Sleep

Do you have insomnia? 3 things not to do if you’re sleep deprived

Do you have insomnia?  3 things not to do if you're sleep deprived

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Most of us have struggled with bouts of insomnia or had sleepless nights. How do you deal with sleep deprivation the next day? Many people with insomnia abuse caffeine. Others might take a daily nap.

Unfortunately, coping strategies that involve caffeine or napping can make it harder to fall asleep at bedtime. Over-the-counter (OTC) sleeping pills or prescription sleeping pills are often used to counteract nighttime awakenings caused by consuming too much caffeine during the day or dozing off for too long during a “cat nap”.

The yo-yo effect caused by managing insomnia with caffeine, long daytime naps, or sleep aids can feel like a roller coaster ride oscillating between extreme exhaustion and hyperarousal.

3 Maladaptive Sleep Coping Mechanisms

  1. Caffeine
  2. Take a nap
  3. sleep aids

According to new research by Rhonda Winegar of the University of Aspen, so-called “maladaptive sleep coping mechanisms” do not improve insomnia; they can make it worse over time. This exploratory pilot study (Vinegar, 2022) appears in the March issue of the peer-reviewed journal nurse practitioner.

The cohort for this polysomnography-based pilot study included 137 patients who visited a sleep clinic between 2017 and 2019 seeking treatment for insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea.

What makes maladaptive sleep coping mechanisms counterproductive?

Maladaptive coping strategies can disrupt sleep quality in many ways. About two-thirds (66%) of patients with insomnia reported using caffeine to boost their energy if they felt drowsy during the day. However, excessive caffeine consumption has led to increased nighttime sleep problems and created a vicious cycle.

About 25% of people in this study reported taking daily naps, which can lead to problems falling asleep at night. People who took regular naps during the day tended to consume less caffeine and report less sleepiness during the day. But at night, they experienced longer sleep latency (meaning the time it took to go from wakefulness to sleep) than those who didn’t take a nap.

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Most dreaming and memory encoding occurs during REM sleep.

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Caffeine and sleeping pills disrupt REM cycles

People who take prescription sleeping pills such as Lunesta, Restoril, or Sonata enter rapid eye movement (REM) slower than those who don’t. On average, sedative-hypnotic drugs can delay the onset of REM by almost an hour (131 vs. 167 minutes). Notably, those who drank more than two cups of coffee a day also took longer to enter REM sleep.

Of the 137 people in this study, almost half (47%) took prescription sleeping pills and about 1 in 5 (19%) used over-the-counter sleeping pills.

Polysomnography data identified some short-term benefits of sleeping pills prescribed by a healthcare professional. Although prescription sleeping pills delay the onset of REM, they also reduce sleep latency and increase sleep duration, which means people fall asleep faster and sleep longer. Patients in this study who did not take over-the-counter sleeping pills or prescription medications slept for less and had more frequent nocturnal awakenings (i.e., waking up in the middle of the night).

Long-term use of sleeping pills can lead to addiction

Many sedative-hypnotic sleeping pills can be habit-forming or addictive and should not be used for longer than two weeks. these drugs are not intended for long-term use. “Making small changes to daily routines can help far more than prescribing hypnotics that have side effects and run the risk of addiction,” Winegar said in a Press release.

Overall, most participants in this study used counterproductive strategies to cope with insomnia. Winegar says “prioritizing sleep” is the most effective way to break the cycle of maladaptive coping mechanisms that can perpetuate chronic insomnia and poor sleep quality.

Take Home Message: Prioritize Sleep and Avoid Quick Fixes

“Learning about good sleep hygiene and making small changes to their routines (going to bed at the same time, turning off the TV and lights in bed) can help [people] sleep better without sleeping pills,” Winegar concludes. “Don’t take a nap. Keep the same sleep hygiene routine and sleep schedule every day.”