The Importance of Challenging Negative Thoughts About Sleep
There are a few key components that go into overcoming insomnia. The first two, understanding your biology and creating a regular schedule, were covered in the first two weeks. As I’ve already mentioned, the next component that I’ll cover is modifying your negative thoughts and beliefs about sleep. Why?
First, remember that anxiety cup I talked about in week 1?
When you clear up the backlog of distressing thoughts and beliefs about sleep, you can stop the overflow of stress. And when you deal with the anxiety around sleep, it gives you more space to more adequately deal with whatever life throws at you in other areas.
Second, as someone currently suffering with insomnia, you have thoughts that self-perpetuate to make sleeping a far bigger issue than what it actually is.
Your biology is wired, literally from your head to your toes, so you can sleep (if your toes are too cold, it makes it harder to sleep). Essentially insomnia makes the act of sleeping look like a marauding beast when it’s actually a moody cat you can roll your eyes at.
The cat version of invisible lat syndrome.
You need to haul these automatic thoughts and beliefs into the light because they are holding you back. They’re causing you to spiral, and you may not even be consciously aware of it. That’s why, even when you’re not thinking of anything in particular, your mind can keep you up when your body is exhausted.
We take our thoughts way too damn seriously.
We have defeating and negative thoughts around sleep that are just plain wrong and are often based in logical fallacies. (I’ll get into specific and common thoughts and beliefs in the next section)
Have you ever thought that just because you didn’t sleep under certain circumstances (say, a stressful day at work or school), that you won’t sleep every time you experience stress? Or do you have specific habits, like avoiding wearing a certain pair of pajamas because the last time you wore those pajamas you didn’t sleep well?
This is called circular reasoning. If “A” is true because “B” is true, then “B” is true if “A” is true.
So if you experience stress or you wear certain pajamas (A) and you don’t sleep (B), then you don’t sleep (B) if you have stress or wear certain pajamas (A). Circular reasoning is essentially where we confirm one thought by convincing ourselves of another thought. The first thought isn’t inherently true on its own. By doing this, you are inaccurately judging both thoughts.
How about this gem:
Have you ever thought, I didn’t sleep well this time last year so I won’t sleep again at the same time this year? Or maybe you believe that when there’s a full moon, you won’t sleep because the last full moon caused a restless night.
This is retrospective determinism. It means that we believe something is happening under certain circumstances that is bound to happen again under the same circumstances. (FYI there’s no scientific evidence that a full moon disrupts your sleep, though plenty of astrologers would disagree).
Another common logical fallacy among the sleep deprived is the fallacy of composition. This is when someone infers that something is true of the whole based on something being true for some part of the whole.
So you think the rest of your night is ruined when you wake up in the middle of the night after a few hours. Or you won’t sleep this week because you didn’t sleep well last night. Or you won’t ever sleep again because you’ve had insomnia for X number of years.
Not true. Again, you’re a biological being and have the ability to sleep.
You are not your thoughts. Especially negative thoughts about sleep.
Our brains are wired to have mental models that make it a lot easier to live life1. By having mental models, we don’t have to relearn everything every time it comes up. Once you learn to talk, walk, ride a bike, etc., that’s it. Life is a lot smoother that way.
But sometimes we unnecessarily create distorted mental models, as I have hopefully shown above. Your thoughts can trick you. In reality, a lot of our assumptions are not only invalid, but are not helping us in any way. These excess thoughts and beliefs are like clouds in the sky that pass by. Yours might feel permanent because they’ve been hanging out for so long, but they absolutely are not. They don’t have to be a fixture in your mind if you don’t want them to be.
You are not your thoughts.
I’ll say it again. You are not your thoughts.
If someone came up to you and said something unnecessarily judgemental, would you feel obligated to internalise their judgements? That’s what you’re doing to yourself. You are buying into your own gross errors of judgement. Your thoughts lie to you to an alarming degree. So I implore you, today, to stop putting up with your own lies. It’s not working for you, and you don’t have to let toxic thoughts and beliefs run your life.