How Deeandra reclaimed her life from insomnia and got her sleep back on track without medication (#37)

Deeandra always slept well but a stressful period in her life led to 48 hours of no sleep whatsoever and this generated a lot of anxiety. Deeandra started to panic and thought that she had lost the ability to sleep. Doctors gave her different medications that didn’t always seem to be helpful and came with their own set of side effects. For three years, Deeandra put her life on hold while she engaged in a long list of rituals and experiments in an attempt to improve her sleep.

Gradually, Deeandra moved away from trying to control sleep and avoid nighttime wakefulness. She started to go to bed only when sleepy enough for sleep. She decided to live her life regardless of how she slept at night. She started to do things she’d withdrawn from — she no longer canceled plans, she started to exercise again. Little by little she reclaimed her life from insomnia — and her sleep began to improve.

Today, Deeandra averages around six to seven hours of sleep. She still has difficult nights from time to time but they no longer have such an effect on her life. In Deeandra’s own words, “life is about the time we spend awake, not the time that we 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, Deeandra. Thank you so much for coming onto the podcast today.

Deeandra:
Thank you, Martin. Thank you for having me.

Martin Reed:
It’s great to have you on let’s just start right at the beginning as always. If you could just let us know when your sleep problems first began and what you think caused your initial issues with sleep.

Deeandra:
Well, it started in 2018. I was going through a stressful time in my life, lots of stress, lots of problems at work, and switching houses, and stuff like that. I was going through a tremendous amount of stress, but I actually used to be a really great sleeper even through stress and anxiety. I mean, strangely, I never really struggled that much with sleep before. But in 2018, I don’t know, maybe it was lots of stuff going on, and I basically just started struggling with sleep. All of a sudden I couldn’t sleep. Before I would have a sleepless night every now and then, and I wouldn’t really think much of it. It would happen and the next night I would be okay. I would go to sleep and I would recover from that.

Deeandra:
The first night, after this lots of stress, I struggled for sleep that one sleepless night. I said, “Okay, a sleepless night. It happens every once in a while. It’s nothing in particular. And the next night I will sleep.” And the next night happened and still, I didn’t sleep. And then I thought, “Oh my God, this has never happened before. Why I’m still not sleeping. I mean, this is the second night I’m not sleeping. This is new. I mean, this is not something I have experienced before. There must be something wrong with me.” I mean, who doesn’t sleep for 48 hours? Of course, I didn’t really go 48 hours straight without sleeping. Probably I slept something, but in my mind I wasn’t sleeping for even one minute.

Deeandra:
And the anxiety went through the roof right after that second night. And I really started panicking that maybe something is wrong with me. I mean, my brain stopped working. I have a neurological problem or something. Because after these 48 hours of sleepless nights I was really having lots of anxiety, and I just couldn’t understand how could I not recover from that. So, I went to the doctors and I said, “I’m struggling to sleep here. I don’t know what’s wrong. I mean, it’s all of a sudden. I know I am having this trouble sleeping.”

Deeandra:
They gave me a medication, a tranquilizer so I can recover from that. And they told me, “You know what? You are going through some stress, maybe just take it for two weeks to get your sleep back on track so you can recover and get some sleep. And then you’ll see that your sleep will magically recover on its own. It’s a cycle so it will get back on track without even trying.” I believed them. I said, “Okay, maybe something is wrong with my brain or something.” I don’t know.

Deeandra:
I took the medication. And of course, after I stopped my medication, I started having the sleepless nights again. And this was really strange. I mean, I said, “Why is my sleep not getting back on track? Something is wrong here. I mean, am I just going crazy? Am I losing my mind here? Am I going through…” I mean, I was really panicking. It was really consuming even my mind. Every day I was always thinking about it. So, I went to see a psychiatrist and I explained what I was going through. And they said, “Okay, maybe you’re depressed. Maybe you have a lack of serotonin in your brain. That’s why you’re not sleeping.”

Deeandra:
I said, “Of course I’m depressed. I mean, I’m not sleeping.” I mean, anybody would be a little bit depressed I believe after not sleeping for two days. So I said, “Okay, of course, my mood is not that great because I’m really tired and I don’t feel well, but I don’t think I’m…” I mean, there was nothing else. I mean, it was only the sleep at that point, even because the national stressors was actually resolved after… I mean, I was only struggling with sleep at that point. I mean, the initial stressors was really not an issue anymore. I was just struggling with sleep for no reason. And they told me, “Maybe, yeah, you need to fix your serotonin and get back on… Again, get back on track.”

