Elena Sheppard
June 14, 2016 11:53 am
Shutterstock/ solar22

We all go through periods of weird sleep from time to time — you know, that strange week or two when you just can’t sleep and you’re totally not tired at bedtime. We’ve been there too. But some people suffer from chronic insomnia, and scientists are now looking into exactly what makes some recover from weird sleep periods, and other people, well, not.

According to research done at the University of Pennsylvania, 20-50% of Americans suffer from acute (or temporary insomnia), while 10% suffer from chronic insomnia. The truth as to why some people’s insomnia turns chronic, seems to have something to do with how much time people spend in bed. 

“If someone goes to sleep at 11 p.m. and wakes up at 5 a.m. (versus an intended 7:30 a.m.), they [should] start their day, rather than lie awake in bed,” the study reads. “Electing to stay awake (rather than staying in bed trying to sleep) is not only a productive strategy for an individual with acute insomnia, but is also one that is formally deployed as part of cognitive behavioral therapy for chronic insomnia.”

Let’s boil that down a bit: Essentially, if you’re having a hard time sleeping, don’t give in to the impulse of spending tons of time in bed. It will only hurt you in the long run. 

Michael Perlis PhD, who is the director of the Penn Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, expanded upon this idea in the release saying, “Those with insomnia typically extend their sleep opportunity” — aka they spend more time in bed. He said, “They go to bed early, get out of bed late, and they nap. While this seems a reasonable thing to do, and may well be in the short-term, the problem in the longer term is it creates a mismatch between the individual’s current sleep ability and their current sleep opportunity; this fuels insomnia.”

So basically, it’s back to the tried and true philosophy of keeping a sleep schedule. If you like to be in bed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., do that every night. And if you have poor sleep for a night or two, don’t alter the schedule. You’ll get back on it eventually, and you’ll be the happier for it.