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Eddie struggled with sleep for over 10 years. During that time he would experience a lot of ups and downs — whenever he thought his sleep was back on track, things would get difficult again.
The more difficult sleep proved to be, the more he would struggle. And, when he struggled, he found himself doing less of the things that mattered to him.
Eddie’s transformation began when he moved away from chasing after sleep and practiced habits that helped create and maintain good conditions for sleep. Perhaps most importantly, he also took the time to identify what insomnia seemed to be stopping him from doing. What it seemed to be taking from him. And then he started to do those things, to take them back, even after difficult nights.
As Eddie shares in this episode, the process wasn’t easy — but having a clear plan in place and committing to that plan, even when things were difficult and even when his mind was trying to distract him and pull him away from that plan, kept him moving forward.
Eddie now reflects on his experience with insomnia as something that was actually quite empowering. In Eddie’s own words, he’s not happy he went through this experience but he’s not sad that he went through it, either.
Welcome to the Insomnia Coach Podcast. My name is Martin Reed. I believe that by changing how we respond to insomnia and all the difficult thoughts and feelings that come with it, we can move away from struggling with insomnia and toward living the life we want to live.
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.
Okay, Eddie, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to come onto the podcast.
Oh, you’re welcome. Yeah, it’s good to be here.
It’s great to have you on. Let’s get started right away and start at the beginning. If you can just tell us a little bit more about when your sleep issues first began, and if you are able to recollect what caused those initial issues with sleep?
Yeah, of course. They began, God many years ago, and it was at a time, it’s interesting, it was at a time when I didn’t really have that much going on in my life. I had made some pretty good money and I was pretty financially secure. And I was able to, this was a weird angle on the thing, but I was able to take a lot of time off and I didn’t have to really work really regularly. And that gave me the freedom to develop bad habits, and that’s where it started. It was for me having the freedom to do whatever I wanted with my day and then actually misusing that freedom in a way that led to sleep problems and stuff like that.
I started napping at odd hours, having a really irregular schedule all over the place, and then started having trouble every once in a while. Then started having trouble regularly with it, and then you could say it kind of spiraled from there into becoming a factor in my life that actually started to undermine me and make things a lot more difficult and challenging, so yeah.
It is really interesting you say that you feel it all began when there was probably the least amount of pressure you’ve ever had on yourself to sleep because you didn’t really have that set schedule anymore. And I think that’s really interesting, because I’ve worked with a lot of people that have told me that they slept fine until they actually retired, and it was when they didn’t have that set structure around their day anymore that they tended to find all these sleep issues occurred. I think it’s really interesting, and I’m keen to explore this further with you because I think a lot of people might think that sleep issues come, because we put all this pressure on ourselves to sleep because of that structure that we’ve got in our lives. “I’ve got to be up at a certain time for work, or I’ve got this plan to meet up with someone, or I’ve got to get this done.”
But I think it can just as easily happen when we have a complete lack of structure, whether that’s like a self-imposed, we no longer have that structure because either we’ve retired or we’re not working, or we’re on vacation or something like that, or whether it’s something like we are struggling and so we withdraw from all that stuff that would otherwise give structure to our lives. And so it is really interesting once that influence between sleep and our day is our daily structure and the things we have to do, the things we want to do and the things we actually do. There really is that two-way relationship between daytime activity and nighttime sleep.
That was definitely the case for me. As soon as I noticed that that was happening, I started to make efforts to put structure back in my day and started noticing how that was actually helping me. And so now I work as a school teacher, obviously. Well, I mean, not obviously, and I sleep worse when I’m on vacation, oddly enough, because-
I have that, because we have a lot of vacation as school teachers, and that can be some of the most challenging sleep time when I don’t really have any pressure, when it’s like I can do whatever I want with my day. I don’t have a lot going on and stuff like that. And then the mind starts to play little tricks on me here and there, you know what I mean? Starts to, I don’t know, obsess about stuff that normally you wouldn’t think about. So yeah, it can definitely work that way. And that was the way that it worked with me. It wasn’t because of stress, or because of a health issue or things going on in my life. It was just the time to think about things that maybe shouldn’t be thought about that much.
Back when you were really tangled up in that struggle, what were the nights like for you? Was there an average night? In what way were you finding sleep to be difficult? For example, was it just first falling asleep, or waking and then finding it hard to fall back to sleep, or a bit of both? Just curious to hear what those nights were like.