Deeandra:
Nobody explained, “Maybe you need to address something else.” They just said, “Take this medication. Take the antidepressant, and it will get better.” Of course, again, I believed the doctor, and I took the antidepressant. And it was a sedative antidepressant, and I took it for six months believing that this was the cure for me. I mean, it was going to help me to fix my serotonin again, because I believe that something is broken. I don’t know if it’s normal for someone just to… I really believe that I lost this magical ability to sleep. I mean, I believe that everybody had this button that made them all…

Deeandra:
Yeah, that magical ability to make them sleep. And I lost it. I mean, I really thought I lost this ability. And it came in my mind that, I will never have this ability again. I mean, I will always rely on this medication which actually gave me really bad side effects. I was really tired, and it didn’t even work at times. I was really taking it for no reason at one point because it didn’t really work. Every night, I mean, it would work for a couple of nights, and then it wouldn’t work. And then, it really didn’t make sense after a while to take it. So I said, I don’t feel comfortable continuing to take it. So I basically tried to wind off the medication and this was also a struggle. You just can’t get off these medications without a long period of deteriorating the medication, and just making sure that you’re taking a lower dose every week or something.

Deeandra:
And it was a really, really difficult time in my life because I needed to weigh the dose and just being careful that I… Because I believe that if I just stopped taking it, I will not sleep. I mean, I need to do this carefully so I can recover from this. And no one actually mentioned to me… They actually talked to me about going to therapy, but they mentioned CBT in general for anxiety. And I went to this therapist and we talked about anxiety and unresolved issues, trauma, lots of stuff, but we never really addressed the insomnia itself. I mean, they always told me, “You have…” I mean, I know I’m an anxious person, and I know that I dwell on things more than others probably.

Deeandra:
And that’s why I said, “We need to work on anxiety then if this is causing my insomnia.” But no one really said something about, you know, explaining sleep to me or anything else. I mean, we would always work on the anxiety part of it, and it did help to lower the anxiety and just being less anxious and knowing all the mindfulness techniques to get through the day. But I think I was… I mean, I would just find myself terrified that my sleep would really always be this way. I mean, I started asking myself, “Am I going to be at…” I was 29 at that point, and I turned 30 and I said, “No, I’m 30 years old. And I can’t believe that I’m going through this at 30.”

Deeandra:
I thought that I would be doing lots of different things. I mean, I really wanted to go and study again. I wanted to go back to school. So, this was put on hold now because I was struggling so much with sleep. Basically, sleep was becoming my life for like… Yeah. I mean, it became everything I thought about from the morning, from waking up until the evening time. It was really the only thing I thought about, and it’s really consumed my day, and it was a really… This is how it started. This is how the insomnia began.

Deeandra:
But then, yeah, I tried to go to my therapist, and I believed her when she said, “Insomnia is probably going go away when you’re less anxious, and maybe after six months of antidepressant your serotonin levels are now higher. So now you’re going to sleep.” But I was really afraid, I said, “This is my life now. I’m just going to be this person that have to rely on sleeping pills, or maybe have to rely on medications for the rest of their life.” Yeah. So, this was it. Yeah.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think it’s really interesting when people describe their background before chronic insomnia struck. Some people tell me that, “I’ve always struggled with sleep throughout my life, but then this time around, for some reason, the sleep disruption didn’t disappear.” And then other people like yourself tell me, “I’d never had a problem with sleep. And then this sleep disruption come around and it just would not go away.” And I think in a way that can generate even more worry and anxiety because-

Deeandra:
Exactly, yeah.

Martin Reed:
… it just adds so much more mystery to the situation. Right?

Deeandra:
Absolutely.

Martin Reed:
And then we can start to worry that something has changed. We’ve lost something, some ability or some chemical.

Deeandra:
Exactly. I mean, I even used to say in the past that sleep was my superpower. At some point, it used to say to my husband, even I struggled with anxiety, but I would say… I would sleep it off. I mean, I would go to sleep and then just… I used to be a really great sleeper that sleep was actually my favorite time of the day, going to bed and just relaxing and going to sleep and just waking up. And so, when this happened, I really believed them when they said, “Something is wrong with your brain.” Some chemical, hormonal issues, something is wrong. There can’t be a switch and just like that, I can sleep. Yeah.

Martin Reed:
Well, you touched upon the fact that, because this was just consuming your life, and it was basically making you put your life on hold. Right? You said you had these big plans to go back to school and start studying again so you put them on hold. Were there any other changes that you made to how you live your life or how you went about your days in response to this insomnia, either as a way to try and protect yourself from the effects of sleep disruption or to try and generate better conditions for sleep? What kind of changes had you made to how you were living your life?

Deeandra:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, insomnia really affected my life when it happened, because I would wake up, and I would just say, “I have to survive today.” So, I will just do the minimum. I will just stay on the couch or something. I will not exercise, so I can survive today, and get through the day. And it’s really sad. But I had… My son would ask me to do stuff for them, and I would say, “No, I can’t. I mean, I’m really tired. I have to lay down or something.” Even, I would cancel plans with my family.

