Can’t Sleep? How to Put Insomnia to Bed
Sleepless nights - we've all had them. But when the odd occurance becomes the norm, these tips may help you sleep more easily.
By Marni Amsellem, PhD, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert
NoteStreams are readable online but they’re even better in the free App!
The NoteStream™ app is for learning about things that interest you: from music to history, to classic literature or cocktails. NoteStreams are truly easy to read on your smartphone—so you can learn more about the world around you and start a fresh conversation.
For a list of all authors on NoteStream, click here.
Read the NoteStream below, or download the app and read it on the go!
You’re lying in bed, wishing you were sound asleep but instead woefully wide awake. You feel like you’ve spent hours tossing and turning.
Your mind is racing, thinking of all the other ways you could have handled something in the past differently, or any of the myriad worries of the day. Instead of settling down with a quiet mind, your thoughts have taken on a life of their own.
You look at the clock (again) and see that yet another hour has passed and you’re STILL not asleep. On top of everything else, you feel panic and dread that you will start the next day exhausted.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep. It can be short-lived or long-term and can be highly distressing.
Many people with insomnia experience a preoccupation with thoughts and worries about not getting enough sleep that is associated with difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep.
The concern, of course, is justified. Sleep is essential to health and functioning.
We are constantly reminded of the importance of getting enough sleep for our bodies and the effects of sleep deprivation. But worrying about getting enough sleep is a problem unto itself because it often becomes self-perpetuating.
Just as proper oral hygiene promotes healthy teeth and gums, improved sleep hygiene promotes healthy sleep patterns.
There are many sleep hygiene strategies that are known to either hinder falling asleep (e.g., caffeine late in the day) or promote falling asleep (e.g., reserving the bed and bedroom, whenever feasible, for sleep and sex and removing the laptop or smartphone from the vicinity).
Sleep hygiene is based on general guidelines; clearly, not everyone responds to the same stimuli in the same way.
For example, whereas your partner may not be able to fall asleep easily if a cup of coffee is consumed at any point during the day, you might be able to drink a pot of coffee a day, at any point of the day, without compromising your sleep.
By taking a careful look at what you typically do throughout the day, you might be able to identify small things that are sabotaging your sleep.
Making even just one small change might make a meaningful difference.
Awareness of the Causes of Insomnia
If your sleeping difficulties affect your mood and/or daily functioning, frequently trigger worry, or create other distress in your life, seeking the support of a therapist who specializes in the treatment of insomnia or other sleep-related issues is advisable.
While insomnia can in some cases be managed without therapy or with medications, there are several techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, or relaxation, that many people find beneficial.
As everyone is different, the approach(es) for treating each person should take into account individual preferences and all relevant considerations.
When treating insomnia or other sleeping difficulties, it is essential to have a good understanding of why you are having trouble sleeping. Any number of factors may impair sleep, and careful examination of which factors may be in play is critical for creating change.
While disturbed sleep can happen in the absence of easily identifiable triggers, there more often are behavioral patterns or outside factors which contribute significantly.
One useful tool for tracking sleeping patterns which can lead to recognizing other associated barriers to a good night’s sleep can be keeping a sleep diary. When looked at closely in therapy, this can lead to new insights and, consequently, improved sleep.
Things you’ll want to talk about with your doctor or therapist include the history of your sleep concerns and the exact nature of the issues you are experiencing.
Come to your appointment ready to describe the history of your sleeping problems and what you typically do about it. Improved understanding of factors underlying or reinforcing the sleep issues will be facilitated with therapy.
With a better understanding of the root causes of insomnia, you’ll be on the road to a better night’s sleep.