Not being able to sleep can feel like the worst luck in the world. It seems like you’ve been singled out for some cruel and unusual—not to mention undeserved—punishment. But as much as it can feel like a curse, sleeplessness can actually be quite useful. It forces us to pay attention to something vitally important to our happiness that we might otherwise happily ignore.

If I could have continued on with my high-achieving, hard-driving, anxiety-producing, no-time-for-feelings, perfectionistic ways, I’m pretty sure I would have. I was succeeding in school and work, after all, and felt what I figured was probably an average amount of satisfaction in life. But certain things—sleeplessness among them—forced me to question my way of doing things. I had to seek help and practice new approaches, new skills, and new qualities. It was a challenging and bumpy ride, but investigating the issues underlying my sleeping woes was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Along the way, I learned things that not only helped me rest much more effectively, but also dramatically improved my happiness, increased my sense of purpose and fulfillment in life, and opened up new and exciting possibilities for me.

Walking this road requires more than knowledge. We need to learn to pay attention differently. We need courage to face some unpleasant truths about ourselves and our habitual way of doing things. We need to step outside of our comfort zones. We need new skills, beliefs, and habits in order to learn to sleep well. The good news is, it is possible, and we don’t have to do this alone. There are coaches, online programs, and therapists who can help.

I’ve never done the online programs (often dubbed “CBT” or “cognitive behavioral therapy” for insomnia), but I believe they can be a good place to start for people who are pretty sure their sleeping problems are primarily related to their sleep hygiene and/or beliefs about sleep. Therapists, on the other hand, can help if you think that trauma from childhood, recent troubling events, depression or major anxiety might also be playing a part in your sleeping trouble. Coaches are a great fit if you think some combination of the factors I mentioned in this series might be playing a role.

I love working on these issues with clients because in the process of learning how to sleep better, they also gain greater clarity about what they want in life and what makes them happy. They begin to worry less and start to move with more ease and confidence in all areas of their lives. They also develop more compassion for themselves. I had one client who started working with me because she couldn’t sleep at night. By the end of our engagement together together, she was not only sleeping better and taking better care of herself, but had also realized that she had a dream to go on an adventure traveling the world with her partner and began to make plans to do so. When we tune into what’s getting in the way of us resting and relaxing in the way we’d like, we get to know ourselves in powerful ways that bring us closer to what we truly want in life.

The bottom line is, get to the bottom line. Don’t worry if the standard tips and advice on sleeping don’t work for you. Dare to get to the heart of the matter, and things will get better, perhaps in more ways than you can imagine.

Not being able to sleep may just turn out to be one of the best things that’s ever happened to you.

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