Watching a clock while trying to sleep worsens insomnia and using sleep aids, according to research from an Indiana University professor — and a simple change can help people sleep better.
The research, led by Spencer Dawson, clinical assistant professor and associate director for clinical training in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, focuses on a sample of nearly 5,000 patients presenting for care in the sleep clinic.
Insomnia affects between 4 and 22% of adults and is associated with long-term health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression.
Participants completed questionnaires about the severity of their insomnia, their use of sleep medications and the time they spent observing their behavior while trying to fall asleep. They were also asked to report any psychiatric diagnoses. The researchers performed mediation analyzes to determine how the factors influence each other.
“We found that time-monitoring behavior primarily affects the use of sleep medications because they exacerbate insomnia symptoms,” Dawson said. “People worry that they are not getting enough sleep, and then start estimating how long it will take them to fall back asleep and when they will have to get up. This is not the kind of activity that helps facilitate the ability to fall asleep—the more stressed you are, the harder it is.” You have to sleep.”
With insomnia becoming increasingly frustrating, people are more likely to use sleep aids in an effort to control their sleep.
The results are published in Primary care companion for central nervous system disorders. Additional co-authors are Dr. Barry Krakow, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral health at Mercer University School of Medicine. Patricia Hines, associate professor at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman School of Public Health at the University of Arizona and Darlene Rogo Wisar, a postdoctoral fellow at the Albert Medical College at Brown University.
Dawson said the research suggests that a simple behavioral intervention can help those with insomnia. He gives the same advice to every new patient on their first encounter.
“One of the things people can do is wrap up or cover up their watch, give up the smartwatch, and put away the phone so they don’t check the time,” Dawson said. “Nowhere is watching a watch particularly useful.”
With 15 years of research and clinical experience in the field of sleep, Dawson is interested in comparing individuals’ sleep experiences with what is happening at the same time in their brains. Trains and supervises doctoral students in the Clinical Sciences Program in the Department of Psychology and Brain.