You must first know what your specific sleep worries are before you can defeat them. Get a pad of paper and pen (you can do this on a computer too, but it’s usually more effective hand-written).
Ask yourself these questions to draw out your worries:
What are my worries about sleep?
What goes through my mind before I get into bed?
What goes through my mind once in bed (especially if I can’t fall asleep)?
If my anxiety about sleep could talk, what would it say? (This may sound silly, but it works quite well in drawing out your thoughts and putting your anxiety into words.)
What are my biggest fears about sleep/insomnia?
Answer these questions without censoring yourself or negatively judging what you write down.
Step 2: Use Skills to Defeat the Worry.
Start by choosing one of the worries you wrote down.
Examine the evidence
A worry is just a thought, an expectation of what might or could happen. It is not necessarily a fact. Actually, most of the worries people have don’t ever happen, especially the big ones. And even when they do happen, the outcome is rarely, if ever, as bad as expected.
In order to know whether a worry is true or not, you must examine the facts (“facts” do not include what you think or feel). Pretend you are testifying in court and you have to present the most accurate and convincing evidence. First identify all the evidence that supports your worry. Then identify all the evidence that doesn’t support your worry. Do this all on paper.
Worry: “I won’t be able to fall asleep.”
Evidence to support worry: there have been many nights when I couldn’t fall asleep.
Evidence against worry: there have been many nights when I have fallen asleep and done so quickly; and others where it took me a while to fall asleep, but I eventually did; in fact, I can only remember three nights in my life when I didn’t sleep at all.
Replace old worry with new, more accurate thought: “Although sometimes I have trouble, I almost always (with few exceptions) eventually fall asleep, and sometimes I fall asleep fast.”
The goal for the “accurate thought” is not to state an overly positive belief that doesn’t fit the evidence, like “I am certain I will always fall asleep quickly and easily.” This doesn’t fit the facts, and you won’t believe it, as sometimes you do have trouble falling asleep. But the new, more accurate thought is usually more positive then your worry, which will lower (or even eliminate) your anxiety and help you sleep better.
What if you have tons of evidence to support your worry, and none to dispute it? It would be rare with sleep worries to not have any evidence against it. For example, even if you can’t remember ever falling asleep quickly and easily (which is highly unlikely), it doesn’t mean it’s not possible and you couldn’t learn how. So, your evidence against the worry could be: “changing the quality of my sleep is possible because people do it all the time; millions of people have suffered from insomnia and overcame it; I can’t predict the future.”
Then your new, more accurate thought might be: “Although I’ve struggled with sleep all my life, I am learning skills that will improve my sleep, just as millions of other people have.”
Go ahead and do this exercise now.
In my next post, I’ll show you more skills to defeat your worry and anxiety.