The Truth About Insomnia- Wake up From the Nightmare of Chronic Sleep Problems

Insomnia is a nightmare. Chronic sleep problems affect 40 per cent of adults, and can take a toll on all parts of your life, destroying daily routines and leaving you vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Yet, most people don’t know that insomnia can be successfully treated without medication. We spoke to clinical psychologist and sleep expert Dr. Judith Davidson whose book, Sink Into Sleep: A Step-by-Step Workbook for Insomnia, outlines an effective treatment program focused on behaviour modification. She outlined some of the major misconceptions about insomnia to shine a light on this misunderstood problem.

Myths about Insomnia

Myth: Everybody needs eight hours of sleep

Reality: “It’s a very individual thing,” says Davidson. “There’s variation in how much sleep you need. It’s just like height and shoe size: everybody’s different. The right amount is basically the amount you need to feel rested the next day. Some people need very little and some people need a lot.”

Myth: If you have insomnia, you shouldn’t nap

Reality: “We now know that if you have an afternoon nap, of maybe less than an hour, it’s unlikely to have a negative effect on nighttime sleep. It’s quite a natural time to nap. Older people tend to nap in that time period. Siesta cultures have naps at that time. There are some measures of our body temperature that suggest it is a very natural time to rest, biologically.”

Myth: If you’re not sleeping well, you should go to bed early to “make time” to sleep

Reality: “Certainly, you want to make time for sleep but [if you have insomnia] it’s not a good idea to go to bed early. Usually we have a worse sleep when we go to bed early. We use a treatment program here: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia, and it involves staying up late rather than going to bed early.”

Myth: If you can’t sleep, you just need more fresh air and exercise

Reality: “Unfortunately, these quick tips don’t do it if you have persistent insomnia,” says Davidson. “People try everything they’ve read about. By the time they ask for
help, they know all the sleep hygiene tips—avoiding caffeine and all those other things—and they’re very knowledgeable about it. Unless you’ve had insomnia, you don’t really know how it feels. There’s a lot of misunderstanding out there.”

Myth: My insomnia will go away if I just wait awhile

Reality: Probably not. In fact, research shows not only does insomnia not go away on its own, it increases the risk of getting major depression. “In some of my research with Dr. Charles Morin in Quebec City, we looked to see what the characteristics of people in his clinic were. We found that his patients had been living with insomnia for 11 years before they came to the clinic. So, people’s quality of life can be affected for years.”

Myth: The only treatment for insomnia is sleeping pills

Reality: Nope. In fact, Davidson says the best treatment is done without medication. It’s called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). “The strategies are quite different from traditional CBT, but the similarities are that it’s looking at the thinking you engage in and the behavioural things you do,” says Davidson. CBT-I is the first line treatment of choice in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

Myth: It’s hopeless

Reality: “It can feel that way. But we want to let people know there is hope if they have insomnia. Ninety per cent of people that take our insomnia treatment (CBT-I over a six-week session) find significant relief from insomnia. The treatment is highly effective. But access is a problem. That’s why I wrote my book—so people can have some access to sleep behaviour treatments even if they don’t have the specialists in their town or city.”


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