Psychologist reveals the number one ‘sleep killer’ and how to fix it in ‘15 minutes’

Psychologist reveals the number one ‘sleep killer’ and how to fix it in ‘15 minutes’

A psychologist revealed the number one thing that can ruin a person’s ability to sleep at night and how to fix it in only 15 minutes.

Aric Prather, PhD, who is a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote about the ways to improve one’s sleep in a recent essay for CNBC.

In his piece, he revealed that through his years of research, he’s found that rumination is the biggest thing that causes poor sleep. He says that being worried about something at night has affected his own ability to fall asleep.

“Your attention is drawn back, again and again, to this thing that didn’t go well or to a regret,” she wrote. “I’ve laid in bed and replayed a dumb comment I made at a party, even though the person I said it to probably forgot it moments later.”

Prather shared that these “negative thoughts and emotions” can be quite noticeable, which is why “neuroscientists” have referred to them as “salient”.

Although he acknowledged that “there’s no magic switch” to stop rumination, there are ways to prevent it at night. For example, he said that the best time to worry is “during the day” because “you have important things” going on and can’t “get caught up in mental loops”.

This concept ties into Prather’s first piece of advice, which is to set aside 15 minutes in “the mid-to late-afternoon” to focus on “emotional worry”. He also noted the importance of being alone during this time.

“Once the timer starts, give yourself the freedom to worry about one topic at a time,” he explained. “Think of it as a to-do list that you go through one by one, except what you’re checking off are topics you feel the most anxiety about.”

The psychologist then advised what to do if you find yourself worrying outside of those 15 minutes, explaining “Tell yourself: ‘Look, I just need to postpone this to the next emotional worry time.’ Use this same technique if your worries pop up again at bedtime: ‘I have this scheduled for tomorrow.’”

He noted that if “emotional worry” time is had two to three times a week, people will see themselves ruminate less and less at night.

For his second 15-minute strategy, Prather recommended readers do some “constructive worrying,” which consists of creating one “Problems” and one “Solutions” column on a piece of paper. After coming up with the list of “current issues you’re dealing with,” you can determine which of those topics you think you’d worry about most at night.

In the “Solutions” column, you can come up with the next “one or two steps” for solving your issues on the paper.

“Remember, the goal is to chart out a plan for how to get started with actionable steps for tomorrow, or within the next few days,” he wrote. “You are not solving it completely.”

At the end of the routine, he said that you then fold the paper up and place it next to your bed, before telling yourself that you “have a plan”.

He confessed that this advice “may sound silly,” but also stressed the benefits of it: “You’ve already spent focused energy on these problems [that you] can release your mind from puzzling over them at night.”

The Independent has contacted Prather for comment.

Prather’s work wasn’t the only research that has shown how important it is to get enough sleep. In a study published in the journal Plos Medicine last month, researchers examined self-reported sleep duration data from nearly 8,000 adults, measured at age 50, 60 and 70.

The team found that people at the age of 50, who slept five hours or less, had a 30 per cent greater risk of developing two or more chronic diseases over 25 years, compared to those who slept seven hours. People at the age of 60, who slept five hours or less, had a 32 per cent greater risk, when compared to those who slept seven hours a night.

For 70-year-olds who got five hours or less of sleep, they had a 40 per cent higher risk of developing chronic diseases, compared to those who got seven hours of sleep.