5. Challenge worries about sleep
You may have already realized that thinking about being sleepless makes you anxious, which makes sleep more elusive. One way to interrupt this cycle is to challenge the idea that being sleepless is a disaster. When you’re lying awake, do any of these thoughts occur?
• This is horrible!
• I can’t take it!
• I need to get to sleep now, or I’m going to have a horrible day.
But what is so inherently bad about being awake? Imagine two people, Anne and Janet, each with a different reaction to being awake at 2 a.m. Anne thinks: Oh my God—it’s 2 a.m. If I don’t fall asleep within the next 20 minutes, I am going to lose it. Janet thinks: Ugh, it’s 2 a.m.—I might as well go watch television rather than lie here awake. For whom are the next 20 minutes more likely to be pleasant—Anne or Janet? Who is under less pressure to sleep? Catastrophizing about sleeplessness makes you more upset in the moment and it keeps you awake longer.
One answer is to change what being awake at night means to you. Try this experiment the next time you are awake: Think back to a time when you were awake at the exact same moment you find yourself awake now, when it was actually pleasant. This may be a time when you were out with friends. It may be when your child was born. It may be when you were with someone you love. How would you finish the following sentence? “My best memory of a time when I was awake in the middle of the night is…” If you do not have such a memory, imagine one. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Allow the pleasant memory or image to unfold, watching it as if it were a movie projected on the insides of your eyelids. Take in all the scenery. Where were you? Were you with someone? When did this happen? What were you doing? Remember the feeling you had at the time. How do you feel now? Take a deep breath and scan your body. If you notice anxious thoughts about sleeplessness, let them be, and return to your pleasant memory.
Being awake in the middle of the night does not have to be unpleasant. A poor night’s sleep does not guarantee feeling horrible the next day. There are times you will have a good night’s sleep and feel groggy the next day, and times you will sleep horribly yet feel surprisingly well. Remind yourself that although being awake can feel unpleasant, you want to avoid adding to the unpleasantness by becoming anxious about it.