The Effortless Sleep Companion
Again, I’m very impressed. Stephens knows her subject matter, and makes sure that the reader is left in no doubt about her approach to beating insomnia. The tone of the book is so confident it’s bordering on bossy, but necessarily so in my opinion (explanation later).
First, she sets out her reasons for writing a follow-up. And in her case I’m willing to believe these weren’t primarily financial. Since writing the first book, she became a sleep consultant and was contacted by overwhelming numbers of insomnia sufferers, often insisting that their problem was worse or somehow different from the “normal” insomniac.
I personally fell into this trap. My problem began shortly after having my first child. It was the specific circumstances of being woken several times at night, together with sudden overwhelming responsibility, that stopped me being able to fall asleep. Nowhere in the (first) book did she comment on my situation. I was different, I knew it! But to my surprise, and amusement, there on page 100 of the new book Stephens mentions her grown-up son. She had been a parent too, throughout her 15 years of insomnia. That showed me.
This need to be different and special is so characteristic of insomnia as to be typical, she writes. Something about the nature of the condition makes sufferers focus on the very worst nights, the most unpleasant daytime side effects, the occasions when it all fell apart. But this is not a helpful mindset for recovery.
The book is primarily focused on the psychology of insomnia. Stephens’s 12 sleep promises from the first book are briefly repeated, including the practical elements such as “no naps,” “no sleeping in,” etc. But after this summary of so-called sleep hygiene, the book returns to the enormous importance of state of mind.
Her mantra “the story you tell about your sleep will come true” underpins every piece of advice in the book. Your thoughts and habits surrounding sleep are the only things perpetuating your insomnia, she says. She urges the reader to give up the search for the ideal sleeping pill, aid or other external crutch. Instead “the cure is entirely, and only, within your own power,” she writes.
Crucially, anxiety must be reduced and the expectation of sleep must replace uncertainty and fear. Stephens’s ‘TEA recipe’ sums this idea up neatly. To achieve better sleep, we must attend to one, two or usually all three of the following: tiredness (we must feel drowsy sleepiness before going to bed), expectation (we must believe we are capable of sleep), and anxiety (we must have stress levels under control). When all three are at the optimum level, sleep will occur naturally, she promises.
Next, Stephens covers the inevitable bad nights on the path to recovery. These happen to everyone, she says, and it’s how we cope with them that can make or break our progress. A common pattern is that sleep will improve when this method is followed, but after a few days, weeks or months there will be a relapse. Rather than panicking and overanalyzing what went wrong, it’s important to maintain faith in the method. Although difficult, this attitude is a choice we’re all capable of making. When negative thoughts spring up, think Stop! and make an effort to think of a completely different topic.
My experience is a little different, in that I didn’t begin to sleep very well then regress. Instead I improved gradually over several months. But I can see the value in Stephens’s focus on positively ‘repairing’ after a relapse.
The last section is about being not just a good sleeper, but a great one. This may seem too far-fetched for the beginner, but it’s essentially the final stage of the process, in which you become an ex-insomniac.
It’s for those who are generally sleeping well but still spend more time thinking about sleep than most. Because insomnia affects every area of your life, it can become meshed into your very identity. So it can lurk in the background, threatening to return. To allow major, permanent change to happen, Stephens says we must tackle it at its very foundations. That is, foster an attitude of ‘expecting the best,’ ‘letting everything be okay,’ and ‘bring it on!’ — in other words, positive thinking, staying calm in a crisis, and embracing, rather than avoiding life.
These are quite fundamental changes to make, and could have a far-reaching impact. For me, life has opened up now that sleep and I are friends again. I feel extremely grateful that I found Stephens’s two books, and again, urge anyone with a sleep problem to get their hands on them as quickly as possible.
Stephens, S. (2013) The Effortless Sleep Companion: From chronic insomnia to the best sleep of your life. Dark Moon Ltd.
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Collingwood, J. (2016). The Effortless Sleep Companion. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-effortless-sleep-companion/