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Lying awake in the middle of the night torments me. I worry about being too tired in the morning. I toss and turn for hours on end. You have no idea how stressful this is unless you suffer from it yourself.

Yet mine is considered to be a relatively mild form of insomnia. Maybe because I have no problem going to sleep when I lie down in bed at night. If the insomnia I suffer from is mild then I dread to think what severe insomnia is like.

Insomnia Causes Stress

Even mild forms of insomnia cause stress. I get stressed when I can’t get back to sleep. But that is not all because I carry the stress over into the day with me. After a couple of hours vainly attempting to get back to sleep I am out of sorts for the day. I’m irritable, struggle to concentrate and work takes a lot out of me.

Insomnia Can Be Good for You

Then to my surprise while browsing the internet I found out that insomnia might be good for me. And not at all as bad as it feels. New evidence from science and history suggest that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural. And a cause of stress for a lot of people. That certainly includes me.

This changed my attitude to insomnia. Instead of fighting it I decided to try and work with it. I resolved to stay as calm as I could when I was unable to get back to sleep. Instead of getting agitated I would use the mantras “Insomnia is good” and “It is not bad for me”. I began to say them over and over again. To keep my mind from worrying about being too tired to do my job properly the following day.

This was easier said than done. At best I got just a few minutes of calm before plunging back into a state of worry. After a week I had made very little progress. The only good thing I could say about it was I am now putting my energy into staying calm. Rather than trying to force myself to go back to sleep.

Learning to Work with and Not Against Insomnia

It is only now when I look back on it that I can see the importance of this shift in behaviour. Just when I was about to give up on it I came across an idea that would change my approach. It seems that before the Industrial Revolution people had a first and second sleep every night.

They slept for four hours. Woke up for one or two hours. And then slept for another four hours. It is what they did for the one or two hours between sleep that interested me. Most of them stayed in bed. Read books, wrote or prayed. Others got up and went to the toilet, smoked and chatted with their bed-fellows. Doctors at the time believed it was the best time to have sex and to conceive babies. 

Making Good Use of my Broken Sleep

Besides explaining my preference for broken sleep it gave me some new ideas about how to use what I now call mid-sleep waking time. To make better use of it I planned to meditate to put my mind at rest. I meditate regularly in the day time and was confident that with a little practice I would be able to do it at night.

In reality it was more difficult than I imagined. So I started to use a simple breathing exercise to settle myself down. Work on relaxing my limbs and body muscles. And then when I had calmed down enough I was able to meditate. With a little practice I was able to put my mind at rest. And not be bothered by being awake. I began to enjoy rotating the three activities. The mantra, breathing and meditation.

Slowly the anguish of waking up and not being able to go back to sleep receeded. It no longer bothers me as much as it did. Mind you I still wake up and stay awake for an hour or so almost every night. I now take my insomnia in my stride. Go through my routines. Enjoy them. And they work for me. Insofar as I no longer feel tired or out of sorts the following day. Even when I stay awake for up to two hours.

Then I began to remember the dreams I just had. I got better and better at recalling them. I began to enjoy thinking about them and analysing them, or processing them as psychologists call it. Apparently this is very good for reducing the stress in your life. Which probably explains why I am much happier in myself.

Learn More About Insomnia

If you are interested in learning more about insomnia I suggest that you read the following sources I used to help me write this post:

– http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_A_Wehr
– http://www.amazon.com/At-Days-Close-Night-Times/dp/0393329011
– http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16964783
– http://www.cbtforinsomnia.com/

About

Michael is a positive psychology enthusiast with a 30 year career in personal development. I write a weekly self-help blog at personaldevelopmenttoolbox.com which has 90 posts on self-help topics, mostly based on the work of positive psychologists.

2 comments

  1. Comment by Myrko Thum

    Myrko Thum Reply February 4, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Michael, thanks for your personal insights into living with insomnia. I personally never had insomnia, but I’m sure it is very challenging to live with. So really congratulations to mastering it to a certain degree.

    Looking forward to hearing more from you…

  2. Comment by Jorge Blanco

    Jorge Blanco Reply February 9, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    I can’t imagine how tiring it would be to have insomnia. I’m glad you’ve found a way to deal with it, Michael. Though I don’t suffer from insomnia, there are times when I find it difficult to sleep at night. At times like these, I use my energy to do something productive such as reading a novel, writing on my journal, and thinking about what I need to do the following day. These activities help calm my mind and certainly puts me to sleep.

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