In my pursuit to become a better sleeper, I embarked on a two year journey to design my own sleep based therapy. It didn’t take long to discover that differences existed between good and bad sleepers, much like differences exist between good and bad athletes. Some of us are just naturally better at sleeping.
As I researched and trialled the gold standard — cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) I critically picked it apart. I soon discovered that many of the techniques didn’t work — and that the more I focused on my sleep and tried to control it, the worse it got. I cut out cigarettes, alcohol, dimmed the lights after dark, wore blue block out glasses and created the perfect sleep sanctuary — limiting my bedroom activities to just sleep and even reducing the time I spent in bed but this only made my insomnia grow. I even practiced visualisation, guided meditation and going to my happy place to no avail. Sleeping pills were off the menu, exercise was hit and miss and it made no difference whether I slept with a TV in the room or not.
It soon dawned on my that good sleepers don’t do any of these suggested techniques. For good, healthy sleepers, night time is a breeze. In some cases making minor alterations such as prioritising sleep and banning electronic devices from the bedroom can be a factor. Steering clear of caffeine and alcohol can also make a huge difference for normal sleepers — such as reported by New York based designer Tobias Van Schneider on his blog but for us insomniacs we can go OTT and that buzzing, amped up feeling remains.
A comment made to me by a sleep doctor is that most of the material written on insomnia is a re-hash of the same thing — and this is one reason that it doesn’t work. I feel that it is time to be realistic but also to think more expansively. If making changes to your basic lifestyle, bedroom routines, indulging in long-wind down periods, getting up every 20 minutes you can’t sleep or practicing mindfulness doesn’t slow down your racing mind, then perhaps it is time that you looked outside of the bedroom and looked at ways to engage in a more pleasant, meaningful and purposeful life.
You might just be surprised to realise there is a relationship between how we feel and how we sleep. Perhaps you will never be the world’s greatest sleeper but it is about living the life you want to live and letting your sleep take care of itself (with the help of a qualified sleep specialist of course). The best way to tame your buzzing mind may just be to work hard and channel your energy during the day so that you have a reason to drift off at night. You have to stop struggling and start living and let sleep happen on it’s terms, not yours.
If all else fails, like it did for me, plan to do something fun each day, experience some chilled out positive emotions or simply do something novel to help offset the grinding headaches, the blistering fatigue and the ADHD like distractibility. Most importantly, don’t panic in the midst of a sleepless night but learn to accept and embrace the unknown — you may be able to reduce or curtail your insomnia, but you will never defeat it.
Originally published at medium.com