How To Cure Your Insomnia According To Ryerson’s Sleep Specialist

How To Cure Your Insomnia According To Ryerson’s Sleep Specialist

Lifestyle | Posted by - March 30, 2020 at 2:00 am

Lack of sleep is common among entrepreneurs, but it doesn’t have to be. What if during our morning coffee, we could boast about getting seven restful hours of sleep, rather than say the standard, “I’m tired.” Dr. Colleen Carney, director of the sleep and depression laboratory at Ryerson University says to get a good night’s sleep, you need to pay attention to what you do during the day. She calls it sleep drive: how active you are during the day and the routines you create to prepare your body for deep sleep at bedtime. 

Aside from her research, Carney works with small businesses to help employers and their teams determine their individual optimal alertness--determining whether you’re a night owl or early bird, and then designing the day to work on projects during their most productive times. She sets the record straight on sleep: why we wake up with anxiety, how to cure the mid-morning wakeup routine, and sleep journaling as a necessity to your daily routine: 

When you’re having trouble during the day and you’re not sleeping well at night, you have to make sure you don’t have something like sleep apnea. That’s something people often ignore. If you’re someone who has to nap to get through the day, or you’re falling asleep involuntarily throughout the day, or you’re over-caffeinated all day, talk to your doctor. 

Insomnia versus sleep restriction 

Business owners experience a lot of rewards for what they do. It requires a lot of mental activity and planning and some degree of uncertainty and risk and with that can come anxiety. So, insomnia is something I see quite a lot in business owners. If you’re responsible for the business and getting it going, sometimes sleep goes out the window and people work long hours. That’s not insomnia. That’s sleep restriction. People who aren’t able to prioritize and then they pay for it later. 

Your 4 a.m. wakeup is telling you something important

If you’re waking up around the same time every night, you can become conditioned to wake up around that time. But, usually it’s something meaningful. It could be that when you’re a cycle or two into your normal sleep cycle and you haven’t built enough sleep drive to sustain you through the second half of the night, you wake up. 

Sedentary work produces less sleep drive

If you’re somebody who sits a lot at a computer, I’d consider that to be fairly sedentary work, and those people have less of a deep sleep drive. So, when those people go to bed at their regular time, they burn off that drive for deep sleep earlier than normal, so they can get one or two cycles maximum and then they’re going to have wakefulness until the second half of the night, when you rely on your circadian system. This is a common problem. 

Once you wake up at a certain time and you notice the time, and you have a big reaction to it, you can condition yourself to start waking up at that time. Working with someone who has an expertise in sleep can identify the cause, and eradicate it. 


How we carry ourselves during the day, affects how we sleep at night

Think about what we do for kids: we make sure they have a regular schedule, because we understand they’re clocks, and we’re all clocks. We ensure they have enough physical activity during the day. We understand three meals are important and eating around the same time every day, because if we miss these routines, then children are mis-regulated. We make sure in the evening, at a certain point, they stop doing homework. We then transition them to a wind-down activity like TV, reading, and games. And then we have a routine--go upstairs, take a bath, brush their teeth, read a story, and cuddle, before they go to bed. 

Why do we do that? We know that works well. As adults though, we’re not good at having regular schedules. A good amount of sleep is governed by the clock and anything we do that’s regular, like eating, exercise, outdoor activity, getting into and out of bed. Those activities set the clock, and we need that. 

If you wake up in the middle of the night, get out of bed 

If you’re waking up at 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. and this has been happening for a while, you know you’re not going to fall asleep anytime soon. What you don’t want to do is stay in bed awake. You want your bed to be where you sleep. If your bed is the place you’re awake, that compounds the problem. That takes over as the main cause of the problem. You want to get up out of bed and go into the other room and do something enjoyable, and not work--watching TV, reading a book, or listening to a podcast. Wait for yourself to become sleepy again. If you don’t become sleepy that night, then trust that you’ve built some drive for the next night, and you’ll recover the next evening. At least you get yourself out of bed and break the cessation of wakefulness. 


Taking a pill to sleep is one of the worst things you can do

Some people will be awake at 2 a.m. and take a pill. That’s one of the worst things you can do. With the passage of time and the circadian system kicking in the second half of the night, the chances of you falling back asleep are extraordinarily high. You’ve sent a message that you won’t be able to fall asleep until you take that pill. Pills also have a fair amount of carryover. Your alertness and focus the next day are going to be impaired, so that’s a bad idea.

Striving for sleep won’t work 

Some people try harder to sleep. That’s not a good idea. It’s better to give up the effort and your level of arousal. It’s a paradox--when we try to fall asleep, we can’t fall asleep, and when we try to stay awake, we can’t stay awake. We don’t want to be trying to sleep.


When people have insomnia, it’s easy for business owners to think, I have wakefulness because I have anxiety. But what people forget, and this is where I come in, some people have anxiety because they have wakefulness. Sometimes working with someone who understands the sleep system and who can give you stress management habits, including tweaks to your sleep habits, can be beneficial. People always assume it’s one direction, though often some good sleep habits can reverse insomnia. 

Keep A Sleep Journal 

Keep a sleep diary for two weeks. At the end of two weeks, calculate how much sleep your body took on average. For someone who sleeps nine hours, they’ll probably discover that they’re more like a seven-hour sleeper. If they’re normally sleeping for 7.5 hours and they’re feeling good, they probably shouldn’t be in bed for eight hours. Some people might produce a lot less than that and some people more. Adult norms are somewhere between six to nine hours, but nine would be long and six would be short. Most people will need around seven-or-eight hours.

Tags: entrepreneur, healthy sleep, lifestyle, mental health, science of sleep, sleep, sleep deprivation

Kristen Marano

Kristen Marano covers women and their work for publications around the world. She has interviewed some of the most influential business leaders in Canada and the most passionate change makers in towns and cities as isolated as Perth, Western Australia. Most recently she interviewed Canadian businesswoman Zita Cobb about reinvigorating the economy in Newfoundland through the arts. Kristen's work encourages women to share honest and open perspectives about the emotional challenges of their journeys.

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