Negative thoughts about sleep keep you up at night.

Now that you understand the physiological processes that happen around sleep, how to get a regular sleep schedule, and why you should challenge your negative sleep thoughts, let’s dive into the negative sleep thoughts that keep insomnia in your life. 

I would venture a guess that once insomnia really started kicking in for you, you became deflated, anxious, and maybe even scared to sleep. From there, it’s hard not to spiral into negative thoughts. Then those thoughts only serve to prop up insomnia a little more. 

So this week, I want you to identify and truly think about what sort of thoughts come into your mind about sleep. It’s a bit of an exercise in mindfulness, because these negative thoughts can pop up at any time. Maybe you’re grocery shopping and your thoughts wander to those about sleep. Or you’re busy working but suddenly a distressing and deflating sleep thought just seems to appear from nowhere. 

See if any of these thoughts pop in your mind this week:

  • I won’t be able to sleep tonight
  • I don’t even want to go to bed tonight, there’s no point
  • Sleep is so stressful
  • I just toss and turn when I try to sleep
  • Why am I ruminating about the past when I need to sleep?!
  • I’m going to get sick if I don’t sleep
  • If I don’t sleep well tonight, I won’t be able to function tomorrow
  • I’ll never be able to fall asleep again
  • I’m an insomniac and will never be cured
  • I just don’t sleep I guess
  • I need to get 8 hours tonight, or I’ll fail tomorrow
  • If I don’t sleep tonight, I’ll have long term health problems
  • If I wake up in the middle of the night, I won’t be able to fall back to sleep
  • I hate myself for not sleeping
  • I feel depressed and anxious today because I didn’t sleep last night
  • This keeps getting worse
  • I can’t fall asleep without pills or substances
  • Why is this happening to me, this is so unfair
  • Even if I do fall asleep, I’ll wake up too early
  • I won’t be able to do anything tomorrow
  • This will never get better
  • What’s wrong with me? 

This self-deprecating internal dialogue perpetuates chronic insomnia.

You have an expectation that you will be unable to sleep so it causes you enough anxiety to not sleep. I get it. I 100% get it because I’ve been there.

One of the cures to insomnia is changing your attitude towards sleep, and deeply internalising this change. By this I mean you don’t just push your thoughts away, you truly stop believing your negative thoughts. This is a necessary step because with chronic insomnia, it’s incredibly hard to say “tonight’s the night! I will sleep! HURRAH!” when your subconscious mind is like “haha NOPE”. 

a hand coming up from the water sticking up its middle finger. On article about negative sleep thoughts

Your subconscious mind

But the more you challenge your negative thoughts and replace them with comforting ones, the easier it will be to stop buying into the nonsense you are feeding yourself. Your conscious and unconscious mind work together to bring your anxiety around sleep down to a manageable level, or completely dissipate it.

Here’s the deal – you WILL eventually sleep.

I keep repeating this over and over again because 1) it’s true and 2) I had chronic insomnia for years and didn’t believe I could sleep. Some things are getting in your way, one of which is your thoughts, so let’s identify them and spank ‘em with logic and reason.

To do this, I want you to write down a counter argument to the negative sleep thoughts you listed.

Here are some examples:

  • I’ve slept before, I’ll sleep again
  • When I didn’t sleep, I was still able to work
  • When I didn’t feel rested, I still exercised
  • I was able to play with my kids even when I didn’t get a full night
  • I’ve handled a bad night before, I can handle it again
  • My body and brain are capable of sleeping (it’s true – you’re a regular homo sapien that has biological rhythms to get you to sleep)
  • It’s normal to wake up during the night, even for those without insomnia
  • If I don’t sleep 8 hours, that’s ok – most people don’t sleep 8 hours, and a lot don’t even need 8 hours
  • I can still go out and have fun even if I’m not rested
  • Insomnia doesn’t run my life
  • I’m probably getting more sleep than I think I am
  • If I continue with good sleep hygiene and taking care of my mental health, it will get easier to fall asleep
  • If I wake up after 5 hours, it’s ok – I got my core sleep (I’ll cover this in the next section)
  • If I minimize my negative sleep thoughts, I will improve my daytime functioning because I won’t be as stressed
  • The techniques I’m learning have worked for others with insomnia, and they will work for me too
  • Insomnia is common and affects over half of adults at some point. I’m not alone. 
  • If I don’t sleep as well as I would like, that’s OK. I can still enjoy my day. 

Here’s another quick reminder to be gentle with how you treat yourself. Have patience with your own mind – you will be a lot more likely to sleep.

📍 Quest #2: Write a daily journal

I want you to create a daily journal of the negative sleep thoughts that come to mind. It will not only show you what you’re thinking, but also how much you’re actually bombarding yourself with negative thoughts surrounding sleep. Create a Google Doc, get a notebook app on your phone, or carry around an old fashioned paper notebook.

Here’s what you’ll do:

  1. Write down your sleep thoughts as they come in. They might happen while you’re working, grocery shopping, or watching a show, etc. It doesn’t have to be complete sentences, just write down what comes to mind when you think of sleep. 
  2. Now rate your thoughts on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least intense with little reaction and 10 being powerful and impossible to ignore. Write down your emotion(s) (sad, angry, anxious, etc) about that thought. 
  3. Look back at step 1 and counter that thought with a rational thought. Here’s an example: You had a thought in step 1 “my sleep will never improve”. Counter that thought with rational thoughts, like “my sleep will improve if I put in the work” or “I have slept before so I will sleep again” etc. Rate your belief in the counter-thought on a scale of 1 to 10. 
  4. Rerate your automatic thought from step 1 on a scale of 1-10 after countering it with rational thought. Then specify your subsequent emotions.
  5. If your automatic thought doesn’t come down in emotional intensity to a degree that you want, go back to step 3 and keep digging for a rational thought that minimizes the impact of your automatic thought. 

Here’s an example:

Sleep thoughtRate your sleep thought and describe emotion(s)Counter your sleep thoughtRerate your initial sleep thought and emotions
My sleep will never improveEmotional intensity of sleep thought: 8
Anxious, stressed, defeated
My sleep will improve if I put in the work, I have the ability to sleep – I slept well for 27 years before this
Belief in thought: 4
Feeling toward initial sleep thought after rationalisation: 6
Still stressed and anxious; skeptical that I can sleep but have a bit of optimism