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How health-conscious Anafer shed her identity as an insomniac and now focuses on her career, relationships, and personal happiness rather than sleep (#21)

Listen to the podcast episode (audio only)

Anafer believed that she was born with insomnia. Sleep was a problem for her for as long as she could remember. Being very health-conscious, she spent many of her adolescent years focused on improving her sleep.

After years of doing her own research, speaking with health professionals, and taking various supplements and prescription pills, Anafer’s insomnia was becoming unbearable.

After graduating from college, Anafer decided she needed to address her sleep issues before starting her career in dietetics. Two years ago, she came across my online coaching course and is now here to share her transformation and the ups and downs she experienced on her journey to better sleep and restored sleep confidence.

As a nutritionist, Anafer’s goal is to help people obtain a healthy lifestyle without the added stress of dieting. Fortunately, she no longer has to contend with the added stress of thinking and worrying about sleep!

Click here for a full transcript of this episode.

Martin Reed:
Welcome to the Insomnia Coach Podcast. My name is Martin Reed. I believe that nobody needs to live with chronic insomnia and that evidence-based cognitive and behavioral techniques can help you enjoy better sleep for the rest of your life.

Martin Reed:
The content of this podcast is provided for informational and educational purposes only. It is not medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, disorder, or medical condition. It should never replace any advice given to you by your physician or any other licensed healthcare provider. Insomnia Coach LLC offers coaching services only and does not provide therapy, counseling, medical advice, or medical treatment. The statements and opinions expressed by guests are their own and are not necessarily endorsed by Insomnia Coach LLC. All content is provided “as is” and without warranties, either express or implied.

Martin Reed:
Okay, Anafer thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to come onto the podcast.

Anafer Barrera:
No problem.

Martin Reed:
So let’s start right at the beginning. When did your sleep problems first began? What was it that you think caused your initial issues with sleep?

Anafer Barrera:
I’m pretty sure I was born with sleep issues because for as long as I remember, I was always the last person to go to sleep and my parents also suffer from sleep problems and they’ve been on pills for as long as they can remember. I was pretty certain it was by birth.

Martin Reed:
It sounds it’s just something that goes back for as long as you can remember it, you just always had this sleep disruption. It was just part of who you are. Is that right?

Anafer Barrera:
Yeah.

Martin Reed:
So what’d you find the sleep disruption would just be every night or would it just be bursts where you’d just go through a few weeks of sleep disruption, things would get back on track and then you’d go back to struggling again. What was the pattern like?

Anafer Barrera:
It had no pattern. When I was a kid, I would have a random anxiety at night and I would be up all night panicking that I didn’t want to go to bed. And then when I would go to camps, every time I’d go to some camp or a vacation with a friend or something, it would be the first night was an all nighter pretty much, even if I was in second grade or if I was a teenager and then the second night was iffy and then after that I would almost got used to it and sleep just everybody else. Then when I went off to college, I would have weeks of episodes and then something random would just let it go back to normal and then I would have another few weeks of sleeping three to five hours a night, or just pulling all nighters.

Martin Reed:
I think you just touched upon it there by talking about these all nighters, but what were these sleep difficulties like? Was it more to do with just falling asleep at the start of the night or was it more to do with waking during the night and then finding it hard to fall back to sleep or maybe it was a combination of both of those?

Anafer Barrera:
It was always falling asleep. It was never an issue of waking up in the middle of the night. I was actually jealous of anyone who told me that they had sleep issues and they said that their problem was waking up. I was like, “What? You can fall asleep?” So actually when I started your course, I was a little bit concerned that maybe I wasn’t the right person for the course. Maybe it wasn’t going to help me because you did include those people who were able to fall asleep, but not stay asleep and I was like, “Oh no.” But it did help.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. Sleep disruption from time to time is completely normal. Something everyone experiences. Why do you think that it seemed to be more of this ongoing problem for you?

Anafer Barrera:
Like I said, I almost feel it was because I was born with it. It’s not that I accepted it. I never accepted it until your class, but just seeing that my always had issues with it. Yeah, I just thought that that was the cause.

Martin Reed:
That’s interesting because I know there are people listening, there’s going to be a lot of people listening that are going to completely identify with what you’re saying that sleep was something that they’ve always felt that they struggled with, but they managed to just get by with it, struggle through it. And other people, they would describe themselves as being great sleepers and never had any issue with sleep and then boom, all of a sudden, out of nowhere in insomnia struck them. I think it was helpful to just hear everyone’s background. Some people got this identity of this longer term issue and for other people it’s more out of the blue, but regardless, these evidence-based cognitive and behavioral techniques, which we’re going to be talking about are helpful in any case.

