SleepWell Method

Insomnia? - Beware of labeling yourself with a condition...

Insomnia sounds like it's a medical condition. But with the exception extremely rare cases of Primary Insomnia due to brain damage or abnormalities, it’s not. It isn’t so much a condition as an unhelpful description. You can't catch it and there are no specific tests to establish whether or not you have insomnia. It's simply a word to describe a situation when someone isn't getting as much sleep as they would wish. The word “insomnia” (in meaning not and somnia meaning sleep) suggests that an insomniac is someone who doesn't sleep, but of course that’s not true.

The Oxford Dictionary describes insomnia as “a chronic inability to fall asleep or to enjoy uninterrupted sleep”. If someone goes for more than a couple of days without sleeping (and they’d have to work very hard to achieve this) they start to become disorientated, mentally impaired and will ultimately start to hallucinate if they haven’t spontaneously fallen asleep before. A friend of mine is convinced that whilst on a skiing holiday he never slept for a whole week – but it’s just not possible. All that’s happening with someone who thinks they don’t sleep or that they’re an “insomniac” - and “insomniacs” admit that they do sleep - is that they’re so conscious of being awake, they don’t remember falling asleep between bouts of semi-consciousness.

In many situations people become self-diagnosed “insomniacs” because they experienced a time when they found it difficult to sleep and for some reason became acutely aware of it. Rather than letting it go, they focus upon it, fearing that it will continue. Ironically, worrying about not sleeping can in itself, make it difficult to sleep – creating its own “Self-fulfilling prophecy”. Often “insomniacs” develop bad habits such as putting off going to bed until very late because they believe they won’t sleep when that’s just what they need. They begin to associate their bed less with a place for rest and relaxation and more with a battle to sleep. And they often go round telling themselves and others that they’re insomniacs, which just reinforces the situation.

All animals need to sleep, however the only animals that can experience “insomnia” are humans. That's because humans have the ability to think proactively in terms of words, pictures and feelings in the past, present and future, whereas other creatures tend to live reactively for the moment. And it’s thinking that creates the problem. Thinking when in bed will stop you from sleeping, and thinking about not sleeping is a recipe for wakefulness! This isn’t meant to sound unsympathetic to those people who’re suffering with their sleep, I’m just trying to put the responsibility back on your shoulders and so give your power back to you - to do something positive. To say “I’m an insomniac” is to say you can’t be cured. So avoid using the “I” word (Insomnia) because there’s no reason why we shouldn’t sleep once we’ve learned how to switch our minds off and get ourselves sorted. Please remember that if you’re experiencing problems with sleeping or insomnia, it’s not a mental or physical illness, there’s nothing wrong with you - it’s because you’re doing the wrong things. Albert Einstein said “The definition of madness is to continue doing the same thing whilst expecting a different result”, so change what you’re doing and you’ll begin to make progress.

When we have a bad night’s sleep we tend to only remember the time we were awake – not the time we were asleep. This can give us a distortion of the truth of how much we actually did sleep. If we’re not careful we can end up making our situation worse for ourselves. People often think they sleep less than they actually do. So something I suggest you do is keep a sleep log. Simply keep a notepad beside your bed so that when you wake up you can note down how long you’ve been asleep. Then when you get up in the morning you can add it all together to see how many hours you really slept. Compare this to how many hours you thought you slept. You’ll probably find that you’ve slept much more than you thought. The act of doing this can make you realise that things aren’t as bad as you have thought, which in itself will help you. In rare instances, some drugs can interfere with sleep patterns. So if you’re on any medication, then it’s worth reading up on it to see what its side effects are – there’s always a guide to this in the packet with the tablets.