There’s More to Sleep than Bedtime
Google “sleep deprivation effects” and you get 1,777,777 reasons why staying up late is bad for you. It gives you high blood pressure. Disorients your metabolism. Makes you an accident waiting to happen. And when it comes to mental illness, it multiplies tenfold your risk of developing depressive and anxiety disorders.
Depression and insomnia can be a chicken-and-egg problem: anxiety keeps you awake; lack of sleep increases your risk of developing full-blown depression. Many people with physically treatable sleep issues show significant emotional improvement once the apnea or restless leg syndrome is dealt with. Yet there are those who lack medical excuses for lying awake, who go to bed for eight hours every night, and who still have chronic insomnia and chronic depression.
While we associate sleep deprivation issues with staying up late working, anxiety-based insomnia can deprive one of sleep even when, strictly speaking, one does everything right. Medical science actually recognizes both sleep onset insomnia (difficulty falling asleep) and sleep maintenance insomnia (difficulty staying asleep). A significant number of people with clinical depression manifest both forms.
Personally, I’d need five figures to count the nights I’ve gotten into bed at 10:00, spent the next 60-90 minutes churning my brain over what needs doing tomorrow, finally fallen asleep only to wake two or three times with high-adrenaline dreams, and ended the night by drifting in and out of shallow-and-stressful dreaming from 3 to 5 a.m., then lying awake for another 60-90 minutes before forcing myself to struggle out of bed with a “You’ve got things to do!” guilt trip. Total amount of sound sleep for those eight hours in bed: about four to six hours.
Part of the problem is that my brain’s neurochannels are already conditioned to associate the physical action of climbing into bed with the mental action of turning on high-adrenaline thoughts. The other part: my OCD-oriented, Type A personality that fears fully tuning out the world lest I miss or lose something vital. Some people are worse off: they suffer from genuine somniphobia, a terror of sleep that is usually rooted in performance anxiety over sleep itself; a perceived lack of security in one’s home or neighborhood; frequent nightmares; or unnerving experiences with apnea or sleep paralysis.
While some species are wired to function well on the light-sleep approach, humans aren’t. Although precise time needed varies from person to person (and too much sleep can do damage as well), nearly everyone requires seven to nine nightly hours of real sleep — not staring at the ceiling, not repeatedly “dreaming oneself awake,” not listening to the radio or audiobooks in bed.
Of course, many people insist that setting the radio or an audio clip helps them fall asleep and it well may, if it uses soft and relaxing sounds exclusively (no commercial or news interruptions allowed). With or without audio assistance, most experts agree that the classic “counting sheep” approach is overrated, and that the best fall-asleep technique is to visualize a relaxing scene, such as a beach, garden, or campfire.
Other helpful techniques: