Napper or love a lie-in? Your guide to sleeping better, according to your sleep type

The term ‘insomnia sleeper’ is possibly a bit of an oxymoron for those of us who’ve really suffered: many hard-core sleep problems can go through periods where they don’t actually sleep at all.

“For the purposes of our study, this group categorised themselves with multiple poor sleep characteristics,” says Dr Lee. “They took a longer time to fall asleep, had shorter sleep duration, woke up a lot during the night and had daytime tiredness.”

By the clinical definition, insomnia becomes chronic if you find yourself struggling to sleep for at least three days a week, for a period of longer than three months.

Those who categorised themselves as insomnia sleepers in the Penn study had a higher risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and depression – up to 81 per cent more than good sleepers, in some cases. Previous research has shown that poor sleepers have higher blood pressure, as well as higher susceptibility to infection.

“Not being employed was associated with the risk of being an insomnia sleeper,” says Dr Lee. “Paid work provides not only income and life purpose, but also a ‘temporal structure’ that may help maintain a regular sleep/wake cycle that may be important for optimal sleep health.”

However, insomnia is often not a respecter of class or status, and many professional people find themselves with poor sleep. 

There’s nothing more likely to heap on stress (and make you less likely to fall asleep) than information that tells you your insomnia is going to make you physically ill. 

The culture of sleep trackers can only make things worse, and make you feel even more of a failure. In fact, most sleep scientists now agree that it’s the very opposite of tracking and trying that will lead to an elusive night’s sleep.

These days, the gold standard of sleep treatment is a talking therapy called CBTi, or cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia. The primary focus is based around changing your actions or “behaviours”, and thoughts (the “cognitive” bits) that perpetuate insomnia, with the end result that your natural “sleep pressure” takes over, and the cycle of wakefulness is broken.

Dr Bostock is a committed proponent of CBTi. “The starting point is a fixed routine for your day, starting with the time you get up, which you should try not to not vary, even on weekends,” she says. CBT therapists also encourage their clients to go to bed only when they are sleepy, and to get up and do something else if they lie away for longer than 15 minutes, although ideally not on a screen, because the blue light it emits affects melatonin, the hormone in your brain that promote sleep. 

A further idea is ‘sleep restriction’, which despite its name, is not to restrict the amount of time spent asleep, but the time in bed doing other things which can interfere. “This sounds counterintuitive, but means that ideally, you should only use your bed for sex, or for sleep,” says Dr Bostock.

The most important thing, Dr Bostock believes, “is to just go about your daily life, getting ‘normally’ tired, so that sleep becomes intuitive”. 

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