In the throes of insomnia, I tried everything I could to get a good night’s sleep.
In a desperate bid for sound sleep, I went mad on the problem solving, keeping a daily spreadsheet of every lifestyle factor and sleep hygiene rule I could think of, tracking what was helping and what was hindering a good nights sleep.
I soon learnt that my striving and stellar efforts, were actually the very obstacles preventing sleep.
The penny dropped the day I learnt about the body’s natural physiological drive for sleep. You see, there’s a neurotransmitter called adenosine, and in the brain adenosine’s job is to promote sleep and suppress nervous system arousal. From the moment you wake up, adenosine and the pressure to sleep is building in your brain. The longer you’ve been awake, the stronger the drive is to sleep.
A helpful analogy for the sleep drive is appetite. The longer it’s been since you’ve eaten, the hungrier you’ll be. Besides not eating, there isn’t anything you can do to “make” yourself hungry. Similarly, the only way to become sleepy, is to go a period without sleeping.
When I learnt about adenosine, the sleep drive, and how similar it was to appetite, I realised I did absolutely nothing to control my hunger and had no concerns or worries about my appetite and whether I ate or didn’t eat.
Yet there I was being a mega control freak around sleeping!
I’d been in a pattern of poor sleep for so long, that I’d forgotten my body and brain knew how to sleep and I didn’t need to “do” anything for it to happen.
With that insight, I ditched the spreadsheet and began forming a new, healthy relationship with sleep supported by cultivating mindful attitudes.
The first mindful attitude was non-striving. Sleep is a natural process that unfolds in its own way, I didn’t have to “try” to sleep. The second attitude was trust. I was able trust again in body and brains natural ability to sleep. The third attitude was self-compassion. On occasions of night time wakefulness, I found it helpful and soothing to draw upon Dr Kristin Neffs Self–Compassion practice, by saying to myself
“Yes being awake and unable to sleep is a moment of suffering, everyone has moments of suffering. May my body and mind rest gently.”
By implementing a number of strategies I learnt from Mindfulness Based Therapy for Insomnia, I generally sleep very well these days. It’s important to note there are other factors, such as caffeine, that will disrupt the body’s natural sleep drive no matter your mindset or attitude.
In my upcoming 6-week course on Mindfulness for Better Sleep, just two of the things we’ll talk about is how to optimise the body’s natural sleep drive and how the cultivation of these mindful attitudes allow for an easy, good nights sleep.
Check it out here, by following this LINK