Archive for the ‘stress’ category

Can’t sleep with a big event the next day

August 15, 2019

Q:  When I have something important the next day like a job interview, seems I toss and turn for hours.  But if I have nothing going on I sleep like a rock.  This has caused me to miss some good opportunities, so how do I deal with it?

A: It’s common and normal to feel some general anxiety and increased stress levels in advance of a job interview, or a test, or an important upcoming assignment.  Such stress increases, providing they’re not excessive, can help improve one’s ability to perform, and so can actually be desirable.

But in terms of sleep, you are right.  The increased stress and anxiety does commonly affect sleep.

Maybe it would help you to know that sleep is happening, you probably just don’t realize it.  Sleep state misperception is very common.  It may not feel like it, but if you allow yourself to just rest comfortably in bed with your eyes closed you will in all likelihood drift off and benefit.

Perhaps more importantly, a significant body of evidence shows even if we don’t feel like our best because of a restless night, our performance does not necessarily suffer.  This is true both cognitively and physically.  Pretty much every starting pitcher in game 7 of the World Series can tell you that!

If you ever feel overwhelmed by stress or anxiety, or if it becomes excessive and unremitting, then counseling can go a long way to help you get it back under control.

But if you are experiencing normal levels, then know it’s OK to let go the worry and be confident you will be just fine, even if it doesn’t feel that way.  The difference is largely in perception, not performance.

Negative thoughts prior to some big event are just 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 training.

What should I think about to fall asleep fastest?

June 24, 2019

Q:  What type of thoughts are recommended to fall asleep the fastest?

A: Great question. This actually has been studied. The conclusion:  Nothing.

That doesn’t mean not think, which isn’t possible. It does mean thinking about “nothing in particular”.

While it’s normal for all of us to replay our day to some extent before falling asleep, insomniacs tend to fret and worry about events that have already passed, and these thoughts tend to be negative and stressful.  This then typically results in a faster heartbeat, increased respiration, and a higher body temperature — the opposite direction you want to go to fall asleep.

Another variation is to excessively focus on one thing or another, which is a form of the occupying thought.  It may be listening to the slightest sounds in your bedroom, or replaying a tune over and over in your mind.  In either case, this kind of thinking is not conducive to falling asleep.

What the research has found is letting your thoughts wander pleasantly without any force or direction is associated with faster sleep onset.  This might be simply described as just letting go.

We suggest that’s a good way to conceptualize sleep:  a process of letting go.

So for faster sleep onset, find a place in your mind where your thoughts can just meander pleasantly and then just go with it.  When you begin recognize this, you can return to it again and again to help yourself fall asleep.

To enhance this process there’s many additional supportive actions and behaviors you can use.  Of particular importance is consistency in your circadian rhythm.

For a comprehensive, substance-free, and permanent solution that includes all these methods, check out CBT sleep training programs.

Why can’t I sleep? Nothing helps

May 15, 2018

Q:  What is causing my insomnia?  This happened suddenly.  I am tired but as I start to doze off, I suddenly jerk awake.  I suspect it’s stress, but right now all’s well with me.  I’m physically active, try to eat right, have a good job, happy with my social life.  I toss and turn for hours and obsess all the time about sleep, but just don’t know what to do.

A:  First, see a doctor to either treat or rule out an underlying medical condition.  From the sound of your description, however, don’t be surprised if you have none.

Considering you have no history of insomnia and describe a healthy lifestyle, you may have psychophysiologic insomnia, one of the most common types. One of its root causes is excessive worry about the idea of sleep, which you are expressing.  Your worries about sleep may be potent enough to put you into a hyperaroused state that is the root cause, or one of the root causes, for your insomnia.

So a reality check is in order. No, your life isn’t “all well” at the moment.  You are describing a significant amount of stress about sleep that likely is fueling your insomnia to at least some degree. Moreover, some stress is in life is normal and healthy — the key is managing it effectively.

It’s likely that your hours and hours of frustration tossing and turning in bed — and those jolts awake just at the moment of falling asleep are the worst, aren’t they — has led to a conditioned negative response to your bed, bedroom, and the idea of sleep.  Again very common.

What you’re doing with respect to sleep hygiene is excellent, and you also sound like you’re leading or trying to lead an overall healthy lifestyle.  What is not in your description is any effective method at stress management or cognitive approach to your worries about sleep.

Ask your doctor about using CBT sleep training methods.  What CBT will give you are the sleep hygiene and good sleep behaviors plus powerful cognitive measures to combat the worry, stress, and anxiety.  By using all these proven, drug-free methods simultaneously, you stand a good chance of restoring better sleep.

Why can’t I sleep Sunday nights?

March 6, 2018

Q:  I suspect part of this has to do with thinking about the upcoming work week, but I have no problem sleeping on any other nights.  Any suggestions?

A:  What you are experiencing is fairly common.   It likely is a conditioned negative response in anticipation of the upcoming work week, as you’ve already identified.  In other words, stress and worry are keeping you awake.

If that’s the case, welcome to the club.  Every one of us also deals with this in one form or another.  Most of us just accept it and get on the best we can.

But even without sleeping all that great, you may have noticed your performance isn’t adversely affected.  This is in fact what human performance studies consistently show.  We adapt to sleep deprivation and perform reasonably well even after a restless night.

Some people actually perform better with increased stress about an upcoming event, especially if there’s an anticipated positive outcome or expectation.

This is something you probably can and should try to control.  On Sunday nights you might try an extended wind-down period of relaxation to prepare for sleep, an hour or more might be reasonable.  A relaxing bath or soak, getting your clothes ready for the morning, some herbal tea, whatever helps you relax.  No stimulants, and avoid stress during this time, which can take you the other way.