Okay. Yeah. Well, I mean, through the years you can experience any … I mean, really one of those types of things. Sometimes difficulty falling asleep, sometimes difficulty staying asleep, sometimes a combination. But initially it was difficulty staying asleep. I would always fall asleep really quickly, like within five or 10 minutes, and that had never been a problem for me. But then staying asleep, and I think it was partially because I wasn’t super tired and I had napped three times that day, so my body wasn’t really like, “Oh, I need a ton of sleep anymore.” So, if I’m only sleeping three hours at night, well, you already took three naps today, so it kind of made sense when you really looked at it. But back then I thought, “Oh wait, there’s something wrong here. Why am I not making it through the night?”
And I think it was because I was just rested, I just didn’t really need. Although, it didn’t feel like that, it felt uncomfortable during the day, so there was a lot of bad aspects to it. But overall it’s like I was training my body to sleep in little bits, instead of sleep in a big block. And I didn’t know I was training myself to do that, but that’s what I was doing unconsciously and through these habits and then through ways to correct them. And then you’ll try to correct them with the normal stuff, like sleeping pills and stuff like that and doesn’t work, might work for a little while, then stops working and stuff like that. You kind of go through all of those things. You go to the doctor, the doctor tells you there’s nothing wrong with you. I guess it’s probably, I don’t know, the normal protocol a lot of the times.
I was really struggling with it and I was really fighting with the whole thing because it felt like something had switched, something had broken that wasn’t broken before, and it was just, again, it’s like your mind plays tricks on you. You keep thinking that there’s something wrong with you, but there really isn’t. Your focus is not a supportive one of you and is not an empowering one, it’s … So, that’s really what was happening to me. But once I learned tools to turn that around and stuff like that with your help and with a bunch of things that I’ve done, I finally figured it out, so yeah.
What were your days like? I think that’s a great description which a lot of people are going to really identify with, that nighttime struggle, waking, and then finding it hard to fall back to sleep and everything that goes on in the mind as a result of that. I’m curious to hear what kind of effect you found this was having on your days too?
Well, I was tired all day. I mean, I was fatigued all day. I found it hard to do everything. I think the biggest part was the psychological aspect really, wasn’t just the fatigue, because I can be tired. Maybe I go for a weekend in Vegas or something like that and I stay up late, but I experienced probably deeper levels of fatigue at those times, but they don’t bother me, I’m not necessarily bothered by them. But this was a fatigue that kind of dragged on all day, especially as a result that I didn’t have much going on, that compounded it. This fatigue was like, I just carried it around from the moment I woke up in the morning and into the moment I was trying to go to bed, whatever time that was.
And one of my biggest mistakes was really going to bed early. If I said I made one big mistake that I would consistently keep making over and over again. It’s weird how you can trip over the same crack in the sidewalk over and over again, but that’s exactly what was happening to me. I kept going to sleep early. I kept trying to make up for this. I kept trying to compensate by going to sleep early. That was my method, you know what I mean? And it wasn’t, and sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn’t, but it would keep me on this cycle, for sure. I could never break the cycle, because especially for me, I don’t know about other people, but especially for me, part of the thing that made it such a challenge was that it would cycle so much. I would go through periods where I was sleeping like a baby, and then I would go through other periods where I was, it was just tragic.
So for me, the cycling nature of it was a thing that made it most challenged, because sometimes it would get fixed and sometimes it would get broken. If it was broken consistently, then I might have been more motivated to stay on a certain track. But since it would slowly sometimes slip back into good sleep, that kept me on almost like on an uneven ground where I didn’t know if this was an issue or not. Because sometimes it would be an issue and other times it wouldn’t be an issue where. So for me, that back and forth I think made it especially hard to tackle it, because it just wasn’t consistent one way. It wasn’t always broken. Sometimes it was fixed and sometimes it was broken. And that was a challenge for me.
Those ups and downs can be really difficult. And I think one of the problems when we experience those ups and downs is, it can leave us less motivated to do things like going to bed later on, not trying to chase after that sleep consistently too. Because we’re thinking to ourselves, “Well, why should I be making all these changes developing new, more consistent and different habits if my sleep is just all up and down anyway?” There doesn’t seem to be that correlation between making some consistent changes and enjoying some consistent results.
But I think, and something that, I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but something which I think you noticed was, there’s always something going on behind the scenes. As long as we can focus our attention on what we can control, so consistent implementation of some habits that help set the stage for sleep and not always responding to differently each night according to how we sleep each night, things do tend to eventually become more consistent. And I think there’s always going to be some ups and downs. For as long as we’re human beings there’s going to be some ups and downs, but if we’re able to implement some changes and commit to doing that consistently, we tend to create better conditions for that consistency in our sleep too. But it is a process and there are always ups and downs along the way, which can definitely be a struggle. And it can be really demotivating too. Was that your experience?
