Lying in bed tossing and turning, frustration and exhaustion mounting, rehashing events from the past day or worrying about the future, wondering how you’re going to get through the next day on so little sleep… It’s no fun, is it? Why do some people suffer from insomnia, and how can we resolve it?
It’s the most common sleep disorder, and it’s estimated that at least 1 in 10 Australians suffer from it. In the USA, 30% of adults experience short-term insomnia, about 10% of people have long-lasting insomnia, and almost 40% of people report accidentally falling asleep during the day! In the UK 36% of adults struggle to get to sleep at least on a weekly basis.
I’m sure there’s a myriad of reasons for insomnia - physical, emotional and mental, but I’m going to speak from experience with my own clients here. When clients come to work on other issues, I very often find that the “sleep disorder” box on their client intake form is also ticked. It’s not the reason they’re coming to work with me, just a side issue they don’t necessarily consider the possibility of resolving. The vast majority of the time I find that insomnia as a symptom (yes, I see it as a symptom) is resolved as the other issues resolve.
HOW IT NORMALLY PLAYS OUT
James comes for help to resolve chronic stress, depression, and maybe some self-belief issues. What do these things indicate? They indicate that James has become stuck living in a survival response, running on adrenaline and cortisol and other stress hormones. On his client intake form he’s also ticked “sleep disorders”.
In a couple of sessions we resolve the chronic stress, depression and self-belief/worthiness issues. At the beginning of the third session I ask James how his sleep’s been. With a bemused look of recognition and surprise, he tells me he’s slept really well over the past week or so! Why? Because he’s not living in a stress response.
How can our system feel safe sleeping when it believes we’re in danger? How can we sleep well when our system’s on high alert? We can’t! As soon as our system knows “I’m safe”, our parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and we can rest and repair (and sleep!).
That’s how it usually looks.
WHY THE STRESS TOBEGIN WITH?
We can all only handle so much pressure before cracks start to appear. Where does that pressure come from? It can be pressure we put on ourselves because of beliefs we hold about, eg. having to be perfect, achieving, feeling unsafe or judged if we stop and chill, what ‘success’ is and our drive to feel worthy or capable of it etc.
It can also be an accumulation of unresolved stress from past experiences which still, in various ways, continues to haunt us. In any case, the programming resulting from this ‘stuff’ is reflected in our bio-chemistry, neuro networks and electromagnetic interactions, which in turn are directed and controlled by our subconscious mind. If events from the past haven’t been properly processed as memories, as so often happens during times of stress, it’s as though they become stuck in no man’s land in our system. They aren’t filed away properly by the brain.
I WANT TO SLEEP!
What can we do about it? You can work with someone to help you resolve the underlying issues. That’s the simplest and quickest way! Otherwise, there are things you can do on your own:
1. Learn and practise the relaxation response. Just as our systems can access a survival response, we have an innate relaxation response which we can access. I’d suggest Herbert Benson MD’s description of this simple process, which is backed up by plenty of studies and research.
2. Be aware of sleep hygiene practices and test them out! For example, try switching off screens, including TV, at least an hour before bed time.
3. Practise mental discipline. It’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge worth undertaking. If you don’t learn to understand and control your mind, it will run away with you. There’s no end to its wanderings and conjuring! The first step to mental discipline is to begin to passively observe your mind without becoming involved in its creations; without identifying with it.
Good sleep’s imperative to our health and wellbeing, just as becoming stuck in a stress response is, quite literally, toxic to us. You can feel rested and rejuvenated and energetic again! I wish you all success with this and wonderful, deep, sound, refreshing sleep! It’s more than achievable.
Get in touch if you need help.