When you have trouble sleeping, it makes sense that you’d turn to your significant other for advice on how to fix the problem. But new research suggests that’s a really, really bad idea.
According to preliminary results from a new study that was presented on Sunday at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, partners of people suffering from insomnia, i.e. the inability to sleep, try to be supportive by suggesting certain behaviors — but those suggestions tend to directly contradict what doctors recommend.
For the study, researchers asked 31 partners of people who were seeking treatment for insomnia to answer several questionnaires on their significant other’s sleep habits, and how they addressed it. The insomnia patients were also asked to answer questions and to keep a sleep diary for a week before starting treatment.
Here’s what they discovered: 74 percent of partners encouraged an early bedtime or late wake time (which directly contradicts what doctors say people with insomnia should do), 42 percent suggested doing other things in bed, like reading or watching TV, and 35 percent recommended taking naps, drinking more caffeine, or exercising less. And all of that advice is bad.
Christopher Winter, MD, of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine, and author of the book, The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It who didn’t work on the study, tells Yahoo Beauty that he sees this kind of reaction to insomnia in his practice all the time — and each bit of “advice” is bad for its own reason.
Winter says people who suffer from insomnia just may not need as much sleep as they’re trying to get, which is why the earlier bedtime doesn’t make sense. “It’s like saying ‘I’m never hungry for dinner at six o’clock, so I’m going to start having dinner at five o’clock,’” he says. Sleeping in later also doesn’t help, because it can exacerbate the problem. “If you’ve been struggling to fall asleep and you’re sleeping until noon, you’re really moving in the opposite direction,” he says, adding that it can make it harder to move it back.
Reading or watching TV in bed is also not a great idea because it’s important for people to associate their bedrooms with sleep if they’re struggling to get ZZZs. “If you’re going to read or watch TV, it’s best to do it somewhere else if you can and then move to your bedroom when you feel sleepy,” Winter says.
Winter also doesn’t recommend napping for those struggling with insomnia — it can continue to throw off a person’s sleep pattern — and caffeine in the evening, which will just keep them awake longer. And, rather than cut back on exercise, Winter says it’s important for people to try to get enough exercise, which can help them fall asleep in the future. If you have a bad night’s sleep, Winter recommends trying to get up and exercise, even if you don’t feel like it. “It doesn’t give you license to skip the gym,” he says. “That’s going to take this little problem than you’ve got and make it worse.”
Often, people who suffer from insomnia are getting more sleep than they think — they’re just not perceiving that they’re getting that sleep. “Once they understand that, it often helps take some of the pressure away,” Winter says.
Of course, if you try to make the right tweaks and you’re still struggling to sleep, see a sleep medicine physician. He or she should be able to help get you back to a good night’s sleep.
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