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Sleep Restriction Therapy (SRT) is a non-drug method for treating insomnia that’s been successful for many problem sleepers. Some people with insomnia sleep fitfully at night and nap during the day.
This form of therapy restricts sleep to a specified window at night, helping improve sleep in several ways:
Although it might sound counterintuitive, forcing the body to sleep during a fixed time and remain awake the rest of the time can correct insomnia. Like an exercise or diet program, SRT requires dedication and consistency to work.
Steps for Sleep Restriction Therapy
The initial sleep schedule for sleep restriction therapy is based on a patient’s history of insomnia and his or her sleep patterns. The schedule is designed to restrict sleep in order to increase the drive for sleep (i.e. tiredness). So a patient who normally goes to bed at 10 p.m. and gets up at 6 a.m., but reports sleeping for just 6 hours during that time window, may start with a schedule of an 11:15 p.m. bedtime and a 5 a.m. wake-up.
Many behavioral treatments for sleep problems have few side effects, which is one reason they’re often the first line of treatment for sleep disorders. But unlike other behavioral therapies, SRT may carry a risk of side effects, most prominently daytime fatigue. When sleep is restricted and patients are not allowed to nap, it’s reasonable to assume that they’ll experience some fatigue as a result. In general, daytime fatigue disappears as insomnia symptoms resolve.
However, some research suggests that patients don’t experience excessive fatigue with SRT, because their total time spent asleep during treatment is similar to their total hours spent asleep before treatment.
Insomnia and hypersomnia are both common symptoms of depression, even mild depression. Doctors who suspect depression ask patients about their sleeping patterns. People with depression frequently experience insomnia, fragmented sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness. Sleep restriction therapy may serve as a treatment for short-term depression. However, insomnia can increase anxiety and depression, so sleep restriction therapy shouldn’t be used to treat depression unless patients work closely with a sleep medicine specialist.