Martin Reed:
We certainly do see that some people, whether it’s genetic or not, we’re still not sure or whether it’s just, we’re more reactive to stress or worry or just more sensitive to changes that are going on around us, whether that’s environmental or just life changes. We can be a little bit more predisposed to temporary sleep disruption. And that’s just unfortunately how it is for some of us, but that doesn’t mean we have to live with insomnia forever.

Anafer Barrera:
Right. Growing up, when I would tell my parents, “This is a real problem.” It was really in high school when I started to be like, “I need a professional.” And they’d be like, “No, you just need to relax.” Or whatever it was. I don’t know what their answers were. I mean, they would occasionally become open to, “Okay, go find someone at all. I’ll help you out.” But they never took me too seriously because they had that mindset of, we deal with it, your grandma dealt with it, and it was just this thing where you have to accept it. So it’s super exciting that this is out there. That you don’t have to live in… and I’ve said it a million times because I’m a dietician and we say like, “Yeah, you can fix your genes. Your genes don’t paint the whole picture for you.” But it’s exciting to have experienced that like black and white, a huge difference between, I thought I was an insomniac by birth and for life to know.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. So with this in mind, this person would almost just self identify as an insomniac. This was just part of who you were, what then prompted you or led you to think, “Maybe things don’t have to be this way. Maybe there is something I can do to improve the situation and enjoy better sleep?”

Anafer Barrera:
I was just rock bottom desperate. It wasn’t a hope that things would help. It was more of like, I need something to help because I lost a job because I was calling in sick, because I couldn’t sleep and I was about to… so I took a couple of years off after college and was working just small jobs that were very irregular schedule, like hostessing in the evenings at a restaurant. Anyways, like one time I went three days without any sleep at all. So it was three all nighters in a row and I called in sick and I told them it was because I didn’t sleep and they were like, “Oh, you called in sleepy.” So they fired me and I was like, “Okay, well luckily I was a hostess, but I can’t do this when I’m working at a hospital or in a career job.”

Anafer Barrera:
So I was desperate to find something. It was for my career but ironic thing was me taking evening jobs was actually adding to the problem because you said, having a routine and a schedule and being forced to wake up every day at an early time is part of success. I thought it was going to be part of the problem because I was like, “Oh, I don’t sleep at night. So I can’t take a morning job.” But it’s actually a part of the solution.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, it’s quite amazing how insomnia can work its way into so much of our lives and really affect our decision making and our planning. Just you touched upon, we can change jobs or look for specific jobs because we have so much concern about how it might impact our sleep. To have a regular 9:00 till 5:00, you might think, “Oh, there’s no way I can do that.” Or to have a job that has a lot of responsibility you might think, “There’s no way I can do that.” All of these reactions, they’re completely understandable, but the problem is they end up perpetuating the problem.

Martin Reed:
As you know now, you’re able to look back on it and see that. But it’s almost counterintuitive because it makes sense that you want to do things to adapt, to make the situation easier, realizing that it’s actually feeding into the problem, giving insomnia more attention, more of a role in our lives, and this tends to just make it stronger and have even more of a negative impact on our lives. So before you found out about, this magic bullet that we’re going to be talking about, these evidence-based cognitive and behavioral techniques, what things had you done or had you tried in a bit to improve your sleep?

Anafer Barrera:
Yeah. So when I was really little, like on the family vacations and stuff, my parents would give me Advil PM or Benadryl or whatever it was, Dramamine, those things, ZzzQuil. They worked to an extent. I started off with chamomile tea and it has taken me a very long time to like chamomile tea again, because it would remind me of the anxiety about going to bed. Same thing happened with those little medications, but induced drowsiness. I would just start associating them with anxious nights so they stopped working. And then in college, what did I do? I think in college I started taking supplements because I was studying, I was a pre-health professional and so I was working at Whole Foods as an intern in their headquarters.

Anafer Barrera:
I was working side by side with the dietician and she was like, “Oh, these supplements.” So I would get a lot of good advice, like expert advice on supplements and I took those and I think it was placebo if any of them worked because they would all eventually stopped working. I always took melatonin too in college and I think that actually perpetuated the problem too. Because I didn’t know how to take it. I didn’t know that you should take it at the same time. Anyways, and then after that I switched to prescription pills right around when I was graduating college. And those always scared me, but I was desperate and then they didn’t even work. So I was like, “All right, something’s got to give here.”

Martin Reed:
Yeah. What about our good friend sleep hygiene? Is that something you’d heard of or try out?

Anafer Barrera:
Oh, definitely, yeah. Everything. So warm milk, warm bath, exercise. So the time I lost my job, I was actually living in the ski mountains in Colorado and I was skiing every day and I was getting tons of sun because it’s in Colorado, it’s always sunny and wearing myself out with physical activity and I was always eating healthy and I still would pull all nighters randomly and there didn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason. It wasn’t times that I was stressed or whatever. It would just happen. So yeah, I did it all. I never ever had a TV in my room. I mean, I gave up using my phone before bed, long, long ago. There was nothing else to do.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. That’s the big problem with sleep hygiene is by the time you’ve got chronic insomnia, it’s too late for any of that stuff. There’s more preventative stuff that can be helpful if you’re maybe just burning the candle at both ends and not prioritizing sleep. But people with insomnia, they are prioritizing sleep and they’re trying to get more sleep.

Anafer Barrera:
Right. Too much.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, perhaps too much, right? You’re putting that effort into sleep and the problem with sleep hygiene is it can just lead to even more sleep effort. You can have this huge long ritual of things that you’re doing from night to night, like setting the thermostat to a certain temperature, making sure the sheets are set material or comfortable, making sure that there’s not even a shred of light entering your room. And it could just lead to even more attention and focus on sleep and sleep effort. We know that sleep hygiene, isn’t helpful for people with chronic insomnia, but because that’s the most easily available and accessible information out there, that’s usually the first thing that people with insomnia try and then when it doesn’t work, we can then worry that there’s something really uniquely wrong with us because hey, this sleep hygiene, this first treatment or this first suggestion that we’re hearing about, I’m trying it, and I’m still not seeing any results.

Anafer Barrera:
Right. I wonder if there’s anyone that it does help.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think maybe it might help people that are burning the candle at both ends. They want to have the best opportunity for sleep, but they don’t struggle with sleep. I like to use this analogy that it’s a bit like, just brushing your teeth. We brush our teeth to keep them healthy and strong, but once we’ve got that feeling, that once we’ve got that cavity, it doesn’t matter how much we brush our teeth. We need something else by that point. So it’s really, like sleep hygiene is preventative. It might help people that don’t really have a problem with sleep that are just looking to optimize perhaps. But I think that when it comes to people with insomnia, I’m increasingly coming to the opinion that it can actually be more harmful than helpful because it just adds more sleep efforts and can just lead to the development of so many rituals, which really aren’t helpful when it comes to improving sleep.

Martin Reed:
And going back to what you were saying about the supplements and the pills, sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, I think the reason why they’re never effective over the long term is just because they just don’t get to the root cause, the root problem, which is the thoughts and the behaviors that we have in response to sleep disruption that perpetuate the problem. So whether it’s a placebo or whether there is actually something happening, they can lower that initial barrier to sleep, which is often arousal related, whether it’s actual worry or anxiety or just self monitoring for sleep, putting effort into sleep, that thing. So they can lower that barrier.

Martin Reed:
But regardless of whether we’re taking pills or not, all the sleep that we get is always being generated by us, always. So supplements and pills can lead us down this slippery slope of believing that we can only sleep with them and maybe that’s true in the very short term, but they’re never a long term solution because they don’t address the perpetuating factors behind insomnia and they can make us believe that we can’t sleep without them know and that’s really not helpful over the longer term.

Anafer Barrera:
Yeah. I’m only 27, so I had maybe one or two drawers full of everything I’ve tried, I mean over the years, because I’ll take a few of the bottle and then I’ll just be like, “Oh, I’ll save it for next time. I have an insomnia episode or whatever.” It’d be like Valerian root, and something the chiropractor gave me and something, whatever they would just stockpile and it was something I was noticing like, “Okay, if this one didn’t work and that one didn’t work. I’m not going to just eventually find the one that works.” And it was just crazy to see my drawer full and realize the answer can’t be in there.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, and you can end up down that rabbit hole, right? Where you’re trying something for a while, seems to work until it doesn’t work and then that just leads to this scramble to look for something else. Then maybe that will work for a while until it doesn’t work and then you’re looking for something else. So you’re just always looking. That worry and that arousal and just that stress of just having to feel as though you’re always trying to think one step ahead for what you can do when that next thing stops working. It just is so stressful that in itself can just be disruptive to sleep.

