If you have insomnia, you are certainly awake when you’d rather be sleeping. I suspect you might be frequently frustrated about it, or even angry. After all, the insomnia is happening—again! Or you start worrying an hour or more before bedtime. “What’s tonight going to be like? Am I going to be awake all night again?” You might be filled with dread about the idea of getting into bed and facing a night of tossing and turning. It’s completely understandable! I’ve been there myself. Insomnia is a miserable experience. Not being able to sleep when you are tired is frustrating and miserable.
The idea of being willing to be awake at a time when you expect to be sleeping might sound unreasonable at first glance. I help people with insomnia and I certainly don’t stop with “just be willing to be awake.” But the willingness plays an important role in making it more likely you’ll be able to sleep.
Those common experiences of people who have insomnia— frustration, anger, dread, worry—all of those are picked up by your nervous system, which then becomes more activated in response to what it sees as a threat. In other words, your fight (anger, frustration) or flight (worry, dread) system turns on. The human brain is designed to override sleep signals in the presence of danger. If you are camping out in the woods and you think you hear a bear outside your tent, you are not going to sleep until you are certain the danger is gone. Your brain won’t let you. So even though you are safe at home, your danger detecting system notices the anger, frustration, worry, or dread and acts as though there is a bear nearby. Unwillingness is essentially fighting the insomnia. Your body is going to be ready to fight or flee the danger and sleep isn’t happening at that time.
Willingness is the counter to those emotions which activate the fight or flight system. If you are willing to be awake even though you’d prefer to be sleeping, you aren’t going to get as frustrated or angry. If you are willing to be awake even though you’d prefer to be sleeping, you won’t dread bedtime as much or have to worry about what will happen.
To be clear, I’m not saying you have to be delighted to find that, once again, you’re awake when you want to be sleeping. You don’t. It sucks. And you can acknowledge this to yourself. “It sucks that I’m still awake when I’d rather be sleeping. But I’m accepting that at this time, I’m awake even if I want to sleep.” You don’t have to lie there and be miserable and, in fact, I’d sure recommend you don’t because that further ingrains the insomnia. Occupy your unwilling awake time with something pleasant but without a particular purpose. That is, engage in something for its own sake, like reading, painting, knitting, putting a puzzle together, Sudoku, etc. If you can stay out of fight or flight, you’re going to be setting the stage to fall asleep more quickly than otherwise.
If you are struggling with sleep problems, I invite you to call or text (816-226-4678) to set up a free 15-minute video consultation. Insomnia is very treatable and usually responds quickly to treatment.