Deeandra:
I mean, I really enjoyed exercising, so I would really not go to the gym anymore because I said, “I can’t exercise if I didn’t sleep last night. I just can’t do that.” I mean, it would really consume my energy even more. I can’t even get through the day, so how can I do some physical activity without having any energy. I mean, insomnia was really like the… It had a huge grip on my life, basically. Yeah.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. Absolutely. And this is just where I think it can be so helpful to peel away the mystery of insomnia, because from person to person, the way insomnia works, it’s almost identical. Some of us, we actually have this model that regular listeners of this podcast will be familiar with, called the 3P Model that we use to describe the development of chronic insomnia. And the first P is just predisposing factors. And you kind of touched upon, “I feel like maybe I’m a little bit more of an anxious person than other people.” So already, maybe, we’re a little bit more susceptible to some temporary sleep disruption.

Martin Reed:
And so then we have the second P, which is the precipitating factor. This is just whatever the trigger for a round of sleep disruption was. So for example, with what you were describing, there was a stressful time in your life. You were moving house, lots of different things going on. So we will probably expect people to experience some sleep disruption at that time. So now, we’re in the sleep disruption stage of insomnia. Nine times out of 10, probably more often than that, once that initial trigger is no longer relevant or we’ve adapted to it, our sleep gets right back on track or by itself.

Martin Reed:
But if it doesn’t, and when it doesn’t, as you know and everyone listening to this will know, that’s when the real worry starts, and the real mystery seems to be generated around insomnia. But again, there is no mystery. When the insomnia sticks around, it’s down to that third P in the model, which are the perpetuating factors. And these are all the things that we completely understandably do in response to the sleep disruption to try and fix our sleep or improve our sleep or help to manage all the side effects that come along within insomnia, the kind of backfire on us and actually perpetuating insomnia and make it harder for our body to just naturally get sleep back on track.

Martin Reed:
We might do things like… Just use your own examples, because we feel so fatigued we’re going to just want to be less active. We’re going to want to spend more time being sedentary, being on the couch. We might withdraw from doing things that are important to us or that add enrichment to our lives. You mentioned for yourself exercise and going to the gym was important to you. Spending quality time with your child was important to you. And these were all things that changed in response, and other common things that we might do are, going to bed earlier, or staying in bed later just spending more time in bed in general, to try and catch up on sleep, or to make sleep happen. All that kind of ongoing research, and again, all of these things are completely understandable why we would do them because we are going through difficulty. We want to improve the situation and fix the situation.

Martin Reed:
But sleep is one of these things that doesn’t respond well to effort. And it’s when we start to do all these things in response that actually end up perpetuating the sleep disruption. And I think it can be so helpful to recognize this because it strips insomnia of the mystery. We don’t have to start… Well, if we can identify our own struggle in that model, then perhaps we don’t have to worry quite so much that there’s something uniquely wrong. Our brain is now missing a chemical, or there’s some hormonal imbalance, or we’ve lost that magical sleep switch because we never lose that ability to sleep. It’s just that our understandable response to that sleep disruption is usually what provides insomnia with the oxygen it needs to survive for the longer term.

Deeandra:
Yeah. I completely agree. And it was actually an obsession. I started to obsess about sleep in a way that I… Like I said before, my life now revolved about sleep, basically. I would think about sleep all day long. Am I sleeping enough? Am I not sleeping enough? Did I get enough sleep? How can I cope? I always heard about the eight hours. The eight hours, you should get eight hours, otherwise, you are not healthy enough. Your brain will be… You’re not functioning. I used to read… I go online. I read all these articles about insomnia and maybe the effects on health. I also struggle with health and anxiety. So, this would give me even more anxiety, because I think I’m causing myself some… I might get sick or something if I don’t sleep those eight hours.

Deeandra:
And actually, when I discovered your podcast, I was walking one day outside, and I heard someone on your podcast. They said something that really… I actually started crying because it really touched me because they said something like, “Life is about the time we spend awake, not the time that we sleep.” So, I mean, life is the time we spend awake. This is what matters. Sleep is just… It doesn’t matter. Life is about the moments that we spend awake. I shouldn’t obsess about sleep so much. And actually, yeah, I mean I said, “I completely agree because I wasn’t living anymore, basically.” All I only cared about was sleep, actually. I didn’t care about my life. I just wanted to sleep. This was my main goal in life, basically for a while.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. Absolutely. And that’s completely understandable, right, because our brain, its prime directive is to look out for us. And so, it’s always going to want to put pressure on us to fix any problems that it perceives are going on in our lives. It’s going to tell us, “Do that research. Try this. Try that. Do this. Do that.” And it can be really easy to just get caught up in all of those things our brain is telling us. But with a bit of practice, sometimes we can listen to all that stuff the brain is telling us, but then take a step back from it, and then decide consciously how we want to respond to everything our brain is telling us. We don’t necessarily have to do everything our mind tells us we still have that control. Even though sometimes it can feel like we don’t, there’s always control we have over our actions and starting to do some things when we’re awake that are important to us. And that bring us a sense of enrichment even when our mind is saying, “No, you can’t do that you must rest.” It can be really helpful.