Anafer Barrera:
Yeah. I guess on the spectrum, thinking about my parents and how they’re still on that train, they didn’t go to the extreme like I did, like really gung-ho trying to find the right solution or the healthiest solution or the most sustainable, but because they didn’t go to that extreme, I guess it’s a good and a bad thing, they’re not as stressed about their sleep, but at the same time they’re going to keep going down that hole, if they didn’t find their longterm solution.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. It’s really difficult, I’m not sure what the best solution or the best way to combat that is. I think we just need to get the information out there that there is a better alternative to all these things that aren’t really helpful over the longterm, and these things are these evidenced based cognitive and behavioral techniques because they address the thought processes that can perpetuate insomnia and they address the behaviors that we usually implement in a bit to improve our sleep, but backfire and make it harder for us sleep to recover and do what it wants to do all by itself.

Anafer Barrera:
Yeah. I mean, I took your course two years ago and I remember emailing you or texting you when I was losing my mind being like, “Why hasn’t this been posted out there? Like why don’t more people know about this?” If this is what works, why are we first reading about valerian root or warm milk before we read about CBT-I? It didn’t seem fair to me. So I’m all about getting the information out there.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. Well, that’s great. So let’s talk about that, so you started working with me like you just said about two years ago. So when I start working with clients, they typically will be filling out sleep diary so we can just see what their sleep is at the current time. And I remember that when I got yours back it showed that you were averaging about five hours of sleep each night but you were spending roughly nine hours in bed at night. And so, that big difference actually between time spent in bed and time allotted for sleep is quite common with people with chronic insomnia. At that time, when you were doing that, if you can think back, did you think spending nine hours in bed might help you get more sleep? Did you see it as something that was helpful or did it ever occur to you that, that might be not quite so helpful?

Anafer Barrera:
The opposite. I always thought it was helpful. And part of that is just, I’m raised… not even my parents, but being in health promotion at school at UT in Austin, we would always tell people, go to bed early, get good sleep and my parents had told me to go to bed early. You didn’t well sleep last night, go to bed early tonight. And so that’s always the added pressure. So you think you’re doing the right thing by going to bed earlier, I guess.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. It is really common and just as I suggested. It’s very rare that I get a sleep diary back from a client and the amount of time they’re spending in bed is quite similar to the amount of sleep they’re getting and that’s completely normal. We want to get more sleep so it sounds completely logical that we would therefore spend more time in bed. But when we are struggling with sleep over a long period of time, all that really does is just guarantee a lot of time awake during the night, whether that means it takes us more time to fall asleep or we wake up and then find it hard to fall back to sleep. So I think when I got that first diary back from you, we discussed allotting less time for sleep, and since you are averaging about five hours. I think we suggested starting with about six hours.

Anafer Barrera:
Actually I think it was less, I think I was averaging four and a half but I want to say we started with five or five and a half and I was like, “Oh man, that’s low.”

Martin Reed:
I remember it was probably somewhere between four and a half and five hours. I don’t usually suggest people allot less than about five and a half hours for sleep, but certainly five and a half could have been something that we were talking about. So what was your initial reaction to that? Did it feel like…?

Anafer Barrera:
I was angry.

Martin Reed:
Angry. Okay.

Anafer Barrera:
Yeah, I was angry. Before I found you, I had talked to you about therapist about sleep and she was like, “Well, what if tonight you just don’t sleep?” And I was like, “Oh really?” And she was like, “That’s not the reaction you’re supposed to have when someone tells you you don’t have to sleep.” But I had had so much pressure on myself to sleep, but ironically, when you told me you can only be in bed for five and a half hours, I was like, “Oh God, I’m going to die.” I mean, I didn’t expect it.

Martin Reed:
But you did it, right? What was it you felt… that was a big, you felt angry, you were maybe a bit confused as to how this makes sense. How could spending less time in bed improve my sleep? How did you get your head around this and actually decide to give it a try?

Anafer Barrera:
I think you had a lecture on there that explained it, and it was like making associations with your bed and your body, and your mind or associating your bed with anxiety and that was 100% true for me. I couldn’t even deny that. So I agreed with what you had to say and I believed that it could work. It was just, I don’t know. I mean, clearly we just… and people with insomnia have a lot of emotions when it comes to sleep and it’s precious, but you can’t get there. And so when you say you can only be in bed for five and a half hours, then my goal is to optimize my health. Well, that to me seems counterintuitive, but with a little bit more explanation and working through the course and learning a little more and seeing it on my diaries, it makes sense.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, exactly. Because the way I to frame it is, well, what you’re doing right now is obviously not working for you. It’s not helpful because we wouldn’t be talking, we wouldn’t be working together. So how about even just running it as an experiment for a couple of weeks, just allotting an amount of time for sleep that’s a little bit less than now, but that’s still longer than your average night sleep duration. So you can see just from that alone, that we’re not going to be reducing the amount of sleep you get. All we’re going to be doing is just reducing the amount of time you spend awake in bed, which is not pleasant. It doesn’t feel good. Whilst at the same time building up this really strong sleep drive during the day and that will really help improve sleep at night. Especially if you can recognize that worry or anxiety or self monitorings interrupting sleep.

