In this week’s episode, sleep expert Dr. Jade Wu will join us in the studio to answer your questions about overcoming insomnia without medication. Email us [radio@PeoplesPharmacy.com] or call 888-472-3366 between 7:10 and 8:00 am EST on Saturday, March 4, 2023.
Adequate sleep is a critical pillar of good health. During that time, the body is able to “flush out” the brain by increasing the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. It repairs damaged tissues and releases certain hormones necessary for healthy functioning. In addition, it offers the brain an opportunity to practice new skills and review new information. People who report irregular or inadequate sleep are more susceptible to cardiovascular complications or even dementia.
No wonder, then, that people may become anxious when they fear that they may not be getting enough sleep. Experts define insomnia as the perception of having trouble falling or staying asleep. When this happens night after night, we call it chronic insomnia. Roughly 24 million American adults are troubled with this condition, which affects life and health during the day as well as at night. The problem is that worrying about falling asleep can interfere with actual sleep. Learn what sleep myths we should discard so we can ruminate less and sleep better.
People who have had insomnia for a while are probably familiar with the usual recommendations for sleep hygiene: keep the bedroom cool and dark. Don’t use the bedroom for anything but sleeping (and sex). Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Don’t drink caffeinated beverages after lunch, and don’t drink alcohol in the evening.
While some of these ideas make sense, sleep experts like Dr. Wu say they won’t help a person with chronic insomnia. The best way to do that, she says, is to change your relationship with sleep. Giving up the idea that you can control your sleep and embracing the idea of sleep as a friend is key to overcoming insomnia.
As counterintuitive as it seems, spending too much time in bed can help stoke chronic insomnia. It doesn’t matter whether you go to bed too early or stay in bed too long in the morning, being in bed trying to sleep when your body isn’t sleepy only causes trouble. So does trying to “make up” for a bad night by trying to sleep longer the next night. Whether or not you are successful, “trying to sleep” is more likely to perpetuate than to cure insomnia.
Following a regular routine, especially a rhythm that is comfortable for you, can be very helpful. Night owls don’t do well if they try to get up with the early birds, and vice versa.
Dr. Wu suggests that sunlight is among the most underrated sleep aids. Getting exposure to natural sunlight during the day can help entrain the body’s circadian rhythm. Avoiding bright lights at night is also important, so that you don’t send your brain a “wake up” message just as you are trying to prepare for sleep. What’s more, being physically active outside while you are enjoying the sunshine can increase your sleep drive and make it easier for your body to fall asleep when it is time to get into bed.
Dr. Wu’s special expertise is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, aka CBT-I. Studies have shown that this is the most effective approach for overcoming insomnia. Like any tool, it works only where it is appropriate. Some sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, require other types of treatment.
Jade Wu, PhD, is a Board-certified behavioral sleep medicine psychologist and researcher at Duke University School of Medicine. Dr. Wu uses evidence-based non-medication treatments to help people improve their sleep (and waking life). She is especially passionate about helping new parents navigate sleep challenges during pregnancy and postpartum. She is the author of Hello Sleep: The Science and Art of Overcoming Insomnia Without Medications.
Her websites are https://drjadewu.com/blog and https://drjadewu.com/clinic Alisha White Photography holds the copyright to the photograph of Dr. Wu.