There is no ONE solution that will cure insomnia, and finding the root cause is the first step to ending the struggle. Working with a professional you trust is key, and because I’m not a medical professional, the solutions I discuss are the DO-IT-YOURSELF practices that work outside of the work you would do with a professional.
It will also most likely take a handful of solutions AND small mindset shifts to improve your sleep. Be willing to experiment until you find what works for you. And be patient with yourself.
You are not your thoughts. You can’t control what you think, but you can control how you react to them.
When a thought enters your mind, accept that it’s there, and move on without a reaction. Getting angry or emotional will make it worse. Insomnia is NOT just a difficulty falling asleep, it’s the struggle that surrounds not falling asleep. Remove the struggle, remove the emotion and the frustration that accompanies your bedtime thoughts and worries. Acknowledge them, then let them go without responding to them.
MY OWN STORY
I’m going to get a little vulnerable here, and tell you something about me that has nothing to do with sleep, but a lot to do with how we respond to our thoughts. This part of me was a secret for decades, so it’s still uncomfortable for me to talk about, but if it can help someone else, it’s worth being uncomfortable.
I had an eating disorder that started at age 18, and finally ended when I found professional help in my 30’s. I was consumed by negative thoughts about my body, about what I was eating, and about my weight. Being healthy was a negative obsession for me, and my thoughts tortured me daily because I listened to them and did what they told me to do.
I received my official stamp of recovery almost 5 years ago. Recovery from an eating disorder is hard to describe because it’s never completely final. It doesn’t mean that I no longer have negative thoughts about my body, my weight, or what I eat. I don’t have the same amount of those thoughts as I once did, but the difference for me is when a thought comes into my head that I know isn’t helpful, I either ignore it or respond to it in a way that best serves me.
Just this morning I had a thought that I should eat a lot less so I could lose a few pounds. My immediate response to that thought was, “You’re not doing that.” I love my body, and I don’t want to do anything to it that would hurt it. I don’t need to lose weight, I just need to continue to take care of myself with a healthy balanced diet, and regular enjoyable exercise. I also know what my triggers are, and food restriction and I just don’t go well together.
I can’t control my thoughts, because they still happen, but I can control how I react to them.
I choose to speak to myself with love. The thoughts that are not said in love are not welcome to join the party. Take your tray of homemade appetizers and go home, negativity! Nobody invited you!
APPLY IT TO YOUR OWN LIFE
How does this relate to sleep? I repeat - you can’t control your thoughts, and you will have negative and unhelpful thoughts regularly. You CAN control how you react to them, and in many cases, no reaction is the perfect reaction.
Here’s how I want this to play out...
It’s time for bed. You lie down in a comfortable sleeping position.
As you’re lying there, begin to breathe and concentrate on your breath. It won’t take long for your common bedtime thoughts and feelings to enter, because that’s what they do! The difference is this time we’re going to acknowledge them (without reacting) and then go back to our breath.
It will take some practice, but the important thing is to accept each thought, and move on. Don’t let your thoughts upset and consume you. If saying something out loud is helpful, try, “OK, goodbye now!” Or “Not tonight.”
FINDING THE ROOT CAUSE
Your body knows how to sleep, and it wants to sleep. If you’re not sleeping because your brain is keeping you awake, then how is a physical solution going to help? How is forcing your body to fall asleep going to help the issue of your overactive brain? Your thoughts are the problem, so deal with your thoughts first.
I implore you to find help if you can’t deal with what’s going on in your head. If the root cause of your insomnia or sleeplessness is consuming your life and your thoughts, please find a professional to talk to. Therapy is amazing. Everyone can benefit from it, and there’s no shame in saying, “I can’t do this alone.” My only regret in my eating disorder recovery is that I didn’t get help sooner.