The Insomnia Habit
Insomnia is a condition that can crop up due to a singular traumatic event or a gradual heightening of anxiety over time if stress is not managed properly. It can be caused by an on-going sedentary lifestyle or not getting enough sunlight during the day.
There are many reasons why sleeplessness occurs and if you’re not careful it can become a habit.
(If you suspect addiction to drugs or alcohol might be the reason for your insomnia, you have a much bigger problem and professional help is highly advised.)
Ideally, adults should follow the normal circadian rhythm – getting up early with the rising of the sun and going to sleep around 16 to 18 hours later. Some shift workers are able to make the reverse sleep cycle work, but if you’re simply not one of them, I would suggest finding a day job as soon as you can or your health is likely to be compromised eventually.
Stuck in the Twilight Zone
Remember the TV show from the 60s, The Twilight Zone? (It later ran on syndication, so even those of you who are younger may be familiar with it.) The content of the show was macabre, a dark form of science fiction.
I was a very young girl at the time, but I can still remember being petrified after watching some of the episodes, lying in bed with an imagination gone off the deep end, making sleep impossible. This was probably a pre-cursor to the insomnia I would experience later in life.
Insomnia is kind of like being trapped in the twilight zone, alone in the dark with racing thoughts that are magnified out of proportion. Frustration mounts into a mild panic as the clock monitors the passing hours – and still you haven’t slept a wink, nor will you. The next day is drudgery…you can’t concentrate well on anything and the highest quality of emotion is generally discouragement. This pattern repeats itself day after day, night after night.
Does this sound familiar? If so, then it’s very possible that you’ve got an insomnia habit. Unless you have a catastrophe going on in your life right now, there is no physical reason why you shouldn’t be able to sleep – right?
Habits Can be Changed
Habits are simply behaviors that we have repeated over and over again until they become ingrained in our subconscious. It becomes a well-worn path and because human beings tend to follow the path of least resistance whether it is good or bad, we will continue to follow it until we design and build a new one.
This is not easy. Breaking any habit takes conscious and consistent effort to veer from that familiar path and forge a better one, an enhancement so to speak.
Insomnia is no different than any other bad habit (like smoking) but I promise you it is absolutely possible to overcome. I managed to quit smoking years ago and to this day, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Retraining myself to sleep again took some effort, but it was a more natural process that my body welcomed and remembered how to perform.
Three Keys to Overcoming the Insomnia Habit
1) STOP Talking About Your Insomnia
The first thing to consider before anything else is if you are getting something out of having insomnia, because if you are then you must let it go before moving on.
Are you getting attention from others because of it?
People are sympathetic toward others who are having a rough time of it and it can be quite rewarding to get this kind of solace.
Do you have a group at work or online that you spend time commiserating with?
Support groups are okay if they are short lived and the goal is to move on, but if you find yourself enjoying the commiseration, you can bet it is hindering your progress. What will happen if you kick your insomnia habit? You won’t really be a member of the group anymore.
Do you identify with “your insomnia”?
Every time you say, “Oh, I have insomnia…” or “my insomnia kept me awake all night…” you are making a statement that it is a part of who you are. It’s not who you are! Insomnia is a simply a temporary condition that can be healed, just like a broken bone or a cold.
People have rolled their eyes at me on this one. They don’t think getting more sunlight can make a bit of difference.
Well, I’m here to tell you that in addition to this being scientific fact, more exposure to sunlight made a difference for me.
Since I already spend time outside every day, I simply took my sunglasses off during my mile-a-day walk with my dog. This step alone made falling asleep easier after only a couple of days.
I still woke up a lot, but it was a start. I also added in some Yoga stretches in the morning – and that’s it! Walking and a little Yoga is all the exercise I do and it is enough for a 55 year old woman like me.
(In some parts of the world sunlight is scarce during winter. In this case, a lamp that reproduces the bandwidth of sunlight can be used instead.)
3) Spend LESS time in Bed
I use to roll MY eyes at this one. I know you’ve heard the saying, bed is for sleep and sex only, and I resisted this for years because I really, really enjoy reading in bed. I’ve been doing it since I was a child and I refused to give this up. And you know what? I didn’t have to, not completely.
I used to go to bed around 10pm every night and read for 2 to 3 hours. While I was reading, I would doze off and wake up, doze off and wake up over and over until I had a second wind…no more sleeping for me that night. This was a decades-old habit that encouraged insomnia to stick around no matter what else I did to try and overcome it.
Now, I read in a comfy chair until I start to get sleepy and then I go to bed and read for 15-20 minutes only. After that, lights out! I keep my eyes open for a few minutes until I drift off into la-la land. So simple…I should have done that years ago but that’s what resistance does.
The suggestions above are some very basic steps to start with and you may find them helpful in getting more sleep each night, if not completely getting over the habit of insomnia.
Discontinuing Sleep Medications
Another step that may need to be taken is to wean yourself off of sleeping medications.
If you’ve been taking sleeping pills for a long time, you need to see your doctor first and let him/her help you make a plan for decreasing the dosage slowly. Stopping cold turkey is not a good idea, even if the medication isn’t helping you sleep anymore.
Brainwave Entrainment Sessions
In my case brainwave entrainment is what finally did the trick in kicking the insomnia habit for good. Unless you have a serious mental illness (severe depression, schizophrenia etc…) or are epileptic, these sessions are perfectly safe and very effective.
I went through a number of entrainment courses and the one that I liked the best was one that included a session on increasing SMR brainwaves in addition to sessions to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. SMR brainwaves are responsible for certain sleep behaviors at night as well as increased focus during the day and this is what really made a difference for me.
Many people are resistant to this type of therapy as they believe it won’t work for them. They believe their insomnia situation is unique (which is certainly not true) and so until their thinking changes, this resistance will keep anything from working. Trust me, I know all about that!! I scoffed at all this stuff for a long time until I decided to give it a fair try and as you now know – it worked!
Anxiety and Panic
For many people, generalized anxiety and panic are constant companions day and night. Insomnia is a direct result of this anxiety and guess what? Anxiety is a habit as well that your brain has learned to process over time. It is simply your subconscious responding to your emotions and giving you what you are focusing on.
Many types of anxiety can be completely cured without sitting in a psychologists office OR taking prescription drugs. Anxiety does not mean that your are depressed or mentally ill. Just like insomnia, it is a behavioral disorder that can be modified. Check out The Linden Method if you are interested in learning more about kicking the anxiety habit.