Are your sleep thoughts Sleep-Promoting, or Sleep-Disrupting?

So often, in the clinic, patients share the thoughts that they have about their sleep. They are thinking things like:

  • “If I don’t start sleeping, will I get early onset Alzheimer’s?
  • “When I get home and start making dinner, I start to worry about how I’m going to sleep tonight”
  • “I can never predict whether I’ll sleep well or not”

The first-line treatment for insomnia, recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (abbreviated CBT-I). A key component of CBT-I is that cognitive piece, which is focused on shaping thoughts in ways that support sleep.

It’s useful to put each sleep thought in one of two camps, either a) sleep promoting thoughts, or b) sleep disrupting thoughts. When going through the day, the first step is to catch yourself having a sleep thought, and not let it be part of your automatic mental landscape. Instead, catch yourself, and evaluate “Is this a sleep-promoting, or sleep-disrupting thought?”

If it’s a sleep-disrupting thought, then challenge it by asking “Is this really true, or is there another way to think about it?” You may be able to see cases where that thought is not always true. As soon as that realization hits, the power of the sleep disruption thought diminishes.

The next step is to intentionally think sleep-promoting thoughts. Examples could be:

            “I have overcome health challenges in the past.”

            “Most of my life I’ve slept well”

            “I’m trying a new treatment plan, which has worked for thousands of people”

            “Regardless of my sleep, I’m getting done what needs to get done”           

Of course for these intentional sleep-promoting thoughts to work in re-shaping your view, they must have the power of truth, and be true for you individually.

There’s a saying in sleep medicine: “Only insomniacs try to sleep, everyone else just sleeps.” Sleep unfortunately is one of those rare areas in life that the harder you try, the worse you do. Reshaping your sleep thoughts so that you are more confident in your sleep and therefore can step away from trying so hard can be part of sleeping well again.

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