Spencer Dawson, Ph.D., lead researcher, clinical assistant professor, and associate director of clinical training at Indiana University’s College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, conducted a study including roughly 5,000 patients who received treatment at the university’s sleep clinic. All of them used sleep aids to some extent.
The researchers surveyed the participants to collect data about the extent of their insomnia, their sleep medication use, and their own sleep-behavior-observing habits, such as clock-watching. They were also asked about any psychiatric diagnoses they might have. After collecting the data, the researchers used a technique called mediation analysis to determine the connection (if any) between these factors.
Upon doing their analysis, the researchers concluded that those who monitored their behavior relied more on sleep medications and had worse insomnia symptoms than those who didn’t. This suggests that watching the clock and wondering why you haven’t fallen asleep yet appears to aggravate insomnia, resulting in an even greater use of sleep aids.
“We found time monitoring behavior mainly has an effect on sleep medication use because it exacerbates insomnia symptoms,” said Dawson. “People are concerned that they’re not getting enough sleep, then they start estimating how long it will take them to fall back asleep and when they have to be up. That is not the sort of activity that’s helpful in facilitating the ability to fall asleep—the more stressed out you are, the harder time you’re going to have falling asleep.”
This study is also particularly helpful because it suggests that a simple behavioral change could help those with insomnia, and therefore help stop people from relying on prescription sleep aids for a good night’s rest. “One thing that people could do would be to turn around or cover up their clock, ditch the smartwatch, and get the phone away so they’re simply not checking the time,” explained Dawson. “There’s not any place where watching the clock is particularly helpful.”