The more trouble you have with sleep, the more it starts to invade your thoughts. You may dread going to sleep because you just know that you’re going to toss and turn for hours or be up at 2 a.m. again. Or maybe you’re worried because you have a big day tomorrow, and if you don’t get a solid 8 hours, you’re sure you’ll blow it. But agonizing and expecting sleep difficulties only makes insomnia worse. Worrying about getting to sleep or how tired you’re going to be floods your body with adrenaline, and before you know it, you’re wide-awake.
Learning to associate your bed with sleeping, not sleeplessness
If sleep worries are getting in the way of your ability to unwind at night, the following strategies may help. The goal is to train your body to associate the bed with sleep and nothing else—especially not frustration and anxiety.
- Use the bedroom only for sleeping and sex. Don’t work, read, watch TV, or use your computer in bed or the bedroom. The goal is to associate the bedroom with sleep alone, so that your brain and body get a strong signal that it’s time to nod off when you get in bed.
- Get out of bed when you can’t sleep. Don’t try to force yourself to sleep. Tossing and turning only amps up the anxiety. Get up, leave the bedroom, and do something relaxing, such as reading, drinking a warm cup of caffeine-free tea, taking a bath, or listening to soothing music. When you’re sleepy, go back to bed.
- Move bedroom clocks out of view. Anxiously watching the minutes tick by when you can’t sleep—knowing that you’re going to be exhausted when the alarm goes off—is a surefire recipe for insomnia. You can use an alarm, but make sure you can’t see the time when you’re in bed.
It’s also helpful to challenge the negative attitudes about sleep and your insomnia problem that you’ve developed over time. The key is to recognize self-defeating thoughts and replace them with more realistic ones.
|Challenging self-defeating thoughts that fuel insomnia|
|Unrealistic expectations: I should be able to sleep well every night like a normal person. I shouldn’t have a problem!|
|Exaggeration: It’s the same every single night, another night of sleepless misery.|
|Catastrophizing: If I don’t get some sleep, I’ll tank my presentation and jeopardize my job.|
|Hopelessness: I’m never going to be able to sleep well. It’s out of my control.|
|Fortune telling: It’s going to take me at least an hour to get to sleep tonight. I just know it.|
Remember, replacing self-defeating thoughts takes time and practice. You may find it helpful to jot down your own list, taking note of the negative thoughts that pop up and how you can dispute them. You may be surprised at how often these negative thoughts run through your head. Be patient and ask for support if you need it.