The Great Assumption
When people learn that I support others with their sleeping troubles, they make one big assumption. That assumption is that my sleep must be perfect. And it's not.
I suffered with insomnia for years. Still, thanks to mindfulness, acceptance, and cognitive behavioural therapy approaches, I no longer have any regular issues with sleep. I fall asleep within 15 minutes, I sleep solidly for 7 to 8 hours, and I wake up perky and ready to tackle my day.
Sleep trouble from stress is normal
However, I'm still human, and stress still gets to me - and sometimes it gets to my sleep as well.
Recently, I had some sleeping trouble when I was selling my home. And like many of us, I had some trouble at the height of the coronavirus crisis. Many people can struggle to sleep well during times of stress - and that is completely normal.
And I had some self-inflicted trouble too.
A slippery slope to sleep troubles
I moved recently, and because of the situation in the world, like many, I had to switch to working from home. It was a crowded house, with my partner and 2 children also home. I'm fairly easily distracted even when I'm working alone - and this level of activity sometimes made concentrating a serious challenge.
There were a few days in particular where I needed to get a lot done, and so I'd slip upstairs to the bedroom to work. Even though I "knew better." That was the start of my slippery slope into a short stint of sleeping troubles again.
Flipping the stiumuls control switch
Stimulus control is an approach that works on creating a consistent association between bed and sleeping by ensuring that bed is the only place where sleep happens AND that only sleeping happens in bed. That association gets disrupted by things that cause us to be awake in bed, like "trying to sleep", or, maybe, working on a laptop in bed!
Circumstances had me spend 3 days on the bed with my laptop, and I went from a regular and refreshing sleeping pattern to not sleeping well at all. It was like a switch got flicked, and I was back into my old pattern of waking at night and struggling to fall back to sleep. I knew it was a risk, of course, but I guess I decided in favour of getting the work done.
I recognised this situation quickly, stopped working in bed, and got out of bed when I couldn't fall back to sleep easily. Because I hadn't really gotten deep into the habits which flicked that switch, within a week or so, my sleep went back to normal.
There's no need to panic
I tell this story to people I'm supporting with their sleep so that they don't panic when a stressor hits and their sleep starts to wobble a little bit. It's my own personal example of how both stress and life circumstances can affect sleep, but that it isn't an irreparable situation, and it isn't something to be feared.
These things happen, but understanding that they are normal, common, and manageable can help prevent sleep anxiety from creating even more sleeping trouble.
Spotting patterns in your sleep quality
Have you ever noticed a pattern between your sleep quality and what your bedroom is used for? It's a real challenge for those in shared accommodation, such as students in dorms and room-renters, who often have one room for everything. If that sounds like you, what have you done to help provide a bit of mental space between your bed and other activities in the room?
Or does reading this give you any ideas on how you can create that mental and physical space? Join our site to share your strategies and ideas so others can learn from your experience!
Do you have any other health conditions besides insomnia?