For better sleep, give yourself a break

Q:  I get 0-3 hours of sleep a night, and sometimes go as long as 2 weeks without sleep.  I’ve had every test in the book, they all come out fine, and my doctors insist I’m fine.  But I still can’t sleep!  Does this mean I have to live the rest of my life like this?  Aren’t there any drugs or supplements that will fix this?

A:  So you’ve been to doctors (plural) and have basically been given a clean bill of health. So why would you take drugs?  What medical condition, specifically, would you try to treat with the drugs?

This is really important to clarify, because insomnia is not a disease.  It is a symptom.  You treat insomnia by getting at the true underlying root causes for it, which is not the sleeplessness.

If you have no identifiable health conditions, and based on your description this seems to be the case, then you may need to look at nonmedical root causes.  For insomnia, these are typically some combination of bad sleep habits and excessive worry about the idea of sleep.

From your description it’s not clear if or to what degree bad sleep habits may be contributing to your insomnia.  But your description of going as long as “two weeks without sleep” certainly sounds excessive and overblown, considering the documented world record for no sleep is 11 days.

In reality, you probably are already getting at least some sleep, but aren’t aware of it.  Sleep state misperception is very common among insomniacs, and is often a key part of the problem.

Many insomniacs react strongly to being awake in bed, which tends to feed the problem.  Instead of just relaxing and letting go the worry, insomniacs tend to fret over it.  Lying in bed worried about insomnia is not conducive to drowsiness and sleep.  This is often how worry leads to a vicious reinforcing cycle of sleeplessness from which it can be difficult to escape.

Yet just the simple act of just giving yourself a break, of not being so hard on yourself for your inability to sleep, if even for a few hours, is often very helpful in enabling better sleep.

The good news is this is all treatable, and without the need for drugs or supplements.  Drugs and supplements by themselves cannot directly address the underlying nonmedical issues.  To permanently treat nonmedical root causes for insomnia, look at nonmedical solutions.

This is where CBT — cognitive behavioral therapy — can help.  CBT directly addresses bad sleep habits and excessive worry about the idea of sleep.  It is a combination of common sense methods that are proven to help most people restore better sleeping, permanently and without drugs.  These methods include sleep timing techniques, sleep hygiene, stress management, cognitive restructuring, and management of anxiety.  The methods synergistically combine to reinforce one another very effectively, which is why CBT is the standard of care as recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

So no, you don’t necessarily have to live the rest of your life with insomnia.  Rest assured there are good workable solutions out there.  If you haven’t yet checked into a good cbt-based sleep training program, you might greatly benefit by doing so.


Explore posts in the same categories: Insomnia, sleep

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