sleepless in Ottawa

Sleepless in Seattle was a great movie but not as great as When Harry Met Sally

In the summer of 2015 I stopped sleeping. It happened almost overnight, literally. I went to bed one night and slept. Probably not well, but I slept. The next night, I couldn’t fall asleep. I tossed and turned and lay away until the sun rose. I got up and remembered thinking, “wow that was a bad night. Hope that doesn’t happen again tonight”. And then it did. And so on for next six months.

When you develop insomnia, the world feels impossible and on fire, like nothing makes sense anymore. Your brain has turned against you, refusing to do the most basic of bodily functions – stop thinking. Stop working. Stop the neurons from firing. When you have insomnia, you seemingly can’t make it rest, you just lie there night after night thinking, this is how I’m going to die. Wide awake.

So, when I was about four months into my insomnia nightmare, pun intended, I started to do some reading about cognitive behavioural therapy and its applicability to sleep. There is actually a lot of great research being done out there on CBT for sleep and sleep hygiene in general. A lot of what you’re going to read on the internet about how to help you sleep is total crap. And can be dangerous. Sleep “medications” are the worst. They are highly addictive and don’t help. They create dependence and an inability to sleep properly. They have been peddled by the pharmaceutical industry like oxy – it sounds tempting when your doctor suggests it, but please don’t fall for it. Trust me, been there, done that, doesn’t work.

So, if you or someone you know, is suffering from insomnia or disordered sleeping (yes these two things are different, here’s a primer to help) then I have a few suggestions for you:

  1. There is an amazing researcher from Toronto doing CBT for sleep work and her book saved my sleep. I sleep amazingly well now.
  2. Find a good therapist who is trained to do CBT for sleep, that can really help.
  3. Don’t worry about it. Literally, stop thinking about not sleeping. This is THE hardest thing to do when you’re not sleeping. But, I can tell you, that those thoughts of worry about not being able to sleep are probably what’s keeping you from falling asleep.
  4. Exercise
  5. Use a mindfulness app like Headspace to do fully body relaxation exercises. These really helped me when I was struggling and have used the sleep meditation with my 8 year old daughter for 2 years to help her relax into sleep and it has really helped her at nighttime.

You’ll be fine, I promise. If you put some basic sleep hygiene in place and work on your thoughts about sleep and then about other things that may be keeping you awake (see post on anxiety and what I did to deal with it from yesterday), you’ll sleep again. xo Janet

Published by Janet Gwilliam-Wright

Feminist and queer. Professional teller of truths. Slayer of personal demons.

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