I’ve recently read a book which claims to cure insomnia. One of the main points it makes is that there’s no such thing as insomnia. Some may be tempted to hurl it at the wall at this stage; however, I persevered and I’m now almost totally cured and utterly convinced that it makes sense.
Author of The Effortless Sleep Method, Sasha Stephens, is at pains to explain that she’s been there and got the T-shirt. She talks about her fifteen-year battle with insomnia, and her desperate search for a cure. Finally she began to understand that sleeping problems are perpetuated mainly by a fear of not sleeping.
My own problem began when I became a parent. Things were fine for the first six weeks of my son’s life. He slept in a crib next to me and woke often for a feeding, as expected from a newborn. I fed him and fell asleep easily. But things gradually began to change. The rare occasions I couldn’t drop off between feedings became more frequent until it happened every night. Sometimes I would only get two or three hours’ sleep, and stumble around baby groups like a zombie, forgetting everyone’s names.
We moved Ben to his own room and eventually he started sleeping through the night, but things didn’t improve for me. I tried everything. After a lot of soul-searching I chanced upon this book, and was glued to it from the first chapter.
The basic message I got from the book was a reassurance that there was nothing intrinsically wrong with me, or my lifestyle, except that I had fallen into the habit of worrying about not sleeping. And even though I often wasn’t thinking about it consciously at night, I’d be much too aware of the feeling of being about to drop off, and would notice it, which interrupted the flow and then I’d be wide awake again.
Stephens writes persuasively that the body and brain do want to fall sleep, nothing’s “broken,” but your mind is just that bit too anxious or aware to drop off. Then she outlines a range of techniques to break that pattern.
Although focusing mostly on the thought patterns that maintain sleep problems, she also encourages the reader to follow six basic “sleep hygiene” rules:
- No stimulants before bed
- Be comfortable in bed (a good mattress, room the right temperature, block out noise and light as much as possible)
- Do something to relax such as meditation or yoga every day, and get some exercise
- Don’t go to bed until you feel sleepy
- No sleeping in
- No naps
Then the more psychology-based rules:
- When you can’t sleep, get up and do an activity that you’ve chosen in advance, for at least 20 minutes. This will break you out of the rut. (She says no reading in bed but I choose to ignore that bit!)
- No “crutches” to help you sleep, e.g. alcohol or sleeping pills. This is really important. She says that anything like this detracts from your belief in your own natural falling asleep mechanism, which you must have faith in. (Also I found I’d only get an hour or two of sleep from a sleeping pill, then feel groggy for the rest of the night and the next day.)
- Don’t look at the clock in the night. This took me a while, but it’s a fair point. You can get caught up in panicking about the time. What’s really important is how you feel the next day, not the number of hours of sleep you got.
- No “negative sleep talk.” Again this is to restore faith in your ability to sleep normally. She says “the story you tell about your sleep comes true,” so no saying you’re an insomniac or dreadful sleeper. Instead, she recommends affirmations like “I often sleep really well” (even if it’s not true, this helps it to become true.)
Also related to the last rule, make no compromises for your problem, like refusing to stay the night away from home in case your sleep’s even worse.
- Stop searching for cures, or it becomes too much of a focus and becomes ingrained as part of your identity.
- Use a safety thought when you start panicking. Decide on this safety thought before bed. For example, I’d think something like Ben’s in childcare for three hours tomorrow so that takes the pressure off, or it’s the weekend and my husband will be home, or I never feel as bad the next day as I fear I will.
Following Stephens’s suggestions I’ve changed my attitude from feeling panicky at bedtime to feeling much calmer. I’m sleeping almost normally now, and staying calm on the rare nights when I do lie awake. I’d recommend that anyone developing a similar problem reads this book as early as possible.
Stephens, S. (2011) The Effortless Sleep Method: The Incredible New Cure for Insomnia and Chronic Sleep Problems. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.