Martin Reed:
And these don’t have to be huge things. If exercise is really important to you, it doesn’t mean you have to start doing 20 miles on the treadmill. It might just be reading about exercise or reading about fitness. Just any small actions you can take to just help you start moving back toward the kind of life you want to live, rather than responding immediately to everything your brain is telling us which usually ends up moving us away from the kind of life we want to live.

Deeandra:
Yeah.

Martin Reed:
And so, just to take a quick step back, you mentioned that when you were working through my course, you found it really helpful just to learn more about sleep and learn more about insomnia, and that knowledge helped you change your relationship with sleep. Can you remember any of the key insights that you learned that you found most helpful? I mean, you just touched upon that insight about life really is about what we do when we’re awake, as opposed to when we’re asleep. But was there anything in terms of just knowledge about sleep and insomnia that you found really helpful?

Deeandra:
Well, they always told me that I should go to sleep. When you go to the doctors, they give you this information, sleep hygiene and all this, you shouldn’t watch TV before bed, you shouldn’t work in bed, you should always go to bed at the same time, and wake up at the same time. And I would do that.

Deeandra:
I mean, what I actually learned from you, from when I started your course is that I was going to bed at the time that I wasn’t actually sleepy. I mean, there was this time that I said, “Okay, this is my bedtime, so I should go to bed at this time.” And I shouldn’t in any… I was really strict about it in a way that it was really actually affecting my life, honestly, because I couldn’t even go out to dinner with my husband because I had this bedtime. And it was a ridiculous bedtime because it was at 9:00, so it was really early. I had to be in bed by 9:00, and I had to be in bed by 9:00, and this was my bedtime. And I couldn’t even change it because he told me that I have to go to bed at that time.

Deeandra:
And I didn’t like… When I enrolled in your course, I learned that I should actually go to bed when I’m sleepy so I can prepare the perfect conditions for sleep. So, I started doing that, not going to bed when it was 9:00. I mean, waiting until I’m sleepy unless I’m sleepy. Instead of going to bed and just waiting for sleep to happen even if I’m not that sleepy, I would change that. I mean, I changed that. So, I would wait a little bit, not just at 9:00, maybe waiting till I get a little bit, you know, heavy eyes, doing something good for bed, or something else so I can feel more ready for bed. And that’s one of the things that I did, yeah.

Martin Reed:
We often see this advice, “Go to bed at the same time, get out of bed at the same time.” I think it’s close. I think that getting out of bed by the same time each day can be really helpful. It’s something I always encourage people to do because it gives the body clock, this strong, consistent morning anchor, so it can help regulate between sleep and wakefulness. But going to bed at the same time at night can be less helpful because a clock doesn’t know when we’re sleepy enough for sleep. What I think can be helpful is having an earliest possible bedtime, because like I touched upon earlier, a common behavior that can perpetuate sleep disruption is spending too much time in bed, or just generally allotting too much time for sleep. If we can give ourselves an earliest possible bedtime, that helps us avoid allotting too much time for sleep, spending too much time in bed, but it also helps change our mindset about it.

Martin Reed:
This isn’t the time you must go to bed. It’s just an earliest possible bedtime. So if that bedtime arrives and you don’t feel sleepy enough for sleep, then we just don’t go to bed until we do feel sleepy enough for sleep. And when we are feeling a strong sense of sleepiness, conditions are so much better for sleep to occur. And I don’t know if you recognize this in your own experience, but something I regularly hear from people is when I changed that, when I started to go to bed much later, I realized what sleepiness felt again because that sleepiness had been replaced by just ongoing fatigue, brain fog, exhaustion, feeling worn out, and it’s really easy to confuse that with sleepiness. So when we get that sense of sleepiness back, there’s a real struggle to actually stay awake, that in itself can just be such a powerful experience and a great reminder that we haven’t lost the ability to sleep.

Deeandra:
Yeah. I completely agree. And I actually really used to enjoy this night… I mean, before bed, I would watch a movie with my husband or something and just wind down or have a cup of tea or something. I used to love that, loved this bedtime routine. And after fixating so much on sleep, like a soldier, I was like at 9:00, I had to go to bed and just be under the covers. And I didn’t even give myself this… Even like the time that I really enjoyed actually, and I should give myself this enjoyable time by myself so I can do something enjoyable before bed that relaxes me. And I was fixating so much that for a long time, I didn’t even put my son to bed.

