Sleep AnxietyJun 18, 2023
What NOT To Do When You Have Insomnia.
I experienced insomnia last night, for the first time in a long time. It reminded me, it’s not just what to do when you encounter insomnia that’s important, it’s what NOT to do! (Hint: sleep anxiety ALWAYS makes insomnia worse.)
What do I mean by this? Well first, let's look at my experience of the insomnia and why it occurred.
On Friday I had a trigger situation. Someone from my past, who I had a big emotional history with, popped in to activate me. My schedule was packed, so I didn’t have time to work through the emotional stew that bubbled up. I had to be practical and push everything down in order to honor my commitments and get through what I had to do.
Sleep Anxiety and Unprocessed Emotions:
Now emotions that have been pushed down and unacknowledged have a habit of popping up as circular thoughts (right as you turn off the light to go to bed). It’s almost like magic that way!
So, what did I do? Well after about an hour of tossing and turning I gave up the fight to sleep (because we can never really fight ourselves to sleep, just saying it sounds nonsensical) and I got up to deal with my shit, i.e. I ate, cried, and journaled by butt off!!!
This process, minus the eating and crying, was detailed in the blog post “How to Stop Circular Thoughts” so I won’t get into it here, except for to say that we all have emotional triggers, old hurts, stressors, and fears that can pop out at us at any time, and new ones that we don’t see coming. These emotions are how we know we are alive, having a human experience. They aren’t “good” or “bad”, they just are.
Love Letters From Your Body:
We often push these emotions away because we are busy, and we don’t want to take the time to feel them. Everyone processes their baggage differently and if you are prone to insomnia then this means that anything you didn’t take the time to work through during the day will likely come up at night.
We tend to see this as bad and turn it into sleep anxiety, but I actually see it as a good thing. Why? Because emotions are there for a reason and NEED TO BE DELT WITH. Unacknowledged, suppressed emotions DO lead to chronic disease like cancer, we have a large body of evidence to support this.
Some people “are lucky enough” to shove their emotions down only to pay a high price later on in the form of chronic disease. Now, if you are someone like me who CAN’T push these emotions down without encountering raging insomnia, then you learn to process your emotions as they come, and I would hazard a guess that a night of short term insomnia is less toxic then YEARS of unacknowledged emotional crap.
The key here is SHORT TERM insomnia. We want to work through these emotions and get back onto a regular sleep schedule so that insomnia doesn’t take over our lives. So, what DON’T I do?
What Makes Insomnia Last?
Well firstly, I acknowledge the reason for my insomnia experience and that it is an entirely normal, reasonable response. I DON’T demonize it, wail “why me” or pretend like I don’t know what is happening.
Refusing to acknowledge the reason for your insomnia experience and fighting against it just causes a second stressor in your life which layers onto the first, like a seven-layer cake but wayyy less delicious.
Turn insomnia into a mystery disease and you just add more sleepless nights onto the first one (you also give your power away). This is called sleep anxiety and it doesn’t do you any good. Get in touch with your emotions, learn to feel them, and it will set you free.
Along this same vein, I DON’T blame my breathwork/ mindfulness practice and say it doesn’t work. Breathwork does not make you superhuman and it doesn’t turn you into a house plant. It “didn’t work” because you have emotions you need to deal with.
Breathwork doesn’t take these emotions away, it helps bring them up to be delt with and reset the nervous system after they have been cleared away. If you do your work, then breathwork will do its.
Don’t try to use it inappropriately and then blame it for your lack of emotional responsibility. The only thing that can help you move through unwanted emotions is having the courage to face and examine them.
These two are the big ones but other notable mentions on the don’t list are
Insomnia Don't Dos:
- Sleep in the next day. Getting up and living normally will help your body fall back into its nightly routine.
- I don’t lay around in bed all day. Get up, get moving. It will help process those emotions and clear the mind.
- I don’t worry about sleeping the next night. Usually if you use the extra time awake to process your emotions and “do the work” then your hyper arousal will go away, and your exhausted body WILL SLEEP
(Note: sometimes a difficult situation persists and leads to several nights of bad sleep. That is ok. The process is the same, just go with it, continue to work through your thoughts and emotions, don’t fight or demonize the insomnia, and eventually you WILL SLEEP) Don’t perpetuate the insomnia by fighting the process. Be brave, face your emotions and trust in your body. Acceptance is key.
Know that everything you are experiencing is entirely normal and I am there with you, supporting in spirit.
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