Martin Reed:
The stronger your sleep drive gets during the day, the easier it is to overpower all that, the easier then becomes to sleep. So you decided to give it a go and I think you’d see after the first week, suddenly boom you’re falling asleep significantly faster. I think when I was looking at your sleep diaries before this call it went to around half an hour sleep onset instead of two and a half hours. But your average night, your sleep duration was still about the same, that hadn’t changed. So that’s what it was. I then I think we suggest tightening up that sleep window a little bit more to five and a half hours. That’s what it was. Yeah, so we started at six, you saw great results. You started falling asleep significantly faster.

Martin Reed:
So maybe I had a little bit more confidence so maybe I felt the time was right to suggest, “Well, how about maybe we tightened the sleep window up just a tiny little bit more.” So how were you feeling at that point? A couple of weeks and you saw that you were assigned fall asleep really quickly. Were you feeling good because you were falling asleep significantly faster, or were you still frustrated that, “Hey, I’m still only getting like four and a half, five hours of sleep here?”

Anafer Barrera:
Yeah. It was such a crazy rollercoaster for me. I remember that I was happy and frustrated and relieved and anxious. You know, all these things were going on because I was trying a total paradigm shift from my old way of thinking. So I do remember when you said, “You have to stay out of bed longer.” But you framed it in a way of like, “This is a great time for you to catch up on things that you didn’t have time for.” Then I was like, “Okay, this is good. Like, I can turn my flaw into a I don’t know, a pro or whatever. Something good.” So it was just a rollercoaster of, “Oh, I can see the good in this,” and then, “Oh, this sucks.” Because I was very happy to see on my sleep diary that yes, I was in bed shorter, but Oh my God, I was sleeping the whole time i was in bed. That had never happened to me and I never thought it was possible either.

Anafer Barrera:
I always associated shorter bedtime with shorter sleep time. So that was exciting, but then I also remember, I was just so ready to know that this program worked for sure and for the long run, that I would often get skeptical like, “Oh, why am I still only going to bed for five and a half hours? What if tonight is my eight hour night? I kind of just want to take of that and go to bed for eight hours because Martin doesn’t know my brain and it might sleep tonight.” So it was, “God I wish I could tell myself, hey, it’s fine. Just listen to him and it’s going to fix you for the long run.” But at the time you don’t know for sure if it’s going to work. So you’re kind of like, “What if I can sleep tonight? I want to take advantage of that.”

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think everything you’ve said is so completely understandable and I think a lot of people are going to relate to it especially with, I can’t read what’s going to happen tonight. Maybe if I didn’t only spend five and a half hours in bed, maybe I would get eight hours of sleep. But the issue is, you’ve known from experience from the past years and years and years, that it’s probably unlikely that you would get that much. Maybe you will, but probably not based on what you know. So sometimes it can be helpful to just take that slightly more structured approach, and just be filling that sleep window with sleep. Feels really good.

Martin Reed:
You will get back to that point where you start to allot more time for sleep as and when you’re filling up that sleep window so that the overwhelming majority of the time you spend your bed is spent asleep instead of awake. And as you start to fill that sleep window, you feel better, you feel less worried, less anxious and as a result, you tend to sleep better and then you can extend out the sleep window some more and eventually you get to that point where we want to get everyone to. Where you’re not really thinking about sleep, any more worrying about sleep and you go to bed when you’re sleepy and get up when you’ve got to get up.

Anafer Barrera:
Yeah. There were so many keys in your course. I can’t say it was one thing or another thing, but a major key was the schedule, being consistent and you would tell me that. I remember I would text you like, “Can I please extend it another hour or something?” You’d be like, “You can add 15 minutes.” And I was like, “ah.” But yeah, the consistency and like to the quarter hour, it only lasts a few weeks. So I would say this to anyone who’s considering doing the sleep restriction and the course. I would take the short term frustration or the short term pain for the longterm gain because it really did work.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. That’s the phrase I like to use the short term pain for the long term gain, because especially in those first few weeks not everyone gets those really fast results like you did, that sleep onset in the first two weeks for it to just fall so dramatically. But at the same time you’re putting in all that effort. You feel like maybe you’re depriving yourself of this opportunity to sleep and if you’re not getting results right away, it can be hard to stay confident and stay committed to what you’re doing. So that can be a helpful little reminder. Just get through that short term pain to get these longterm results, these longterm gains that you’re looking for.

