It’s 5am. You have to be up for work at 7. But you haven’t been up all night partying, you’ve just been lying in bed all this time. You toss and turn, flip the pillow a few times for the cold side, staring at the walls. I can’t get no sleep. I. Can’t. Get. No. Sleep. If you’ve ever suffered with insomnia, or listened to the Faithless 90s trance hit, you’ll be well aware that it’s an absolute nightmare.
Insomnia is a sign of anxiety and at certain points in our lives, each of us is likely to have difficulty sleeping. If insomnia is a short term issue for you, or something that occurs sporadically, you may opt not to deal with it and allow it to be a representation of a particularly stressful time. However, if insomnia or any sleep difficulty is a recurring and ongoing issue for you, then you may decide that the time has come to do something about it.
We’re not just talking about someone being a ‘night owl’ who comes alive at night. Most insomniacs would love nothing more than to get a good night’s sleep but spend their nights in their own personal form of torture. Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club is a classic example of an insomniac in popular culture. He says at one point in the film “with insomnia, you’re never really awake; but you’re never really asleep.” His insomnia causes him to detach from reality and start engaging in all kinds of ridiculous behavior that he can’t even remember doing.
From a therapeutic point of view, if a lack of sleep is causing difficulty in your life, then there are a number of things to look at.
First of all, why is this happening now? Understanding the anxiety or difficulty at the root of the issue is really important. What in your unconscious is coming to the surface only at night time? What is vying for attention to the point that you can only think of it when you are at your most vulnerable and uninhibited? Sometimes, bringing something into verbal consciousness is enough. Allowing an issue to have space is the first step in moving through it. Making life changes that support the creation of a less anxious you is always worthwhile.
Next, how is the sleep difficulty manifesting? If it is difficulty going to sleep, then perhaps a strengthened bedtime routine might help. At times of insomnia, sometimes the best thing to do is treat yourself like you are a toddler. Have a strict night time routine. Restrict drinks and screens in the hour or so before you go to bed. Wind down fully. Deal with all the issues of the day before you attempt to go to sleep.
Most importantly, try your best to leave your phone plugged in away from your bed. In a world dominated by social media, our phones are seldom out of our hands. Phones have almost replaced a cuddly toy that children bring with them to bed and instead they have anything and everything at the tips of their fingers beside them. You will never get to sleep when you are constantly being shown picture upon picture of someone you don’t even know to compare yourself to. It will pull you down a rabbit hole of insecurity, yet Instagram rewards your brain for going deeper and deeper, robbing you of any chance of a good night’s sleep.
Another piece that may be causing some difficulty is racing thoughts. If this is part of your insomnia, again, as above, look at what is not being dealt with during your conscious day. If something is consistently showing up at night time, then it is evidently not getting enough head space during the day time. Doing something physically-based, like a full body scan, or even just pressing your feet into the sheets or your fingers into each other might be enough to interrupt the cognition that is causing difficulty at night time.
The human brain can be quite amazing at compartmentalizing things. You can go about your daily life functioning totally normally, with your worry tucked away nice and neatly in a little box in the corner. It never goes away, however, like an itch, it will start to niggle away at your psyche when it detects that nothing else is blocking its way. Then, before you know it, the sun is starting to rise and you have work in two hours. Is this how you want to live your life?
Sleeping tablets help many people every day. If this is a route that you choose to take, speak with your GP about how long you want to take them and what kind of sleeping tablet you want to take. It is important to remember though, that if you simply take sleeping tablets, you may get to sleep but the issues causing you to worry may still lie beneath the surface unresolved.
Insomnia does not have to be part of your life. However, if it is, these tips and tools might be of use to you. If you find that they cannot help with the issue, take another step. Talk to your GP if you feel that medication is the best option for you. Make an appointment with a therapist if you feel that this issue represents something deeper that you would like to deal with.
Don’t end up like Edward Norton in Fight Club. That guy had a really rough time.
By Lorraine Hackett and Shauna Gavin