What Is Sleep Restriction Therapy?

Sleep restriction therapy is a type of behavioral treatment for insomnia.

Anyone who has ever suffered from insomnia likely knows how destructive it can be.

Sleep Restriction Therapy

Not being able to get a decent night’s sleep can be quite debilitating.

In fact, insomnia is actually one of the most commonly reported sleep problems.

By definition, insomnia is defined as “a persistent difficulty with sleep initiation, duration, consolidation or quality.”

According to statistics, the figures for insomnia vary across the board.

According to some estimates, about 10 to 30 percent of adults live with it—while some estimates put the number closer to 50 to 60 percent.

In any case, it’s not a good problem to have.

Sleep is a pillar of health and well-being. And whenever it gets restricted or messed with on a regular basis, sleep deprivation can become a problem.

But what is Sleep Restriction Therapy? And how can it help?

In this post, that’s what we are going to look at.

What Is Sleep Restriction Therapy? The Basics

The basic idea behind Sleep Restriction Therapy is actually pretty simple.

The theory? That excessive time spent in bed actually perpetuates insomnia.

And so, the idea is that if you restrict the amount of time spent in bed, you will actually help the patient’s ability to sleep and get adequate rest.

But, does it actually work?

As it turns out, there are good and bad sides to it.

The Good

The good news about Sleep Restriction Therapy is that research supports the fact that it is quite effective. In fact, it is known as “the most effective sleep hygiene technique available,” and is said to work as well as medication.

(I have my own experience to add to this, which I will talk about in a moment.)

The Bad

The bad news is that it takes several consistent weeks of dedication to make it work.

The individual needs to be willing to be disciplined enough to stick to very stringent sleeping habits.

Some people have a hard time sticking with it.

How Does Sleep Restriction Therapy Work?

Here is a breakdown of how the therapy actually works.

Step 1: Figure Out How Much Time You Will Be Spending in Bed

You figure this out by keeping a sleep log for two weeks, and then figuring up your total average number of hours slept each night.

This number is called your ATST… your Average Total Sleep Time.

Once you figure this number, add 30 minutes to it.

For example. If you normally only actually manage to sleep for 5 hours, then 5 hours is your ATST, making your time in bed 5 hours and 30 minutes.

Important Note: It is recommended that you spend a minimum of 5.5 hours in bed, even if you don’t usually sleep that long. Spending less time sleeping than this can actually severely hinder your ability to be productive.

So if your calculations fall below 5.5 hours, it is best to round it up to that.

Step 2: Figure Out Your Wake up Time, & Stick With It

This is one of the more difficult parts of Sleep Restriction Therapy.

You need to decide on a consistent time to wake up every morning, and you need to stick with it.

But the most difficult part of this step is that you need to wake up at that time, even if you didn’t get enough sleep the night before.

This is where a lot of people falter, because it can be super tempting to sleep in on weekends and catch up.

But, this is part of the therapy. Get up at the same time, every morning, without fail.

Step 3: Figure Out Your Bedtime

You figure your bedtime by starting with your wake-up time, and then counting back your allowed time in bed.

So, if your allowed sleep time is 5 hours and 30 minutes, and if your wake time was 7 AM, that means that your bedtime would be 1:30 AM.

The important part about this step is that you are not allowed to get into bed before your bedtime.

This is another difficult, yet important part of the equation.

One thing about Sleep Restriction Therapy is that it often results in extreme tiredness until you fall into the ‘rhythm.’ And so, staying out of bed until it’s actually time to go to bed may be a challenge.

But, it is very important that you observe the process.

Step 4: Stick to Your New Sleep Schedule For at Least Two Weeks

During the next two weeks, stick to the schedule religiously.

If you end up sleeping well and feel good during the day, keep that schedule for the long term.

If you end up feeling tired during the day, try adding another 15 minutes to your time in bed—but do not increase your time spent in bed by more than 15 minutes per week.

Step 5: Try to Use Dim Lights in the Evening, & Bright Light in the Morning

The sun would obviously suffice as a natural light source here.

But beyond that, try to switch it up with your lighting.

Use dimmer light in the hours before bedtime, in an attempt to stimulate more natural Melatonin production—and use bright lights in the morning to help inhibit Melatonin production and wake you up.

Step 6: Do Not Nap

Napping has the potential to throw off the entire system, so don’t cave-in to naps!

If you end up feeling tired most days, add no more than 15 minutes to your sleep schedule per week, and stick with it.

Step 7: Make Sure to Continue to Use Good Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is the habit of having positive, healthy daily bedroom environment routines.

In other words:

  • Getting ready for bed at the same time each night
  • Having a clean room
  • Having a straightforward, set routine

…these are all examples of sleep hygiene routines.

According to SleepFoundation.org, sleep hygiene is one of the most straightforward ways to set yourself up for better sleep, and it’s true.

Sleep hygiene is super important to the process of getting a good night’s sleep because forming good habits are an essential part of succeeding at anything. And formulating positive habits around sleep is a great way to increase the quality of your rest.

My Own Experiences With Sleep Restriction Therapy

While I have never followed this program to the letter, I do practice a lesser version of it on a weekly basis.

Since I work from home, it can be very easy to stay up too late at night working—which then pushes all of my time back during the next day and hurts my productivity throughout not only that day, but also the rest of the week.

And in the long term, this can seriously impact my productivity.

So for me, practicing decent sleep hygiene is something that I’ve learned to do out of necessity, as it really helps me to keep my life together.

It’s amazing how ‘out of balance’ our lives can get when we do not have a consistent sleep schedule.

It is also amazing how much more productive and focused we are when we get the sleep we need, on the schedule that works best for us.

Granted, shift work is still difficult. When the sun isn’t on your side, that’s a hard row to hoe.

But it’s still amazing how much habits have to do with it, too.

As humans, we all wake up every day with the same amount of time.

But it is how we choose to spend it that makes the biggest difference.

And that is where habits come into the mix! Our habits literally define our lives.

It isn’t fun or glamorous to work on them—but they are the meat and potatoes of our lives.

In Conclusion – Is Sleep Restriction Therapy For You?

If you’ve been struggling to find a sleep routine that actually works for you, then this may be the way to go.

Granted, it’s challenging. But with a little bit of self-control, you would be amazed at how much it can help.

It’s backed by science, and has even been shown to work as well as medication!

It all just goes back to habits. When we get our habits right, a lot of other things tend to fall into place.

Struggling with your sleep schedule? Maybe it’s time to give Sleep Restriction Therapy a try.