Martin Reed:
So, going back to your experience after like five weeks, again, you were seeing some really good improvements on an average night. You were falling asleep within about 10 minutes at that point, compared to, just to remind you like two and a half hours when you were lying nine hours for sleep and you’re averaging a little bit over six hours of sleep each night. So getting more sleep as well and your sleep efficiency was 91%, which basically just means 91% of the time you were spending in bed was spent asleep, which is great, because as you touched upon it also reinforces this association between the bed and sleep and not unpleasant wakefulness. But then I think if I remember about a month after the course ended, after the eight week course you went back to four and a half hours of sleep and a long sleep onset times. Do you remember that? What happened with that setback?

Anafer Barrera:
I do remember that and it was such a quick fix. Something reminded me of those key things that I learned. Like, don’t get in bed. It was just refresher information that I needed. So like, don’t get in bed early if you’re trying to get a better night’s sleep or try to enjoy relaxing activities before bed or don’t call yourself an insomniac. You know, these key thought changes and behavior changes, I just needed a refresher and a reminder that they work.

Martin Reed:
A month after the end of the course you were saying that you were going through a period of short sleep. You got it back on track again, and then it was about a year after you finished the course, you reached out to me and you said, “I started to struggle, any tips or advice? What can I do?” And we spoke a little bit about temporary sleep disruption from time to time is always going to happen as normal part of life. Ultimately, it’s just how we react to them. So because insomnia is perpetuated by our thoughts and behaviors, so long as we can make sure that we avoid those perpetuating thoughts and behaviors, sleep will almost always get back on track by itself.

Anafer Barrera:
I think this is a good point back to my point in your point of short term pain, long term gain. It’s not super linear. You know, you don’t just go from here to here. But that’s the best part because that’s when you know it works and it is long term. So I think my success was like this, but now 27 year old Anafer sees 25 year old Anafer and those thoughts get reinforced of I’ve overcome this. I’m kind of doing my own CBT over time because when you’re a month out of the program, yes, you did the program and you put in the work, but you still have these thoughts that are like, ‘What if I didn’t overcome this?” You don’t know.

Anafer Barrera:
I didn’t know that future me was going to be sleeping great and that, that changed everything. For all I knew it was a temporary fix and I think that good refresher of like, don’t fall back into those thought patterns, and I guess I needed two refreshers, kept me going. Even though I was falling, it kept me improving to the point where I could convince myself like, “Oh, I don’t have insomnia. I sleep great,” and then those thoughts reinforce themselves forever.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, that’s a really good point because once from experience that there are things that you can do that will improve your sleep, these techniques allotting an appropriate amount of time for sleep, going to bed when you feel sleepy rather than what time it is on the clock. Things like that. When you know from experience that they work, you’ve learned those skills and they’re effective, you can just re-implement them again anytime you find yourself struggling. Like they really are just lifelong skills. You just become like your own coach, right? You don’t need anyone else. You’ve just got that self-empowerment and you know exactly what to do to improve the situation should sleep issues recur in the future.

Anafer Barrera:
Yeah, and the best thing about these tools or behaviors is that if anything, they’re fun to implement because they’re like, “Hey, don’t stress about sleep goal with your life.” So it’s not like, I don’t know. I guess I’m going to compare it to a diet. Like, if I do a short-term diet and then the person’s like, okay, you can always implement these practices again later. It’s like, “Oh, I have to give up pizza again.” But it’s like, no with the sleep restriction and the cognitive behavior therapy with insomnia, you get to re-implement these behaviors that help you go out and live your life. That help you say yes to going out and socializing and not focusing on sleep, or you can stay up reading as long as you want and your bedtime can come second. Just wake up and well, fill your next day again.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, exactly and you made a really good point there about living our daytime lives and having fun during the day because it’s so easy for us to just adapt our life or try and compensate for a difficult night or modify our days in response to difficult nights. Just as you’ve touched upon right at the start of this discussion where you changed career, you would look for different jobs to try and accommodate your insomnia. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we might just do relatively minor things like you have a bad night so then you won’t go out to the movies with friends the following night or you won’t even make plans let alone go because you’re concerned how it might impact your sleep or how you might be if you go to the movie. You’ll be a zombie or something that.

Martin Reed:
But every time we do that, we remove that opportunity to have good moments. So not only does it have a negative impact on our quality of life, but it guarantees that sleep has a negative influence in our lives because we’re just not giving ourselves the opportunity to have good moments in our days.

