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Why can’t I rest Part 2 – how to not worry about sleep (1/4/11)

January 4, 2011

Feeling Restless

Today, many feel restless and tired much of the time.  Partly this is due to people’s thinking that only one kind of rest exists – passive rest – sleep and “doing nothing.”

Active rest, especially physical and social rest, is available to most everyone and can be used to quickly you.  Yet paradoxically lack of rest can make getting real rest more difficult to obtain  – much like a debtor who gets in a hole.  We witness this paradox most clearly in sleep.

Psychophysiologic Insomnia

Americans are markedly sleep deprived, with the worsening problem particularly acute in the younger aged groups.  Teenagers are a special case, needing 9.5 hours on average to learn, think, do athletics and grow properly, yet trying to whittle that number down to 6 -7 hours.  Somewhat older populations  are not necessarily doing better.  Trying to work multiple jobs, take care of kids, and tend older parents is making the 24 hour day too short for many folks aged 30-60. Many work so hard they turn sleep into a job.

Sleep doesn’t work if it’s a job.

The result is a modern scourge known in the sleep trade as psychophysiologic insomnia – worrying about sleep leading to lack of sleep.  In the old days psychophysiologic insomnia made up perhaps a fifth of insomniacs – but now it appears in most insomniacs as conditioned response that further prevents them from obtaining shut-eye.

People with psychophysiologic insomnia worry they won’t sleep long enough, well enough, or uninterrupted enough to feel refreshed when they wake. So they worry about sleep; frequently think about it; and try to make sure it will work efficiently and instantly.  By making it into work sleep doesn’t work.

Some of this behavior stems from viewing rest as a “waste of time,” rather than the necessary renewal for the body to live.  If all I have is 6 hours to sleep, I darn well better sleep all those six hours.

Instead, people can’t fall asleep.  Or when they wake, they can’t get back to sleep.  Then they worry about not having enough rest, and wake up more.

They become hyperaroused.  Putting the nervous system at a heightened state of alert breaks one of the major rules of rest – you need to rest before you sleep.  You have to be calm, settled, sufficiently rested so that body clocks can take over and put you into restorative and renewing sleep.

Instead many insomniacs with psychophysiologic insomnia watch the clock throughout the night, visibly increasing their sense of doom.  For hyperarousal provokes more of itself.

Insomnia Leads to Insomnia

Many years ago Mike Bonnet took people into the sleep lab and kept them awake overnight.  Those without insomnia problems slept fairly well the next day.  The insomniacs not only slept worse during their daytime recovery sleep – they also slept worse the next night.

Hyperarousal appears to lead to more hyperarousal.

The end result is true for rest in general, not just sleep.  People who are hyperaroused feel more tense, more nervous, less able to rest.  They lose the basic balance between rest and activity that most organisms are meant to have.


There are lots of ways people can return to a normal Way of Rest.  For example, mental fatigue can be combated by physical effort.  Many who do physically “exhausting” exercise find themselves mentally refreshed.  Many studies show mid-day exercise markedly improves productivity and mood.

Another way is to start a normal cycle of going FAR – Food, Activity, then Rest.  FAR means eat-move-rest, a simple rhythm with multiple benefits to waistline, weight, productivity, and mood.

Simple cognitive techniques, like writing down one’s problems and how you plan to solve them, then looking over the results during the day, can be used to control  psychophysiologic insomnia and other insomnias.  Calming the mind by propounding what you are concretely doing to solve problems can aid you day or night, stopping fleeting thoughts from disrupting concentration or sleep.

Please recognize that rest is necessary to life, just like food. Cycling rest together with food and activity can give the day a flow that can make you become more productive and more relaxed, letting you really get work done.

And feel fully rested.
Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news

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