Polyphasic Sleep

Insomnia and the Restless Mind

By Alec Trembath

We’ve all been there before. Lying in the darkness. Trying to quiet your mind just long enough to fall asleep. But it seems the more you try to shut your brain off, the more thoughts come flowing through. Like an unrelenting river, thoughts come crashing in one after the other. You look at the clock and tell yourself, “If I fall asleep now I will get 7 hours of sleep.” Then you remember some things from the previous day that you did not get accomplished. Your anxiety heightens. You plan on how to get them done the next day. Then you look at the clock and tell yourself, “If I fall asleep now I’ll get 5 hours of sleep.” Soon, you dwell on how you’re going to feel the next day from getting too little sleep and each passing minute you are awake adds to the never-ending noise in your mind.

Studies have shown that up to 35% of adults experience short rounds of insomnia. Most people who suffer from brief periods can attribute it to anxiety or depression. The body has different systems that drive us to stay awake and to fall asleep. Sometimes these systems can be disrupted by:

  • Sudden bad news or stress

  • Shift work

  • Diet (including caffeine and nicotine intake)

  • Underlying medical conditions

The restless mind can be hard to tame but not impossible. Some simple things like limiting your caffeine intake will help. Caffeine can stay in the system for up to 8 hours.  Nicotine, also a stimulant, can masquerade as something that might calm you down but in the end, will worsen feelings of anxiety.

It might seem counterproductive, but taking brief naps during the day might also help with insomnia and some other sleep disorders. A study that followed the sleeping habits of people working in emergency rooms showed that taking naps that were 20 minutes to one hour long reduced stress levels and helped employees stay focused and productive. This helped reduce anxiety levels in the participants when they went to bed at the end of the day. Taking naps will also help ease the fear of not getting enough sleep while staring at the clock during the night.