Remember when your kids were little and they were afraid of scary monsters in their closet or under their bed?
Chances are, you helped them through it by taking away the imaginary monster’s power to frighten them.
Maybe you re-directed their attention to something else.
Maybe you made it a game and had them come up with a silly name for the monster until it seemed less scary.
The one thing I’m sure you DIDN’T do is say, “He’s definitely in there! I saw him at lunch time and he told me he’s just waiting for you to fall asleep so he can come out and play in your room! You’d better be careful!”
Can you even imagine?
Sounds totally obvious in this context until you realize that this is exactly what you’re doing to yourself when you worry ahead of time that insomnia will visit you the minute your head hits the pillow.
A certain amount of night time anxiety is probably normal. Human brains evolved strategies to keep you safe, and for your ancestors, sleep probably wasn’t a super safe activity. It was probably the most vulnerable part of their 24 hours.
You don’t live in a cave, and don’t require the same level of alertness to your surroundings while you sleep. But your brain hasn’t figured that out yet.
Your adult scary monster is worry and it shows up as thoughts like these:
“I sure hope I can sleep tonight. I can’t handle another rough day at work tomorrow.”
“I’m dreading going to bed. It’s the same thing every night – I can never sleep well.”
“This is hopeless. Nothing I try helps. I hate being an insomniac.”
“There must be something wrong with me. I try to sleep but it just doesn’t come.”
“Maybe I need a new bedtime routine. This essential oil/book I’m reading/journaling/earlier bedtime/[insert newest bedtime strategy here] is making me even less tired.”
Don't Give Away Your Power to External Solutions
Recognize your thoughts in any of these? I know I said every one of them before I found what I now offer through Permission to Sleep™, my sleep and self-care coaching program.
Notice the thoughts in that list are both negative and somewhat proactive – the last one is all about looking for solutions. But they’re external solutions. Bandaids. They don’t solve the cause of your problem.
When you give power to something outside yourself, to either ruin your night or even trying to make it amazing, you have none left for yourself.
You’re at the mercy of the scary monsters and the magical tools you think will finally solve it all for you.
There Are No Magic Pajamas
I love how Dr. Donn Posner (Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor, Dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine) puts this:
Insomnia usually comes in waves: two to three bad nights, followed by a good night when your brain just gives in and sleeps no matter what you do. Then you might have another two bad nights before a good night again.
Dr. Posner suggests you could convince yourself magic pajamas will put you to sleep if you happen to wear them on a night when you likely would have slept anyway. It’s only after a few bad nights that you usually start looking for external solutions, right?
The reinforcement of the one good night, tied to the magic PJ’s, gives them all your power. You start to worry you won’t be able to sleep again without them until they let you down too.
Nothing has gone wrong – you just forgot your body knew all along how to sleep.
This is how the placebo effect with sleeping pills works too.
What if you stopped giving insomnia all this power? And by that I mean negative attention.
What if, instead, you start paying attention to the stories you tell yourself about sleep?
Like giving yourself the “insomniac” label, for example.
If what you focus your attention on grows (and I believe your thoughts create your results), what do you imagine is the result of repeating over and over that you’re an insomniac?
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Instead, try shifting your sleep story and your self-talk.
Practice adding some possibility into your inner conversations about sleep.
There’s no limit to the amount of positive attention you can give to sleep and self-care.
My old sleep story was that sleep is for chumps. How much sleep do you think I got when I believed that?
Now I truly believe all women deserve to fall asleep when their heads hit the pillow. It’s not an ability handed down from above for your partners to annoy you with – I promise!
You deserve good sleep too.
Maybe you’ll try something like:
“Human brains and bodies know how to sleep. I’m not broken or sick and I can unlearn the habits I taught myself that are keeping me awake.”*
“I haven’t slept well this week. That probably means my brain is building up significant sleep pressure and a better sleep is just around the corner.”
When you wake up in the night, instead of going immediately to thoughts of doom and despair for the terrible day you’ll definitely have tomorrow, practice noticing what’s really going on and offer your brain this thought:
“All that’s happened is you are awake, and other people are asleep. It doesn’t have to be more dramatic than that.”
You might even laugh at yourself for thinking it should be.
And when you stop focusing on how awful it is to be awake, you’ll eventually fall asleep again.
Like a watched pot that never boils, an insomniac mom worrying about why she’s awake will never fall back to sleep. Awkward simile, to be sure. But also 100% true!
Give these sleep story reboots a try and let me know what you come up with.
Scary monsters aren’t real. And there are no magic pajamas.
But that’s OK – you don’t need them because you have the ability to choose better thoughts.
That’s your superpower.
Let me know how you do and if you want some help with this, click the button below and schedule your free 30-minute sleep assessment.
*This is not intended as/to replace medical advice. It assumes you have checked with your family doctor or medical professional to make sure you’re not suffering from a sleep or other medical/psychiatric disorder.