Absolutely. I mean, you said it. I mean, the up and down is what really makes it hard to put your finger on it. And really, because I never took it seriously enough until I reached out for help. I was always in, I was always lying to myself a bit about it. I wasn’t being honest with myself about the level of trouble that this was causing me. I always wanted to pretend it wasn’t a real issue. It was almost like a weird, you could almost equate it with almost like an addiction type of thing. I just wanted to pretend it wasn’t playing a significant role in my life, where it really was, it was really undermining my forward progress in life in a significant way. And I never wanted to give it that type of importance. I wanted to pretend like, yeah, that’s something that I struggle with, but yeah, it’ll go away on its own or something like that. It’s nothing that I need to really deal with and address.
That was, if I would have jumped on it sooner, I could’ve caused … I could have saved myself a lot of pain and discomfort and frustration and aggravation and anxiety and all that stuff that goes with it, and fatigue and lack of motivation and all that stuff. I could have saved a lot of that if I would have taken steps earlier. But I just, I did it. I let it sit as this background noise in my life for way too long. And then once I did start to get serious about handling it, that’s the first thing that came to my mind after that, because then you … It’s hard to not beat yourself up a little bit and go, “Oh, man, I should have done this way earlier. What was I doing? Why did I wait this long?” It’s hard to not have, it’s hard for me anyway to not have that reaction to it where it’s like, you want to beat yourself up a little bit about not handling it earlier.
But it’s okay. It was all a learning process, and I’ve learned a lot through that as well. That’s one important thing from the whole experience is that you can actually make these lemons into lemonade. I mean, you can actually use it for your growth in a way. And that’s something that I didn’t come to until way later. It’s like, “Okay, this is an unfortunate thing. I’m not happy that I’m going through this. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody and blah, blah, blah.” But the switching gears to turning it into something that can actually benefit to you, that’s a key point right there. When a person hits that point where they go, “Oh, okay, this sucks. But how can I use this to my advantage somehow? Are there ways I could use this to my advantage?”
Maybe I can learn sleep techniques that the average person doesn’t know and actually possibly become better at sleeping than the average person. Maybe I can really, maybe it’s something that I can really master in some sense and a skill that I could develop as if I was developing any other skill. And that’s how I look at it now. It’s like now I look at it as a skill that I’ve worked on and I can actually call upon whenever I need to, let’s say enforce it or something like that. It becomes like a tool for you at some point where I can pretty, it’s crazy how good I can sleep now. I can pretty much produce good sleep whenever I want to at this point.
I know that we’ll get there in the conversation later, but the skills that I’ve developed, a couple nights ago I had an espresso and then went to bed within an hour later, and I slept like a baby that night. Just to give you just a little precursor to how good you can develop these skills. It can be that, it’s like a light switch now. It’s like, “Okay, I could just turn it on and off whenever I want.” It’s really empowering. And the fact that it’s so empowering, it makes you go, “What else can I be empowered in this way about in my life?” It can really expand into other areas, which we briefly touched on earlier.
You’re not the first person to say that. Once we’ve emerged from all of that struggle and put insomnia behind us, many people feel that they’ve come out of it stronger or a different person and got an aspect of a positive experience from it, which can sound crazy for anyone listening now that’s really struggling. How could any of this be positive? But once we get out of that and it’s behind us and now we are moving forward, a lot of people have told me just what you’ve said, that it’s changed me. I feel like I’ve got more confidence, not only in sleep, but maybe even in other areas of my life that maybe I once struggled with. And I’ve just come out of the whole experience as a stronger, different person. And there has been a little bit of a silver lining to the whole experience.
For me, that’s 100% the case. I feel quite empowered coming out of that experience, and I feel like I have better control of my emotions. I’ve developed, I’ve worked on meditation and just gotten to a really good place with those types of things. So again, I’m not saying I would want to go back to start in square one or I would necessarily call it a happy journey, but the light at the end of the tunnel is that it could morph into something that … Into skills that you didn’t anticipate you’re gaining out of it, so there is a positive thing out of it.
And I think that that’s also something that I struggled with a lot. The whole idea that, “Well, why am I going through this? Why am I struggling with this and blah blah?” And just the psychological aspect of, “Why am I being tried like this or what?” It can just be frustrating and it can make you get a little bit down on yourself and stuff like that, and it can have a depressive effect on your psychology and things like that. For me it really taught me how to develop an emotional base and a dedication to something. And it just brought out a strength and skills in me that I would not have developed otherwise. And it’s hard to go as far as to say that I’m happy I went through it, but I’m not sad that I went through it. I’ll go that far.