You might also try writing down some of your concerns or worries about the upcoming week, and listing some solutions or constructive ways to approach those concerns.  In other words, you can restructure your expectation about the upcoming work week.  That might help you feel more positive and more prepared; and could assist in releasing some of that negative stress.

If and when awakened during the night, try some deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to drift back to a drowsy state more conducive to falling asleep.

Then just let go the worry.  Worry only feeds this.  It’s OK to let it go and know you’ll be just fine the next day.

Big exam tomorrow, can’t sleep. What can I do?

January 25, 2018

Q:  Before big tests I have a history of not sleeping well.  Seems I get in just a few restless hours.  On test day it feels like I’m in a fog trying to work my way through.  Do others experience this?  What can I do to help myself?

A:  What you are experiencing is very common with insomniacs.  Your description — and expectation for trouble sleeping — are a great examples of what’s known as negative sleep thoughts.

These negative thoughts come in many forms and are a potent raw fuel for insomnia.  If it’s not an exam, it could be an important project deadline.  It could be an upcoming athletic competition, or starting a new job, a new semester at school, or a million other things to stress or worry about.

But take heart.  The evidence shows these worries about lack of sleep are way overblown.  After a restless night, the evidence shows we adjust and perform comparably to normal sleepers.  And this is true both cognitively and physically.  It just doesn’t feel that way.  The difference is in perception, not performance.

Sometimes knowing facts about the reality of human performance and sleep is helpful in letting go the negativity and worry, because that is what feeds insomnia.

So what can you do?  Lead a good healthy sleep supportive lifestyle for starters, including daily exercise and a sensible sleep-wake schedule.  Consider trying some stress management methods as well.  If you find yourself awakened in the night and worried, try some in-bed relaxation methods such as deep diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to help yourself fall back asleep.

If your insomnia lasts longer than a month, see your doctor to either treat or rule out an underlying medical condition.  And consider using CBT sleep training methods as a permanent, drug-free solution.

Then just let go the worry.  Sleep is a process of letting go more than anything else.  And be confident the odds are you’ll perform just fine on the test.

I’m 15 and think I have insomnia. Should I take sleeping pills?

August 30, 2017

Q:  I’m 15 and I think I may have insomnia.  Sleep is a struggle for me, and it has been for many months now.  Even though I usually go to bed about 10 p.m., I often don’t fall asleep until about 3 a.m. no matter how hard I try.  Should I take sleeping pills?

A:  Most people go through times of sleeplessness for a variety of reasons, often having to do with stress.  Usually the stressful problem resolves or we adapt to it in some  way, and normal sleep returns.  But if this has been worrying you for many months now, then a checkup with your doctor is probably a good idea.  This will allow you to either treat or rule out the possibility of an underlying medical basis for your insomnia.

But don’t be surprised if you have none.  Most people with insomnia don’t.

Most insomnia is caused instead by some nonmedical combination of bad sleep habits and excessive worry about the idea of sleep.  If that’s the case with you, then sleeping pills won’t help.  Pills unnaturally force you to sleep — and they all have at least some side effects, possibly severe —  and leave the true root of the problem unaddressed.

You might try some basic CBT sleep training methods.  These include keeping a consistent sleep schedule 7 days a week.  Especially important is a consistent wake time.  Avoid napping or sleeping in, as these will in effect steal sleep from you at night.

Also avoid caffeine in any form (including colas and chocolate) after about mid-day.  Be sure to get some good exercise most days.  Basically, make an effort to tire yourself out both mentally and physically every day, and you will tend to naturally sleep better at night.

And rest assured it’s OK to let go the worry about sleep, which only tends to fuel insomnia.  “Trying” to sleep may be part of the problem — sleep really is more of a process of letting go, not a frontal assault.

If 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 effects.

Good luck and be confident you can sleep better without drugs.

Use positive emotions to supercharge cognitive restructuring

July 24, 2017

Those practicing cognitive restructuring to improve sleep know how effectively it can counter and control negative sleep thoughts.  These persistent negative thoughts are often the raw fuel that prolongs and perpetuates insomnia.  But did you know you can in effect supercharge cognitive restructuring by adding a positive emotional trigger?

Cognitive restructuring — one of the core components of CBT sleep training — uses reason, rationality, and understanding to correct inaccurate and distorted thoughts about insomnia to something better, more realistic, and more supportive of better sleep.

But reason and rationality by themselves — while essential and important — don’t necessarily counteract the underlying feeling or emotion behind those inaccurate thoughts.

By intentionally adding a positive emotional component to the practice of cognitive restructuring, you may find your old negative and entrenched attitudes and beliefs about sleep begin lose their grip more quickly — to be replaced by positive and supportive beliefs that you create and control.   In the practice of CBT sleep training, this is one of many ways to take better control over your sleep performance.

The method we suggest in the Sleep Training System takes the normal CBT route of restructuring distorted sleep thoughts into better, more rational thoughts, but importantly adds a meaningful emotional trigger to that thought — specifically a feeling, but not just any feeling.

By associating a concept that triggers for you a good and positive emotion along with the restructured positive sleep thought, the benefit is enlarged and magnified.  The new and more complete positive thought can now more effectively counteract all the incessant negativity and stress insomniacs tend to associate with the idea of sleep.

As part of a comprehensive sleep improvement program, thinking your way to better sleep works naturally — and without drugs or side effects.  This process enables you to constructively address the true underlying root issue of insomnia that afflicts so many people — that seemingly nonstop barrage of worry and persistently negative thoughts about sleep.