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After years of living with insomnia, Jennifer Aniston says a conversation with her doctor helped set her on the right path to improving her sleep quality. Photography courtesy of Idorsia
  • Jennifer Aniston has teamed up with the Seize the Night & Day program to spread awareness about insomnia.
  • Insomnia is a disorder in which a person has trouble falling or staying asleep.
  • Approximately 30 percent of adults experience symptoms of insomnia.

She can’t remember exactly when her sleep issues started, but iconic actor Jennifer Aniston said it’s been decades.

“It’s sort of hard to determine because I think when we’re young, if we don’t sleep, we’re like ‘oh, I feel great.’ You can go on two hours, three hours, four hours of sleep and you don’t feel the effects,” Aniston told Healthline.

However, she joked that the accumulation of “all of that cockiness over the years” eventually caught up to her in her 30s, adding in a serious manner that if she didn’t get the proper amount of sleep, she wouldn’t function well.

“I didn’t have the motivation to do my exercise, I wasn’t going to eat great, [I had] brain fog; wasn’t learning my lines,” said Aniston.

After years of trying “everything under the sun” from counting steps to her bed and lines on her ceiling to checking her bedroom’s temperature and more, Aniston finally decided to get help from her doctor.

At the time, her priorities were diet and exercise, followed by sleep. However, she couldn’t figure out why her diet and exercise were becoming challenging.

When her doctor asked her how well she sleeps, Aniston told him, “‘Well I kind of sleep, I guess.’ I [realized I] wasn’t being mindful…around my sleep,” she said.

At that point, Aniston began learning about insomnia. Her doctor explained that sleep should be her number one focus because during sleep, the body rejuvenates and without sleep, the body is negatively affected during the day.

This resonated with Aniston.

“You start to notice, ‘I’m lethargic, I don’t want to exercise, I’m eating terrible, I have circles under my eyes,’ you know all sorts of things start to happen, and it’s just the effects of lack of sleep,” she said.

While everyone experiences bad nights of sleep when under stress, Jennifer Martin, PhD, clinical psychologist and president-elect of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), said that for most people once the stress subsides, they go back to sleeping normally.

“However, for some people what happens is that short-term stress leads to chronic sleep problems,” Martin told Healthline.

She said insomnia is considered a sleep disorder (also called chronic insomnia) if you experience any of the following at least three times a week for at least three months:

  • Have trouble falling asleep
  • Can’t stay asleep
  • Wake up too early in the morning

“It’s not unusual for someone with insomnia to be so tired at the end of the day that they do fall asleep for a while and then wake up in the middle of the night or the wee hours of the morning and can’t go back to sleep,” Martin said.

Aniston said throughout her life, she experienced all three forms of insomnia, each affecting how she functioned during the day.

There are two layers to how insomnia affects people during the day, explained Martin, including:

  • Not feeling well. “Maybe they have physical symptoms—might feel a headache or body aches or upset stomach, trouble concentrating or focusing, might feel sleepy or fatigued and worn out,” she said.
  • Feeling anxious about not sleeping. “Many people with insomnia start worrying about their insomnia and feeling anxious as bedtime approaches. All the pressure to get a decent night of sleep actually makes it worse,” Martin said.

The AASM reports that for adults about 30 percent have symptoms of insomnia, 10 percent have insomnia that is severe enough to cause daytime consequences, and less than 10 percent are likely to have chronic insomnia.

However, Martin noted that insomnia rates have gone up dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She added that the following groups are at increased risk for insomnia:

  • Women experience chronic insomnia disorder almost twice as often as men. “In women, we see high rates of insomnia around mid-life, not necessarily linked to menopause, but sleep does tend to get more disturbed during menopause,” she said.
  • Young men are experiencing higher rates of insomnia than in the past. “It used to be that older men had the higher rates, but there’s been a demographic shift,” said Martin.
  • Ethnic minorities and economically disadvantaged people who’ve encountered significant trauma in their life are at increased risk.
  • Those with a genetic predisposition for insomnia may be at risk for not sleeping well when they’re under stress. “Insomnia does seem to run in families, but this is an emerging area for the past 10 years and needs more research,” said Martin.

Dr. Steven Feinsilver, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said that research shows that cognitive behavioral treatment for insomnia (CBT-I), which helps identify and replace thoughts and behaviors that negatively affect sleep with habits that promote sound sleep, is more effective than medication when it comes to treating insomnia.

Martin agreed. She treats people with CBT-I in her practice.

“Medications are viewed as something you add if a person has not sufficiently improved after they’ve tried CBT-I,” she said. “My clinical experience is that we can use CBT-I to get people sleeping better…and use medication if it doesn’t get them sleeping as well as they want…but we don’t have medication that can be used for indefinite periods of time. One of the challenges of medications is we don’t have a plan for stopping their use.”

To start developing good sleep hygiene on your own, Feinsilver suggests the following:

Pick a wake-up time and follow it seven days a week, using an alarm, no matter how badly you’re sleeping. “The wake-up time is what sets one’s circadian rhythm (body clock) and cannot easily be varied from day to day. This is why people get jet lag,” said Feinsilver.

After you wake up, expose yourself to light as soon as possible. “Natural light is best if the sun is up. Going outside and walking is great, if practical. Light is important in setting the circadian clock,” said Feinsilver.

Several hours before you go to bed, make a list of what you have to do the next day, and put it aside.

“The idea is when you wake during the night, you can feel that you do not have to worry about these things; they are written down,” Feinsilver explained.

Wind down an hour before bed, but without your phone or other personal electronics.

“Read if you want, but only if it is for pleasure, nothing requiring concentrating for work, studying. This should not be in bed; beds are for sleeping (with one exception),” Feinsilver said.

Along her sleep journey, Aniston sought help from her doctor, as well as turned to meditation, stretching, yoga, hot baths, and drinking hot water and lemon to aid with her sleep.

She also learned to stop using screens before bedtime.

“[Just] try to turn the world off because you can read something that gets your body going and agitated and nervous, so try to do things that are self-care and comforting and soothing as best you can,” she said.

To help others learn about and cope with insomnia, Aniston teamed up with the Seize the Night & Day program, which includes community support and resources for those experiencing sleep trouble.

She said the partnership is one she’s grateful for.

“[I] was obviously suffering from [insomnia] and I know so many people in my own life suffering from insomnia or lack of sleep that this just felt like something on par with everything in my life, which is trying to share information and help people achieve a better sort of experience in their day and allow their lives and bodies to thrive,” said Aniston.

The program’s website provides news about sleep science, tips for managing sleep issues, a sneak preview of a sleep documentary, and more from spokespeople like Aniston.

“The website is so helpful and it gets the conversation going,” said Aniston. “And you can know there is a solution and answer to this frustrating and unfortunate thing. You don’t need to suffer.”