GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL ISSUES
EVERYBODY'S GOT PROBLEMS - plenty of problems - we all know that - it's a normal part of life. But apparently a great number of us who suffer from insomnia are The Worriers. We're the Anxious Annabelles - the Nervous Nellies - and Neds - the Worryworts - the Perfectionists. And we don't just worry about ourselves - we worry about everyone! - there's no one whose pain we don't feel! And we're also the ones who lie in bed stewing over insults, injustices and other hurts.
For these reasons we try to offer support specifically addressed to emotional issues.
MAINTAIN GOOD EMOTIONAL HEALTH
On the most basic level, we believe it is important to maintain good emotional health as well as physical health. All of us have problems and our own sticky issues. But life works best for those who confront their problems and resolve them - or learn how to deal constructively with them. Sometimes we need help with that.
It's important to maintain good health - body health and emotional health. A major cause of insomnia is stress and/or anxiety - both common components of modern life. Take care of the issues that cause you stress or anxiety and your insomnia will probably lesson - or even disappear. Of course that sounds a great deal simpler than it is. But in general, one should address emotional issues as seriously and professionally as one addresses physical ssues.
A SATISFYING LIFE
Leading a busy, full and satisfying life is one of the best defenses against insomnia. It stands to reason that people who feel productive and reasonably happy are less likely to suffer from insomnia than those who are dealing with difficult situations or other problems. If you are having difficulty creating a life that works for you - a life that feels good and satisfying and pleasurable - you might want to look at the personal issues that keep you from achieving this.
Life presents us with so many problems and difficulties - and so many difficult people attached to those problems and difficulties - it's no wonder that sometimes we're stuck awake in the middle of the night either trying to cope with these issues - or the people attached to them.
Sometimes we sit on our problems, unaware that we're trying to suppress them - and also unaware that that's what's keeping us awake.
DEPRESSION & INSOMNIA
You should be aware that insomnia can be a sign of depression - especially if you tend to awaken in the middle of the night or early in the morning, before you've had an adequate amount of sleep - and are unable to get back to sleep. If this is the case with you, we suggest you consult your medical doctor and/or a psychological professional.
You may want to consider SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP so that you can resolve your personal problems and issues and move toward achieving your personal goals.
OVER-STIMULATION & EXCITEMENT
For some people the issue is not a painful problem so much as something wonderful and exciting - that can create over-stimulation and make the head spin and buzz, non-stop. For instance, falling in love - or having had a great evening with someone very stimulating - or having received exciting good news during the day - or returning home from an upbeat evening at the opera, ballet or theatre.
[See AFFIRMATIONS TO HELP CALM YOU DOWN...]
For others, there are deeply distressing real life problems or crisis situations. We all must face those at times in life. And tough as they are, we must deal with such problems and hopefully we'll come out stronger in the end.
ESTABLISH REGULAR ROUTINE
One of the best aids to sleeping well is to establish a regular daily routine - that is, get up at the same time every morning, go to bed at the same time every night - as regular as clock-work. This kind of regular body-habit helps to set your circadian rhythm - that is your body's natural internal system - so that you automatically become tired at night.
You can reinforce this pattern by developing your own little rituals to do as you prepare for bed. Human beings are creatures of habit. So the more regular you are with performing your nightly rituals, the more they will help your system prepare to go to sleep in a timely manner.
For instance, if every night at 10:30 you cover the parakeet cage, check the locks on the doors, wind the grandfather clock in the hall, take a bubble bath, read a chapter in your book and turn out the light - then doing that simple list of activities each night at approximately the same time cues your body to wind down and get sleepy.
Once you've established your routine, you might find your eyelids getting heavy as you start your bedtime rituals. If not, you might try adding more rituals or elongating the ones you have. For some people who have trouble falling asleep, going to bed 15 minutes or half an hour later helps them get to sleep more quickly. Establishing this regular nightly routine helps many people get to sleep at night.
By the way, exercising in the morning, getting outdoors into the sunlight, and including a healthful, nutritious breakfast in your routine, all help to set your circadian rhythm, too.
But sleeping late on weekend mornings, apparently, can be counter-productive, because it disturbs that regular rhythm you've carefully developed for yourself. So even if you're tired, or sleep deprived, experts say to try and get up at the same time each day - even on weekends.
We're not sure we completely agree with this - as we find that sleeping late on weekend mornings, if we're tired from the week, to be one of the great pleasures of life - and, when needed, essential to our well being. But so many books and articles on insomnia mentioned it, we feel obligated to list it here. And, it's worth bearing in mind that essentially you do want to keep to a regular schedule when possible.
CREATING A BUFFER ZONE
In general it's helpful to avoid physical, intellectual or emotional stimulation for two or three hours before bedtime. In other words, if you go to a fast-moving aerobics class in the evening, don't be surprised when it takes you a few hours to wind down and fall asleep. Likewise, seeing a very stimulating, scary or exciting movie just before bedtime can be the opposite of what you need to help you get to sleep. And by the way, the nightly news can be downright scary, too - not to mention horrifying and upsetting; we recommend against watching it just before bedtime, if you're having trouble falling asleep and are susceptible to upset.
