Broken Sleep May Be Normal Sleep

From a current “Psychiatric Times” comes welcome news.

As we get older, we often worry about our sleep habits. Baby Boomers especially seem to worry about them. Some people find they are waking up in the middle of the night and not going back to sleep for an hour or even two.

This worries them. What is a Baby Boomer to do?

If you know of people worried about sleep, or if you are, I recommend you pore over this article by Walter A. Brown, M.D.

In Dr Brown’s “Psychiatric Times” article, a case is presented of a man who is quite worried about his sleep pattern. He falls asleep, sleeps for three and a half hours, wakes up, and eventually falls asleep again. He then sleeps for three and a half hours.

The psychiatrist working with him is frustrated. He has put his patient on four different “hypnotics” (drugs designed to aid sleep) and each time the patient sleeps through the night in uninterrupted sleep.

But this only lasts a short time and his mid-sleep wakenings return.

What should the psychiatrist do?

The best answer is “nothing.” Or, better yet, the psychiatrist should do something that modern psychiatry has abandoned. A brief course of anxiety-reducing psychotherapy.

Within my life time psychiatry has moved away from psychotherapy. Instead, the prescription pad is the primary intervention.

So naturally, a patient complaining about interrupted sleep looks like a job for the prescription pad.

But Dr. Brown reviews considerable evidence that throughout history people have tended to sleep in two periods, a “first sleep” followed by some wakefulness, and a “second sleep.”

So what is to be done? The problem is not the waking, the problem is what we think the waking means. If we reframe the waking as entirely normal, and a chance to get out of bed and do some things, our anxiety is lessened.

Anxiety is the real problem, not sleep.

Be at peace!

For years I have suggested to patients that when they are in bed but are not asleep for twenty minutes, they ought to get out of bed and do something boring.

Brown’s article certainly supports my practice.

Personally, I dislike stretching. I am told by health nuts that it is good for me. But I don’t like to do it. So if I wake up and don’t go right back to sleep, I will get up and do a series of stretches.

Paradoxically, I sleep right through the night (Brown would call this an unnatural sleep pattern) most nights. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were because I am subconsciously trying to avoid stretching!

Read Dr. Brown’s article here: http://tinyurl.com/3o5mg9g

If you want to know more about my sleep strategies, consider my book, The Healing Power of Sleep. You can look at it here.

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4 Comments

  1. Vicky November 14, 2011 at 10:55 am - Reply

    Great cmoomn sense here. Wish I’d thought of that.

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  4. DrPaul November 30, 2011 at 10:40 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the great article! Wonderful! I personally wake up often in the middle of the night, especially when worried. I find it’s a great time to write down my worries, and often they get much better. I will go back to bed (worried now that I should’ve gotten more sleep and that I’ll be tired in the morning) — but awaken to find I feel great and have a great day. Somehow, tho, I didn’t trust my own experience. I will share this with my patients. Normalize the normal!!!

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