Deeandra:
I used to put him to bed every night, read him stories, and just put him to bed. I didn’t even do that because my bedtime had to be at 9:00. I had to be under the covers. I mean, it really affected even this quality time I had with my son before going to bed. He actually missed that. And he used to tell me, “I miss that, and I want you to put me to bed and just stay with me till I fall asleep.” And I just say, “I’m sorry, baby. But I have to be in bed.” I felt bad about it, but I was really obsessed.

Deeandra:
They told me that I had to be in bed every night at the same time, and I followed these rules, every night at the same time. And I just believe that I was actually setting myself for success if I go to bed early because I said to myself, “Okay, if I’m in bed by 9:00 and I didn’t sleep, so I have lots of time so I can try to sleep.” And at one point I will sleep, but what would actually happen, that I would go to bed at 9:00, and I’m still awake after three hours because I was not actually sleepy when I went to bed at 9:00. At midnight, I would be anxious and panicking and saying, “This is going to be a sleepless night and so on.” Yeah.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. It’s so difficult. I think insomnia really likes to trick us. It’s almost like it tries to do deals with us. For example, “Don’t read to your son. Make sure you go to bed at 9:00, and then you’ll feel better.” That’s what insomnia is telling us to do. But insomnia has an ulterior motive. Insomnia is telling us to do that kind of stuff because that’s what gives insomnia the oxygen it needs to stick around. And say, it is a really tricky customer, insomnia. And this is why it can be helpful to just address any of these changes we can recognize we’ve made in response to insomnia that haven’t really proven to be helpful or haven’t really added to our quality of life because it is so easy to remove all those important things from our lives to protect our sleep or create better conditions for sleep.

Martin Reed:
You just touched on reading to your son, missing out on that wind-down routine, that used to be really enjoyable, that quality time you’d spend with your husband. We do all these things that end up moving us from the kind of life you want to live. And they don’t really have any effect on sleep itself because we’re still setting ourselves up for longer periods of wakefulness by doing things like going to bed before we feel sleepy enough for sleep. But we’re also… What else are we doing? We are kind of giving sleep a really negative role in our lives when our whole life just revolves around sleep, and our behaviors change in a way that leads to less quality of life because of sleep. It just changes our whole relationship with it.

Deeandra:
Yeah. Absolutely. I totally agree. Yeah.

Martin Reed:
You touched upon that thing, that behavior change that you found really helpful which was just going to bed later, going to bed when you felt a stronger sense of sleepiness. Were there any other behaviors that you changed to help create better conditions for sleep, or that just helped improve your quality of life during the day that now on reflection you can look back on and say, “That was helpful. That really helped me.”

Deeandra:
Yeah. Well, starting from… I said to myself, “Whatever nights I had the night before, I’m just going to live my life. I’m just going to go out and exercise and I’m just going to stay to insomnia, basically.” I don’t care, anymore if I have insomnia. Maybe I slept for a couple of hours the night before, and I was tired, then I didn’t feel like doing much, but I would basically just act like nothing was happening and I would just try my best to do everything I wanted to do during the day. I would go out, and just basically be active during the day instead of lying down, and just canceling plans or not just during my usual activities. And I changed that, I said, “No, I’m not just going to live insomnia win anymore.”

Deeandra:
I basically started to, little by little every day, doing something more. I started to go out for walks. And even if I had dinner plans, I would go out, even if I didn’t have much sleep the night before. And I would go to the gym and exercise and even if I was tired. So yeah, I definitely changed that. And then, I said to myself, “Eight hours.” Maybe after reading your tips and tricks and your advices and I thought, “Eight hours is not for everyone. I can survive on less. So, why am I going to bed at a ridiculous time? I mean, at 9:00.” I have to like… If I give myself the time I need at the end of the day to do something with my husband or do something I enjoy, I’m relaxing so I’m probably creating a better condition for sleep.

Deeandra:
Even if I get five hours, and I’m productive the next day, this is fine for me. I mean, it’s not a big deal then. I mean, nothing will happen. I mean, maybe I just need that. Maybe, I don’t need eight hours anyway. So, I started to get to go to bed later. Yeah, I mean, I just… Basically, caring less, I had all these rituals before bed really in a manic way. I mean, I really just prepare everything like I was going to war basically. My sleepy time tea has to be ready at this time, and I have to be under the covers at this time, and I shouldn’t watch any TV shows that was interesting before bed.

