How to treat insomnia

Almost everyone is affected by insomnia at some point in their lives, the condition in which you have the opportunity to sleep and yet you can’t. There are different types of insomnia and there may be several underlying causes. I’ll be talking about what I have here, which is transient insomnia.

I almost put “how to cure insomnia” in the title of this post, but I doubt that I’ll never have it again so it’s more accurate to talk about treating it even though what I’ve discovered seems to me like a cure. It goes right to the heart of the issue.

I had four sleepless nights in a row. And then last night I slept pretty well. What was different?

Friday night I stayed up late, got to bed around 6 am. I woke up after sleeping a couple of hours feeling not great but okay. I could have slept a full eight hours, and I wanted to, but didn’t. Consciously I wanted to, but subconsciously, I was annoyed by wasting the whole day and not getting anything done.

Saturday night I felt proper tired and sleepy and didn’t even go anywhere. I went to bed early to make up for the lost sleep. What happened of course was I could not fall asleep until 6 am no matter what I did.

Sunday night I was so exhausted and sleep deprived that there was no way I wouldn’t sleep I had thought. But Sundays are tricky, because the first day of the workweek always adds a bit of pressure  – you must get a good night’s sleep to be in your best shape on Monday. I hardly slept at all, needless to say.

Monday night was pretty much the same – I tried sleeping in a different room, with music, without, after and in between meditation. Nothing worked.

The breakthrough came last night.

You could say that by then I must have been so sleep deprived that I’d just fall asleep regardless of anything, but I don’t think so. I could have gone another couple of days with little sleep every night.

So the cure or treatment for my kind of insomnia is acceptance.

I can’t sleep, because I have to or I want to.

I have an alarm set at 11pm, which indicates bed time. Without that, I tend to go to bed later and later every day even when I sleep fine. On Monday night, when the alarm went off, I put it to a 10 minute snooze as I wanted to finish something I was doing. And I did that 2 times again before I closed my laptop. And when I did I felt like, alright, now I’d really better get to bed, otherwise I won’t get enough sleep again. I was in resistance. Consciously, I was telling myself to calm down and go to sleep, but subconsciously my mind wanted to make sure I’d have a productive next day by keeping me alert all night and thinking about all the stuff I was going to have to do.

Last night, when the alarm went off at 11pm, I didn’t put it on snooze, just switched it off and kept working. I had no fixed appointments planned for today, which helped to get into a state of acceptance. I was like “fuck it, if I don’t get any sleep I don’t care anymore… if I waste the whole day tomorrow so be it, there is nothing I can do”.

I think it was this surrender that did the trick. I realised my powerlessness over the situation. I came to know there was nothing I could do. And as a result, the resistance of the subconscious dissipated. 

And even though I woke up several times thinking last night again, I was able to fall back asleep and got a good 6-7 hours of sleep.

So the question is, next time I can’t fall asleep, is there way to get into this state of surrender and admit my powerlessness or do I have to go through this cycle of four sleepless nights again?

I guess writing this down and rereading it when needed is a good start.

The difficulty lies in the difference between conscious and subconscious mind. You may accept everything and surrender totally on a conscious level, but your subconscious may keep resisting. And the only way to change that is to experience and admit your powerlessness – to know deep down there is nothing you can do. So then the answer seems to be that whenever your subconscious forgets your powerlessness over the situation, you’ll probably need a few sleepless nights to reset it. Accept that and then you may not…

Not having to get up at a given time helps. But it’s not the solution because if you rely on that, and once in a while you do have to get up to get to a meeting or whatever, then it will matter even more and you’ll be guaranteed to not get any sleep exactly when you should be at your best.

In a way any technique you do to help you fall asleep may be counterproductive because just by doing them, you reaffirm the resistance of your subconscious. And yet, I did two things last night that I felt helped.

I had a glass of wine. Such a simple little thing and it’s definitely not going to help if you are in resistance. But it may help you cross the line as it creates a fairly sudden shift in consciousness. When you feel the alcohol kick in, there is a moment of feeling at ease. It may last or it may not. All I’m saying a glass of wine can be conducive.

I did the Wim Hof breathing technique.  Again, this will not solve insomnia by itself, but the impact it has on your heart rate is immediate and incredible. I find that my heart rate is correlated with the rate at which thoughts arise in my mind. Not sure if there is a causal relationship, but as soon as my heart rate goes down (which is naturally elevated if you are sleep deprived), the mind becomes more quite.

That’s it, hope this helps some of you struggling with insomnia and I hope I will take my own medicine.

Image credit: Mateus Lunardi Dutra