Yeah, I think that’s fair enough to say, for sure. I think very few of us would wish that upon anyone. All we’re really just trying to say is, once we come out of that journey, often there are some things we can reflect back on from the experience as a whole that maybe have been beneficial. But of course, in an ideal world we would probably never experience all of that struggle in the first place. One thing that you touched upon, which you definitely would like to explore more is, as you said, everything that goes on in your mind, the difficult thoughts, the difficult emotions that come within insomnia. And I remember when we were working together about four weeks into it you shared this really big insight with me and you just said, “Look, Martin, I feel like I’m putting way too much effort into sleep. I’m just trying too hard. I’m trying so hard.” And it’s all that effort that seems to actually be the big source of all that anxiety. Can you tell us a little bit more about this?
Yeah. Well, again, it’s the mind thinking about things that it’s not beneficial to think about. It’s like if you were obsessing about, I don’t know, a heartbeat or something like that, it’s like the body knows how to handle those things, so I’m going to jump right to the most powerful technique that helped me stop putting effort. The sleep restriction with that terrible name that it has, with that scary name that it has, the sleep restriction was once we really talked about that and got into that with your coaching, for me that was a huge part of it. I can’t even explain how powerful that technique was for me.
And I’ll give people a little bit of insight into how powerful it was for somebody who hasn’t tried it. It’s so powerful and it works so well and it gives you so much confidence in your ability to sleep that it’s easy to slack off on it. And that’s what I did, because it works so well that you start going like, “Oh, I can implement this whenever I want. I don’t need to be so rigid about the rules anymore. I can take a nap and I can do this and I can get lax as far as the rules go.” I’m telling you, don’t do that, because the reason that it works is because you stay strict with it. Even though it’ll give you the confidence that you can actually not implement it and be totally … And kind of be okay with it that, so the reason that I bring that one up is because that’s the thing that really taught me how to not put effort.
That’s where I really learned how to not put effort is when I did the sleep restriction. Because the sleep restriction, it’s such a powerful technique that it just takes over all of that thought process of putting effort, not putting effort. It just overrides all of that stuff. I mean, that was my experience with it, and it really starts working quickly and it’s effective. And it taught me what it felt like to get into bed and forget what it’s like to fall asleep. Because before that, when I would get into bed it would be a process to fall asleep. It would be like I would be thinking about it. It would be something that I was putting effort, oh, how do I feel? Am I relaxed?
There would be a lot of dialogue that was going on, but with the sleep restriction, it overrides all of that stuff. When you get into bed, you don’t know what happens. Just like you didn’t know what happened when you were a kid and you just get in bed and you just kind of disappear. And then, however many hours later, I mean that the sleep window is, so you just reappear at that time and you go, “Oh, well what happened?” And you could have sworn that it was, I don’t know what amount of time, it could have been 10 minutes. But six hours I’ve gone by and you feel rested and you go, “Oh wait. Okay, that’s what it’s like to not force things or to not put effort or to not do these things. Okay, that’s what that felt like.”
I think one thing you mentioned as well was that you found helpful was you just gave yourself permission to not fall asleep as soon as you got into bed. We can easily put a lot of pressure on ourselves. If we get into bed, if we don’t fall asleep within a certain amount of time, then we start to get worried, “It’s going to be one of those nights, what can I do? I’ve got to try harder to fall asleep.” And something that you told me that you found really helpful is just giving yourself permission for it to take time to fall asleep. And that’s okay.
For people that maybe aren’t familiar with sleep restriction and may not have ever heard of that, really it’s just one of these tools, these techniques that we can implement that help just create better conditions for sleep to happen. Because for many of us, when we are caught up in the struggle of chronic insomnia, we really want sleep to happen, probably more than we’ve ever wanted sleep to happen in our lives, so we tend to chase after it. We might start going to bed a lot earlier than we ever did before, or we might start staying in bed a lot later in the day than we ever did before. We might start adding naps during the day, something we might not have done very often before. And all these things just put more pressure on us to sleep.
But they also can mean that we go to bed before we’re actually sleepy enough for sleep. And because fatigue, just feeling worn out and exhausted, which is a common symptom associated with chronic insomnia, can easily be mistaken for sleepiness. We might then go to bed when we feel all that fatigue, struggle to fall asleep and then become concerned by it. Whereas the truth is, we might just not have been sleepy enough for sleep. So, with sleep restriction, which is an awful name, it really should just be called bedtime restriction. We’re just restricting the amount of time we spend in bed or a lot for sleep, so it more closely matches what our current situation is. If we’re currently averaging five hours, for example, but spending 10 hours in bed, we’re setting ourselves up for five hours of wakefulness. If we are averaging, say, five hours, how about we spend, let’s say five and a half or six hours in bed? So we’re more closely matching the amount of time we’re allotting for sleep with our current situation.