Deeandra:
I would watch only boring shows before bed. If I’m interested in watching a show and I like it, I wouldn’t watch it before bed because I said, “No, I have to watch a show that I really saw a million times that wouldn’t engage my mind.” So, I would only watch boring movies and old, boring movies and old boring shows that I didn’t even enjoy anymore. But I had to do that because I would be awake if I watched something that really interested me and engaged me. And yeah, so I stopped the rituals, basically. I just said, “It doesn’t matter anymore. Really, it doesn’t matter.” Basically, yeah, that’s it.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think that idea that we need to get a certain amount of sleep like eight hours is often thrown out there. I can just be one of these extra things, right, that it’s just more pressure that we put on ourselves to make sleep happen or to generate sleep. But nobody really knows where this eight hours came from. We don’t have much evidence that says human beings need eight hours of sleep. We just look at ranges of average sleep durations and try and guess from there. But I think sleep duration is like height. It’s something that we all have a unique height, or we’re all going to be at a certain height. We’re all going to generate a certain amount of sleep. And that’s different for everyone. And trying to get a certain amount of sleep or a certain type of sleep is a bit like trying to grow seven-foot tall.

Martin Reed:
It’s something we can’t control. And anytime we have averages involved, so if we say, “An average person will sleep six to eight hours,” something like that. There are always going to be happy, healthy people that exist outside those ranges because we are just looking at averages. And something else that can compound this concern about sleep duration is the fact that when we ask an average person who has no issues with sleep, how much sleep they get, they usually just guess based on when they went to bed and when they got out of bed, and they just count that whole time as sleep. So, they tend to overestimate how much sleep they get which is probably why we tend to get closer to eight hours when we’re asking people. But then, when we’re struggling with insomnia, all those prolonged periods of wakefulness can seem to be more intense. And studies show that we tend to underestimate the amount of sleep we get when we’re struggling with insomnia.

Martin Reed:
So that just makes this gap between our situation, the amount of sleep we are getting when we have insomnia, and where we want to be, just makes that gaps feel even wider, which can then just create more worry, more anxiety, and we put more pressure on ourselves to sleep and engage in more of those sleep efforts for something that we really have no control over. We can certainly create better conditions for sleep, but there’s nothing we can do to make sleep happen on command for us to get the amount of sleep or a certain type of sleep that we’re after.

Deeandra:
Yeah, absolutely. And actually, I just remember reading in your emails that sleep can’t be controlled. You can’t control sleep. Sleep will just actually happen on its own. It’s a built-in mechanism, and you can’t just control it. And yeah, I mean, when I read that, I said, “Okay. I have to lose some control here,” because I was basically trying to control it in a very obsessive way, so I have to just let it go. Now, let go of all the obsessing about it, all the controlling, everything, just let go, and it could happen on its own. Yeah.

Martin Reed:
But it’s really hard to do that. Right? Because even if we hear this over and over again, we need to abandon that control, abandon that obsession. It’s hard because the brain by default is wired to want to engage in rituals, to put effort into problems, and to troubleshoot them. How do you go from logically understanding that “Yeah, I need to lose control. I need to just stop trying to get involved in the process to actually taking action and doing it”? How do you make that transition? Because it’s difficult. Right?

Deeandra:
Well, actually, I challenged myself. I said to myself, “Okay, I will just not care and see how I’m feeling.” I mean, I was getting even two hours of sleep, three hours of sleep even, and the next day I would actually be productive, and I would go through the day, and I do everything I wanted to do. And I was fine at the end of the day, and nothing happened. I didn’t go insane. My job didn’t suffer. My family didn’t suffer. My health didn’t suffer. Everything was fine. I mean, and then I started getting a little bit more, I mean, four hours of sleep. So, my theory proved to be right. Nothing will happen. I mean, sleep is just… You don’t need to obsess about the eight hours, the rituals, and you just have to lose control because there’s no switch.

Deeandra:
I mean, I’m actually… Maybe because I’m a go-getter, when I want something I would work on it. I would just obsess about it. Maybe the obsession here has a positive side because when I put some… I mean, I obsess about something, I obtain it. If I really wanted to get my driver’s license, for example, I would study in an obsessive way, and I would just practice and practice and practice to get it. And then, I got my driver’s license. And then the same thing I applied for sleep. Before, I would say, “Okay, I have to work on sleep.” So, I would obsess about it, and try to work on it. And I would just try all this stuff. I would try like the… I heard about this heavy blanket that you would put on your preferred bed to calm you or something. It was called the gravity blanket, I believe. I would try that.

Deeandra:
I would try so many stuff, even supplements and ashwaganda and maybe melatonin and lots of stuff just to… Because I believe that if I put effort in sleep, it will improve. But yeah, it’s the only thing in life actually that you shouldn’t really put any effort in. And it doesn’t respond to the effort at all. You shouldn’t really try anything on sleep. The more effort you try, the more stuff you try, the more supplements, the more rituals, the more… And it doesn’t really respond to effort. It’s just natural. It’s like breathing at the end of the day.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, it is. And I love that analogy about breathing. I mean, I use it all the time because breathing is something that we can temporarily control. Right? We can hold our breath, or we can breathe really quickly, but it’s not something we can successfully control for very long. And we can hold our breath, but eventually, no matter how determined we are, we’re going to breathe. Our body is just going to remove us from the equation and make us breathe. And insomnia and sleep is like that. No matter how desperate we are feeling, if we’ve been awake for 48 hours, not even a minute of sleep, sooner or later the body is just going to remove us from the process and make some sleep happen. The body will always generate at the very least the minimum amount of sleep we need in just the same way that it will always ensure that we take the exact number of breaths that we need to take throughout the day.

