The onset of insomnia
Insomnia often begins during a period of life disruption, gradually, without us realising it. Irregular working hours, a major change, interfering thoughts, a stressful event, or a combination of several of these factors often lead to nights of poor sleep.
At some point, we notice it: we suffer from sleeplessness and we understand the importance of “sleeping well” → then, unfortunately, the stress and focus on sleeplessness sets in.
As soon as we focus on insomnia, it feeds on the continuous attention we pay it. Insomnia feeds on worry and its roots grow gradually until it takes hold of us. The efforts we make, such as the use of medication and the search for endless solutions, reinforce its enormity. Focusing on insomnia only confirms to our brain that it is a threat and we become afraid of it.
This mental conditioning activates various physiological changes in our body, putting us on continuous alert and anticipating another potentially sleepless night ahead. We then seek to protect ourselves from danger, fruitlessly and go into fight-or-flight mode.
Fight or flight, how we stress
When an animal or human being is confronted with potential danger in the forest, for example, the fight or flight response is activated in the body so that we can react effectively to the danger we perceive. Several stress hormones, including cortisol, are released so we have the capability to get ourselves out of danger. Because of sleep deprivation and the resulting negative thought-loop when we suffer from insomnia we find ourselves too frequently in fight-flight mode. In other words, hyperaroused both during the day and at night. However, this response is supposed to be activated very temporarily and not for hours, days or weeks on end. Furthermore, many people with insomnia develop an association between going to bed and not sleeping. In turn, going to bed becomes a trigger for worry and frustration about not sleeping. This, of course, increases our stress levels and make sleep more difficult.
Everything we think, feel and imagine is controlled by our nervous system.
The fight-flight response is controlled by a part of the autonomic nervous system, called the sympathetic system. Let’s call it, for simplicity’s sake, the accelerator of our body.
When it is activated, breathing, pulse, alertness and feelings of stress increase. On the other hand, the parasympathetic system, otherwise known as the “rest and digest” part of the nervous system works like the brake pedal, counterbalancing, releasing hormones that promote rest and slow down breathing, heart rate and stress levels. This part of the nervous system, the brake pedal, promotes the functions that the body performs when it is at rest, including sleep, proper digestion and body repair.
As the day progresses, we tend to press on the accelerator pedal harder and harder, especially since, when we suffer from insomnia, we tend to start the day already feeling anxious.
How to reduce stress levels
To activate the brake and shift towards calmness, relaxation and to promoting sleep, there are many things we can do, including sport, breathing, meditation and reducing our consumption of stimulants. You will discover what works best for you as this e-book progresses.
We will first work on the thoughts and behaviours that keep your foot on the gas pedal, so that we can gradually switch to those that activate the brake and promote sleep.
In this e-book you can learn how to reduce the exceedingly high stress levels resulting from emotional and physiological arousal. You can learn to calm your mind, eliminating your efforts around sleep and reducing physical tension, removing the fear of wakefulness and making it easier to fall asleep. There are many factors that impact our sleep, but the only factors that can produce primary insomnia are our thoughts and behaviours.
To summarise, when we suffer from insomnia, we tend to have exceedingly high stress levels that prevent sleep and are caused by worry and feelings of threat. This can come from general life worries but more often comes from the fear of not being able to sleep. Added to this is the pressure we place on ourselves by actively trying to sleep and escape wakefulness, whereas the opposite, letting go, and accepting the situation as it is, is what actually promotes sleep.
What can we do to reduce stress?
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