Anafer Barrera:
Yeah. So it’s a fun longterm tool kit to tap into when you need it.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. I just think that discussing these ups and downs and the setbacks along the way is helpful because they’re normal on that to be expected and if you’re not expecting setbacks, if you are just expecting or putting pressure on yourself to have that completely perfect linear progress of every single night, every single week is better than the last. You can really stress out and become really concerned when you experience a bad night or a string of bad nights. The insomnia’s back, nothing I’m doing is working. I’m beyond help. I’m back to square one. I think you already touched up on this, but did you have those same kind of worries and thoughts, when you experienced those little blips?

Anafer Barrera:
Yeah.

Martin Reed:
All right. So what advice would you give to someone who has experienced the same, or maybe they’re just currently experiencing a setback right now, listening to this?

Anafer Barrera:
So if they’re taking your course have pity and mercy on Martin, because I remember I would send you texts. Like, I was losing hope and I didn’t believe that it was going to work and you were very kind to me and patient and you responded very well, but if you’re experiencing setbacks and you’re getting angry and impatient and you’re doubting the program or you’re doubting the sleep restriction, that is part of success. So, yeah. Because it was very hard to do and even with me doubting it, and even with me writing out my setbacks, I still experienced success. I’m not going to tell you just avoid setbacks or avoid getting frustrated because you’re going to get frustrated and thank God, Martin’s going to be nice to you.

Martin Reed:
I really like how you said having the doubt is part of the process. I think that’s really powerful, because it’s so easy to be hard on ourselves when we have that doubt. Why do I feel so doubtful? Why do I feel negative? Why am I so pessimistic? But it’s completely understandable because you’ve probably tried a million different things to improve your sleep and none have worked.

Anafer Barrera:
Yeah, which is why I was shocked that this would.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, so those feelings are normal. I really like that, having that mindset that this doubt, or maybe the occasional frustration is part of the process can be really helpful. At the current time, lots of people are experiencing sleep disruption, maybe people that have never experienced sleep disruption before because of everything that’s going on, with this coronavirus outbreak. Where is your sleep at the current time? Have you been affected by what’s going on in the world? What’s a typical night for you at the current time?

Anafer Barrera:
I go to bed probably at 11:00 and wake up at 6:45 or 7:00. One thing that has permanently stuck with me is waking up early, has worked for me. You started that and then I also had a clinical rotation in the hospital that I would have to be there at 6:30 and I was sleeping a baby when I did that. So it’s possible that most people during coronavirus experience poor sleep because they’re waking up too late, but I would hate to say that in someone be like, “No, I’m waking up super early. I still struggle with sleep because that was me.” You implement everything and it sucks to hear that something worked for someone, but it doesn’t work for you. It only makes you feel worse.

Anafer Barrera:
So if that didn’t work for you, that’s okay. Yeah, I do wake up early consistently because I learned that that helped me and then I don’t know, I just don’t stress too much about bedtime anymore. I think that also is key because I could be doing all the right behaviors, textbook correct behaviors and still stress about sleep at night and then I wouldn’t be sleeping the way I am.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, exactly.

Anafer Barrera:
But I do read before bed. I don’t get on a computer. I still have a little bit of sleep hygiene, but I don’t freak out if I do watch a movie before bed or whatever.

Martin Reed:
It comes down to those two things, the thoughts and our behaviors. For a lot of people that are struggling with sleep, especially now with everything going on in the world is completely normal first and foremost, because our sleep is sensitive to our overall wellbeing. So when we are stressed at times of uncertainty, is normal for our sleep to be disrupted. And usually as we adapt, our sleep will recover all by itself. But if it doesn’t, it’s often because the way we think about sleep changes and our behaviors around sleep change. You used the great example of maybe we… then spending more time in bed or staying in later, and this can apply if maybe we’re working from home, maybe we’ve been furloughed, maybe we’ve lost our job. So we don’t have that structure to our day anymore.

Martin Reed:
So we’ve got that temptation to just lie in, in the morning and then when we try and go to bed the following night, it’s more difficult because ultimately we’re not asleep anymore because we’ve not been awake for as long, but then that can lead to more worry. “Now it’s taking me time to fall asleep.” And then it might be, you’re waking up during the night and it just triggers all these more worries and all these new behaviors to try and improve your sleep. That kind of really just get in the way of what the body wants do all by itself and that’s what tends to perpetuate the problem.

