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Why You SHOULD Challenge Sleep Thoughts

Feb 05, 2024

Challenging everything can be especially useful when it comes to sleep-related thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. Many of our sleep-related beliefs and behaviors are not accurate and/or unhelpful. As a result, they actually contribute to the persistence of insomnia by reducing sleep drive, interrupting the body clock, and increasing arousal.

In light of this, we can conclude that a shift in how we view sleep, as well as a shift in unhealthy sleep habits, can be beneficial in improving sleep that has been adversely affected by chronic insomnia

Not All Our Sleep Thoughts Are True


According to a study released in July 2020, we have an estimated 6,000-6,500 thoughts every day. If you suffer from chronic insomnia, chances are that a good portion of those thoughts relate to sleep. Just as it’s possible to argue that the 6,000+ thoughts we have each day aren’t 100% accurate 100% of the time, it’s also reasonable to argue that the sleep-related thoughts we have on a daily basis aren’t always 100% accurate.

It would take a huge amount of mental effort to analyze all the ideas that pop into our heads every day. So, we don’t even think about them or they usually just pop out and go away. But if the thought makes us feel an emotional response, it might last longer.

How Incorrect Thoughts Lead to Insomnia


Unfortunately, for people with chronic insomnia, these random sleep-related thoughts can cause a lot of stress and anxiety, even if they are untrue. Since it is difficult for the brain to analyze every single thought that comes into our minds during the day and night, it is easy to accept these thoughts as fact, believing that they are 100% true all the time. This, in turn, increases arousal, and arousal is what causes insomnia.

With this in mind, it can be beneficial to test or challenge any sleep-related thoughts, especially if they cause fear or anxiety.

 One of the most common things people with insomnia think about when they are sleepless is "what is going to happen tomorrow". It could be something like, “if I don’t get a good night’s sleep, I won’t be able to make it through the day tomorrow”. If we take this thought as absolute truth, without taking the time for further examination, that is a scary thought.

The Truth About Insomnia


But if we pause for a second to think about this thought, we might remember how many times we have gotten through the day even after a bad night’s sleep. if you're currently watching this video, then you have a 100% success rate of getting through the day after a night of little or no sleep.

 We might also recall how many times we’ve had good days or at least one or two good days, even if we haven’t slept well in the night. If we’re able to see that our first thought isn’t accurate, then maybe we’ll replace it with something more accurate.

In this example, the more accurate thought would be, “if I don’t fall asleep, the next day might be a bit more challenging. But I know from personal experience that I always make it through the day, and sometimes I have a good day, or even some good moments.”

Which Sleep Thought Feels Better?


 When comparing these two slightly different thoughts, I think that our emotional response to each will be very different. The first thought would probably cause a lot of anxiety, whereas the second and more accurate thought would cause a bit less anxiety because anxiety is a form of excitement, and excitement creates sleep disruption. So, the replacement thought is likely to cause less sleep disruption. It can be helpful to give ourselves the opportunity to challenge beliefs and the subsequent behaviors that tend to generate worry and anxiety. For example, one belief might be “I won't be able to work out tomorrow if I don't get any sleep.”

Since we don’t exercise, we ensure that a bad night’s sleep has an adverse result. This leads to increased anxiety and, you guessed it, this perpetuates disordered sleep.

Challenge Your Insomnia Beliefs


In this case, it’s going to be difficult to assess this belief and substitute it with a better one if we don’t give ourselves a chance to question it. If we never exercise after a bad night’s sleep, we never get a chance to ask ourselves how accurate this particular belief, that feels like it’s causing us so much stress and anxiety, really is.

In this instance, it may be a good idea to set yourself up for a small trial run. Instead of believing that you will not be able to work out after a sleepless night, you may want to test the truth of this belief by doing some exercise. If this seems too strenuous for you, you may try a lighter workout than usual.

But if you really want to put that belief to the test, do a regular workout, just like you do, or just like you used to do, after a good night’s sleep. You’ll be amazed at how much you can do, and how little sleep actually impacts your day-to-day life.

Put Your Current Sleep Routine to the Test


Finally, it’s a good idea to challenge all sleep-related behaviors. Generally, anything we do to induce sleep is known as sleep effort. Sleep efforts don’t work because they suggest that sleep can be controlled, which is completely untrue. Sleep in an automatic process that happens naturally, without our interference. When we engage in a sleep effort, our brains need to stay alert to track the results. This only makes sleep even more challenging to achieve.

In many cases, we continue to use sleep aids (such as supplements) that we know aren’t working. For instance, if you’re taking sleep aids, but you’re still having trouble sleeping, that implies they’re not working effectively.

If you’re currently doing a ton of rituals before bed, but you’re still having trouble sleeping, this means they’re not working.

If you make changes to your schedule for sleep but still have trouble sleeping, it means that these changes aren’t working.

If something isn’t working for you, why bother? Letting go of all the sleep work can be so freeing, and it helps you see that each time you fall asleep, you were asleep because of your natural sleep capacity, which is great for sleep self-esteem.

As sleep-related thoughts and behaviors lead to sleep disruption, identifying, evaluating, challenging and modulating sleep-related thought and behavior can be beneficial in reducing arousal, increasing sleep drive, strengthening the circadian rhythm and setting the conditions for sleep.

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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