Why You Can't Sleep At Night (It's Not Just Your Bed)
Can't sleep at night? You're not alone. Research shows that about 30% of the population suffers from insomnia. In fact, more than half of Americans lose some sleep because of stress or anxiety. As you can see, stress can drastically affect the quality of your sleep.
What people often don't know is that insomnia can put your health at risk. It turns out that if you're having trouble enjoying a good night's sleep, it can make you 27% more likely to become overweight. But chronic fatigue puts enormous pressure on your cardiovascular system and heavily taxes your brain as well.
And there's nothing worse than waking up after a long night's sleep feeling like getting out of bed is a battle.
Why You Can't Sleep At Night
The number one reason that you are struggling with insomnia is stress.
When you're stressed, your brain obsesses over your stressful thoughts and it just can't realx until those thoughts are gone. I learned it from James Newman, the author of Release Your Brakes that our brain can't tell our thoughts and reality apart. So when you're thinking stressful thoughts at night, it thinks that you are actually in danger.
So to make sure you survive, it grabs all your attention and focuses it on your problems. It makes you vigilant and hyper-sensitive to your environment so that you're able to swiftly respond to the imaginary threat. It starts dumping stress hormones into your system which then pump blood into your muscles.
So what you're left with is an alert state of mind that's focused on the environment and a body that's eager to move. None of which is particularly useful when you want to just relax and fall asleep. And even if you finally manage to fall asleep, getting out of bed the next morning is going to be a huge struggle.
The Anxiety Spiral
The funny thing is that it's not like you're actually in danger, right? It's just your mind acting as if danger was imminent. But in reality it's all in your head.
For most of our evolution the reasons that we couldn't sleep was because we had to watch out for a stray lion wandering into our cave and ripping us open. Nowadays it's more like mortgage loans, workplace politics and relationships that keep us awake at night. So it's no longer tangible, physical things, it's mostly thoughts that trouble our sleep.
It's like your brain starts thinking of every tiny little thing that has ever made you upset or anxious in your whole life. And since ideally you're lying in bed trying to fall asleep and it's dark and there's complete silence - you have nothing to distract your monkey mind with. All you can do is wait and hope that you'll gently fade into sleep soon.
In fact, after a couple of nights being trapped in by your intrusive thoughts, you'll start feeling nervous before going to sleep. You'll know that your mind is going to go into a stress spiral again and that will make you anxious even before you hit the pillow. This is what I call the Anxiety Spiral.
The anxiety spiral is the anxious anticipation of stress.
It's a self-fulfilling prophecy because by worrying about stress before you go to sleep, you're working yourself up and actually getting stressed out. In other words, you're making pretty darn sure that you're going to end up having trouble sleeping.
The Two Enemies of a Good Night's Sleep
What I've realized over the years is that there's two obstacles to sleeping well. On the one hand stress, worrying, anxiety - in other words intrusive thoughts supercharged with negative emotions - can make it very difficult to fall asleep.
On the other hand though anticipatory fear of these intrusive thoughts is an even bigger obstacle that can ruin your evening relaxation. If you worry about worrying; if you stress out about stress, if you're anxious about your anxiety, you're only fanning the flames of your insomnia.
The Secret of Sleeping Well
So the if you want to stop having trouble sleeping at nights, the first thing you need to do is get rid of this anxious anticipation of the anxiety spiral.
Before anything else, you need to make sure that you're not pressuring yourself about whether or not you're going to be able to sleep well. Stop beating yourself up over your sleeping problems. Remember that you're not alone: more than half of Americans lose some sleep because of stress or anxiety.
Don't be your worst critic. Imagine how you'd treat your best friend if they were having trouble sleeping. What would you tell them if you saw their exhausted, foggy faces in the morning? I'm sure you wouldn't start criticizing them for not having slept well the previous night. You'd probably show some compassion and understanding, right?
Well, treat yourself like you would your best friend.
Stop beating yourself up over your anxiety spiral, don't think less of yourself just because you're having trouble sleeping. So does half the country. Come from a place of patience and understanding and forgive yourself for your sleeping problems. You'll notice that this one shift in your thinking will dramatically improve the quality of your sleep.
Some More Simple Sleeping Advice
Here's some of my best sleeping tips that I have found over the years that can help you silence your evening worries:
- Wear an eye mask. You want to make sure that your eyes are in complete darkness so your brain thinks it's night.
- Wear earplugs. I've always thought that these were too bulky and uncomfortable until I tried wearing one. That night I slept 2 hours less than usual and woke up feeling rested, energized and clear minded. I haven't slept without earplugs ever since.
- Stop drinking any form of liquid 2 hours before you go to bed. You want to make sure that your bladders are empty. Otherwise, a tense bladder might prevent deep sleep or even wake you up at night.
- Stop drinking coffee about 6 hours before going to bed. This is a huge one. Coffee makes you alert and awake. You want to make sure that by the time you hit your pillow, caffeine is out of your system.
As Thomas Dekker said, "Sleep is the golden chain that binds health and our bodies together." So you definitely want to make sure that you're enjoying a good night's sleep every single night. You deserve it.
Well, it's getting late so sleep tight and don't let the bedbugs bite!