Reading: This is the Best Way to Beat Insomnia

Health

This is the Best Way to Beat Insomnia

Surprising advice from the NY Rangers’ sleep coach

By Catherine LeFebvre

The Best Way to Beat Insomnia
Photo by Saltanat Zhursinbek

No one likes to toss and turn all night, worried they’re not getting enough sleep. But what if all that worrying is over nothing? What if the insomnia that one in four Americans claim to experience every year, is all just in our heads?

“A lot of times what we call ‘insomnia’ is just an expectation for sleep not meeting the reality,” says Dr. W. Chris Winter, a renowned sleep specialist and author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It.

According to Dr. Winter, we’ve become so focused on a single definition of healthy sleep, that we’ve stopped paying attention to what our bodies are saying. We no longer listen to what our brains are telling us we need and force unrealistic expectations on our sleep habits. We’ve made wakefulness an illness, when it’s really just a natural part of being human.

“Think of it like eating,” Winter says. “If you went out to lunch at noon, but you weren’t hungry, you wouldn’t freak out. You wouldn’t think, oh no, I better go to to lunch at 11 tomorrow.”

Yet for some reason we’ve decided that with sleep, that makes sense. Instead of saying ‘I’m not tired yet,’ and doing something else until you feel sleepy, we think we have to stay in bed and make it work. Or, instead of thinking, ‘maybe my brain has had enough sleep,’ when we wake up at 4 am, we panic and think about reaching for the Ambien.

So why are you so tired all the time? Why does it sometimes take every last ounce of energy you have just to fold a load of laundry?

Turns out those are symptoms of fatigue, which is different than sleepiness. If you feel fatigued, Dr. Winter Says, rest your body. If the fatigue is persistent, see a doctor to rule out underlying causes like an issue with your thyroid or a tick-born illness.

But forcing yourself to sleep more won’t  fix fatigue.

Instead, Dr. Winter tries to get people used to the idea that being awake can be at  neutral.

“We need to get rid of this mindset that being asleep equals succeeding,” he says. “That if I don’t get exactly eight hours, I’m a failure. The failure is when you keep hitting ‘next episode’ on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel until it’s 3 am.”

Winter says that  if you’re going to bed feeling sleepy, doing all the “sleep hygiene” things you’ve read a million times and you’re not passing out during a conference call the next day, then you’re succeeding. It’s like running. You don’t have to hit a personal record every day to feel like you’re doing well. You just need to go out and actually run.

“I wish we would spend more time cultivating the idea of how good you are at being mindful, at resting, settling your mind, being the best thing,” Dr. Winter says. “Sleep is a skill. If you don’t think you’re great at it, you can get better.”

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