And often that can lead to this big increase in that sense of sleepiness, like real genuine sleepiness before going to bed where we’re actually finding it hard to stay awake. And that’s something that many of us are kind of lost that sensation and just the return of that sensation alone can be so powerful. And some people can get results really quickly just from changing the amount of time they allot for sleep. For other people it takes longer, and there’s all other different techniques that we can explore too. But really all we’re doing is just reducing the amount of time available for nighttime wakefulness, and we’re preventing ourselves from chasing after sleep because we’re giving ourselves an earliest possible bedtime and a consistent out of bedtime in the morning morning. And that can just be really helpful over the longer term for creating better conditions for sleep to happen.
And you touched upon at the start of our discussion, you mentioned those ups and downs. They happened before we were working together and they happened whilst we were working together. And I did just want to spend a couple of minutes talking about this, because it’s easy to believe that when we start to make these changes, we should just experience consistent improvement every night should be as good as or better than the last. But the truth is, we’re human beings, so there’s going to be some ups and downs. There’s going to be difficult nights, just like we have some difficult days. Every day isn’t always as good as or better than the last day. And the same thing goes with how sleep goes, how the nights go. Now you’re able to look back. What do you think is the best way to deal with all those ups and downs?
Well yeah, people I think should write that down somewhere is that progress is not linear in this game, unfortunately. That I very much experienced that progress is not linear. There were ups and downs, but if you stick to the techniques, the ups and downs start being, you just start having less and less of that and you start to have a different experience of it. It’s funny, because when you expect that something’s not going to go great or smoothly for a while, you’re in it, you’re committed to it, it’s not as bad. But if you have all these expectations that sleep needs to be X, Y, and Z, and this many hours and stuff like that, you’re going to have rougher nights that way.
I think starting on a course of helping yourself heal through this and having that commitment to it makes the rocky road more bearable. Because if you’re on a journey somewhere and the road is rough but you know you’re going somewhere and you’re committed to it, then it’s more bearable for some reason. But if you’re just traveling aimlessly and you’re on a rough road and you seem to be making no progress and it starts to wear on you psychologically in a very different way. I think the commitment to get better, and for me to work with somebody was key, because I had hired people as coaches, I mean, to do all types of stuff in my life. As far as everything from therapy and meditation and exercise and stuff like that.
So, hiring a coach to help with the sleep thing did not seem all that weird. Even though, I mean, on the surface it sounds like, “Wait, what? You’re hiring a coach for sleep?” Well, that’s a little bit unusual, but the dividends that it can pay, and the happiness that it can contribute to your life of having good sleep, it’s well worth it, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. So, it’s more about that. It’s more about changing the mindset from, “Well, this sucks and this and has been going up and down for years or months or whatever it is. And I don’t know where this is going.” To a mindset of, “Well, yeah, this sucks and this is rough and stuff like that, but we’re going somewhere. I got a coach, I’m working with them.”
And then you start to see a payoff. You start to get, “Oh wow, that was better than I thought that that would go.” You start to have some of those going on, and then you gain that confidence and you work from there. So again, it’s just another mental switch that you just have to now look at it differently, that you’re doing something here. You’re not letting the condition control you, you’re controlling it. You’re not controlling it, but you’re taking responsibility for it.
And I think that was a big thing for me. I never took proper responsibility for it. I remember a friend telling me before, I was complaining about it to a friend, and my friend telling me and me getting mad at my friend, but my friend told me, “Well, you must be getting something from it because you keep doing it.” And I was offended at that, of course. I was like, “Well, what do you mean I keep doing it? I don’t keep doing it. It keeps happening to me.” That’s important too for me. That was huge for me, taking responsibility for my position and taking the steps to rectify. Because we can really develop habits that we are unhappy with and stick to them unhappily for some odd reason.
I mean, again, the mind is a funny thing. You know what I mean? And that’s why this experience, it brings out these pitfalls and these traps, these psychological traps that a person might fall into. And again, you can use those for other areas of life knowing, “Oh yeah, that’s just my mind sending me in the wrong direction again. And maybe not being on my side totally.” Or that might be not the right way to put it, not on my side, but I can’t let it lead. The mind is, it’s a valuable tool, but it’s not the boss. I have to be the boss in this whole position. I’m sorry, I’m not trying to go spiritual with the thing, but there’s a little bit of that there. There’s a little bit of the separation between the mind and who you really are that really clicked as far as the way that I looked at it.
