When we suffer from insomnia, we tend to focus on it day and night. We become obsessed with the impact of our sleep difficulties on our daily lives. Unhelpful thoughts around our sleeplessness become repeated and automatic thoughts set in, i.e. unconscious thoughts that become firmed ingrained in our mind through continuous repetition. When you say to yourself “I’m definitely not going to sleep tonight because I haven’t slept for days and I’m really stressed out”, you are reconfirming to your brain that there is a threat. This keeps your mind in a state of alertness, and stress hormones are triggered. This was not your intention, but this is the brain’s interpretation.
Whenever we don’t have directed activity, by default we switch to automatic, repeated thoughts. We go into default mode and adopt the specific patterns of thoughts and behaviours that we have repeated and reinforced over time. These thought patterns become habits and habits become automatic, without us even realising it. By definition, by default, these automatic thoughts and behaviours seem to be beyond our control, and we feel powerless. With fatigue and stress, we also tend to ruminate and exaggerate our problems. However, the good news is that nothing is set in stone forever, the brain is malleable and we have the ability to reshape these unhelpful automatic thoughts into helpful thoughts that contribute to calmness and promoting sleep.
As contradictory as it may seem, learning to sleep naturally again starts by not thinking about sleep constantly in an anxious and automatic way, but by rationalisation.
First you need to identify your automatic thoughts, analyse them and then replace them with more appropriate and helpful thoughts and behaviours that are directed with intention. This will allow you to integrate behaviours and automatisms that promote your well-being and relaxation rather than generating high levels of stress that are unconducive to a good night’s sleep.
High stress levels are a product of our thoughts. I invite you now to become aware of your thoughts around sleep and also around other events happening in your life. Purposely notice them and write them down. You will certainly be surprised at their presence and strength. Note them with self-directed kindness, without judging yourself. Recognise the importance of not spending your time focusing on sleep. Detaching from such thoughts will help you focus on more fruitful activities.
As our cortisol levels are excessively high we create reflexes, automatic thoughts, that are unrealistic and usually negative around sleep. Once you have learned to drive a car for example, you no longer have to consciously direct your brain to manipulate the gear lever. It’s exactly the same with your thoughts and behaviour around sleep. Imagine how much it will help you when you get to the stage where your thoughts are automatically positive regarding sleep and other factors in your life in general.
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