Martin Reed:
It’s just something that we don’t need to put that effort and all that energy into trying to control or to get involved in. But like you’ve said, it is completely understandable why we would do that because when we have a problem, we want to fix it. But sleep is that one thing in life that just does not respond well to effort. But that doesn’t mean that we need to be resigned to living with chronic insomnia. It just means that we can shift those efforts to where they can be helpful so we can do things like starting to reintroduce, starting to reclaim our lives, doing things again that are important to us, only going to bed when we are sleepy enough for sleep, not engaging in all these rituals that probably deep in the back of our minds we probably know aren’t proving to be helpful, at least over the long term. It’s just so difficult.

Deeandra:
Yeah. And actually, I have an idea that maybe lots of people who struggle with insomnia tend to be control freaks in their life. Maybe, I’m wrong, but that is the idea that I get because we like to control everything. We want what we want. And they tend to be, people who are really goal-oriented and they want to reach their goals, so say they apply this mentality to sleep, and they try to get their goal of sleep. I will try everything. I’ll just put more effort. I will try harder. I will just try to apply everything I know to get this magic sleep, which is actually, you don’t really need to do anything, basically.

Deeandra:
Just like my husband, of course, I have a husband who is the world best sleeper, who doesn’t do anything to sleep, to generate sleep. And he always say, “I don’t know. I just go to bed and I sleep. I don’t do anything special.” Yeah, I mean, you don’t really need to do anything. Yeah. It’s like you never… Something that I always say to myself, I even heard that in one of your podcast episodes that “You will never just forget how to sleep. Sleep, it’s a function. It’s a biological function that we have.” And that really, really helped me because at one point I really thought that I lost this ability. And now I know, and I will never doubt that anymore. That just like I will never forget how to breathe, I will never forget how to sleep. It’s a built-in mechanism. It’ll never disappear or go away, or it just won’t happen.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. And this is another reason why I just love the way that we can explore our thoughts about sleep, our relationship with sleep, and change our behaviors around sleep to start insomnia or the oxygen it needs to survive because these are really, at the end of the day, they’re skills. So, once we’ve harnessed these skills, we’ve practiced them, and we are sleeping better, I think it makes us more resilient because we have this completely new understanding about sleep, insomnia. And we know that we are armed with these techniques that are going to be with us forever. So, if we ever find ourselves struggling in the future, we can feel so much more confident that we can react in a way that will minimize the length of our sleep disruption. So that one or two difficult nights aren’t going to be the return of a long-term problem again.

Deeandra:
Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah, sure.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. How long do you feel the process was for you from the time when you were really, really struggling to learning new insights about sleep and insomnia, gaining more knowledge about it, changing some behaviors, bringing back all those things back into your life that you’d maybe pushed away. How long would you say that process was to where you felt more confident that that sleep was no longer a big issue in your life?

Deeandra:
Well, I think I tried… I saw an improvement after about, I think a month or something, three weeks to a month. I saw some improvements in my sleep, and then just applying more behavioral changes and more advices that I saw in your emails and tips that I got from your videos and your podcast. And I saw an improvement little by little. After a month, I would say that I started to see that I was sleeping better, maybe not perfectly, but I was still sleeping better, and I was productive the next day.

Deeandra:
And when I started to see that, I was really encouraged to go on, and this is working. This is actually the only thing that is actually working. No medication, no supplements, just working on my mentality toward sleep, and changing my behaviors, changing the way I thought about sleep is working. And it was really helpful because when I saw this improvement, I saw… Before I thought that I had no hope at one point, and I was just destined to be stuck on medication for the rest of my life, or destined to have this life that was just full of fatigue and tiredness.

Deeandra:
And after trying all these tips, I saw an improvement. It was really a ray of hope for me. And I really… Yeah. I mean, it was really great to see that because I didn’t believe at first that only changing my behaviors would help so much, but I was wrong because it started to get better. And maybe at first, I was just getting maybe five hours and then just after that, it was a little bit more.

Deeandra:
And I actually saw myself an improvement in the way I felt. Even at my time, when I would be awake, I would be less anxious because I would always remember… Your voice is actually really soothing by the way. I don’t know if someone had already said that to you, but I would always remember a phrase that you would say after each episode of your podcast that you can sleep. And it would really calm me because I would remember, “You can sleep. You can sleep. It’ll happen at one point.” You shouldn’t control it. And those tips, yeah, I mean, little by little, it started to get better. Yeah.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. What’s sleep like for you these days? If you just think back on your sleep over the last couple of weeks, or so, what’s an average night like for you now?

