Free Sleep Quiz


What to Do When You Experience an Insomnia Relapse?

Jan 28, 2024

A common question I am often asked is how to deal with relapses. What to do when insomnia returns after a few nights, weeks, months, or even years of good sleep?

 If you're concerned about an insomnia relapse, or if you're going through one right now, then hopefully you will find this helpful, but before we start talking about how to respond to relapses, it might be helpful to explore what we mean by relapse as people often have different definitions of what this means to them.

Just as Our Days Are Not Always Good, Neither Are Our Nights


Many of us recognize that every day of our lives won't always be fantastic, won't always be great, and won't even always be good. So it makes sense to acknowledge that every night of our lives won't always be fantastic, won't always be great, and won't always be good. In other words, just as each day isn't always as good as or better than the previous day, each night won't always be as good as or better than the previous night either.

 It can be helpful to put our bad nights into perspective and recognize that difficult nights occur from time to time, they are a part of life, just as difficult days occur from time to time. In fact, they are completely accepted and expected. Who could ever honestly say they have NEVER experienced a bad day?

Nobody has a great night of sleep every single night of their lives. A few difficult nights do not mean we're experiencing an insomnia relapse. It just means we're experiencing a few difficult nights, which are a normal part of life and a normal part of the human experience.

What Could Be Disturbing Your Sleep?


Sometimes there can be an obvious cause of sleep disruption. For example, we might receive some news that leaves us worried or excited. We might be going through a big life change such as a wedding or a big promotion at work. We might be traveling, or we could be audited by the IRS. What if you won the lotto? Would you be able to sleep, or would you be too excited planning how you would spend your millions?

The list goes on and on. There are likely thousands of possible reasons (some positive and others negative). If there's an obvious cause of sleep disruption, and it's something you can address, then great. It's worth addressing that problem. But what if there's no obvious cause or the cause is something you can't really address?

Restless Nights Aren't Always the Problem


Here’s the good news, difficult nights themselves aren't really the problem. It's our reaction to difficult nights that usually determines how long they'll stick around for.

When we don't allow ourselves to be emotionally triggered, we give sleep the opportunity to get back on track all by itself. When I say emotionally triggered, I'm talking more about our behaviors rather than our thought processes.

As I mentioned last week, we can’t control our thoughts (only our actions) so I would never suggest anyone attempt to do so. It’s when we try to control our thoughts or respond to them in a way that leads us to no longer do the things that are important to us or to live our life, that we often get caught up in them.

Thoughts are just thoughts. They are not real. So, they require no reaction beyond recognizing them as thoughts. Nothing more, nothing less. It's okay to feel worried and it's okay to feel anxious. That just means you're having thoughts. You're a human being and this is completely natural.

How Behavior & Mindset Influence Sleep


So, with that out of the way, let's delve into the behavioral side of the equation when it comes to reacting to the return of difficult nights.

Let's imagine you're outside on a walk and you trip. What do you do next? Do you look around for the cause of the trip? Do you start to worry if you can't find an uneven sidewalk or a rock to blame for your fall?

Do you start to worry that you're likely to fall again if you continue walking? Do you spend the rest of the day worrying that you'll never be able to walk again because you might trip? Do you buy new shoes and swear off wearing heels in order to reduce the risk of tripping in the future?

 How about going online to research tripping and the best ways to recover or avoid tripping? Maybe cancel plans with friends because those plans might involve walking or increase the risk of falling over?

A "Bad Night" Can Be a Minor Trip, Nothing More


My guess is you have tripped at least once in your life, and you didn’t do any of these things.

If you trip, you may feel a bit hurt or a bit embarrassed. And then you get on with your day. You get on with your life and recognize that you may trip again at some point in the future. But it’s ok because it’s part of life and one little trip certainly is not worth putting your life on hold!

 Now, if you have a history of insomnia, one difficult night or a few difficult nights might be all that's needed to bring back all our sleep related worries, fears, and unhelpful behaviors.

Often The Best Response to Insomnia is No Response At All


 With this in mind, I believe the best response to an insomnia relapse (also known as a speed bump) is not to respond at all, at least in the short term. Simply continue going about your day as normal. Avoid the temptation to go to bed earlier or stay in bed later or to nap during the day.

Continue to do things that bring joy and meaning to your life and refuse to allow anxiety about sleep to control your life or your decisions. In other words, as tempting as it may be, do not modify your life or your routine in response to some temporary sleep disruption.

 If you do this, you give sleep the best possible opportunity to get back on track all by itself. And it will almost always do just that.

What if Sleep Doesn't Improve?


Now, let's say that your sleep doesn't seem to get right back on track all by itself, even though you feel you haven't made any changes since those difficult nights returned. Maybe you have found yourself struggling with sleep for a few weeks. In this case, I'd suggest re-implementing any techniques you found helpful in the past.

I often recommend a blend of CBTi, ACTi and body based coaching techniques. If you've implemented techniques like these in the past and found them helpful, then you can simply implement them again, just as they were helpful to you in the past, they'll almost certainly be helpful again.

 If you find that you're consistently spending too much time awake at night, you might want to check that you aren't allotting too much time for sleep each night. Similarly, if you're tossing and turning all night and it feels unpleasant to be in bed, you might want to get out of bed and do something to help make that nighttime wakefulness a bit more pleasant.

The Most Important Insomnia Response


Perhaps the most important response to difficult nights though, is going about with your days as normally as possible. Because if you can live your life as though insomnia doesn't exist, it often stops existing. This is because when we give sleep less of a role, and less influence in our lives, we often start to put less effort into sleep, put less pressure on ourselves to sleep and allow the body to take care of sleep all by itself, which is exactly what it wants to do.


Interested in Learning More?


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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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