Can’t Sleep? How to Put Insomnia to Bed

Close-up of alarm clock on night table, blurred person in bed awakeYou’re lying in bed, wishing you were sound asleep, but instead you are woefully wide awake. You feel like you’ve spent hours tossing and turning. Your mind is racing, thinking of all the other ways you could have handled something in the past differently, or any of the myriad worries of the day. Instead of settling down with a quiet mind, your thoughts have taken on a life of their own.

You look at the clock (again) and see that yet another hour has passed and you’re STILL not asleep. On top of everything else, you feel panic and dread that you will start the next day exhausted.

Sound familiar?

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep. It can be short-lived or long-term and can be highly distressing. Many people with insomnia experience a preoccupation with thoughts and worries about not getting enough sleep that is associated with difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep.

The concern, of course, is justified. Sleep is essential to health and functioning. We are constantly reminded of the importance of getting enough sleep for our bodies and the effects of sleep deprivation. But worrying about getting enough sleep is a problem unto itself because it often becomes self-perpetuating.

Improving Sleep Hygiene

Just as proper oral hygiene promotes healthy teeth and gums, improved sleep hygiene promotes healthy sleep patterns.

Just as proper oral hygiene promotes healthy teeth and gums, improved sleep hygiene promotes healthy sleep patterns.

There are many sleep hygiene strategies that are known to either hinder falling asleep (e.g., caffeine late in the day) or promote falling asleep (e.g., reserving the bed and bedroom, whenever feasible, for sleep and sex and removing the laptop or smartphone from the vicinity). Sleep hygiene is based on general guidelines; clearly, not everyone responds to the same stimuli in the same way. For example, whereas your partner may not be able to fall asleep easily if a cup of coffee is consumed at any point during the day, you might be able to drink a pot of coffee a day, at any point of the day, without compromising your sleep.

By taking a careful look at what you typically do throughout the day, you might be able to identify small things that are sabotaging your sleep. Making even just one small change might make a meaningful difference.

Awareness of the Causes of Insomnia

If your sleeping difficulties affect your mood and/or daily functioning, frequently trigger worry, or create other distress in your life, seeking the support of a therapist who specializes in the treatment of insomnia or other sleep-related issues is advisable. While insomnia can in some cases be managed without therapy or with medications, there are several techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, or relaxation, that many people find beneficial. As everyone is different, the approach(es) for treating each person should take into account individual preferences and all relevant considerations.

When treating insomnia or other sleeping difficulties, it is essential to have a good understanding of why you are having trouble sleeping. Any number of factors may impair sleep, and careful examination of which factors may be in play is critical for creating change. While disturbed sleep can happen in the absence of easily identifiable triggers, there more often are behavioral patterns or outside factors which contribute significantly. One useful tool for tracking sleeping patterns which can lead to recognizing other associated barriers to a good night’s sleep can be keeping a sleep diary. When looked at closely in therapy, this can lead to new insights and, consequently, improved sleep.

Things you’ll want to talk about with your doctor or therapist include the history of your sleep concerns and the exact nature of the issues you are experiencing. Come to your appointment ready to describe the history of your sleeping problems and what you typically do about it. Improved understanding of factors underlying or reinforcing the sleep issues will be facilitated with therapy. With a better understanding of the root causes of insomnia, you’ll be on the road to a better night’s sleep.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Marni Amsellem, PhD, therapist in Trumbull, Connecticut

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 16 comments
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  • elaina

    elaina

    July 20th, 2016 at 11:22 AM

    I don’t typically have a problem with going to sleep but staying asleep is a completely different issue. Either I am restless and I toss and turn all night or I go to sleep just fine for an hour or so and then I am wide awake again. It can be so frustrating.

  • Dr. Marni Amsellem

    Dr. Marni Amsellem

    July 21st, 2016 at 11:28 AM

    Elaina, Sleep maintenance insomnia can be a very frustrating thing to experience indeed. There are definitely strategies for managing nighttime wakefulness. It may be something that you want to look into, and perhaps I will write an upcoming article about this topic if this would be useful.

  • Dr. Marni Amsellem

    Dr. Marni Amsellem

    July 21st, 2016 at 11:36 AM

    thank you for the comment!

