Almost everyone experiences poor sleep at some point in his or her life. You might have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, poor quality sleep or a combination of these. Normal life events can trigger it. Both positive events (a wedding, a vacation, starting a new job) and negative events (a divorce, job loss, the death of a loved one) can create excitement or stress that impacts your sleep.
For some, once the exciting event or stressor has passed, normal sleep returns. For others, a short-term sleep issue turns into a chronic sleep nightmare.
Why? People react differently to sleep interruptions. Some think nothing about a temporary sleep disruption, attribute it to current events, and have the confident expectation that their sleep will soon return to normal.
Others, however, start to worry and a brief period of sleep loss turns into something more chronic. This is the pattern that usually takes place:
You have a few poor nights’ sleep (a normal occurrence or triggered by something) and start to worry and get frustrated when the not falling or staying asleep continues. You start to dread going to sleep and worry even before you get into bed that you won’t sleep, which creates more anxiety and stress, making sleeping more difficult, leading to more frustration and worry.
Then, in order to compensate for all this sleep disruption, frustration, and worry, you start to adopt behaviors you think will help, such as: going to bed earlier, sleeping later, spending more time in bed to “make up” for lost sleep, drinking alcohol to fall sleep, taking sleeping pills, trying “harder” to sleep, being less active during the day to compensate for tiredness and taking naps. All of these behaviors may help with sleep in the short-run, but long-term they will only increase poor sleep, anxiety, and stress.
Eventually, because of so many sleepless and frustrating hours and nights in bed, your mind and body start to associate sleeplessness with your bed and bedroom. Instead of your bed becoming a signal for pleasant rest, it becomes a cue for anxiety, frustration, and wakefulness.
When you add in the daily stressors of work, family, or financial pressures, you have the perfect cocktail for insomnia: anxiety about sleep + poor sleep behaviors + life stress.
Once these factors are in place, a pattern of insomnia sets in, unless something changes.