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What can be done to break the cycle of insomnia?

31 Jan
A man suffering from years of increasingly problematic insomnia (both difficulty falling asleep and waking up in the wee hours, too) asks what he can do to break the cycle and get some decent rest..
Dear BR,
For the past few years, I’ve been having a harder and harder time falling asleep. Even worse, when I finally do fall asleep, I will wake up at around 2 or 3 a.m. and have trouble getting back to sleep. What do you suggest I do for this insomnia? There is nothing worse than sleeplessness, and it’s getting worse the older I get.
William P.



Dear William,
I do have a few ideas for your insomnia. I’m going to suggest a few resources for your sleeplessness, but first there are some behavioral techniques that I’ll suggest as well.
  • Many people find it helpful to write down, before bedtime, all the things that they plan to take care of for the next day, so that they are, in essence, getting it out of their heads and onto a sheet of paper. Journaling thoughts and feelings also serves the same purpose in a more wide-ranging way.
  • If you work out or exercise at night, it would be better to switch to the morning or afternoon - not just before bedtime. Evening exercise too close to bedtime feeds insomnia.
  • If you drink at dinner or after, this might help you fall asleep in the short term, but it’s also likely to be what’s waking you up at 2 or 3. Booze is a terrible intervention for insomnia.
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night and your mind revs up with worries, plans, problems, solutions, whatever, you will either need to distract your mind - with reading, or music or one of the resources I’ll suggest; or else get out of bed and try to address some of these things in a more active way. The worst thing you can do is just lie there thinking "I have to get some sleep!!! I’m going to be exhausted tomorrow!!! I MUST sleep!! This insomnia is going to wreck my ability to function!!" because, of course, once you’re there, you’ll never fall asleep!
  • If you’re in the middle of one of these dreadful insomnia cycles, you would do well to consider getting a prescription for a mild sleeping pill - not as a permanent solution, but to break the cycle of sleeplessness. Work with your doc to find a good medication that works well without producing a "hangover" the next day = best to experiment over the weekend or on a week night when you don’t have to be sharp the next morning.
  • And now for some resources. You can condition yourself to fall asleep to guided imagery - so much so that in a short while you’ll just hear the first paragraph or two and you’ll be getting your zzzz’s. This is because imagery has just enough content to distract your mind - it’s called "cognitive recruitment" - while, at the same time, offering soothing voice tones and music that seduces your agitated mind away from its worries and straight into sleep. I know this sounds self-serving, but the truth is, we’ve been getting terrific results with our Healthful Sleep imagery. Even people who are pretty much addicted to sleeping pills report that this imagery served as a substitute that actually worked better and allowed them to toss their medication. Another great guided meditation is Gael Chiarella’s P.M.Meditations: Guided Meditations for an Evening of Relaxation & Restful Sleep and yet another, related technique is Michael Reed Gach’s guided self-acupressure system for insomnia, called Sleep Better. And finally, don’t forget Steve Kohn’s deliciously soothing Music for Meditation which works wonderfully well for sleeplessness, and especially his lovely, sleep-inducing Dreamwaves piece on the Inward Journey album.
I hope this helps. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award