A 5-Minute Guide to Sleep Restriction Therapy

Sleep Restriction Therapy

If you find yourself tossing and turning through the night, the idea of sleep restriction therapy might not initially sound appealing. However, this method has proven to be successful for many patients struggling with sleep disorders.

Developed by neurologist Arthur Spielman, the therapy primarily targets individuals who spend extended periods awake during the night, aiming to improve their sleep efficiency. Within a few weeks, remarkable results can be achieved, often lasting for years.

If you’re experiencing insomnia or seeking to overcome pandemic-induced sleep disturbances, the concept of sleep restriction therapy may pique your interest.

This article serves as a quick guide to understanding and implementing sleep restriction therapy. We’ll explore the techniques used by cognitive behavioral therapists and provide suggestions for adapting them to develop your own home remedy. And we’ll address the challenge of daytime drowsiness that may arise during the adjustment period and offer practical tips for staying safe and productive.

Important: If you’re considering this approach, it’s crucial to consult with your doctor to determine if it’s suitable for your specific situation.

Learn more with this quick guide to sleep restriction therapy:

How to Use Sleep Restriction Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapists often use sleep restriction therapy to treat insomnia. You may also be able to adapt some of the techniques to develop your own home remedy.

Try these techniques:

1. Calculate your starting point. Figure out the average number of hours you sleep each night. That will be how much time you’re going to spend in bed initially. However, make 5 and a half hours your minimum even if you’ve been sleeping less than that.

2. Keep a diary. A sleep journal is an effective way to keep track of your sleep. Update it daily to track how much sleep you get and how you feel.

3. Make gradual adjustments. Once you’re able to stay asleep longer, you can start going to bed about 15 minutes earlier each week. The goal is to find your ideal bedtime that enables you to sleep through the night and wake up feeling refreshed.

4. Avoid naps. You’ll probably be tempted to lie down during the day. However, resisting the urge to nap will help you to get results faster.

5. Stay safe. Sleep restriction is inadvisable for some patients. For example, you’d want to avoid disrupting your sleep if you have bipolar disorder or you drive a bus.

6. Talk with your doctor. Your physician can help you find an individual treatment plan for your sleep issues. Even if sleep restriction therapy is not an option, you might try alternative methods like compression that reduces sleep time more gradually.

How to Deal with Daytime Drowsiness

As you might expect, feeling tired during the day can make sleep restriction therapy uncomfortable at first.

Try these tips for staying safe and productive while you’re getting used to your new schedule:

1. Limit caffeine. A couple of cups of coffee are safe for most adults. More than that will probably make you jittery rather than more alert. That caffeine also stays in your system for hours, so avoid caffeine later in the day.

2. Drink water. Staying hydrated will increase your energy levels. Carry a water bottle around with you.

3. Eat healthy. A nutritious diet will also provide the fuel you need. Focus on whole foods and try eating more frequent meals and snacks.

4. Turn up the lights. Exposure to light helps your brain to regulate your sleep cycles. Use the morning sun to wake you up. Keep your bedroom dark at night and turn off electronic devices with bright screens.

5. Move around. Physical activity perks you up. Engage in moderate and vigorous cardio workouts, as well as strength training. Take stretching breaks when you’re sitting for long periods of time.

6. Relax. Do distressing thoughts keep you up at night? Relaxation practices may help you clear your mind and stay alert during the day.

The therapy can be challenging during your first weeks, but the long-term benefits are often worth the temporary fatigue. Talk with your doctor to see if it’s an appropriate option for you.


Sleep restriction therapy presents a compelling approach for individuals struggling with insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns. By strategically reducing the time spent in bed, this therapy aims to enhance sleep efficiency and restore healthy sleep patterns. While it may seem counterintuitive to restrict one’s time in bed, the results achieved through this method have been promising for many patients.

Implementing sleep restriction therapy requires diligence and commitment, as it involves calculating the appropriate starting point, keeping a sleep diary, making gradual adjustments, avoiding daytime naps, and seeking guidance from healthcare professionals. It’s important to acknowledge that the initial adjustment period may be challenging, as daytime drowsiness can be a temporary side effect.

However, by following the suggested tips to manage daytime drowsiness, such as limiting caffeine intake, staying hydrated, maintaining a nutritious diet, optimizing exposure to light, engaging in physical activity, and practicing relaxation techniques, individuals can navigate this transitional phase more comfortably.

Ultimately, the decision to pursue sleep restriction therapy should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider who can assess its suitability for individual circumstances. It’s essential to consider any underlying medical conditions or unique factors that may affect the efficacy or safety of this approach.

While sleep restriction therapy may not be the ideal solution for everyone, it offers a potential avenue for improving sleep quality and overcoming insomnia. By taking proactive steps to address sleep issues, individuals can reclaim restful nights and reap the long-term benefits of healthy, rejuvenating sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can sleep restriction therapy be used for children and adolescents with sleep problems?

Sleep restriction therapy is typically designed for adults and may not be suitable for children and adolescents. Sleep patterns and needs can vary significantly based on age, and it’s essential to consult with a pediatrician or sleep specialist who can provide appropriate guidance and recommend age-specific interventions for younger individuals experiencing sleep issues.

Q: Are there any potential side effects or risks associated with sleep restriction therapy?

While sleep restriction therapy is generally considered safe, it’s important to be mindful of potential risks and side effects. Some individuals may experience increased fatigue and daytime sleepiness during the initial adjustment period.

Additionally, certain medical conditions, such as bipolar disorder or certain professions that require optimal alertness, may make sleep restriction therapy unsuitable.

It’s crucial to discuss your medical history and individual circumstances with a healthcare professional to determine if sleep restriction therapy is appropriate for you.

Q: Can sleep restriction therapy be used in conjunction with medication for sleep disorders?

Sleep restriction therapy can be combined with other treatment approaches, including medication, depending on the specific sleep disorder and the recommendations of your healthcare provider.

In some cases, medication may be prescribed to address underlying sleep issues, while sleep restriction therapy can be utilized as a complementary behavioral intervention to promote healthier sleep patterns.

However, it’s important to work closely with your doctor or sleep specialist to determine the best treatment plan for your specific situation and to ensure any medication usage aligns with the therapy goals.