You know what I mean? The mind will tell me all kinds of fibs about the dangers of not sleeping, and this and that, and it’ll send me to dark places. But it’s up to me to shift my focus and my attention and go, “No, no, no, no, no, no, I’m not going to play that game.” You know what I mean? “I’m in charge. If I sleep four hours tonight, I sleep four hours. I’m still going to do what I’m going to do tomorrow. I’m going to get up, I’m going to go to work, I’m going to go to the gym. I’m going to spend some time outside. I’m going to do the things that I need to do, regardless.” And then you keep just pounding at it like that. Yeah, that’s for me. It was, again, it’s a bit of a, maybe spiritual is too strong, but it’s something there like that that was part of my process.
I think what it comes down to is the fact that we can’t really choose the thoughts, the feelings and the emotions that our brain generates. It’s just going to do that, is completely out of our control. But we can choose how to react. I think sometimes it’s helpful to just, when the brain generates something, to just take a step back to listen, and then decide how we’re going to respond. Is that useful information? If the brain says something like, “If you don’t fall asleep in the next 10 minutes, tomorrow’s going to be ruined. You’re going to lose your job, you’re going to miss your mortgage payments, you’re going to be homeless.”
We can just, that’s overwhelming. That just is naturally going to generate a lot of fear, a lot of worry, and a lot of anxiety. But what if we can just take a step back, maybe just take a breath, just acknowledge, “All right, the brain’s saying this because it’s trying to look out for us at the end of the day, but it’s just trying so hard to look out for us. It’s generating a lot of stuff that doesn’t make us feel good.” But it’s heart is in the right place. It’s trying to look out for us. So what if now we can just take a step back, “Okay, how helpful is this? Is there anything I can do in response?”
Well, when it comes to falling asleep, no, because the more pressure we put on ourselves to fall asleep, the more difficult it is to fall asleep. How about we just take a step back and just be like, “All right, thanks, Brain. I realize you’re looking out for me. You’ve told me that if I don’t fall asleep in the next half an hour I’m going to lose my job. I’m going to lose my house. I’m going to be homeless. I appreciate that you’re saying that because you’re looking out for me, but now I’m just going to do something else instead.”
And if we get all these difficult thoughts and feelings during the day, again, we can just take a step back, acknowledge them, the brain’s doing this for all the right reasons. Acknowledge what we are feeling, acknowledge what we’re thinking, and then decide, “Is there anything useful here that we can use right now?” If there is, great. If there’s not. “All right, thanks, Brain. I appreciate your suggestion. Now I’m just going to redirect my attention onto where I am, what I’m doing, all the things that I can control.” Because really, even when we’re in this big whirlpool of really difficult thoughts and feelings and emotions, we can still, at a basic level we can still move our bodies. We can still engage in actions, no matter how small, that just help us keep living the kind of life we want to live.
Those actions might not feel as good right now when we’re caught in all those difficult thoughts and feelings. But we can still do things. We can still move our bodies. And it’s definitely more difficult and we might not get the same level of enjoyment, but that’s really all we can do. Because that’s the only thing we have control over. We don’t have control over any of the stuff that’s going on inside of us. We only have control over what we can do, our actions. And I think it can be difficult to get to a place where we realize that, just because we are conditioned pretty much from birth to get rid of difficult thoughts, to get rid of difficult feelings, to get rid of difficult emotions, and to live a life where we’re all happy a 100% of the time. But unfortunately, that’s just not what life is. Life comes with pain and difficulty and struggle. That’s a normal part of life.
But we still get to make that choice so we can allow all those difficult thoughts to completely control our behaviors and distract us and push us away from the life we want to live. Or can we still do some things that help us move toward the life we want to live, even when there’s all that difficulty, even when there’s all that challenge and pain and struggle? And I think if we can do that, all those difficult things, they might not disappear. They might still be there and they might still come back, but they might have less of an influence over our lives. And when they have less of an influence over our lives, we tend to become less concerned. They tend to be less powerful. Is that something that you feel may not necessarily completely mirror your own experience, but something you can identify with now you’re able to look back on your own journey?
Yeah. I mean, one of the things we talked about is I like to go to a boxing club, because it’s just, I don’t know, something that I’ve been doing for a long time. I really enjoy boxing, and I remember mentioning to you, “I’m so tired, blah, blah, I don’t think I can go to boxing.” And then you go, “Well, what if you go anyway and just see what happens? What if, just see what happens, it might work out.” And then I go, I would just make excuses of why the sleep should overrun my desire to go to boxing. Well, no, because the sleep thing has to be handled first. Things have to come in a certain order, and I have to handle this sleep thing first before I start living, whatever that means for somebody.
