If you suffer from insomnia you know all too well that lying awake and worrying about the fact that you aren’t going to get enough sleep makes it even harder to drift off. It’s a devilish cycle of anxiety.
As the clock ticks on and on you know that you’ll be even less rested the next day, it makes the stress even worse, like the universe is laughing at you.
It turns out, there is a counterintuitive solution to insomnia. As students sitting through morning lectures everywhere know, the trick to falling asleep might be trying to stay awake.
This strategy is a cognitive behavioural therapy technique with the great name “paradoxical intention.” By trying to stay awake, you achieve your true goal of falling asleep.
This therapy was tested in a small 2003 study published in the Cambridge journal Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy that was recently highlighted in a 59 Seconds video we spotted via New York Mag’s Science of Us.
In that study researchers took 34 insomniacs and divided them into two groups — one was told to fall asleep normally and the other was told to passively try and stay awake (lying in bed with eyes open, but no external stimuli or jumping up and down to stay alert), strategies they tried to employ for the next 14 days.
At the end of that time, the group that had tried to stay awake subjectively reported that they fell asleep faster and had much less anxiety about sleep and felt they slept better.
While those results were subjective, the American Academy for Sleep Medicine reports that there’s enough evidence to say that the “paradoxical intention” strategy is “effective and recommended therapy” for treating insomnia. As they explain, the key is that this strategy removes the anxiety cycle that can start when someone is trying to fall asleep.
So they next time you’re lying in bed wondering if you’ll be awake enough for that meeting with your boss the next day, try and stay awake.
The “trying to stay awake” strategy doesn’t allow you to look at a computer (which includes your phone, even if it didn’t at the time of the study), watch TV, or read. Just lie there with your eyes open and don’t try to fall asleep.
While that might seem boring, it’s got to be worth it. After all, no one knows the joy of a good night’s sleep better than an insomniac — after those nights when you’ve slept the night through you feel like you’re experiencing the world in a whole new way. This could be an easy way to try to achieve that feeling more often.
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