To cure chronic insomnia, you need to question your own thoughts and your behaviours. They haven’t been serving you anyway – you can’t sleep and you’re miserable – so why are you holding on to them so tightly?
Insomnia is a conditioned response that leads to having a phobia so everything you do right now leads you to a sleepless night. I’ve talked about insomnia triggers already, but you also have behaviours that make you not sleep.
Here are some behaviours to challenge if you want to cure chronic insomnia.
Avoidance Causes Insomnia
Avoiding sleep (or somniaphobia) happens when you get so stressed about sleeping that you don’t even try to sleep anymore. You might even try to prove to yourself that you’re an insomniac by psyching yourself out and getting stuck in a negative thought pattern. It can be a conscious thought like “I won’t sleep tonight” so you don’t, or you subconscious mind has associated your bed with stress.
The problem is compounded when you start avoiding not only sleep, but other normal activities.
Avoiding Social Situations
Let’s say your friends want to go out on Saturday night for a birthday party. They told you on Tuesday so they know how big of a table they should reserve at the restaurant.
Thursday rolls around and you haven’t slept well in a while. You’re worried that you only have 2 nights left to sleep and you’ll be a zombie by the time your friend’s birthday rolls around. You haven’t seen them in a few months and really want to make an appearance, but you’re worried that you’ll feel like complete garbage. You think they’ll think less of you if you’re not talkative or the happy person you used to be.
What to do
Go out anyway. Seriously. Even if it’s just for an hour. No one is forcing you to stay out until 3am to get drunk. You’re an autonomous adult who can make their own decisions and leave at 9pm if you want.
Chronic insomnia is such a negative cycle that can be incredibly isolating. It’s quite possible too that no one in your life knows what’s wrong so people may think you just don’t want to be around them.
It’s human nature – we all are out for ourselves and take things personally. Give back to your friends a bit and show them you still care.
It might make you feel better too – being part of a group makes us happy. And feeling happy helps us unwind and sleep better.
Changing Career Plans
World Bank Photo Collection/Flickr
It’s a completely ingrained thing in North American culture to be on a personal level with your boss. Except maybe you haven’t told your boss about insomnia because you’re scared of how you’ll be perceived. You worry about the judgement, or that they’ll find a way to get rid of you (insomnia can make you paranoid if you didn’t know).
Or maybe you purposely pull away and take on less work than usual because you anticipate that you won’t sleep so you don’t want to be challenged mentally. You don’t want that promotion or new job that will help your career because you’re scared you won’t perform.
What to do
This is different for everyone, but if you feel yourself pulling away and not working as hard as you used to, it’s time to reassess your situation. I personally had to quit my job and go freelance to get my bearings again.
- When you sleep, do you like your job? Or at the very least, not dread going to work?
- If not, why are you still there? Can you find other work that would make you happier?
- Can you work a flex schedule, so if you needed to sleep in until 11am, you could work from 12pm-8pm instead of 9am-5pm?
- Is your boss or HR manager understanding if told them you were actively trying to cure chronic insomnia?
Chronic insomnia is a serious illness, as you know. It can greatly affect your physical and mental health, so it’s time to take care of yourself. Try to work something out with your current employer, or find remote opportunities where you can choose your own schedule.
I get it. Exercise isn’t something most people want to do even when they DO sleep. But you’re tired and that’s so much worse than just exercising in general. You barely have any physical energy, your heart beats faster, you feel completely out of it.
What to do
No one is asking you to deadlift your max weight here. Go for a walk, go golfing, or do whatever other physical activity you like.
Point is, you need to make exercise a regular part of your routine anyway.
Exercise serves 3 purposes to cure chronic
- It physically expends energy. This is especially important if you have a desk job or sit all day. It is surprising how much our bodies want to naturally move, even when sleep deprived.
- You will feel better. If your insomnia is caused by anxiety or depression, moving your body for at least 20 minutes per day releases endorphins (which make you feel better) and decreases stress hormones like cortisol (which makes you feel worse).
- Exercise can be a time to get all of your worries out. It gives you space to think and sort out any issues you are currently dealing with.
Drinking Too Much Causes Insomnia
A lot of us love to cope with life with excess, so we turn to food and alcohol. You’ve had a bad day, so you want to unwind with your favourite drink. Problem is, alcohol completely counteracts sleep.
While having a drink can produce sedative effects and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, it quickly turns on you. Once it starts metabolizing in your body after 3-4 hours, the rapid eye movement (REM) and deep stages of sleep will be disrupted. These are the stages that happen to be the most regenerative for your body.
Alcohol is a depressant and your body tries to compensate by releasing stimulants. Alcohol kicks in first (a depressant) so you are able to fall asleep. As the effect of alcohol wears off, your body is still working to combat the depressant effects while you sleep so you are left with the longer-lasting stimulants. This is why you wake up earlier or have a less restful sleep in the second half of the night when you drink.
What to do
Cutting out alcohol (or greatly limiting it) is one of the best things you can do while you are trying to cure chronic insomnia.
From my experience, while you are trying to cure chronic insomnia and get your sleeping patterns on track, it is best to simply cut out alcohol or reduce it to no more than a 2 drinks when you do drink. This applies to weekends too.
Finish your last drink 3-4 hours before bed.
Reinforcing Bedtime Patterns Causes Insomnia
Alyssa L. Miller/Flickr
I talked about insomnia triggers here, but it’s worth noting again. If you are doing the same thing over and over and it’s not working, you are reinforcing negative sleep behaviour.
What to do
To cure chronic insomnia, sometimes you just have to shake it up a bit. If your normal nightly routine gets you thinking that you won’t sleep, switch it up. Instead of eating dinner, going on the computer, and then watching TV in your evenings, go for a walk after dinner then read.