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North London Stress Management Centre.
Tel: 020 8444 4871
You are not alone. It is estimated that, out of the general population*
• 30 to 35% have brief symptoms of insomnia.
• 15 to 20% have a short-term insomnia disorder, which lasts less than three months.
• 10% have a chronic insomnia disorder, which occurs at least three times per week for at least three months.
Whatever your sleeping pattern may be, it has a cause. In order to learn how to fall asleep when you want to, you need to identify the cause of your sleeplessness.
Common Reasons for Sleeplessness:
You don’t sleep because conditions that require medical attention or professional counselling have not been cleared up. These conditions may include alcohol or chemical dependency, chronic depression, chronic twitching or aching of your arms or legs when you are lying in bed etc.
You consume too many stimulants (coffee, black tea, soft drinks with caffeine) during the day.
You take a nap during the day. This throws off your sleeping/waking pattern and your body will not readily adjust to sleeping throughout the night.
You participate in stimulating physical or mental activity just prior to going to bed.
You cannot run a couple of miles, work out, have a highly charged conversation or engage in demanding mental exercise and then get into bed and easily doze off.
You mentally associate your bed with activity. If your bed is the place where you field business calls, work on a report, write letters, compose emails, watch TV, sew, grade papers or balance your finances, your bed will be viewed as the centre of activity. Instead, it should be the centre of relaxation.
Typical Bedtime Monologues:
THE CLOCK-WATCHER: “Oh no, it’s 1:30 in the morning! I have been in bed since 11:00 and I still can’t get to sleep. What can I do? I will not be able to work tomorrow. I’ll look worn out and drained. I’ll feel terrible. Oh no, it’s now 2:00 am – even if I get to sleep in five minutes, I’ll only be able to sleep for four hours. I can’t get by on only four hours sleep!”
THE DOOM-SAYER: “I can’t sleep and I’m completely miserable. Everything is messed up lately in any case. I can’t seem to make anything work out, not even getting to sleep. Life is just one negative experience after another. Now insomnia is another punishment I have to endure.”
THE PROBLEM SOLVER: “I have to figure a way out of this one or I’m going to be in big trouble...What if I try to...I’ll say this to him and this is what he’ll say back...There’s no way out and all I can do is go round in circles. What if I...”
Think about the category or categories in which you see yourself. Many people find themselves in all three categories. If you do, this simply means that you are keeping yourself awake using three different methods, all of which are enormously successful! Take a moment here to identify the category into which your bedtime thought process fits.
What to Do:
THE CLOCK-WATCHER: Give yourself “permission” to rest a while. As a Clock-watcher, you are working yourself into a highly anxious state over the fact that more and more time keeps ticking by and you are not asleep. You need, therefore, to direct your thoughts away from the passage of time; you need to stop looking or more importantly thinking about the clock. Instead, remind yourself that you are resting and that resting is the first step towards sleep. Say to yourself “time is unimportant and I am resting as my mind floats. Resting puts my mind and body at ease.”
THE DOOM-SAYER: The Doomsayer needs to remind him/herself of all the good things in life. Put your focus away from those things that cause you to feel helpless and like a victim. Instead of Doomsaying, say to yourself “I have had many positive things happen to me in the past – far more than negative things. More positive things will happen to me tomorrow.”
THE PROBLEM SOLVER: Relate night time to sleep time. If you need to put away your problems – put them in your imaginary shelf until the morning after and say “I’ll put my problems away at night. I’ll deal with them at a better time.”
Creative people have lots of ideas floating through their heads at all times of the day. This is great unless these ideas keep them awake at night. If you are trying to go to sleep and an idea comes, write a brief summary of the idea in a notebook (that is kept at your bedside) and say you will reflect and build on the idea once you have slept. Some people find it helpful, if they cannot sleep, to get up and do a household chore and then, once completed, getting back into bed. This activity must be a chore, not something you would otherwise enjoy doing.
An Exercise in Imagery:
Create two images - one busy and one peaceful. Put all your unsettling thoughts into the busy image and then banish it. Visualise the peaceful image, identify it with sleep and keep it in your mind.
An example of a busy image
An example of a peaceful image
*The American Academy of Sleep Medicine 2018 survey
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