Antidotes To The Sleep Anxiety Loop

7 November, 2011

The onset of a sleep problem can be caused by a variety of reasons - stress, trauma, a new baby, travel, poor sleeping patterns as a child. In my experience the main problem for people is a continuation of the problem. This is mainly caused by The Sleep Anxiety Loop.

The Sleep Anxiety Loop is what I call the way we think about not sleeping. We start "what iffing" - what if I don't sleep, what if I am tired tomorrow, what if I am too tired to do my job, so on and so forth. Sometimes, it is when we need to perform the most the next day that our brain does this! It is called a loop because those very very worrying thoughts get you into a state of anxiety or fear, which will keep your body awake successfully.

Let's just make it clear that I am referring to Insomnia: difficulty falling or staying asleep, not physical problems like sleep apnoea or sleep walking.

So, the question is, what can we do to get out of The Sleep Anxiety Loop?

I have three suggestions, or approaches:

  1. Focus on rest and relaxation, not the amount of hours. Deepak Chopra is very open about his strategy; he purposefully wakes himself up every 30 minutes during the night so he can meditate. Why? Because he says, he rises the morning significantly more refreshed than if he were to have been unconscious all night. Research also points to this; a study done on Buddhist Meditators, who spend 6-7 hours per day meditating, reported their need for only four hours of shut eye per night, that's simply all their bodies needed to wake up feeling rested as they had spent so much time in a deep restful state all day. We don't need to be as extreme in our every day, western lives; however, it is key to know, that when we are in a deeply restful state of mind and body, with few thoughts, and deeply relaxed, we are receiving 80% of the benefits that we would be getting if we were in deep sleep. I know, I know, we would all prefer to be fast asleep! Thinking of it in this way means we don't need as much sleep as we think, and we can take the pressure off ourselves. We can say to ourselves "I am just going to bed to rest deeply and I will rise refreshed". The slight paradox is that once we have taken the pressure off ourselves and we practice being in a deep state of rest in mind and body, we will sleep better anyway.
  2. Give up controlling the uncontrollable. You have never had a conscious experience of being asleep, have you? Could you describe it? No. All we know is we go into it, and come out of it, refreshed. We can't control it with our minds and our thinking, so stop it! Imagine trying to control your breathing "am I going to breathe today? Did I breathe deeply enough just now?" - it would be exhausting and unnecessary. All you can do is create the right conditions for your body to do what it knows how to do - what we ALL instinctively know how to do - and fall asleep unconsciously.
  3. Sleep is a journey, not a destination. It is quality, not quantity that matters. Stop worrying about the journey. All that really matters is the destination, that you rise refreshed and energised the next day. Imagine we were going to take a road trip, to Wanaka, say. We would have to stop and get petrol, probably several times, there may be road works that slow us down, we might accidentally find a faster route, we would stop and get food, go to the toilet...yet none of this really matters as long as we get to our destination, Wanaka, safely.

Take the pressure off yourselves, you are going to bed to breathe and rest deeply, where you will rise refreshed the next day.

Find a resting and relaxation process that works for you.

And let me know how it helps you. In acknowledgement of the work of Aaron McLoughlin of the Sleep Better Sooner programme.


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