It may seem counterintuitive, but early research from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine suggests that the best response to a few nights of insomnia is to do nothing — not even nap.
Most people experience insomnia at some point in their lives. Although it’s part of human evolution — think back to when we had to flee dangerous predators in the middle of the night — it can still feel frustrating and exhausting.
“Chronic insomnia, when it is untreated, is not only ruinous to the quality of one’s life and impacts one’s relationships, but it has been clearly shown to be a risk factor for the development of a variety of medical and psychiatric disorders,” said Dr. Michael Perlis, who’s heading the research on insomnia at Penn.
And the worst thing one can do is try to regain control by attempting to compensate for sleep loss, he said.
“The very best thing that you can do is absolutely nothing — you don’t sleep in the following morning no matter how tired you are, you don’t nap, and you don’t go to bed early,” he said.
Perlis’ research team has provided the early data that could ultimately confirm that theory, based on findings from sleep diaries kept by 1,000 people.
The hypothesis stemmed from a well-trusted theory suggested by sleep researcher Arthur Spielman in the 1980s. Spielman believed that trying to nap, sleep in or go to bed early would just make insomnia worse.
Perlis said his research has begun to show that the 50 percent of those who try to make up for lost sleep after a few white nights are more likely to develop full-blown, chronic insomnia. Those who don’t, he said, usually go back to getting good sleep.
The research will continue into the next two years.