A Recipe for Insomnia: How to Make a Monster In 13 Easy Mistakes
Mistake I: SPENDING TOO MUCH TIME IN BED
Very often insomnia begins during a period when one is simply spending longer than usual in bed. Students, the self-employed and unemployed all frequently lie until late in the morning and this can be the beginning of the problem. A very common mistake is to lounge around in bed in the morning even when you’re not sleeping, creating a mental association of being in bed with being awake.
Often when you go to bed the night after a long lie-in, you may not be particularly tired when you lie down, with the result that it takes hours to fall asleep. Spending too long in bed means that your sleep becomes lighter and of poorer quality. If you feel exhausted even if you have slept for many hours, then there is a good chance that you are spending too long in bed. If you are spending more time in bed than you did before your insomnia started, then this is almost certainly a key part of your problem.
There are three distinct phases of sleep. A normal sleeper will only spend a few minutes in Stage 1 sleepbefore going into the deeper stages. People with sleep problems often spend a much larger than normal proportion of the night in Stage 1, where thy feel as if they are still conscious, and they wake up still feeling exhausted. It is quite possible to spend the entire night in this ‘pre-sleep’ or ‘non-sleep’ state. You can go days, weeks even, having only this type of sleep. The emotional effect is devastating – the quality of life if you are surviving on this type of sleep is wretched.
In order to feel good in the morning you must spend a reasonable proportion of the night in the third stage – deep, Delta sleep. If you sleep for only four hours and those four hours include plenty of Delta sleep, you will feel much better than you will feel after 12 or 13 hours of Stage 1 sleep.
If you spend too much time in bed, you tend to spend a lot more time in Stage 1, and a lot less time in the refreshing Delta sleep. Thus, the quality of your sleep suffers. The longer you spend in bed the less chance you have of getting the deep sleep you need. Shortening the time spent in bed increases the chance of getting the deep sleep you need.
Mistake 2: NAPPING DURING THE DAY
A daytime nap, on occasion, can be quite delicious, but it can be like playing with fire. Even a 20-minute nap will mean that when you finally get to bed at night, you may not be very sleepy, making it even more difficult to drop off. For all insomniacs, any napping weakens the connection between bed, night time, and sleep. So, remember: A nap in the day lessens the chances of sleeping at night.
Mistake 3: LYING IN BED AWAKE
All insomniacs have had the experience of lying awake for hours, fidgeting and becoming more and more frustrated. As you lie there, desperate for sleep, you become tense and anxious. The tension makes it impossible to relax and the bed seems to feel less and less comfortable as you toss and turn. Your bed has now gone from being a sanctuary of peace and escape, to a place of misery and sleepless anxiety. Remember: Every hour you lie awake in bed weakens the association of bed and sleep. Every hour you lie awake and frustrated reinforces the association of bed with lying in bed and being frustrated.
Mistake 4: LYING IN OVER WEEKENDS
For many, the weekends are a great time catch up on some missed sleep. But it is more than likely that much of the time lounging in bed is not actually spent sleeping, weakening the sleep-bed association. Also, Sunday night insomnia is simply that having overslept the previous two mornings, when you go to bed at your normal time on Sunday night, you simply are not tired. Lie-ins are sleep thieves.
Mistake 5: READING, USING YOUR LAPTOP, OR WATCHING TV IN BED
When you do anything in bed, you are creating an association between you bed and that thing. This means that whenever you do anything in bed other than sleep you are, in effect, weakening your ‘falling asleep response’. Whatever you do in bed becomes associated with bed.
Mistake 6: ASK YOUR DOCTOR FOR SLEEPING PILLS
When you take a pill for insomnia, you make two powerful and negative assumptions: There is something wrong with me. There is something external that can make me better.
Many insomniacs prefer to self-medicate using alcohol. But alcohol also dehydrates, depresses and can cause you to waken early with a full bladder, an adrenaline rush and a pounding heart as the chemicals leave your bloodstream. Your belief in yourself and consequently your own ability to sleep is diminished every time you take any artificial remedy. Drugs don’t work.
Mistake 7: TRYING REALLY HARD TO FALL ASLEEP
Good sleepers don’t ‘try’ to do anything, and one thing is certain, if you try to fall asleep you will not succeed. Falling asleep is not about doing anything. It might be more accurate to describe it as something you do notdo. The harder you try to fall asleep, the harder it will be to do so.
Mistake 8: OBSESSING ABOUT TIME
Clock-watching and box-ticking can create a horrible obsession with:
Time spent asleep
Time spent awake
Time spent before falling asleep
Time spent trying to fall asleep
Time spent waiting to feel sleepy after having got up after being unable to sleep
It really doesn’t matter much how many hours one spends asleep or waking because not all sleep is the same. All the matters is how one feels, and how well one functions in the daytime. Clock-watching creates an unhealthy obsession with time.
Mistake 9: TELLING PEOPLE ABOUT YOUR PROBLEM
It cannot be overemphasised how negative an effect talking about your problem can have. You may be one of those who ‘bottles it up’. But be warned, all of the following points may still apply to you. It may just be that the only one you speak to about the problem is yourself. The following are particularly problematic:
Calling yourself an insomniac
The more you talk about, boast about, exaggerate, and identify with your problem, the worse it will become! The story you tell about your sleep will come true.
Mistake 10: RESEARCHING CURES IN BOOKS, MAGAZINES AND ONLINE
The belief that somewhere, somehow, there is one simple thing that we can take or do which will ‘cure’ us, combined with the sheer number of remedies out there mean that our lives often become like a terrible personal laboratory where we become the subject or our own miserable, pointless experiments into sleeping problems.
The more desperate we become the more combinations and concoctions we try. People who are desperate for sleep do not sleep, no matter what they take. If you are searching for miracle cures you are looking in the wrong place.
Mistake 11: TESTING ONE RELAXATION METHOD AFTER ANOTHER
Most long-term insomniacs have gone through many, many relaxation CDs, mp3s and techniques – once. Who knows how many of these things might have worked like magic for you, if only you had stuck with them for a bit? Anything unfamiliar is likely to disturb sleep for a period of time.
Mistake 12: VISITING INSOMNIA ‘SUPPORT’ SITES AND FORUMS
There is one sure way to turn a mild patch of sleeplessness into chronic insomnia – discover the online insomnia community. There are insomniacs like you all over the world, millions of them, all suffering, none with a cure, none with an answer and all of them constantly reinforcing each other’s’ problems! In general, established insomniacs tend to become irritated by success but identified with failure. Insomniacs tend to absorb every little bit of negative information about sleep and make it their own. Internet forums are not ‘insomnia support sites’. They are ‘insomnia reinforcement sites’.
Mistake 13: REARRANGING YOUR LIFE AROUND YOUR INSOMNIA
It doesn’t get any worse than this. There is perhaps no piece of behaviour which will accelerate the progress of your problem as much or hold it in place so firmly. Such behaviours may include special routines; avoiding coffee even in the morning, avoiding all alcohol, avoiding scary films or spicy food at night, avoiding holidays or spending nights away from home, never staying out late, avoiding making plans, demanding special behaviours from your spouse or partner, or any other behaviour or special action (and this is the important bit) intended only for the purpose of helping your sleep. When you start rearranging your life for insomnia, insomnia becomes your life.
Next week I will discuss some cures to these problems!