We know a charming and popular - though sensitive - young woman who stops answering her phone at 8 in the evening because she doesn't want to be either over-stimulated by her witty, up-beat friends or upset by her difficult, demanding family before her bedtime. She wants to be sure to unwind peacefully before bed without disruption.
Creating this buffer zone is an excellent way to unwind from the activities and problems of the day and get yourself calmed down and ready to go to sleep at the proper time. To incorporate such a wind-down time into your schedule - as part of your bedtime ritual - can be very helpful.
In his well-written book about sleep, called "Sleep Thieves," Stanley Coren tells how his grandmother helped him to relax and fall asleep as a little boy on nights when he seemed especially agitated.
"Why are you so restless tonight?," she would ask him and then answer her own question, "It's probably just the dybbuks having fun with you."
"What are dybbuks?" he asked. "They are little devils that like to pester people and keep them from sleeping. Whenever you can't fall asleep, you just get out of bed and turn your shoes over. That's where the dybbuks hide at night, you know. If they don't have a place to hide when they are teasing you, they'll go away and bother someone else," she explained.
He followed her advice, dutifully turning over his shoes, and found this prescription helpful throughout his childhood.
We found this story charming and imagine the cure would work well for children today - that is, the ones who aren't too world-weary and cynical.
WHEN WE'RE CHILDREN
We establish our primary sleep patterns as youngsters. This is one reason why, if you have children, it's so important to help them get to bed and to sleep in a peaceful, reassuring way. For more on this, go to SLEEP PROBLEMS IN INFANTS & CHILDREN.
STRESS, ANXIETY, PROBLEMS
Sleep problems that do not have a medical basis - or a physio/psychological basis, such as depression - are often the result of stress, anxiety and plain old fashioned worries. And God knows we have plenty to worry about in our high-pressure, high-achievement, high-stress, (about-to-be) third-millennium lives.
"Don't take your troubles to bed," advises one book. That sounds like great advice, except it doesn't say how to get yourself into bed without your troubles! - which strikes us as being the key thing.
In a Peanuts cartoon book about stress, there's a drawing that shows Charlie Brown lying in bed, with a worried look on his face. Covering him is a big, cozy quilt with the word "worry" written all over it, many times - worry, worry, worry, worry... As usual with Charles Schulz's "Peanuts," the point is well illustrated.
The good news is there are some things you can do to effectively help yourself cope with your worries.
If you find that you're mulling over your problems too intensely - and not particularly effectively - and that's keeping you from nodding off, you can get out of bed and make a list of your problems along with actions you're going to take to cope with each of the problems.
You can make the list short and to the point.
Go to bank, transfer funds.
Send apology to Aunt Helen.
Write first draft of memo to boss, etc.
This little list of actions will help get your troubles out of your system and onto paper, perhaps freeing you enough to go to sleep, knowing you'll pick up that paper in the morning and start dealing effectively with your problems. Sometimes that list is all you need to allow yourself to get to sleep.
If you're feeling very upset about problems or issues, you may want to spend more time writing down your problems and all your thoughts and feelings about them. Writing in stream-of-consciousness can be helpful, too. That is, don't inhibit your thoughts - just write everything down - in an attempt to get it all OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM. Sometimes this gives you a new perspective on what's really going on with you. And it might well help to calm you down - just the fact that you're getting it OUT and onto paper might help.
One technique for reducing tension is to observe yourself breathing slowly and rhythmically.
[Also, try our segment, RELAXATION BREATHING.]
As you take a breath in through your nose, think "relaxation" - and as you let the breath out slowly, through your mouth, think "tension." So that you're inhaling "relaxation" and exhaling "tension." It's important to use these words as you do this: Breathe in through your nose, think the word "relaxation" - breathe out through your mouth, think the word "tension."
You could also think of inhaling "serenity" or "peace" and exhaling "aggravation" or "upset" - or whatever words and concepts work for you.
MULLING AND MULLING...
If you've been mulling and mulling over the same material - round and round in a circle - at a certain point you might try sternly cutting yourself off from such incessant worrying. That is, you simply tell yourself, "Ok - Cut! (like a film director) - Stop! - Enough! - Time out! - Turn it off! - No more mulling over all these problems" - and with that be sure to actively turn your attention to something pleasurable that's not at all related to work or your troubles. If you leave your mind blank, your troubles will just creep right back in.
(As Charlie Brown says, "That's the secret to life - replace one worry with another...")
THE WORRY DRAWER
Or, you might try mentally tucking your worries into an imagined drawer for later. This is especially effective if you have already followed steps such as we discuss in our "DEALING WITH TROUBLES" section, whereby you write down your problems and planned resolutions. Once you've done that be sure to shut the drawer - tight - and actively turn your attention to something pleasurable that's not at all related to work or your troubles. Pick up an enjoyable book, turn on the tv and watch something funny or pleasurably engrossing. Or simply bring to mind some happy memories - but play them like a movie, slowly unfolding, detail by detail.
