Spending too long in bed
Very often, insomnia begins when you simply spend longer than usual in bed. What compounds this problem are the natural responses to a bout of insomnia—either to go to bed earlier [before you are even sleepy], or to try to ‘catch up’ by lying in bed for as long as possible. A common mistake is to lounge around in bed in the morning even when you aren’t sleeping, creating a mental association of being in bed with being awake.
Often, when you go to bed the night after a long lie-in, you may not be particularly tired, with the result that it takes hours to fall asleep. To add to this, spending too long in bed means that your sleep is lighter and of poorer quality. If you have been feeling exhausted in spite of sleeping well, it is a good bet that you are spending far too long in bed.
Napping in the day
Daytime napping is playing with fire. 20 minutes can easily turn into 30 minutes and then into an hour. And even a 20 minute nap will mean that when you finally get to bed at night, you may not be very sleepy, making it more difficult to drop off.
For all insomniacs, any napping weakens the connection between bed, night-time and sleep. So remember: A nap in the day lessens your chances of sleeping at night.
Lying in bed awake
All insomniacs have had the experience of lying awake for hours, fidgeting and becoming more and more frustrated. As you lie there, desperate for sleep, you become tense and anxious. The tension you feel makes it impossible to relax and the bed seems to feel less and less comfortable as you toss and turn, trying to find a comfortable position. Your bed has now gone from being a sanctuary of peace and escape, to a place of misery and sleepless anxiety. Every hour you lie awake in bed weakens the association of bed and sleep.
Lying in at weekends
Because they don’t feel the stress of having to get up for work, many people tend to sleep much better on Friday and Saturday nights and may lie-in for hours in the morning, until 11 or noon. This may be the only decent sleep an insomniac gets all week and the joy of a delicious lie-in is a temptation that few can resist. Others find that they do not sleep any better at the weekend than during the week, but even so, they usually get out of bed hours later on weekends compared with week days.
Reading, using your laptop, or watching television in bed
When you do anything in bed, you are creating an association between your bed and that thing. This means that whenever you do anything in bed other than sleep, you are in effect, weakening your ‘falling asleep response’. If you are spending time lying in or on your bed to read, study, work or watch television, then you are weakening the bed/sleep association and creating a bed/being awake association. If your bed has become about everything but sleep, it is hardly surprising that you do not feel ready to drop off when you lie down at night.
Ask your doctor for sleeping pills
Besides the more obvious negatives, sleeping pills can have an insidious yet devastating effect on your beliefs about sleep, so that far from curing insomnia, taking sleeping pills can actually worsen the problem. This is because when you take a pill for insomnia, you make two powerful and negative assumptions:
- There is something wrong with me.
- There is something external that can make me better.
Thus your belief in your own ability to sleep is diminished. Can you see how every time you take a prescribed sleeping pill, or self-medicate with ‘natural’ remedies or alcohol, you weaken your belief and therefore sabotage your natural sleeping capacity, pushing your recovery further and further away? When you go to bed, instead of trusting in your own ability to sleep naturally, in effect, you hand over ‘responsibility’ to the drug. Your belief in yourself and consequently your own ability to sleep is diminished every time you take any artificial remedy. This is why artificial sleeping aids cannot ever help even a moderate insomnia problem.
Trying really hard to fall asleep
Think about it: trying implies effort and unsuccessful effort implies frustration and tension, neither of which is conducive to falling asleep. Good sleepers don’t ‘try’ to do anything and one thing is certain, if you try to fall asleep you will not succeed. This is because sleeping is not something you have to ‘do’. It might be more accurate to describe falling asleep as something you do not do.
Trying to fall asleep is a little like pushing really hard against a door which needs to be pulled—it’s never going to open until you stop pushing.
Obsessing about time
I do not advocate sleep diaries where every detail of one’s sleeping and waking hours is recorded in term of hours and minutes. For people who are trying to stop obsessing about sleep, this is a terrible reinforcing behaviour. Clock-watching and box-ticking can create a horrible obsession with:
- time spent asleep
- time spent awake
- time spent before falling asleep
- time spent trying to fall asleep
- time spent waiting to feel sleepy after having got up after being unable to sleep.
Hence, you might feel tense and anxious in the morning, not because of sleep deprivation, but because of worries about the number of hours one has spent asleep. Clock-watching creates an unhealthy obsession with time.
Telling people about your problem
Watch out for the temptation to talk about your problem. It can turn into a habit such that it becomes a topic of light conversation; something to mention as small talk or to someone you have just met at a party. Such discussions, far from being harmless, actually worsen your insomnia.
“I’m an insomniac.”
Can you see how destructive and negative and harmful this little phrase is? Labelling yourself with this term creates an identity, categorising you as one who is unable to sleep. By repeating this phrase you are describing yourself, your very being, in terms of a problem and so your insomnia becomes a fundamental part of who you are.
Researching cures in books, magazines and online
If you are a long-term insomniac, chances are that you have tried countless cures and remedies in an attempt to overcome your problem. How many sleep remedies have you tried? How many have failed to work? Do you find yourself buying any magazine or newspaper containing the word insomnia or the phrase how to get a good night’s sleep?
The belief that somewhere, somehow, there is one simple thing that we can take or do which will cure us, combined with the sheer number of remedies out there means that our lives often become like a terrible personal laboratory. We become the subject of our own miserable, pointless experiments into sleeping problems. The more desperate we become, the more combinations and concoctions we try.
Visiting insomnia ‘support’ sites and forums
It’s essential to realise that insomnia forum sites and chat rooms are generally full of people looking for an answer to their problem, not with people offering a solution to a problem.
On internet forums you will also hear from people with real horror stories, much worse than your own. You may hear from people who have been searching for a cure for 30 years, people who have just relapsed after being ‘cured’, some claiming never, ever to have had a good night’s sleep. Such stories can terrify a new insomniac.
When we hear of a person with a situation worse than our own, we immediately begin identifying with them, even if in other ways their lives, personality and problems are nothing like our own.
Why do you think none of them has ever found a cure, pill or remedy which has worked? The answer is simple: they are looking in the wrong place. Chronic long-term insomnia is a problem that is largely caused by the thoughts you have and the beliefs you hold about the problem itself. It reacts to, and is worsened by, suggestion. Before long, this terrible self-fulfilling prophecy comes to be and other people’s problems become our problems.
Recovered insomniacs do not tend to hang around insomnia forums because they have usually worked out just how much this activity contributed to their problem.
Rearranging your life around your insomnia
If you are a long-term insomniac, you are likely to be making many compromises to your life for the sake of sleep. Such behaviours may include special routines; avoiding coffee even in the morning, avoiding scary films or spicy food at night, avoiding holidays or spending nights away from home, never staying out late, avoiding making plans, demanding special behaviours from your spouse or partner, or any other behaviour or special action [and this is the important bit] intended only for the purposes of helping you sleep.
Some insomniacs simply refuse to attend social occasions or important events and so begin missing out on all the good things in life. But there is no greater way to feed, grow and keep your insomnia monster healthy than by letting it dictate and affect your normal everyday activities.
This was first published in the May 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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