What Insomnia feels like

What Insomnia feels like

22 Aug 2019 6:29 PMRosemary Clancy

The night and day preoccupation with poor sleep and tiredness, and trying to resolve it, sets up a frustrating struggle that is the awful truth of insomnia: the harder you try to make sleep work, the worse it gets.

 After a big week packed with work, you’ve been conscientious and begun your Thursday bedtime routine at 8pm. You’ve wound down with a warm shower and are now settling down with a good book.

You filled a prescription for sleep medication 2 months ago and tried to contain using it to only 3 nights a week, because Monday, Tuesday and Thursday are your worst days, with the nights before being your worst sleeps. Your eyelids are getting heavy, everything’s moving in the right direction. You miss your place in the book and feel good because you probably don’t need to take a sleeping pill. You turn the bedside lamp off and the bedroom is dark. You close your eyes, listening to the muffled sound of traffic in the distance.

Ten minutes later you realise you’ve been thinking about a meeting tomorrow, and now you feel more awake. You’ve already taken medication on 3 nights this week and you don’t want to take it a fourth night. Especially as last night it didn’t work as well as it did Sunday night. 

Your mind starts racing with thoughts about how unfair this is, since everything was going according to plan. You’ve done everything right – the daytime exercise, the wind-down period. Ten minutes ago your eyelids were heavy and sleep was overtaking you. Now your brain is active, rapidly scrolling through next day’s work demands and thinking about where you can reschedule meetings and conserve energy if tonight’s going to be a bad-sleep night. heart rate increases, you start to feel hot and prickly, the feelings of frustration and anxiety escalate.


The next half hour is spent tossing and turning, plumping up the pillows because your neck and is tense and you’re worried about getting a headache, calculating how many sick days you’ve had off work this year, and whether it looks bad to take another one. You get up to go to the toilet because your bladder is one thing you can manage to eliminate sleep threats. At the end of the half hour, even though you’ve resisted it, you take a Valium. It seems to work less well than yesterday evening. You feel some relief after you’ve taken it because it has worked so far to get you off to sleep, and now you’re not trying to do it on your own. But a part of your brain is also assessing whether it’s working as well now, after 4 days of using it this week.


During the rest of the night you get a block of sleep then what seems to be semi-conscious drifting. When the alarm goes off you wake groggy, headachey, woolly-headed and still a bit sedated. You feel depleted and fatigued yet strangely anxious and desperate, fearing that there’s no guarantee the next night’s sleep will be any better. A hot shower and strong coffee do help to freshen you up, but during the day you make some minor mistakes and each time your focus goes straight to last night’s sleep as the reason.


By 3pm you want a coffee because of the exhaustion, but immediately think about its effects on tonight’s sleep. Your shoulders and neck are wound-up tight and you want to get out and run but too-late exercise affects sleep as well, so no exercise after 4pm. The trapped feeling adds to the tired and wired state. For someone who was always organized, good at taking control and problem-solving you sure feel powerless right now. How can sleep go so wrong when you’re trying so hard to do everything right?


This night and day preoccupation with poor sleep and tiredness, and trying to resolve it, sets up a frustrating struggle that is the core of insomnia: the harder you try to make sleep work, the worse it gets.


This workbook directly targets this paradox of insomnia: how desperate efforts to “make” sleep happen (with medications or any other sleep aids) actually create a hyperfocus on your sleep and worsen it. But with a few good tools you’ll be able to release yourself from this struggle, and get better sleep without having to rely on sleep medications.  The Unlearning Insomnia & Sleep Medication Workbook provides these essential insomnia CBT tools to help you.


The way out of insomnia involves training core sleep-wake behaviours and thinking that mark good sleep, and starting to understand and work with your brain and body’s innate sleep regulation and defence mechanisms.

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