Do you occasionally find yourself up in the middle of the night, ruminating and unable to go back to sleep? Or do you sometimes have a hard time falling sleep because you have too much on your mind?
Part of the problem may be related to natural sleep patterns and waking/sleeping behavior, and another part of the problem may be how we deal with wakefulness. Here are strategies to address those problems and overcome insomnia.
1. Understanding Sleep Patterns. A great deal of the worry associated with insomnia may be related to our misconceptions about sleep timing. Many of us adhere to the 8-hours-of-uninterrupted-sleep notion. This is the belief that sleeping straight through for 8 hours is “normal.” However, sleep research suggests that the normal pattern may be what is called “segmented sleep.” This is the idea that our natural rhythm is to sleep for 3-4 hours, followed by a 1-2 hour awake period, and a second 2-4 hour sleep. Historical evidence suggests that segmented sleep was once common, and our ancestors used the mid-night waking period to visit with neighbors, have a snack, or have sex. [Learn more about segmented sleep here].
2. Cognitive Reframing. Occasional insomnia may occur because of our belief system about sleep. We may worry about our lack of uninterrupted sleep, or too few hours of sleep per night, and this anxiety often keeps us awake. By cognitive reframing—thinking differently about our sleep patterns—we may alleviate some of our insomnia. An obvious strategy is to assure ourselves that segmented sleep is ok, and a few nights of poor sleep will not lead to lasting damage.
3. Benign Reflection. Wakefulness, right after we hit the sack or in the middle of the night, offers an opportunity to put negative thinking on hold, count our blessings, and reflect on the many positive things in our lives. By moving our thought patterns from negative to positive, it may become easier to fall asleep.
4. The To-Do List. Sometimes insomnia is caused by the many things that we have to do the next morning, and we ruminate about them and can’t get back to sleep. This is the time to make a mental to-do list or have a pen and paper next to your bed and write it all down. Very often, once we make the list, we realize that there wasn’t all that much to do in the first place.
5. Wrestle Your Demons. Perhaps wakefulness is not a bad thing, but an opportunity to reflect and solve problems. We can often cognitively put our demons to rest by thinking through problems and issues. And, coupled with benign reflection, we might satisfy our cognitive musings and return to peaceful sleep.
6. Be Productive. Take advantage of wakeful time and get something done. It was mid-night insomnia, and the reflection it provided, that led to this blog post. (In fact, I got up way too early in the morning to write it down). Taking advantage of segmented sleep might lead you to accomplish tasks, and it may even tire you out so that you can get a restful, “second” sleep.
Of course, if you are the victim of chronic insomnia it is important to check with your doctor and discuss possible treatments. These strategies are applicable to those of us suffering from occasional insomnia or sleeplessness.
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