Have you ever had a very demanding boss— someone that you end up organizing your entire life and thinking to satisfy them? You are left powerless and constantly thinking about that boss.
We see a similar situation in people with chronic insomnia. Sleep becomes their constant preoccupation. The more they think about it and try to satisfy it, the worse it gets.
How Do You Know That Insomnia Is Taking Over Your Life?
- You cancel social plans. You refuse social engagements because you are thinking about getting sleep. Your world ends up shrinking down to your bedroom, and you become desperately unhappy, depressed, lonely, and still not sleeping.
- You cut back on needed exercise. One patient stated that he stayed in bed to get a few more winks instead of getting up for the regular morning workout. This choice threw his circadian clock off for the whole day, leaving him feeling sluggish and still struggling with sleep at night.
- You enforce elaborate rituals. This person created expansive rituals, such that she’d start by late afternoon; baths, essential oils, forced meditation and relaxation, eliminating screen time, eye masks, ear plugs, etc. Her rituals reinforced the belief that she had to make sleep happen and put her out of touch with her body’s natural sleep systems.
Here’s How to Remedy Your Sleep Obsession:
- Organize your life around what makes you feel good, not insomnia.
- Stop trying to please the insomnia boss and start pleasing yourself again. Engage with everything else in your life that reminds you that you’re much more than a person with insomnia.
- When you don’t revolve your life around “getting enough sleep,” you will sleep better. Keep your social plans and your exercise routines. In doing so, you activate the reward circuits in your brain and create the emotional atmosphere in your body that welcomes sleep.
Accentuate the Positive
Another way you can activate your brain’s reward system is the practice of “savoring the good.” We humans evolved with a “negative cognitive bias;” that is, we tend to focus on the negative events and ignore the positive. We have to intentionally focus on the good stuff in our lives, just to neutralize the negative bias. When you have a good experience, pause, notice that you’re having it, observe what feeling good feels like, and savor it. In this way, you rewire your brain for balance.
Don’t reinforce a belief that you have to make sleep happen. When we get our negative thoughts about insomnia out of the way, sleep is naturally effortless. Instead of worrying about trying to sleep, focus on creating conditions that foster sleep – getting sunlight, movement, activity, engaging with your friends, going to social engagements. These are the things that truly build a strong sleep drive that will give you effortless sleep.
Written by Dr. Tasnim Khan, MD