Thinking your way to better sleep

Q:  I know negative thinking about sleep fuels my insomnia.  I’m trying to ignore all these negative thoughts, but in practice that’s proved all but impossible.  My brain is apparently so locked into negativity about the idea of sleep that it seems impossible to refocus on other things, especially after a bad night.  Should I try to force positive thinking?  Or just accept these negative thoughts and not fight it?

A:  You are wise to understand the connection between negative sleep thoughts and insomnia.  To a large extent, worry and negative expectations about sleep are like the raw fuel that perpetuates insomnia.  Yet forcing doesn’t work.  Trying to force yourself to think positive can backfire, resulting in more negativity, stress, and anxiety about the idea of sleep.  But there is a better way, a permanent way out of this negative self-reinforcing loop.

The way out is to reformulate, reconsider, and reconceive your entire idea of sleep.  If your old ideas of sleep haven’t been working out too well, why not rethink the whole concept?

This does not necessarily mean try to deny insomnia, or deny the negative thoughts that accompany it.  Insomnia is an intensely negative experience, so denial of all that would likely be unrealistic.  What we are instead suggesting is to reconceive the entire idea of sleep in a more accurate, balanced, and realistic manner.  You’ll find that better understanding by itself is helpful in restoring normal sleep.

Better understanding can include ideas such as these:  we in fact can’t not sleep.   Our physiologic requirement for sleep is in fact stronger than any insomnia.  At some point sleep becomes irresistible for us all.  The key is to proactively manage this inevitable sleep process for the best results, and countering negative sleep thoughts is one important part of that.

When it comes to your thoughts, remember that you have a choice:  they control you, or you control them.  Countering negative sleep thoughts may seem at first like a Herculean task, especially when you’re sleep deprived, but many people have successfully done it.  There is every reason to believe you can too!

Fortunately, there are good structured methods that break down the process into small manageable steps.  These methods help most people who try them.  They are largely contained in CBT-based sleep training programs that use proven cognitive restructuring methods.  In addition, a good sleep training program provides a wide variety of behavioral methods to help you comprehensively address all the common non-medical root causes for most primary insomnia.  These cognitive and behavioral methods combine very effectively, and when used together are the recommended standard of care for insomnia.

So to answer your question, yes you need to try, but no don’t force.  Let the process be positive and magnetic.  As the legendary basketball coach John Wooden would counsel his players, “be quick but don’t hurry”.

When these negative thoughts come, choose not to dwell on feeling discouraged and instead understand that sleep inevitably does come to you.  That is what to dwell on.  Be confident in this fact and use it to your advantage.  Every time you get those negative hopeless thoughts choose to let them go and replace them with the proven fact that you can and will sleep.  Be persistent and determined about this.  Believe it will get better, and it will!

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5 Comments on “Thinking your way to better sleep”

  1. […] worry about sleep continues to be a problem, look into cognitive restructuring, another of the CBT core methods.  Like all CBT tools, it is completely drug-free and has no side […]

  2. […] CBT methods you can and should use to help restore normal sleep.  Another important one is cognitive restructuring, which allows you to get a handle on the negative sleep thoughts that are likely fueling your […]

  3. […] them with something better, more accurate, and more supportive of good sleep.  It’s called cognitive restructuring.  Using this method you can literally think your way to better […]

  4. […] best are contained in CBT sleep training programs.  These have a component called cognitive restructuring to reality test your beliefs and correct them to something better and more accurate.  Using this […]

  5. […] one example of the many worrisome issues that can disrupt sleep.  For more help, consider using cognitive restructuring, one of the core methods in CBT sleep […]

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