Are You Stressed About Not Sleeping?
Do you complain about your lack of sleep?
I’m not being rude.
This is an important question because complaining about being a poor sleeper can ramp up the health effects of lack of sleep.
A review of sleep studies by Lichstein (2017) found that poor sleep was not enough to produce insomnia by itself. One of the studies from 1995 found that the majority of 400 poor sleepers did not experience distress or consider themselves to have insomnia – even though they met the criteria of insomnia -having six months where it took 30 minutes or more of struggle to fall asleep on at least three nights per week. And compared to people who got ‘good sleep’ these non-complaining poor-sleepers did not experience fatigue the next day or high anxiety.
According to the research, it’s only once you identify yourself as a person who struggles with sleep that the ill-effects start to impact your life.
Misbelieving you’ve got sleep problems can be more harmful than actual lack of sleep – The British Psychological Society Research Digest
So even if you don’t have poor sleep but complain about your lack of sleep anyway and believe you have insomnia, those beliefs start causing problems for you. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Sleep Meditation not Sleep Medication
In his book, Mind Over Meds, Andrew Weil describes the problems associated with using prescribed and over the counter sleep aids (AKA sleeping pills). He cautions relying on such drugs calling into question their overall effectiveness and the associated side effects. He also suggests they are like a band aid that mask the real issue. By exploring the deeper underlying causes of your insomnia and addressing lifestyle changes you can create real changes without relying on a quick pharmaceutical fix.
How to Stop Worrying about Not Sleeping
Doing something proactive about how long it takes to fall asleep will help you feel less frustration. I know you’ve probably read the advice for good sleep hygiene like going to bed at the same time even on weekends, not drinking coffee after noon, etc. so I shan’t repeat those here. But here are some ideas you don’t normally see.
Use a sleep meditation
It has been shown that mindfulness meditation can help improve sleep quality in those with sleep disturbance. Although the study’s are often small and it’s hard to rule out any other influences, the results do seem favorable.
I’ve created a guided meditation for sleep (female voice). This sleep relaxation combines a body scan and sleep story to help you to relax.
Sleep stories are not just for kids. They help you relax, and if you listen to the same calming voice every night … the familiarity can feel extra soothing. Meditation for sleep does not have the side-effects of medications for insomnia and can often have just as good results. So give this sleep meditation a try and you might find you relax enough to fall asleep.
Notice your Thoughts About Sleep
Examine the idea that you may have unrealistic expectations about sleep. Often the magical number of eight hours sleep is given as the right amount of sleep needed. But everyone has individual needs. Assuming everyone should get 8 hours may lead to further frustration.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What is normal sleep?
- Does sleep need to be perfect?
- Do I need to see myself as an insomniac?
Any activity can be done mindfully by bringing a non-judgmental focus on the present moment – including going to sleep. Noticing what your body is doing, how your body is breathing. Become aware of your surroundings … the temperature of the room, the sounds around you, the feel of your bed sheets. Perhaps in a way you haven’t noticed before.
And keep bringing yourself back to your breath, becoming aware of what your body’s doing. That slows your thoughts down, reducing anxiety and rumination.
But probably the most helpful aspect of mindfulness when it comes to sleep is letting go of expectations. Letting go of the thought you must sleep a certain way.
Another mindfulness practice is the body scan meditation which can help you mindfully relax your muscles while in bed.
A feeling of thankfulness can be furthest from your mind when struggling to sleep. So often your thoughts turn to the annoying things people have said or done throughout the day. But how about turning this around and purposefully focusing on what people have done for you.
Or feeling grateful for this life of yours. How amazing that your body knows how to breathe either when your awake or asleep. How amazing that you have a comfortable bed to sleep in.
Create an affirmation or Sleep Mantra
Repeating a calming phrase in your mind before you fall asleep such as, “I am getting all the rest I need,” or “I release the day,” or “With each breath I relax more and more” may help you stay relaxed and centered. As I have mentioned before, affirmations are not meant to replace your automatic thoughts. But a positive affirmation will interrupt your negative thoughts to allow you some peace while you fall asleep.
Write a to-do list
Research by Dr Scullin found that writing a to-do list before bedtime allows you to offload open tasks and thoughts from your brain, and results in you falling asleep more quickly. For the to-do list to be helpful, you need to be specific rather than general. For example, write ‘pick up reserved books from library’ rather than ‘errands after work’.
It’s normal to be stressed and for that to affect your sleep quality. And it’s normal, if you are a poor sleeper, to be stressed about not sleeping. But it is possible to balance out your worrying with some of the techniques mentioned here.
If you like this blog post, pop on over to my YouTube channel and check out my sleep meditations.