Are You Getting Scared Sleepless? Reassure Yourself With Facts
Articles warning about the dire consequences of insomnia seem to be showing up on the internet more frequently – but do they help or hurt? Here are four major problems with these articles:
- By ignoring the true cause of chronic insomnia, they can actually make someone’s insomnia worse
Anxiety and ruminating thoughts about the effects of sleep loss are literally what tips a person from occasional insomnia into chronic insomnia. These ruminations are even included in the official ICD-10 diagnosis for it. As every insomniac well knows, the anxious thoughts take on a life of their own, feeding on themselves night after night.
By attributing negative health outcomes to sleep loss without offering viable solutions, the articles just fuel the fire of insomnia anxiety.
- They don’t acknowledge that prescription sleep medications cause more harm than sleep loss.
Most people’s response to chronic insomnia is to ask their doctor for sleep medicine. However, the dangers of sleep medications are well-documented. Epidemiological studies have found higher mortality risk with long-term sedative-hypnotic use (the category of medications most commonly prescribed for sleep), related to respiratory depression, cardiac arrest, overdose and suicide, car accidents, falls and traumatic brain injury, immune suppression, and cancer.
- The articles don’t consider that stress can be the cause of the negative health effects, not sleep loss.
Is sleep loss causing the health problems, or is it the stress that drives and perpetuates the sleepless nights? Even the most well-designed clinical studies can rarely prove direct causation. Ask, how have the studies controlled for the variable of stress? Sleep loss may be associated with health issues, but on the other hand, stress is a well-documented cause of heart problems, cognitive impairment, suppressed immune system, diabetes, obesity, and more.
- Worst of all, they don’t provide information on treatment options – stirring up fear, but not offering hope.
This is a glaring omission. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) has a 30-year track record of success and is now considered the “gold standard” for effective, long-lasting insomnia treatment. All major medical associations recommend that physicians refer insomnia patients for CBT-I before resorting to prescription medications. CBT-I addresses the actual causes of chronic insomnia – thoughts and behaviors – thus, it helps people achieve life-long mastery over their natural sleep systems. Now that’s real hope to counter the fears.
If you’re awake at night, don’t take these articles to heart. Know that sleep loss is not killing you. Focus on dealing with your stress. If you’re really struggling with insomnia, avoid sleep medications and seek out a course of CBT-I. You’ll be healthier and sleep better.
Emily is a seasoned psychotherapist who specializes in treating insomnia and anxiety. She’s a complete sleep geek and loves to help people find their sleep sweet spot. Contact Emily if sleep is a problem for you – she will help.