This week, my sleep-news feed has tipped me off to a “new type of sleep therapy” that says, per CBS Philly, “if you want to sleep more, try sleeping less." The counterintuitive therapy in question, called sleep restriction therapy, is indeed an effective way to combat insomnia — but it’s not new.
The renowned sleep researcher Arthur Spielman formally introduced sleep restriction therapy in 1987. It's performed well in many clinical trials and become a core component — as well as one of the most controversial components — of CBTi, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia. CBTi is a goal-oriented, drug-free approach to treating insomnia that surfaced in the ‘60s and has been recommended by very important medical authorities as a first-line defense against against clinical-grade sleeplessness.
Sleep restriction therapy is intended for people with middle-of-the-night insomnia who spend a lot more time in bed than they spend sleeping. The therapy, which tends to be grueling at first, requires you to, as the name implies, restrict the amount of time you spend in bed. So, let’s say you typically turn in at 11pm and get up at 8:00am, but only get six hours of sleep. Per sleep restriction therapy, you’d either wake up earlier or go to bed earlier so that you're only spending six hours in bed, total.
Within a week or so, you should start to experience fewer, shorter late-night awakenings. And once the awakenings are under control, you can start to extend the amount of time you spend in bed by weekly increments of 15-30 minutes, so long as the awakenings remain at bay. The goal is to get your sleep efficiency (time spent in bed divided by time spent sleeping) to 85 percent. You should expect to practice sleep restriction for a few weeks, until you’ve worked your way back up to spending a full eight-ish hours in bed and being asleep (almost) the whole time.