AVOID 'SELF-INDUCED INSOMNIA'
It's important to avoid "trying hard" to go to sleep. This is one of those times when trying hard not only doesn't help, but can backfire greatly. The harder you try the more likely you are to fail. In fact you can unintentionally set-off "self-induced insomnia" - which is insomnia that comes from anxiety about falling asleep.
You want to avoid developing that and one of the best ways is to get out of bed once you see that you're not falling asleep after 20 minutes or half an hour. Get out of bed and do anything else but "try" to fall asleep. After a while, when you feel a bit sleepy, you can get back into bed and give it another shot.
During your time out of bed, you may find it most helpful to engage in some kind of activity that is of genuine help or interest to you. This is why we offer so many choices in our COPING ACTIVITIES segment. You will feel more relaxed after you've been absorbed in some kind of activity for a while.
Sometimes, too, you've just got to cool it - and say to yourself, "Ok - so I'm not going to get all the sleep I'd like - or need - but that's not the end of the world. So I'll be tired for a day - and tomorrow night I'll sleep fine" - and you probably will.
It seems that research has shown two different results on the days after a person doesn't sleep well. One is that we can function quite well - in top form, really - even on very little sleep.
And the other is that we'd better be cautious - because accidents go up on the days when we've had little sleep.
Use your judgement. Ok, so you won't die if you don't get all the sleep you need - but on the other hand - better be cautious, too!
A SLEEP DIARY
Here's something you can do that can help you understand the root of your sleep problem better - keep a sleep diary. Before you go to bed each night, make a note of what you did that day, what problems you encountered in your life - and how you felt about them - what sort of interactions you had with people, what you ate and drank, when you ate it and drank it, what you did in the evening and what you did before going to bed.
In the morning, note how the night went. Be as specific and detailed as possible. Keep this diary for at least ten days or two weeks and see what patterns show up. Perhaps you're having most of your trouble sleeping on nights when you've had a difficult day at the office - or at home - or with the kids - or your in-laws. Or nights when you've had a large, greasy steak for dinner. Or maybe you're drinking too much coffee - or too much cola.
We know a fellow who had a stubborn sleep problem for years and neither he, nor his doctor, nor his therapist, could figure it out - until a friend made a comment about his habit of sipping cola all day long.
Your sleep diary can tell you a lot if you will take the time and trouble to note all the details - even things that don't seem important at the time - like sipping cola throughout the day.
What about nightmares?
Think we outgrow those with childhood? Unfortunately, not all of us, not all the time. Nightmares can happen to adults, too, of course, and can even keep you up for quite a while in the night.
One technique to manage a frightening nightmare is to complete the dream in your head - consciously, while awake - but in a way that gives you satisfaction - that resolves the issue for you.
For instance, taking a classic scenario - you're being chased by a menacing wild beast - you're running as fast as you can but your legs won't work fast enough and the beast is gaining on you - when you suddenly wake up. As the director of this mini-movie, you can re-write the script and create a resolution that is comforting to you - such as, you could have yourself grow very big and the beast shrink to a small size whereupon you vanquish him.
You could also try to program yourself to dream a happy ending to your nightmare, in case it comes back. That is, you consciously tell yourself to do that, if the dream comes back.
You also might try asking yourself, what in my life frightens me at this time, in a similar manner to my dream? Perhaps you can analyze a resolution for yourself. For instance, the monster you have been dreaming about that's been chasing you might represent some other element that you feel is chasing you now in a menacing way - like an unwanted suitor, or a difficult boss or other person. The fact that you have fears is very understandable. Try to figure out a constructive resolution to the problem - a resolution in which everyone wins and retains his/her dignity.
If your nightmares persist, that's an indication that something inside you is unresolved and causing you pain. In that case it would be best to consult a psychological professional for help working that issue through. You may be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. This is a serious condition that requires skillful, practiced professional help.
POST TRAUMATIC STRESS SYNDROME
Is it possible you're suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome?
Are you having repetitive nightmares reliving a traumatic event in your life? Are you distressed by memories of a traumatic event? Are you worn out and worn down - emotionally exhausted - recalling traumatic events from the past? Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is a serious condition that requires professional help. The good news is that you really can get help and relief from your pain and suffering.
But you must find a professional therapist who is qualified to help you - preferably someone trained in and experienced with treating Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
OVERWHELMING REAL-LIFE PROBLEMS
Life can be tough at times - very tough - very painful.
You might be the healthiest, happiest, strongest, most positive and productive person imaginable and still have terrible things happen to you. It's not for nothing that the Biblical story of Job resonates with us today as it has throughout the ages.
If you are dealing with serious problems we have no magic solutions, of course, but we do offer some techniques to help you cope with your situation in our segment on DEALING WITH WORRIES & PROBLEMS.
Also you might be interested in our segment on PRAYER or our segment on SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP - not because you're "neurotic" and must "straighten out" but because we all need help and support when we're dealing with difficult situations.
For more help, check out the navigation bars to the left for issues of importance to you.
If you have been up for a while now and it's late - too late to get a good night's sleep - we offer some TECHNIQUES to help get you through the day when you feel wretched from sleep deprivation.
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