Indiana University research led by Spencer Dawson reveals that looking at the clock while trying to sleep worsens insomnia and increases the use of sleeping pills. The study suggests that avoiding checking the clock could be a simple and effective solution to managing insomnia.
Looking at the clock while trying to fall asleep exacerbates insomnia and the use of sleep aids, according to a study by an Indiana University professor – and a small change could help people sleep better.
The research, led by Spencer Dawson, clinical assistant professor and associate director of clinical training in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the College of Arts and Sciences, focuses on a sample of nearly 5,000 patients presenting for care in a sleep clinic.
Insomnia affects between 4 and 22% of adults and is associated with long-term health problems, including
“We found that time-watching behavior primarily has an effect on sleeping pill use because it exacerbates symptoms of insomnia,” Dawson said. “People worry about not getting enough sleep, then they start estimating how long it will take them to go back to sleep and when they need to get up. It’s not the kind of activity that helps make it easier to fall asleep – the more stressed you are, the harder it will be to fall asleep.
As frustration with insomnia increases, people are more likely to use sleeping pills in an attempt to control their sleep.
The results are published in The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders. Additional co-authors are Dr. Barry Krakow, professor of psychiatry and behavioral health at Mercer University School of Medicine; Patricia Haynes, associate professor at the University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman School of Public Health; and Darlynn Rojo-Wissar, postdoctoral fellow at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School.
Dawson said research indicates that a simple behavioral intervention could help people struggling with insomnia. He gives the same advice to every new patient when they first meet.
“One thing people might do is turn around or cover their clock, ditch the smartwatch, put the phone away so they just don’t check the time,” Dawson said. “There is no place where looking at the clock is particularly useful.”
Reference: “Use of sleep aids in insomnia: the role of time-monitoring behavior” by Spencer C. Dawson, PhD; Barry Krakow, MD; Patricia L. Haynes, Ph.D.; Darlynn M. Rojo-Wissar, PhD, MPH; Natalia D. McIver, PhD and Victor A. Ulibarri, BS, May 16, 2023, The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders.
With 15 years of research and clinical experience in the field of sleep, Dawson is interested in comparing individuals’ sleep experiences with what is happening simultaneously in their brains. He trains and supervises doctoral students in the clinical sciences program of the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences.