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Chapter 6 - Sleep _______________________________

Discriminative Stimuli _________________________________________________________________

Just as there are several types of sleep disturbances, there are several reasons for these problems. One of the more common reasons for experiencing some type of sleep disturbance is undesirable conditioning. When a response is reinforced only in the presence of a particular cue, an individual will quickly learn to elicit that response only when the cue for reinforcement is present. That last sentence is about as clear as mud unless you are a psychologist (which we are). When something is reinforced, it is made stronger, like reinforcing concrete with iron. When we reinforce a behavior, we increase the likelihood that the target behavior will occur again as a consequence of some trigger condition. We call these associated elements (cues) or discriminative stimuli. Actually, psychologists call just about everything a stimulus, including responses. It reminds us of the wave/particle confusion in physics. Anyway, for many people, watching television is a discriminative stimulus for eating. As they sit down to watch television, they have a desire to eat even though they are not hungry. What happens is that over a period of time of eating in front of the television, you develop an association between eating and watching television. Certainly, there are more cues than just the television that can illicit the desire to eat. For some individuals, the hour of day, the noon whistle, or the refrigerator are cues for eating. As you might expect, other problem behaviors such as sleep disturbances can come under the control of discriminative stimuli. Even before we embarked on sleep research, we were fortunate to have a little clinical experience with sleep disturbances at the Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy. Just about every ballplayer on the team was suffering from insomnia. At the Academy, the ballplayers were housed in plush, one room efficiencies. As a result, they ate, studied, watched television, worried and slept in that one room. After leaving the ball field, the majority of their daily functions were performed within the confines of that one room. For this reason, their room became a discriminative stimulus for all these behaviors. This created a major problem in that other activities associated with the room interfered with sleeping. This becomes even more significant when you consider Premach’s principle. This principle simply states that people tend to engage in high probability activity. For instance, if a person enjoys eating more than sleeping, he will eat rather than sleep when given the choice. Eating becomes the high probability behavior in this situation. This was exactly what was happening to the baseball players. The players had developed a hierarchy of discriminative stimuli that interfered with their sleeping. Interestingly, just about every ballplayer exhibited the same behavioral patterns. When they retired to their rooms to sleep, they would first turn on the radio or television and then they would start eating. After they were finished watching television, they would turn it off and start reading. When they were through reading, they would usually turn the light off and then start thinking about their baseball performance. After they were done thinking, they would finally fall asleep. Unfortunately for most, this was usually four or five o’clock in the morning. The players had developed an association pattern specific to their rooms that interfered with sleep. In order to alleviate the problem, we simply established a strong association between the ballplayer’s bedroom stimuli and the response of sleeping. If you’re suffering from insomnia due to the aforementioned, you may want to follow the same program. What we did was quite simple. First, we restructured the athletes sleeping environment. When attempting to condition a response, it is easier to condition the response to a new stimulus. Trying to unlearn the old response (not sleeping) and then condition the new response (sleeping) to the same situation would have caused interference. With this in mind, we had the athletes turn their beds around or change its location. We also had them rearrange other furniture to make the bedroom different from the situation, which was so often associated with non-sleep. Next, we had the athletes make sleeping a pure experience. In brief, we restricted the bedroom for sleep or sleep-related activities. I had all


Chapter 6 - Sleep _______________________________

the televisions, radios, reading material, food and other non-sleeping stimuli removed from the athletes’ rooms. We then gave the athletes a number of rules to follow. The first thing they had to do was go to bed at the same time each night. We did this to promote temporal conditioning of sleep. By that we mean if you consistently work out at ten o’clock, then when ten o’clock rolls around you will feel compelled to work out. Likewise, if you consistently go to bed at a certain time then you will feel sleepy at that time. In short, you’ll develop an association between the time of night and sleep. If the athlete went to bed and was unable to fall asleep, he was instructed to get up and go into another room. He was allowed to stay as long as he wished in the other room. He also was encouraged to do something that he enjoyed and then return to bed when he felt ready to sleep. If he was still unable to sleep after returning to bed, he was instructed to repeat the procedure. Actually, he was told to do this as often as necessary throughout the night. The catch was that he had to get up at the same time every morning regardless of how much sleep he got during the night. He also was forbidden to take naps during the day. Eventually, the athletes became so tired that as soon as they climbed into bed, they fell asleep. Thus, a positive association was developed between their bed and their ability to sleep. Before the treatment, the athletes that we worked with averaged more than 115 minutes a night to fall asleep and slept approximately 6.2 hours a night. At the end of only four weeks of treatment, the subjects improved to an average of 91 minutes in the time it took them to fall asleep. Furthermore, after the treatment the subjects increased their total sleep time by an average of 103 minutes. In summary, the treatment was dramatically successful.

Strength, Speed, Coordination and Sleep ____________________________________________________________________________________________________

As you might expect, sleep deprivation not only affects mental preparedness, but also physical performance. There are several studies which have revealed that as little as two hours of sleep deprivation nightly for a period of one week can cause significant decrements in strength, speed and coordination. Physiologists also believe that rest is just as essential to muscle growth as nutrition and proper exercise. Most athletes can usually control their diet and exercise routine. On the other, hand sleep is a factor which may be a troublesome aspect of their training regimen. Many athletes, even world class athletes, often find it nearly impossible to sleep the night before an important competition. Interestingly, there are several types of sleep disturbances. The most common disturbance is known as insomnia or the inability to fall asleep within 20 minutes after going to bed. More than 30 percent of the athletes we surveyed reported experiencing insomnia during some portion of their career. As we mentioned, we were included in this 30 percent. Consequently, we learned first hand of the mental and physical difficulties that can be brought on by the absence of sleep. It was one of the few aspects of our life that we hadn’t learned to control, and we were determined to rectify that situation.

Postscript to Sleeping ________________________________________________________________

Actually, cognitive arousal or thought arousal is one of the most common causes of insomnia. Studies have consistently shown that problem sleepers have a higher level of physiological arousal before and during sleep than do normal sleepers. Apparently, muscle tension and physical discomfort interfere with sleep. We are sure you realize that you don’t have to be worried about a demon ripping your throat out to experience cognitive or physiological arousal. For an athlete,


Chapter 6 - Sleep _______________________________

there may be fears of future competition, apprehension about failing, or concern about getting injured. Especially noteworthy and ironic is the fact that many people can’t sleep because they worry about not being able to fall asleep. Even positive expectations and anticipated successes can be just as disruptive of sleep as negative expectations. In general then, any type of cognitive arousal can interfere with sleep.

Take Control - Using Behavior Modification to Help You Sleep ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Actually, there are a lot of different treatments for imsonmia. As you might expect, most doctors rely on medications to treat insomnia, while most psychologists use a variety of self-management techniques. Interestingly, contemporary research has shown that self-management techniques for controlling insomnia in most cases work better than medication. One method that you might want to consider the next time you find yourself wrestling to get a good night sleep is behavior modification. Behavior modification offers an excellent method for controlling your sleeping behavior. In fact, there is considerable research that indicates that the behavioral approach yields the best long term results as far as overcoming insomnia is concerned. Basically, the method involves establishing a baseline for sleeping, setting goals, increasing exercise, keeping precise records of your sleeping behavior and developing a reward system. In case you are interested, what follows is a brief behavioral guide to getting a good night’s sleep: 1. Eliminate such drugs as caffeine (coffee, tea and soft drinks) and alcohol (wine, beer and liquor) from your diet. It goes without saying that if you take stimulants during the day will keep you awake at night. Although alcohol is a depressant and might induce drowsiness, it will interfere with your sleep cycle. 2. Create a good sleep environment for sleeping. In other words, develop an atmosphere that is conducive for sleeping. For instance, keep your room dark, have a good room temperature (65 to 70 degrees) and a comfortable bed. You might also use aroma therapy and music therapy. It is a good idea to make your environment free from distracting noises such as television, telephone, and electro domestics. One way to do this is to get a recording that produces a “white sound” such as ocean waves, water falls and babbling brooks. 3. Try to eliminate all the discriminative stimuli from your environment. Don’t watch TV, eat, or read while in bed. Make sleeping a pure experience. If you have your TV in your bedroom, take it out this very instant. Go ahead; we will wait here for you. Hurry up though, we don’t have all day. 4. If you are not sleepy don’t go to bed and don’t stay in your bedroom. If you don’t fall sleep in 20 minutes or so when you go to bed, don’t stay in bed. Get up and go into another room until you are tired. In fact, try to stay out of your bedroom until it is time to go to bed. 5. Try to get into a relaxed bedroom routine. Don’t watch stimulating TV programs like boxing and football or watch movies like Halloween or The Fast and the Furious. Find activities that will calm you down and will take your mind off things that might excite you. You might also want to try relaxation techniques like progressive relaxation, meditation and yoga to bring about a relaxation response. 6. Increase your level of activity to help you get tired. Engage in physical activities such as running, walking, swimming, or weight training. On the other hand, if you are like Nilo, you could chase a squirrel, climb a tree, or wrestle an alligator. See, the possibilities are endless. 7. Avoid naps throughout the day even if you are tired. Napping may make it more difficult to fall asleep in the evening. Also avoid spending time in bed when you are not sleeping. Try to reserve your bed simply for sleeping and intimacy. 8. Try to go to bed every night and get up every day at the same time. Don’t sleep in even if you don’t have to get up in the morning or if you slept poorly. If you do this, you probably will fill tired the next day, but it will be easier for you to sleep the next night. 9. Develop a sequence of activities into a pre-sleep ritual before going to be. This is called “chaining”. What you want to do is the same routine every night before going to bed like taking a warm shower, drinking a warm glass of milk (milk contains tryptophan, a natural sedative), putting your spider man jammies and getting your mommy to tuck you in to your beddy bye. 10. Don’t worry about falling asleep. There is what is called “the law of reverse effect” which states that the harder you try to do something, the more frustrated you will become. Do we need to say that this will keep you awake? Okay, we said it. 11. Don’t worry about things that happened during the day or what is going to happen the next day. Earlier in the day, write down all the things you want to do the fallowing day so that this will not interfere with your sleeping ritual.


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