‘Paradoxical intention’ could get you to sleep in five minutes or less

Lorraine: Daisy Maskell discusses living with insomnia

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Around one in three adults in the UK will experience difficulty sleeping at least once in their lives. For some it can be linked to temporary issues such as stress or an illness. While for others it can be a lifelong issue, likely meaning they suffer from insomnia.

Although there is no definitive cure when it comes to tackling sleep problems, there are certain methods that are thought to help.

One such method is known as “paradoxical intention”.

Sleep experts at mattress firm Amerisleep recommended it as one of the ways to fall asleep in five minutes or less.

They explained: “Do you know how sometimes when you try to do something, your stubborn brain backfires and does the opposite?

“Turns out, the principle of paradoxical intention (similar to reverse psychology, without the deception) might be useful for sleep as well.

“A Scottish study found that the clinical use of paradoxical intention (that is, purposely not trying to fall asleep while lying in bed) resulted in reduced sleep effort and anxiety for insomniacs compared to doing nothing.”

The study in question, which was published in the Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy journal in 2003, monitored 34 insomniacs over a two-week period.

As part of the trial some of them were allocated to trying paradoxical intention, while others were not.

It concludes: “Consistent with the performance anxiety model, participants allocated to paradoxical intention, relative to controls, showed a significant reduction in sleep effort, and sleep performance anxiety.”

Amerisleep continued: “Likewise, a separate study found that high intention to fall asleep actually resulted in worse sleep quality.

“Instead of thinking about trying to go to sleep, tell yourself that you’re trying to stay awake for a few minutes.

“If a dark, quiet bedroom makes your mind run, you can also try listening to an audiobook or podcast on low volume, or visualise relaxing activities in your mind, to take the focus off sleep itself.”

This research can be found in the Journal of Sleep.

It says: “Thirty-three good sleepers each attended two one-hour daytime polysomnographic recording sessions in the laboratory.

“When providing motivating instruction, the experimenter insisted on the importance of falling asleep as quickly as possible and promised a financial reward.

“Compared with neutral instruction, motivating instruction was associated with increased waking after sleep onset, number of awakenings and arousal index during napping.”

It adds: “Our findings suggest that high intention to fall asleep worsened sleep quality, especially in terms of sleep fragmentation, in good sleepers.”

How much sleep is healthy?

According to the NHS adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night while children need nine to 13.

Feeling “constantly tired” throughout the day is one sign that you need more sleep, it says.

Signs of insomnia include if you:

  • Find it hard to go to sleep
  • Wake up several times during the night
  • Lie awake at night
  • Wake up early and cannot go back to sleep
  • Still feel tired after waking up
  • Find it hard to nap during the day even though you’re tired
  • Feel tired and irritable during the day
  • Find it difficult to concentrate during the day because you’re tired.

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