Deeandra:
Well, I would say about six or seven hours every night, which is really okay for me. I mean, it’s perfect. Actually, I feel great. I don’t feel the tiredness after six or seven hours, so this is fine for me. I do struggle every once in a while, maybe once a month, because as we said, we are more predisposed to insomnia because maybe I’m having some anxious thoughts or maybe I had a stressful day, but it will never last more than one night or a couple of nights. And I would always apply all the behaviors that I learned, and all the tips that you shared, and it would never be this panic or this anxiety-inducing thing.

Deeandra:
I mean, it would just be this, “Okay. I had a bad night of sleep. It will get better. It will pass.” And it passes, it never goes on. So, right now, it’s really going better. I mean, I would say my sleep at one point is maybe the sleep I had before, all of these problems. I started to see some improvements even before all this I thought that I was a really great sleeper, and now, sometimes I even get maybe eight hours of sleep or even nine hours of sleep if I can. And really, I thought that I would never get that naturally anymore. Even like having that, it’s really even built my confidence that really you don’t need anything to sleep. You can still get this nine hours. You can still get to those eight hours naturally. So, yeah, it’s going well. It’s going well.

Martin Reed:
That’s great. I always think that the real transformation is when there’s a change in how we respond to those one-off difficult nights. So instead of a difficult night, just triggering all this worry and panic and changing what we do during the day, being able to see a bad night for what it is, a bad night, a difficult night, and not responding in the same way as we might have done when we were really caught up in the insomnia struggle. I think that’s the real sign that a transformation has occurred, and that insomnia will never be able to work its way back into our lives again. That was really powerful for you to talk about that. “I still have some difficult nights every once in a while, but the way I respond to them, my interpretation of them, is completely different now.” I think you’ve already implied it, but are you finding that just your days now and just your overall quality of life has changed?

Deeandra:
Yeah. Absolutely. Honestly, I mean, in the past I would say, “This is just going to be my life now. I would just be this person who won’t be able to do much in life, basically.” And now, honestly, it feels like a new beginning for me to be honest, because I now can do so much stuff. Actually, I went back to school.

Martin Reed:
Oh, great.

Deeandra:
After getting better with those insomnia. And after seeing that I don’t need to put things on hold. I now applied for my master’s degree. This is a great win for me and a huge step that I need to take. Yeah. And just in general, even going on vacation or… This used to be a huge concern for me, by the way.

Deeandra:
I would always think that I couldn’t go on vacation, for example, because I would say, “I can’t sleep on a new bed. The hotels, maybe the bed is not comfortable. And then my vacation would be ruined by insomnia so I can’t go away.” And actually for three years, I didn’t go on any vacations at all. I mean, it’s just really sad because the best… Maybe there was some important anniversaries or maybe some birthdays or something that I missed on. And now, I can do that. I would say to myself, “Even if I go away, and I didn’t sleep for one night because maybe you have to catch an early flight or something. That’s fine. That’s fine.” Everybody has those one-off night every once in a while. It will never be a problem. I will never panic about it. So, yeah, I would say that my quality of life really, really changed. Yeah, in a much better way. Yeah.

Martin Reed:
That’s great. Well, Deeandra, I really appreciate all the time that you’ve taken to talk about your experience. There is just one last question I would love to ask you because I ask every single guest this question, so I don’t want you to feel left out. So, the question is this, if someone with chronic insomnia is listening and feels as though they’ve tried everything that they’re beyond help, and that they cannot do anything to improve their sleep, what would you tell them?

Deeandra:
I would say, I totally understand what you’re going through. Not everybody understands, honestly, that insomnia can be really, really difficult. I know because I’ve been there. I know you’re struggling. But don’t lose hope. And contact Martin, of course, because he’s really really patient and helpful. And I believe that he really likes to help people. Your life will get better and you can get through this. And yeah, I mean, search for the website, listen to the podcast, and contact Martin, and maybe just give it a try, and just see for yourself. Yeah. I mean, I believe that insomnia can be really difficult and lowing at sometimes, and we just feel like it’s hopeless at one point, but you really should try it and you’re not alone. And I use hug to be honest because you already need it because I know it’s difficult.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. Well, that’s great. And I think that’s a really, really good note to end on. Thanks again, Deeandra for coming out, taking some time out of your day to come onto the podcast. I just know that your story, your experience is going to help a lot of people. Thank you so much.

Deeandra:
Thank you. Thank you, Martin. 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 techniques, click here to get my online insomnia coaching course. We can get started right now.

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