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How Beliefs Sabotage Sleep

Jan 09, 2024
 

Have you ever had one of those nights when you think “I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep tonight” and then it comes true?

 

If you are currently experiencing insomnia, you likely have experienced this many times. I know it was a nightly message for my entire insomnia journey and many months after.

 

I would feel exhausted, start to get ready for bed and then this thought “I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep tonight” would pop into my head, seemingly out of nowhere, reducing me into a quivering mass of stress and tears (hello breakdown) and, sure enough, my sleep would be terrible.

 

So, was I psychic or was the thought itself a self-fulfilling prophecy? What I didn’t understand at the time was how meaningless thoughts can be.

 

We are raised to listen to and believe our thoughts. We focus so much on facts and learning that we are all up in our heads! Research suggests that the average person may have tens of thousands of thoughts per day. A commonly cited figure is around 60,000 to 80,000, but it's important to note that these numbers are estimates and can't be measured precisely. The frequency and content of thoughts can be influenced by various factors, including individual differences, mental state, activities, and external stimuli.

 

It's also worth mentioning that not all thoughts are consciously recognized or remembered. Many thoughts may occur at a subconscious level, and people might not be aware of them. Subconscious thoughts and processes can significantly influence our behavior, emotions, and decision-making without our conscious awareness. The subconscious mind encompasses thoughts, feelings, memories, and automatic processes that operate below the level of conscious awareness. Many psychological phenomena, such as biases, habits, and certain emotional reactions, can be attributed to the influence of the subconscious mind.

 

It is important to remember that thoughts involve a wide range of cognitive activities, including perception, memory, reasoning, and imagination. While some thoughts may accurately reflect reality, others can be influenced by biases, emotions, and cognitive distortions. People may also have false or inaccurate beliefs, and these can manifest in their thoughts.

 

All of this is a complicated way of saying that just because you think something, doesn’t mean it’s true! This thought “I won’t be able to sleep” is not a hard scientific fact (it isn’t gravity or some magnificent Einsteinian equation) although I know it can feel that way sometimes.

 

What often happens is there is a subconscious script running in the background, below the level of consciousness, that picks up on cues such as time of day based on visual signals, routine etc. Subconsciously, your brain has made a connection between evening and feelings of fear or stress (which in our conscious mind we connect to lack of sleep) so as the light dims you begin to feel agitation.

This activates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), adrenaline is released into our body and the conscious mind thinks “I don’t think I will be able to sleep tonight”.  You believe this thought (because it aligns with your previous experience) and your reaction (as if the thought were true) intensifies and perpetuates the stress cycle, releasing more activating adrenalin and cortisol into your body.

As the night wears on, you continue to notice that you were right. You can’t sleep! This simultaneously feeds the stress spiral (releasing more stress hormones into your system) and strengths the “I can’t sleep” narrative making it more likely you will become triggered again the next night.

So, what to do? Unfortunately, we really can’t choose or control our thoughts (as anyone who has tried manifesting soon learns). Trying to control your thoughts is akin to herding thousands of cats. Even trying to catch or control 1 can be difficult!

So we can’t control our thoughts, what we can control is whether or not we believe them! I call this developing your own inner coaching voice, the soothing, grounding part of you that knows thoughts are not always true and helps you to look at the situation logically, instead of being pulled down into the fight or flight stress cycle.

 

I remember doing this for myself, when I first became educated about sleep, and how helpful it was.

 

Maybe there are nights when you experience insomnia. I am also sure you have enjoyed at least 1 restful night in your life. If you managed even 1 night of restful sleep at some point, then there is no reason you can’t achieve more restful nights in the near future!

 

Use these restful nights as proof to help reason with your mind, showing it proof that this thought “I can’t sleep or I won’t sleep” isn’t necessarily true, not 100% of the time. Really you don’t know for a fact that you won’t sleep, no one can and it isn’t even the thought that is the problem, it’s believing the thought that sets us up for another sleepless night.

 

 So, instead of feeding the cycle, try speaking to yourself in calm, soothing tones (either in your head or out loud). Tell yourself “That’s not necessarily true, you thought this X night and you slept great or I used to sleep great and there’s no reason I can’t again,” (something along these lines that rings true for you and then watch for further evidence to support this narrative.

 

 Forget the negative, uncomfortable nights, they are not helpful, and this won’t serve you. Instead focus on the positive and watch your sleep begin to transform.

 

 

Interested in Learning More?

 

If you would like to learn more or book an individual session, please visit the Memberships page or enroll in the FREE 10 Day Sleep Course

In the meantime, I would like to leave you with this important message. You are not broken! You are whole, perfect, and healthy exactly as you are, and you CAN sleep!

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