Anyone who has experienced insomnia in any form can relate to the fact that it’s one of the most difficult and maddening things you can go through, depending on its severity. It can interfere with EVERYthing in your life.
Last year I went through my first bout of insomnia, which was really bad for a few weeks but overall only lasted a couple months. I already have an anxiety disorder and had more or less felt as though I had mastered having anxiety during the day by just learning to keep myself occupied and not give power to anxious thoughts (easier said than done, I know).
But then, there came a few nights where I just wasn’t sleeping well. I could not get to sleep until about 5 am each night, and I had been off of my anti-depressant meds for a few years. Most people without mental issues might not even think twice about a few sleepless nights and naturally would return back to normal. But for me, it kicked in a vicious anxiety cycle, causing me to start to fret about not sleeping. So of course, I wasn’t able to sleep. At its worst, I went about 2.5 nights without sleep. On top of that, the idea that I couldn’t use my typical anti-anxiety strategies to beat this one made me feel defenseless.
Naturally I started trying to figure out what I needed to do to overcome it. I ordered about 4 books on insomnia, I read about strategies on the internet, I tried to play phone games at night to get me to sleep, taking baths at night, journaling, podcasts, and so on.
Just to go into a little more detail, here are some of the things they recommend doing if you struggle with insomnia (and these are some of the ones I tried):
- Establish a bedtime routine. Try to get to sleep at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time each morning so your schedule isn’t all over the place.
- Turn off all electronic devices an hour before you sleep. Staring at a screen can actually disturb your body’s natural production of melatonin and can keep you awake.
- Try writing a sleep journal before bed, with positive affirmations about sleeping and yourself, to combat any negative thinking.
- Put off any important subjects your mind wanders to — think of another time during the day you can go over them in your head.
- Limit consumption of caffeine
- Try natural sleep aids (melatonin, chamomile tea, etc).
- Try taking a warm bath before bed as part of a calming night time routine.
- No naps during the day (can mess up your sleep schedule).
And here’s what actually ended up working for me the best:
- Not having a fixed bedtime routine designed for getting me primed for sleep. The reason for this is that the more that I tried to ready myself for bed, the more thought and power I put into the idea that I needed to do something special to get to sleep. This isn’t the mindset we want to cultivate if we want to be able to effortlessly fall asleep — as we often did as kids.
- Not going to bed too late — and try to keep your schedule consistent.
- No naps.
- Knowing that if I absolutely can’t sleep, I can take sleeping pills as prescribed by my doctor. However, being able to train yourself to sleep without depending on these if you are able is absolutely essential. But just the idea in itself that I have something as a backup for worst case scenario made a HUGE difference.
- Listening to the Sleep With Me Podcast to get to sleep. Seriously, I cannot tell you how amazing this guy is at telling these often nonsensical stories that help you sleep. I am forever grateful. I was able to reduce the amount I took sleep meds by a lot because of this podcast.
- Using slight sleep deprivation to make me tired enough the next night to be able to easily fall asleep.
- Working on your attitude (see explanation below).
The Trick with Insomnia
The trick is that insomnia is that it often works like anxiety does — and you can call it a form of anxiety. It makes you feel like you have to do something special to get over the problem, when in reality, you just need to go back to not even thinking it’s a problem.
Just like when you’re having a panic attack, you often don’t want to do what the panic is telling you to do, you want to abandon the thought processes entirely that are causing you emotional pain, and ultimately calm down.
I know this can seem like the hardest thing in the world. But it feels harder than it actually is.
Most of the time insomnia boils down to just fear, and fear that the fear will keep you awake.
So, one of the best things you can do is working on trying not to care if you don’t sleep. Try not to let yourself freak out about the bad things that might happen to you if you don’t sleep. You really have to learn to just accept whatever comes with not sleeping and deal with it, rather than be threatened by it.
What You Tell Yourself Matters!
Try to tell yourself positive things about your sleep that will help to dispel your fear. Here are some things I told myself:
- “Even if I can’t sleep, I will still get through the next day simply because I will have to. Nothing bad will happen.”
- “Worst case scenario, I’ll just take a sleeping pill if I have the work the next day.” (I rarely ended up even having to take these. The idea is tricking your brain by reassuring yourself you CAN do it if you have to).
- “I’ve gotten through sleepless nights before just fine, even if they suck.”
And lastly, I also wouldn’t do what I initially did — buy a bunch of books, try to establish some special night time routine, etc — because this all adds to the idea that you’re no longer “normal,” or that you have a bigger problem than you actually do. This can make it feel like the problem is bigger than it actually is.
Hopefully this was helpful to you, and if you are struggling with insomnia and want someone to chat with, feel free to reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I know it’s tough, but you WILL get through it!