Over the next 7 weeks, I’ll post an article I wrote on the true causes of sleeplessness one section at a time. If you would like a copy of the entire article at any point, just write me at email@example.com to request one.
There is lots of advice out there about how to sleep well, and people with persistent trouble sleeping have usually tried it all, everything short of hitting themselves over the head with a frying pan.
That’s because there’s nothing remotely romantic about not being able to sleep. It’s uncomfortable: after a few nights of wakefulness, exhaustion haunts you like a ghost, possessing you without warning or say. It’s worrying: you don’t know if you’ll have the energy to do what you need to, and you begin to wonder if you’ll ever feel rested again. It’s anxiety-provoking: days are exhausting and you start to dread nights when you’ll be confronted with the frustrating prospect of being completely unable to attain the one thing you want most in life. It’s lonely and isolating: you start to imagine that you’re the only person awake in the wee hours of the morning when the rest of the world seems still and dark. And more than frustrating, the experience is humbling: the one thing you can’t do is something that the rest of the world literally does with their eyes closed.
Yet for all the books, experts, and well-intentioned tips, many people still find that sleep eludes them for weeks, months, or even years on end. That’s because most advice on insomnia focuses on sleep hygiene, which doesn’t address the root cause of persistent sleeplessness, and encourages people to do the one thing that’s guaranteed to make things worse: try even harder to fall asleep.
I struggled for years with sleeplessness and did so much research on the topic that I was asked by online health and wellness game Superbetter to create their content on insomnia. Yet despite knowing so much about the causes and cures of sleeplessness, I still had trouble falling and staying asleep at night. It’s not that I didn’t know enough, or wasn’t trying hard enough, or even that I was less capable than everybody else when it came to resting and relaxing. No, I had so much trouble sleeping for so long despite my best efforts because:
- There are many contributing factors to sleeplessness in addition to sleep hygiene, and until you learn which ones are affecting you, you won’t know what to address when. It took me another year or so of observing of my sleeping patterns with the curiosity of a scientist to learn what was keeping me awake when.
- Knowledge is not enough. It’s an important first step, but even if we know what’s preventing us from sleeping, that doesn’t mean we’ll have the skills we need to do anything differently. I needed to develop more skills before I would be able to sleep well again.
- Most of the literature on insomnia focuses on the role of the body and mind in sleep. It ignores the heart, which has a powerful role in keeping us awake. I had to learn more about my heart and how to work with it before I could sleep soundly again.
In subsequent posts, I’ll lay out five different factors that get in the way of sleep, based on my research of the literature on insomnia, my own experience of overcoming sleeplessness, and my work coaching clients who have trouble sleeping. I’ll point out skills that need to be developed when knowledge is not enough. And I’ll share what I’ve learned about how our heart and feelings can affect how well we rest.
To read the next installment, click here. Or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for the full article.
I suffer from insomnia and have trouble staying asleep. I’ll have to try some of the methods you shared here. I usually sleep with the TV on, which probably doesn’t help. When I was on vacation last week, I slept without it and got much better sleep.
Sounds like a great insight, David. Thanks for sharing. Your website looks like a great resource as well. Best of luck!
In my case the cause of insomnia has always been stress or sometimes I stay awake with out any particular reason but that happens very rarely. I think if we learn to manage our stress, quality of sleep will be better.
Thanks for pointing that out, John. Stress and how we respond to it can have a huge impact on sleep. Finding ways to reduce stress and/or calm our nervous systems in the midst of it can certainly help a lot.