One by-product of stress can be insomnia and I know of many people who suffer from broken sleep due to pressures of work and life. My insomnia story was caused by a change in lifestyle that preempted my sleep issues… it was time to take action and so with the aid of Google I began my research.
According to the Insomnia Clinic (UK): Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, resulting in unrefreshing or non-restorative sleep. They claim that “most cases of insomnia can be cured with changes you can make on your own—without relying on over-the-counter sleeping pills”. This sounded like a very positive and healthy place for me to start and was worth a try!
Their 60-minute webinar armed me with the ‘magic’ steps that could potentially rewire my brain claiming that in three weeks of following the guidelines my pattern of sleep would be re-booted.
The medical term for the programme is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-i) which helps you to identify and replace thoughts and behaviours that cause sleep problems. The aim is to replace the bad habits with good habits which in turn should help to promote healthier sleep. Sounded amazing, so I decided to commit to three weeks and follow the suggested regime.
Here's how I got on...
Step 1: Go to Bed to Sleep! (sounds simple)
This meant no reading or listening to music, just going to sleep. The idea was to change the timings, so 1 hour is added on to your normal bedtime and 30 minutes taken from your normal getting up time. For me this meant 11pm became Midnight and 7am was a 6:30am wake up call! The theory is that if you go to bed to read then toss and turn you are getting less actual sleep time than if you just go straight into sleep mode.
Step 2: Night Jobs – Brain Memory
The next ‘rule’ was connected with waking up episodes. If I woke up, I was NOT allowed to look at my watch or open my eyes as this is a ‘job’ that your brain starts to think has to be done so after a long period of time of doing this the brain automatically thinks subconsciously you have to wake up and check the time. So, in effect you are unlearning a task.
Step 3: My Bedroom is My Sanctuary
The anxiety surrounding going to bed and not sleeping was something that I had to stop thinking about as this was giving my brain negative thoughts and emotions around the concept of sleep. So, staying positive and reminding myself that I would have a lovely sleep in a cosy room was again retraining my brain.
Starting with a very positive attitude I ensured that my bedroom was my sanctuary with fresh bed linen, all books removed, and my clock turned over. The lounge then became my extended ‘bedroom’. From 11pm I switched the TV and music off, had a comfy blanket at the ready and my book, so the activities normally associated with me going to sleep were carried out in the additional hour I had gained. Heading to bed, very apprehensively the first night, but playing over in my head “my bedroom is my sanctuary and I am going to enjoy a lovely sleep” I climbed the stairs. WOW – I was asleep almost straightway. I remember waking up a couple of times and consciously saying don’t open your eyes and don’t look at your watch. I did wake up before my alarm but kept my eyes closed. Nights 2 and 3 were the same and after a week I was in a routine of going to bed at midnight, waking up once but straight back to sleep and getting up at 6:30am.
The weekend was not as successful, and I found myself waking up early and then just willing the alarm to go off, but the time taken to fall asleep, and the night-time waking was very much reduced.
The final week and I am now in an established bedtime routine. I continued with the Midnight and 6:30am timings and although I was conscious of waking once in the night it wasn’t the usual overwhelming “Well here we go, I’m awake now!” that I have so often had to manage. I was still waking up prior to the alarm but this was only for a few minutes and not hours.
The whole concept to me made sense. I was actually going to bed later but the time asleep and the quality of sleep was far greater. The overriding benefit though was the time I had spent ruminating, creating stories about the past and future and trying to get to sleep thus causing anxiety and unnecessary pressure was almost gone. I never did feel tired even though I had disturbed sleep, but the quality of my sleep was horrendous and the thought of going to bed was something that I did not look forward to. Now, it’s not such an issue. I wouldn’t say it has completely ‘fixed’ me and not every night is as successful but overall, it has made sleeping a far better experience. Perhaps over time I can go back to an 11pm – 7am routine!