Oh insomnia, what is your plan for me?

We get to a point where it seems there is nothing we can hear, see, or do that will determine a different outcome of sleep and begin to feel like insomnia is our true destiny. The results from this are responsible for a pattern of daily behaviors we implement to cope with our fatigue, which eventually become habit. Before we know it our clocks are set to the wrong time and our commitment, to a lifestyle that isn’t serving us.

Breaking free from this routine is not as difficult as you may think. We tend to forget the role we played in arriving here and contributing to the habits that are keeping us stuck. By forgetting this we find ourselves committed to trying to undo something, insomnia, that has taken great work to achieve, by using quick fixes, gadgets, pills, apps, miracle products, and desperation. But why wouldn’t someone believe these to be the best strategies when we are constantly sold on their brilliance? This is what makes it so difficult to overcome; it’s not the effort required to change our sleep, but the willingness to refrain from throwing quick fixes against the wall to see what sticks and understand that the best way to sleep again is to create new habits.

So where can you start?

Try eliminating the need for a simple answer to fix a chronic problem.

We have gotten really good at needing to find that quick fix, that trick that frees us from insomnia! This act gets old and feels stressful and becomes intimidating, which is why we only get worse at solving the problem and then need to look for the next new thing. And don’t worry, there are plenty of them coming!

What we need is a long-term solution.

We need to acknowledge that yes, the quick fix will work for a while and then it probably won’t. There will not be a sleep transformation because nothing has been transformed. You are still having to “remember to fall asleep.” Think of someone you know or possibly shared a bed with who doesn’t have a problem sleeping and you will know what I mean. One minute they are there, the next minute they are out. There is no attempt.

One way to not have to “remember to fall asleep” is to create a brand-new habit, and stick to it.

The “sticking to it” is where the transformation begins. Let’s say you start by disconnecting from technology one hour before bed. Will this make a drastic impact on your sleep? Maybe but likely not, and not until doing this becomes ingratiated into your routine, at which point you could introduce another one.

If we were following these steps like GPS instructions, it would look like this (in my best robot voice):

photo by Jake Blucker

“Change 1 thing, then sleep a little better. Change a 2nd thing, then sleep even more. Change a 3rd thing, then start sleeping differently. Then, use these new results to renegotiate with your rigid belief that you’re sleep proof, and proceed to sleep effortlessly.”

If you are trying to rescue yourself from the depths of insomnia, stop doing it from bed!

The discussion of what to “try” in order to fall asleep reminds me of Nike’s “Air Jordan” sneaker campaign in the 1990’s. Michael Jordan’s talent was so inexplicable and defied most laws of basketball and gravity, that when trying to answer the question of how this was possible, Spike Lee’s character Mars Blackmon insisted, “it’s gotta be the shoes!” Tongue and cheek of course, but the implication was that you too could “be like Mike” in these shoes! Were the shoes good? Of-course they were! Did they help Michael Jordan stay on top of his basketball throne? I’m sure they didn’t hurt. Would he still be regarded as the best basketball player to ever live if he wore Adidas? Yes – He happened to develop some pretty solid habits and work ethic along the way. 

If like Michael Jordan you have already developed some good habits and want to get even better, there are plenty of things, supplements and technology alike, that would be great to try! I’m not saying they are all bad, but your formula for better sleep would look a little different. If you’re a chronic insomniac, it’s not the shoes, man! It’s gotta be the habits.

In the meantime you still deserve to sleep tonight, and you can!

Focus on being asleep 45 minutes from now, without the pressure to immediately knock out.

What’s important to know is that currently, you have either become out of sequence with your circadian clock, or the stress and fear of not sleeping is holding you back. Then there are the deeper underlying issues, which is another topic. Regardless, before you can get to an underlying issue you still must whack through those bad habits that have shaped your physiology.

When you are out of sync with your clock your body doesn’t think it’s time to go to sleep; instead of trying to be asleep in 2 minutes, you must dedicate your time to relaxing, not sleeping. Think of this as an investment. This situation could arise If you did nothing to prepare for bed, in the form of routine or habit change, for example doing things in the last hour before bed that are not conducive to sleep. Shift from needing to fall asleep immediately, an act that could turn into a sleepless night, to investing the next 45 minutes in unconditional relaxation.

Remember that sleep is passive.

photo by Andalucia Andaluia

While “trying” to fall asleep may work at times, we don’t always need “to do something”. We have the mechanisms in place that allow sleep to just happen. You may find that even when you have made sleep a priority and are exhausted from sleep deprivation, you still find yourself lying awake and struggling to sleep.

If this is you, there is likely some fear or underlying belief that you will not sleep. Yes, part of you is wanting to fall asleep and fighting to fall asleep, but a bigger part of you is fighting to stay awake, and that is who’s winning and who you are catering to.

Forfeit the “fight” to stay awake.

Walk back to your corner, or drop your guard and get hit. Make the decision to surrender to being awake before you get into bed, or be willing to recognize when you are fighting and turn the other cheek.

Ask that part of you to forfeit the fight, to succumb to the force. Allow the momentum of your opponent to overwhelm you. This means accepting your racing thoughts without judgment, being comforted by your itchy head, your restless legs, and smiling at your speedy clock. On behalf of that part of you fighting to stay awake, simply say, “I forfeit.”

Good sleep, good health

First published on thesleepcoachla.com