Health and Wellness

I got a sleep consultation for my insomnia: 3 things I learned

Oleg Breslavtsev | Moment | Getty Images

For me, insomnia presents as either a struggle to fall asleep or broken sleep that causes me to wake up every few hours. After nights like those, I don't feel energized or rested the following day.

So, after countless nights of tossing and turning, I decided it was time to seek expert advice.

I spoke to Jade Wu, behavioral sleep medicine specialist and sleep advisor for Mattress Firm, who led me through an hour-long sleep consultation, designed to help me get to the root of my sleepless nights.

The exam guided us through topics like average bedtime, light exposure and what you should do during late-night wake-ups.

Here are a few gems from our sleep-centered conversation.

3 things I learned from a sleep consultation for insomnia

1. Building up your 'sleep drive' makes it easier to fall asleep at night

As someone on a hybrid work schedule, my wake time often shifts from 6:45 a.m. on in-office days to 8 a.m. when I'm working from home.

And we're commonly told how important it is to stick to the same bedtime and wake time, but the concept of a "sleep drive" dives deeper into why that's so significant.

"We have a sleep drive, which is like your hunger for sleep. You build up your hunger for sleep just by being awake," says Wu.

"So if you're awake for long enough, you're saving up sleep drive points throughout the day, almost like a piggy bank. And hopefully by bedtime, you've saved up enough."

Yet, on work-from-home days with an 8 a.m. wake-up, I wouldn't accumulate enough "sleep drive points" to fall asleep by 10:45 p.m. that night, for my earlier start in the office the next day, she says.

"After a couple of days in a row like that, I can certainly see you having trouble falling asleep," Wu adds.

2. You need blue light exposure during the day to sleep well at night

In recent years, the effects that blue light exposure from electronic devices can have on your eyesight and your sleep have been widely discussed. And, glasses with lenses designed to block blue light have become extremely popular.

Wearing such glasses during the evening is recommended by Wu because exposure to blue light too close to bedtime can negatively impact your sleep. This is especially true if you don't get enough sunlight during the day.

But, wearing blue light glasses throughout the day isn't necessary for most people, and could actually affect sleep, says Wu.

We actually do want blue light during the day.
Jade Wu
Behavioral sleep medicine specialist and sleep advisor for Mattress Firm

"The thing is we actually do want blue light during the day," she says. "The way our brains can tell when it is time to be awake versus asleep is by how much light is coming through our eyes, particularly the blue, or shorter wave-length, lights. So, we do need for our brains to know that it's daytime during the day [and] we do need that light coming in through our eyes."

But if your optometrist encourages you to wear blue light glasses to protect your eyes, "definitely follow their advice," Wu adds.

3. Tossing and turning makes insomnia worse, get out of bed instead

While it may be frustrating to get less hours of sleep than you'd prefer, forcing yourself to rest will only make it worse, says Wu.

"The more we try to sleep sometimes, the more sleep runs away from us," she says.

"Instead of putting that pressure on yourself, if you truly feel wide awake and know you're not getting back to sleep anytime soon, why not get up and do something you enjoy? Consider that your extra 'me time.'"

You won't always get eight hours of sleep each night, and that's okay, she notes. Perhaps you can use the time you're unable to sleep to read a few pages of a book you've been wanting to read, Wu suggests.

The more we try to sleep sometimes, the more sleep runs away from us.
Jade Wu
Behavioral sleep medicine specialist and sleep advisor for Mattress Firm

"Treat your sleep like a friend," says Wu, "so that you will make time and prioritize your sleep. But also you won't be too rigid because friendships need to also be flexible."

"We want to have enough flexibility in our relationship with sleep, too. That's why if you do wake up during the night and have trouble getting back to sleep, we say don't stay and force it. Because 'forcing your friend to hang out' is just not going to work and will just push them further away."

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