  • Carson

    Carson

    July 21st, 2016 at 7:03 AM

    Don’t like to have to rely on it all the time but usually Ambien does the trick for me

  • Dr. Marni Amsellem

    Dr. Marni Amsellem

    July 21st, 2016 at 11:35 AM

    Carson, taking a sleeping pill (hypnotic pharmacotherapy) for insomnia management can certainly be a successful approach for managing insomnia for those who tolerate the medication well. Many people would agree that they would rather not rely on a medication, and fortunately there are many effective approaches for insomnia management. Often, changing sleep-related behaviors, working on thinking around insomnia (that can be achieved through therapy) can work (alone or in combination with a sleeping aid) and can promote longer term success for insomnia.

  • Dr. Marni Amsellem

    Dr. Marni Amsellem

    July 21st, 2016 at 11:36 AM

    and thanks for the comment!

  • Kaci

    Kaci

    July 21st, 2016 at 3:16 PM

    Isn’t there some breathing or counting exercise that is supposed to help? I can’t ever go right to sleep no matter how tired I might feel when I first lay down. It seems to be quite the process sometimes just to catch a few zzzs.

  • Dr. Marni Amsellem

    Dr. Marni Amsellem

    July 22nd, 2016 at 2:39 PM

    Thanks for the question, Kaci! What breathing or counting exercises can do as you are falling asleep is help both induce relaxation and distract you from thoughts on your mind that present as barriers to falling asleep. Sometimes thoughts are variations on “Oh man, it’s going to to be SO hard to fall asleep tonight!”. A clear and relaxed mind is definitely associated with getting to sleep easier!

  • Jack j

    Jack j

    July 22nd, 2016 at 7:41 AM

    When I don’t get enough rest, and I mean, good rest, then I am pretty much useless to myself and anyone else around me. I am mean and grumpy and honestly can’t think straight. My wife laughs at me and says it is because I didn’t get enough beauty sleep that makes me so mean and I do think that this is pretty accurate!

  • Dr. Marni Amsellem

    Dr. Marni Amsellem

    July 22nd, 2016 at 2:34 PM

    Thanks for the comment, Jack! You hit on something important to consider- that people have different sleep needs. Some people regularly function (well) on a low amount of sleep and others require more sleep. It is not just you!

  • Tatum

    Tatum

    July 23rd, 2016 at 9:01 AM

    I know that some people swear by the whole warm milk thing, but gross that seems nasty to me.

    I usually just wait until I am almost falling asleep doing whatever I am doing, reading or watching TV or whatever, and I wait until them to actually lay down.

    If I try to push it and do the whole sleep thing before I am simply dead on my feet, that never works out too well for me.

  • Dr. Marni Amsellem

    Dr. Marni Amsellem

    July 25th, 2016 at 1:44 PM

    That strategy sounds like it works well for you, and it is also something that sleep experts often recommend too. Thanks for the comment, Tatum!

  • Julissa

    Julissa

    July 25th, 2016 at 11:27 AM

    You don’t know how badly not being able to get a consistent night’s sleep impacts you until you start struggling with insomnia and then it hits you pretty quickly. I used to be able to get by on far less sleep than what I do now, and there are days I can’t hardly hold my head up after having not slept well the prior night. That usually means that I will sleep the next night but only because the lack of sleep has caught up with me but there has to be a better way.

  • Dr. Marni Amsellem

    Dr. Marni Amsellem

    July 25th, 2016 at 1:47 PM

    Thanks for the comment, Julissa! Insomnia can be very debilitating indeed. There are definitely ways that you can receive some assistance with this. This article will hopefully point you in the right direction, but it may be useful to look into options tailored to what you need in your area.

  • Sam

    Sam

    July 26th, 2016 at 4:18 PM

    I just read until I go to sleep.

  • Shawn D

    Shawn D

    June 17th, 2017 at 7:11 AM

    I tried a lot of things as well, but not much worked. I found that not using moible phone/laptops before bed time was helpful, apparently that ruins our sense of “sleep”. I also tried some sort of syrup you drink before bed containing natural herb extracts, proprietary ingredients, and essential vitamins. I read the review and after that I figured I would try, and It works wonders! Just have some an hour or so before bed time.
    Hope that helps anyone, thanks!

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