 pm, and you’d better believe I was taking full advantage of it.)
Once you’re sleeping through the night the majority of the time, you can try going to bed a little earlier, repeating the cycle until you’re getting as much sleep as you want, with good sleep quality.
That’s where my story would have ended, except I’m in the middle of planning a move later this month, and have been doing a lot of highway driving to my new home 1.75 hours away. I got really concerned that I would be driving while sleep deprived, so I’ve temporarily suspended the CBT-I regime until after my move, and now basically sleep whenever I’m tired. Thankfully I’m still getting more sleep through the night that I did during my chemo (the image below is a screen shot from my Fitbit app, which can track your sleep patterns) , and I’ve mostly avoided some of the worst of my bad sleep habits.
On the whole, I’m really satisfied with the sleep I’m getting now – which is a huge change for me. Right at the moment I’m getting around 7 hours of sleep a night, which is a significant improvement. I’d highly recommend trying the CBT-I program if you have long-term insomnia that has been resistant to other treatments.
This is the last in a series of posts about changing unhealthy sleep habits.
Michelle Lynne Goodfellow works in nonprofit and small business communications by day, and also enjoys writing, taking photographs, making art and doing aikido. You can find more of her work at michellelynnegoodfellow.com. Michelle has also written about her breast cancer journey on her blog, Kitchen Sink Wisdom.