Anafer Barrera:
Right. Very true. Same goes with, let me just interject super quick, with diet when somebody gains a little bit of weight and they freak out and then, you know, I just feel like that’s the way weight cycling and yo-yo dieting happens too, is your body can fluctuate a little bit, but it’s when you start to hone in and try and fix it, that’s when it becomes an issue.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, exactly. Our sleep is very rarely the same from night to night even in people that have no issues with sleep, it’s very rare that you’re going to get the exact same amount of sleep every single night because sleep requirement varies really even from night to night, depending on how our day has gone. So one night we might get, let’s say eight hours, one night you might get six hours and that could be completely normal. But if our sleep confidence is low, we can then worry about that difference as you just alluded to and maybe think we’re back to square one or that we should just throw in the towel, this isn’t working when it’s perhaps not even unusual and it’s just all part of the process.

Anafer Barrera:
Very true. Yeah.

Martin Reed:
So what does life look now compared to when you were struggling with sleep? A lot of our attention is always on what goes on at night. Let’s talk more about the days, like if you’ve noticed changes in your daytime life or just your outlook on the days and life in general.

Anafer Barrera:
Well, I always used to think that I… So growing up, one of my best friends had cystic fibrosis and I was like, “Well, I have insomnia.” Not to say that they were comparable, but I was always thinking like, that was my thing and that everyone had to have something. It’s been amazing to free up that area in my brain that no longer has to search for insomnia cures or set aside a budget for like how am I going to fix it or whatever. So there is a lot of freethinking space now and I’ve noticed it. All this time I used to spend thinking about sleep or shopping for pills or looking for sleep doctors or whatever. Talking about it. I’m more interested in my career now or in my dating life or my friends or…

Martin Reed:
Wow. That was great. So it almost sounds as though it’s just ultimately just this almost a weight off your shoulders. It’s just something that’s just… like you said, it’s just freeing up your life. You can use that time, maybe spent thinking and worrying about sleep in not only more productive ways, but more enjoyable ways.

Anafer Barrera:
Yeah.

Martin Reed:
All right. Well, thank you for sparing your time to come on to the podcast. I think a lot of people are going to really identify with your journey and hopefully it will help motivate some people to take steps to improve their sleep. Just as you got your sleep back on track, listen to your story, there’s no reason for other people to believe they can’t the same and that’s why I think these discussions can just be really powerful. But I do have one last question for you and it’s one that I like to end all of these podcasts with. If someone with chronic insomnia is listening and feels as though they’ve tried everything, that they are beyond help and that they can’t do anything to improve their sleep, what would you tell them?

Anafer Barrera:
That was me. That was me 100% and I can completely relate to that. I would 100% recommend the course and that, Martin. I wish that this course were more widely spread and I wish it were more accessible to everyone. I just got out of a Master’s in Public Health and I’m like, “Can we promote CBT-I please?” Instead we promote get eight hours of sleep. I know it’s hard, but I would definitely at least try this. You’ve tried everything, why not try this?

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think everyone has it within them to improve their sleep. We all have a natural ability to sleep. It never goes away. It’s just a case of having access to these techniques to help change the way you think about sleep and help you implement behaviors that just ultimately let your body take control of sleep again. As soon as we remove ourselves from the process, it tends to make sleep easier. Thank you so much for taking the time to come onto the podcast, Anafer.

Anafer Barrera:
Yeah, of course. Thank you.

Martin Reed:
Thanks for listening to The Insomnia Coach Podcast. If you’re ready to implement evidence-based cognitive and behavioral techniques to improve your sleep but think you might need some additional support and guidance, I would love to help. There are two ways we can work together. First, you can get my online coaching course. This is the most popular option. My course combines sleep education with individualized coaching and is guaranteed to improve your sleep. You will learn new ways of thinking about sleep and implement better sleep habits over a period of eight weeks. This gives you time to build sleep confidence and notice results without feeling overwhelmed. You can get the course and start right now at insomniacoach.com/online.

Martin Reed:
I also offer a phone coaching package where we start with a one hour call. This can be voice only or video, your choice, and we come up with an initial two-week plan that will have you implementing cognitive and behavioral techniques that will lead to long term improvements in your sleep. You get unlimited email-based support and guidance for two weeks after the call along with a half-hour follow-up call at the end of the two weeks. You can book the phone coaching package at insomniacoach.com/phone.

Martin Reed:
I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Insomnia Coach Podcast. I’m Martin Reed, and as always, I’d like to leave you with this important reminder — you can sleep.

I want you to be the next insomnia success story I share! If you’re ready to improve your sleep using evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) techniques, click here to get my online insomnia coaching course. We can get started right now.

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