And that was definitely another hangup for me. I thought the sleep thing was something that had to be as solid as can be before I started to move forward with these other things. And that’s something, again, that you brought to the table. It’s like, “Well, don’t you just try these other things and just see how they go, regardless of what step you are in the sleep journey right now.” And I started doing more of that. And even on really bad nights, I realized that, “Hey, I can always still go for a walk. I can always still do things outside. I can always do something.” And again, that commitment to doing something every day, regardless was key for me. I made a list every morning of the things that I hoped to get through that day, and I made that list, regardless of what happened the night before. And that list wouldn’t change.
And now I can say those things and I sound like I’m a tough guy or something, but I wasn’t. That came through a lot of pain and trial and discomfort and stuff like that, that commitment to always make that list, “These are the things I’m going to do today. I’m going to get this form of exercise today. I’m going to walk, I’m going to get this done at work and blah, blah.” And just so the commitment to go on with life and what that looks like for each individual is different. But for me it was making the list every morning of the things that I was going to get through. And so just like that chipping away at it, having good sleep habits, not letting it get in the way of my life, not letting it mess with me psychologically. Making sure I wasn’t telling myself things that were making the situation worse. Like, “Well, this is going to be the end of you,” or I don’t know, whatever it happens to be, you know what I mean?
And so it’s kind of like you have to be on all points. You have to, at the beginning you have to monitor multiple things. Well, where am I letting this slip into my life in a way that’s not productive? And let’s find all of those things and let’s change those. It might sound like a tall order, but it’s worth it, and it’s something that, I don’t know, that was my way to do it. I had to battle it on multiple fronts. But the first and foremost was having the good sleep habits, that made a huge difference. The commitment to have good sleep habits, and then just tackling it on multiple angles.
And I like how you touched upon, this might sound like I’m some kind of superhero, but it is difficult. It’s really hard, especially when we’re having successions of difficult nights and difficult night after difficult night after night, to then have that motivation to actually do things. Our brain is just screaming at us, “Let’s just lie on the couch. Let’s just rest and conserve energy today.” But it doesn’t usually help us feel much better, especially if we’re going to be spending all that time doing nothing, instead of doing something that’s maybe a little bit more closely aligned with our values and just is a little bit more closely aligned to the life you want to live. But it’s not an easy process. It does take commitment, and I think that is the key word that you used as well.
We have to commit to taking some actions. They don’t have to always be huge. They can just be really small, but just some actions that help us engage in things that are important to us during the day, and to commit to actions that just help set the stage for sleep. For example, I’m not going to go to bed tonight until I feel a strong sense of sleepiness, or I’m going to make sure I get out of bed in the morning around the same time each day, no matter what. Because without that consistent out of of bed time, it’s hard to enjoy a consistent sleep and wakefulness cycle. But yeah, I think it’s important to emphasize that it is difficult and it does take commitment. I think it’s really helpful that you stress that in our discussion.
Yeah, let me just make one more point about that. And that’s, it forced me to look at my life and take a step back and really think about, “Well, are you really doing the things in life that you really want to do? Are you really, why does this thing play such a big role in your life?” And I really had to answer some difficult questions about myself. So again, it worked as a catalyst to look at myself and take responsibility for not just for how I was sleeping, but for life in general. I expanded that to be able to go, “Well, it’s time to, well, you have your ideal version of how you sleep. I might have my ideal version of what that looks like. I don’t know. Maybe it’s seven hours a night between this and this hour. Okay, cool. Are you doing everything to support that? Okay, yeah, you are. Okay, cool.”
Now, you can expand. “Okay, this is what I did.” I expanded on. I go, “Well, if I have my ideal version of that, I have some kind of an ideal version of life as well and how I want to live. Are you checking all those boxes as well? Are you handling all of that stuff like the sleep thing?” “Well, no.” “Oh, okay, so we got things to talk about.” And so that’s how I use that to expand to other areas and really look in the mirror and go, “Okay, let’s become an adult. Let’s handle some of this stuff.” That was me. It led me down a path of really looking at myself and where I was going and if I was happy and if I was doing everything that it took to get to that. And so just wanted to throw that in because that was important for me as well.
That is really powerful. And I think what does it all come down to? The reason why we don’t want to have insomnia is because we see it as something that’s going to stop us from living the kind of life we want to live. It’s going to make us feel uncomfortable. It’s going to generate difficult thoughts and feelings and emotions, and this is going to prevent us from living the life we want to live. I think that’s what it comes down to. And what we can do is start doing things that help us live the life we want to live, even when that insomnia is still present. So, we’re not waiting for the insomnia to go away before we start doing what we really want to do. We just start doing that stuff that’s important to us now, even when the insomnia is still here.
