Why do I sabotage my sleep?

Q:  I have had insomnia for several years now.  I also have this self-sabotaging tendency that makes me want to fail in some aspect of life even if I don’t want to!  If I sleep well for a few nights, I soon find myself starting to panic about it and then sabotage my sleep for the next few days.  So I am convinced my insomnia is driven by a very strong belief that I am somehow defective because I cannot stop doing this to myself.  Are there any solutions?  How I can handle this on my own?

A:  What a great description you’ve given of how insomnia can evolve in otherwise normal sleepers.  Insomnia for many of us starts off as a short term stressful event that somehow morphs into a long term concern about the idea of sleep itself.  This belief perpetuates the problem.  Insomnia is then fueled by a negative self-reinforcing cycle from which it can be difficult to escape.

There is very good good news though.  There are effective solutions.  You can help yourself.

First, if it’s any solace to you, most people experience some form of insomnia in their lifetimes.  It is very common.  Having insomnia doesn’t brand you as some sort of inherently defective person.

It is important, however, to get a medical checkup.  You want to either treat or rule out any potential medical causes underlying your insomnia.  There is nothing shameful or wrong with that.  In fact, getting a checkup is a sign of strength, a sign of recovery, a sign that you are determined to help yourself.

But don’t be surprised if you have no identifiable medical issues underlying your insomnia. The majority of insomnia is in fact primary, caused by some nonmedical combination of bad sleep habits and excessive worry about the idea of sleep, similar to what you are describing.

The good news is that there are many simple conservative solutions you might try that don’t involve drugs.

First, good sleep habits are important.  This means a consistent sleep schedule every day, as much as possible.  Only allow in bed the minimum time you need for sleep.  This likely is a range between 7 and 9 hours.  You might start with the lesser number, and work your way up gradually if needed.

Watch your caffeine, and any other stimulants, especially later in the day.  They are known sleep disruptors.

Some form of exercise every day will help you.  The body responds to vigorous exercise by increasing the amount of deep sleep.  Basically, the idea is tire yourself physically and mentally every day, and you will tend to sleep better at night.

Plan a relaxing wind-down period before bed. This can be something like a warm bath, getting your clothes ready for morning, reading something enjoyable, just whatever you like doing and find relaxing so you can let stress go a little before bed.  Developing a consistent cool down routine every night helps prepare your mind and body for sleep.  Avoid any sort of stress if you can during this wind-down time.

Think of it like this: your mind and body are like a finely-tuned machine designed to automatically get all the sleep you require.  Then relax and let go the worry.

Regarding the negative sleep thoughts and beliefs, you are right, they can be a potent cause of insomnia.  But there are effective solutions.  One of the best is a method known as cognitive restructuring.  This involves examining some of the beliefs and attitudes you hold about the idea of sleep, and adjusting them to be more accurate, realistic, and supportive of better sleep.

Your thoughts and beliefs are something you control, and you have the ability to change them right now whether you realize it or not.  Cognitive restructuring is one good way to do it.

If you want to pursue cognitive restructuring methods, we suggest using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) specifically applied to insomnia. If you are the self-help type, you will find many CBT sleep training resources online.  CBT helps most people who try it;  many become normal sleepers again.

So yes, be confident there are effective methods to improve your sleep, and many people have used self-help resources to do it.  There is every reason to believe you can too.

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, sleep

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