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How a Strong Sense of Self Helped Me Overcome Chronic Insomnia

A sudden onset of insomnia taught me to look within and discover a way to release self-sabotaging behavior. It took me 25 years, but I now have my own method of self-healing, which I call the Sense of Self Method.

overcome insomnia

Have you ever been wide awake and sleep-deprived—tossing and turning—worrying about your role and responsibilities as a parent, wife, sibling, or daughter and wondering if you said and did the right thing?

Or do you often find yourself awake in the wee hours of the morning . . . long before your alarm clock sounds—struggling to calm your racing thoughts, and watching the hours crawl by at night?

You’re definitely not the only one. Fighting to fall asleep at night and waking up in the middle of the night is a common occurrence for many people.

Insomnia: A Public Health Epidemic

The Centers for Disease Control has labeled insufficient sleep a “public health epidemic,” and estimates that 50-70 million adults in the US suffer from a wakefulness disorder.

And in a report issued in 2014, the CDC warned that people who get too little sleep are at risk for increased mortality, as well as chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity, and depression. What a nightmare!

Living with a sleep disorder is a lonely and stressful experience.

If you know anything about the science of sleep, you know that the leading cause of insomnia is stress. High levels of stress make it hard to mentally wind down, which makes it very difficult to physically relax before and during sleep.

All that fretting about your performance during the day and your to-do list for tomorrow the moment your head hits the pillow at night is not conducive to healthy, restful rejuvenation. And when there’s a feeling of shame, an illness, heartache, and loss . . . it’s even worse.

Stress is the main cause of insomnia. And insomnia causes even more stress.

A 2014 Stress in America survey by the American Psychological Association reported that 40% of adults say they lie awake at night because of stress. Stress is one of the top contributors to insomnia, which impacts around 30% of US adults at any given time.

And if you’ve ever had either a brief or extended encounter with insomnia, you know how stressful it is not to be able to catch your ZZZs at night.

Your inability to rest is not your fault; in fact, it’s the fault of your neurological programming. Your mind is similar to a computer and when you form a behavior due to repetition, you store it as a program in your unconscious mind. This ingrained “program” is also known as a habit.

The unconscious habit of constant mind chatter goes to bed with us, too. As human beings, we are always thinking about the past or the future with complete disregard to present moment awareness . . . and so we become super susceptible to sleepless nights. Makes sense, right?

Why You May Have Difficulty Sleeping at Night

Here’s something else to consider: maybe all these apparent causes—anxiety, trouble keeping a consistent schedule, an irritated nervous system—are symptoms of a deeper, underlying problem that’s specific to you and how you function in the world.

What condition could possibly give rise to so many other apparently unrelated problems?  Well, it’s something you non-consciously inflict on yourself. It’s an ingrained way relating to yourself and others.  But it’s not a static, passive condition beyond your control—far from it. It’s a habit you can release.

Insomnia was at the top of my list of self-sabotaging behaviors.

Self-sabotage stems from coping mechanisms we’ve been practicing since childhood. If primary caregivers are unable to allow your authentic sense of self to thrive, you may grow up searching for the approval and acceptance that they didn’t give you unconditionally.

My first bout with extreme restlessness started over 30 years ago—after the birth of my first daughter. And when maternity leave was over, and I had to return to work, my sleep problem turned into full-blown, chronic insomnia.

Most often, I’d just lie there all night desperately hankering for sleep to come. If I was lucky, I’d finally fall asleep with the first light of dawn.

Other times, I would sleep for five or so minutes then feel wide-awake again and ready to jump out of bed, but that, of course, was only an illusion. As a new mom, who had to prepare for a demanding job every day and spend quite some commuting, there was reason enough to fall into an abyss of sleep.

But no, I stayed awake—eyes always wide open and ready for action.

Every once in a while, I would fall asleep the moment my head touched the pillow, but then I’d wake up at 3 a.m. unable to doze off again.

Seeking help for chronic insomnia and trying to continue my life, I went to a doctor and a psychologist but getting through to the root cause of this problem is time-consuming and expensive too.

In this day and age, there may be a whole lot more known about the background of sleeping problems but 30 years ago I was pretty much on my own trying to figure out how to deal with it, especially because I don’t agree with sleep medication.

My situation gave rise to a myriad of problems: from physical exhaustion resulting in a lowered immune system to stress-related neurological consequences, as well as psychological and emotional malfunctioning.

We can look at all these ailments as independently existing symptoms of disease, but what if they all fall under the umbrella of the immediate result of the compensation for lack of a strong sense of self? The remedy is clear to me: find ways to restore and strengthen your sense of self.

3 Easy Ways to Help You Restore Your Sense of Self

There are a few simple tools and techniques help you build a strong sense of self.

1. Check your motivation.

Start asking yourself: Why do I do what I do? Be brutally honest with yourself when answering it because by investigating what your motives are for what you do, want, or avoid is very revealing.

Are you truly present to yourself because you possess this inner knowing that you exist as your own independent and unique person?  Or do you depend on achievements or other people’s validation to make you feel good about yourself, taking that for your proof of existence?

Repeat this statement: My life and my body are mine. It seems obvious enough, but make sure you’re in charge and fully living the life you want to live.

2. Remember that your life is yours.

Has your power ended up in the hands of someone else who won’t get out of your head and has taken over the steering wheel of your life?

If the latter resonates, try touching something while fully aware of your ability to experience touch. Take a few deep breaths while following the air filling your lungs and experience being alive and being you.

3. Count on yourself to make the right decisions.

You can always count on yourself.

Creating the Sense of Self Method has been the therapy I needed to overcome chronic insomnia. And it’s been therapeutic for my family and clients as well. Sure it took a lot of self-reflection, awareness, and hard work, but I was able to release my unreasonable anger, restore a healthy sleep pattern, and become the parent I want to be for my children.

And even now living with a strong sense of self enables me to deal with unexpected challenges and difficult emotions.

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    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

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