Discover why you need to stop ‘trying’ in order to start sleeping
Chronic insomnia could be likened to struggling in quicksand; the more you struggle, the deeper you go. As with quicksand, the first thing you need to do to escape insomnia is to stop struggling.
The reality of the situation, however, is that we are born strugglers. It is our way of feeling like we are in control of our lives. If something goes wrong then we fix it. And for the majority of problems, this ‘fix it’ attitude works really well. However, sleep is not like the majority of our problems. It’s a natural physiological process that we simply don’t have any control over; it just can’t be turned on and off like a switch, and the fact of the matter is that trying to control it makes you more awake.
Take a moment now to think of all of the things that you have done or are currently doing to try and fix your insomnia. If you are anything like many of our clients you have tried most things (to a greater or lesser degree) and despite many not working in the long term, you feel compelled to keep trying because you are desperate and don’t know what else to do. If you are not sure what counts as trying to control your sleep, here are a few examples:
– We try to control our lifestyles by cutting out caffeine and alcohol or exercising more.
– We try to manage our level of relaxation by following strict routines including baths, milk etc
– We try to manage our bedrooms by blocking out noise, light and even our partners.
– We try to manage our minds by blocking out, arguing or positively challenging thoughts.
– We try to control our sleep by going to bed earlier, lying in later, or sleeping during the day.
– We try to manage our lives by avoiding staying in hotels, going on holiday, or visiting family.
…and all in the name of trying to get some sleep.
It is true that some of the things noted above could actually be helpful. For example, if you are drinking 10 cups of coffee a day, then cutting down will be helpful, not least for your blood pressure. However, the majority of us drink a normal amount of caffeine and sleep absolutely fine.
Equally, keeping a regular sleep/wake cycle does help to keep your internal clock on time and maintain the natural drive to sleep. However, the majority of us don’t go to bed at exactly the same time every night and sleep absolutely fine!
At The Sleep School we believe that the solution to insomnia can be found in understanding why we struggle with sleep in the first place. For our clients it’s usually because they fear how their insomnia will affect their lives: their ability to be a mother or father, a partner or friend, or their ability to do their job well, keep fit, or just have fun. It is the fear that whispers in their ear, ‘If you don’t sleep you won’t be able to cope… you will look awful… you will get ill… you will never be in a relationship’, and so on and so forth.
No one likes to hear or think anything like that, especially in the middle of the night. And when such thoughts are accompanied by their friends, the pounding heart, the knot in the stomach, the muscular tension and the splitting headaches, it is hardly surprising we try to fight them. In fact, there is often no limit to how much energy, time, and emotion we are willing to invest in our attempts to try and control our fears of not sleeping.
The paradox here is that instead of making our life better, such actions can actually make it worse. All of our clients report that since developing insomnia their lives have shrunk, and that’s mostly due to the fact that they are constantly focusing on how to control their sleep.
For example, some have chosen to:
– Move to the spare room, rather than share their bed with their partner.
– Leave parties early to avoid experiencing any anxiety.
– Avoid seeking a promotion at work for fear of how the extra stress may affect their sleep.
– Start drinking alcohol before bed to numb the feelings of anxiety that rise up inside them.
– Take another pill to silence their racing the mind in the early hours of the morning.
“What would you be doing in your life, if you weren’t spending all your energy trying to control your sleep?”
For most of my clients, the answer is sharing a bed with their loved ones, going out to parties with their friends, seeking that promotion at work and getting on with their lives. So how do we, The Sleep School, fix insomnia? Well, it’s about gently teaching you to let go of trying to control your sleep and start using your energy to live your life. To us, this makes the most sense, because sleep needn’t be a struggle and life is for living! Deciding to start this program doesn’t mean that you will miraculously feel totally relaxed when you go to bed and fall to sleep within minutes of your head hitting the pillow and not wake until morning. What it does do is give you the tools to respond in to your poor sleep in the most helpful manner, one that gently retrains the brain to sleep naturally once again and on a regular basis.