If you have chronic insomnia, you’ve likely been working with your doctor or a sleep specialist on ways to get more quality sleep. But sometimes, life can thwart the best-laid sleep plans. Travel, a newborn baby, shift work, and other disruptions can get in the way of your insomnia-busting habits.
Starting From Behind
“You don’t have the same sleep reserves built up,” says Tracy Chisholm, PsyD, a behavioral sleep medicine psychologist at the Portland VA Medical Center. “You’re likely to have an even harder time recovering from additional sleep disruptions because you were already struggling to operate on less than a full tank.”
You’re also more likely to dwell on the sleep you’re losing, which can trigger a negative feedback loop. “In other words, you worry about it more,” says Chisholm. “And guess what definitely does not help improve your sleep? Worry. This can become a vicious cycle.”
Preparing for Disruptions
There are practical steps you can take to help prevent or cope with sleep loss in situations that are out of your control. You can also try adjusting your mindset.
“Many times, people go into scenarios like travel assuming they’ll have difficulties with their sleep, but sometimes a change in environment can actually help you sleep better,” says Ina Djonlagic, MD, a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Bottom line: Don’t expect the worst, but practice good habits to prepare in case things go awry.
Here’s how to get back on track when certain situations mess with your sleep schedule.
Travel and Time Changes
Different time zones, strange beds in strange rooms, environments that aren’t comfortable — there are a host of ways travel can keep you from getting your ZZZs. Try these tips before your trip:
Head off jet lag. Slowly adjust your sleep schedule at home before you leave.
“About a week or two before you depart, start shifting your bedtime and wake time in small increments, to more closely match your destination time zone,” says Chisholm.
If you’re going somewhere very far away, wait until you get there and then start by following local mealtimes and sleep times, says Chisholm. Go to bed when night comes, and get up when it’s light.
Try temporary aids. Some people find low-dose melatonin or timed exposure to light to be helpful when they travel. “Correctly timing these interventions is key for effectiveness,” Chisholm says. “Consult with a sleep specialist if you’re interested in either of these approaches.”
Living With a Newborn Baby
Babies spare no one from sleep disruption. You’re at the mercy of your newborn’s sleep-wake cycle, which won’t be the same as yours. “Babies have much shorter sleep cycles than adults — 50 to 60 minutes, as opposed to our 90- to 110-minute cycles,” says Chisholm. Babies also need to eat every 2 to 3 hours.
The key is to get good sl