RI Sleep Therapist Helps People Get A Better Night's Sleep

Mar 8, 2018

Kristen Stone, a psychologist who specializes in treating sleep disorders, in her office at Brown University.
Credit Lynn Arditi / RIPR

On Sunday night we’ll all lose an hour of sleep when we turn our clocks forward for daylight savings time. Losing an hour can really throw you off balance, especially if you already have trouble sleeping. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that one in three adults don’t get enough sleep.

Americans’ sleeping problems have fueled a whole industry of products and medications promising a good night’s rest. Ambien, the brand name sedative zolpidem, is often prescribed to help people who have trouble falling asleep. But research shows there are safer -- and more effective -- ways to treat chronic sleep problems.

Kristen Stone, a psychologist who specializes in treating sleep disorders, talked about a treatment known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI).  The American College of Physicians now recommends treating insomnia with CBTI first before trying  medications. Stone spoke with RIPR’s health reporter, Lynn Arditi, at her office at Brown University, where she is an assistant professor at The Warren Alpert School of Medicine.

Interview Highlights:

What regulates Sleep?

One is sleep drive, your body’s natural urge to sleep based on the length of time since you last slept. The other is circadian rhythm, your internal clock that lets you know when to sleep and when to be awake. Research studies show that humans like to sleep at night and be awake during the day, even if they don’t know when day and night is. But this process can be influenced by light and behavior.

 How do I know if I have a sleep disorder?

If you're experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness despite having an adequately lengthy sleep at night, that indicates the need to see a specialist to find out if you have a sleep disorder. One of the most serious sleep disorders is sleep apnea, when breathing is interrupted during sleep. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, where the muscles in the back of the throat collapse, blocking the airway. In extreme cases, people can stop breathing hundreds of times a night -- increasing their risk of high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks. Stone says you want to know if you have sleep apnea because there are ways to treat it.

Does everyone really need seven hours a night of sleep?

No. What we know from a lot of sleep research is that there are a lot of individual differences.

Some people have problems waking up in the middle of the night. Why is that?

That’s one of the characteristics of people with insomnia. They may not have clinically significant insomnia if it’s not happening more than three days a week for three months.

Does having good sleep habits mean giving up caffeine? Giving up dark chocolate?

All the things you do during the day can either foster or impede good sleep. Certainly caffeine intake is a sleep hygiene item, but how rigidly you need  stick to it depends on whether you have sleeping difficulties.

How about sleeping in on weekends, what does that do?

Circadian research has shown that people will feel the effects of sleeping in on weekends from Monday through Wednesday of the following week – even if they get adequate sleep.

We’re coming up on daylight savings time. How long will it take until I feel normal waking up at the new time?

That depends on how many things you use to augment the shift. If you just wake up earlier it will take longer. But if you wake up earlier and expose yourself to very bright light in the morning, your  shift will happen more quickly.

What does a really good night’s sleep sound like?

It can sound many different ways. Quiet, less rustling, the absence of snoring.

Other resources and information:

The Drive to Sleep and Our Internal Clock, Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine

National Sleep Foundation

The CDC: Are you getting enough sleep?