And maybe that then puts insomnia down the list of priorities that our brain thinks of as a big concern, as something that has to be fixed, that it has to put all this energy and effort into that. We have to be engaged in that battle, because if something exists, it doesn’t feel good. But if at the same time we’re doing all this other stuff that we have control over, that’s important to us, that’s meaningful to us, then all this stuff, it might still be there, but it’s just way down on the pecking order now. It’s way less influential, has way less of a difficult effect and an influence on us, and we can just free up all of that energy onto all that stuff we can control. And that has a really direct influence on the kind of life we want to live.
Right? Because if it has, if it’s so high on the pyramid of wellbeing, if we put it at such a high place, what are we putting at a lower place that maybe should be more up there? What are we ignoring? If we’re focusing on that, we’re probably ignoring something else. And what are those things? And let’s work on that as well. It can be, and yeah, in a way it can be very, I don’t know. It can be cathartic in that experience of it. It definitely was for me.
And I still have occasional bad nights. I had a bad night last Wednesday or Thursday night or something like that. I got home late from work, and I just couldn’t knock out at my normal time, blah, blah, blah. I just couldn’t get sleepy. I got into bed. I wasn’t sleepy, but I got into bed because it was usually when I go to sleep, which is not ideal. And I was just up and I couldn’t knock out and stuff like that. And then I only slept maybe three or four hours, but I got up the next day and I went to the gym I normally do before work, and I went to work and I did my normal day. And I was tired and I was fatigued and stuff like that. But the next night I slept better and it was just only one bad night. Whereas in the past one bad night could have snowballed into who knows what length of trauma. But now it’s like, yeah, you just developed a different level of confidence and commitment to it. And again, expect that type of stuff.
It’s like one time I went snowboarding, and that’s very taxing, and I didn’t sleep good after snowboarding. I said, “If I can not sleep good after snowboarding, it’s like I could not sleep good after, no matter what occurrence.” I mean, because that is, I mean, that’s tiring. That’s exhausting. That’s long, tough days, I mean, skiing and snowboarding.” And then I thought other occurrences were I would get in bed and then now not worry about how I was going to sleep or anything like that and just fall asleep like a baby. So, it’s really about where your mind is with the thing. So yeah, it just has to commit to getting better, and anybody can get better. I wouldn’t have believed that before, but now I strongly believe it.
Again, I think the most important part, for me, what was most key is being okay with this unfortunate, whatever you want to call it, circumstance. So making peace with it. Getting to a place where I was at peace with the situation that I was in, accepting it for what it was, and then moving forward out of that situation. Instead of staying in a negative mindset of, “No, this shouldn’t be happening.” Or frustration, or “Why is this?” Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter what led me here. Doesn’t matter. It’s time to move forward. And then figuring out what that means for each person. Again, I’ll say it again with the sleep restriction, that was really key for me, that did a lot of the work. And I still use it, as a matter of fact.
I’m very disciplined about my sleep. I don’t let it go all over the place. I handle it as if I was handling food, I’m very good about my food, what I eat, what I put in my body. I’m very good about sleep as well too. I’m very good about, “Oh, okay, handle it in the most mature responsible way and it pays off.” And to me that’s worth it because I feel so good during the day and I never get tired, and I just have a ton of energy. So for me that’s worth it. Maybe some people would say, “Oh, but I want to sleep in more. I want to go to bed earlier.” Okay, cool. For me those things are never worth the consistent sleep that I get on a night nightly basis now that I’ve refined it and really dialed it in. Yeah, that’s key for me, just that.
That’s great. Well, Eddie, I really appreciate all the time you’ve taken out your day to come on and talk about your experience. But there’s just one last question that I’d like to ask you, because I ask every single guest, and it’s this, if someone with chronic insomnia is listening and they feel as though they’ve tried everything, that they’re beyond help, they just can’t do anything to improve their sleep, what would you tell them?
Well, I would direct them to you. Because for me, I needed a coach. I needed somebody on my team that I could ask questions to, that I could nag when I wasn’t feeling up to myself, when I wasn’t … Somebody that I could, I just needed that handholding, for me. Maybe some people don’t need that, but that made a huge difference. Because then I could talk to you about the ups and downs and I could lean on you when I had to. So, that’s a no-brainer. I would definitely, that would be what I would do.
All right. Well, I appreciate that, Eddie, and I really appreciate your time coming on and sharing your story. It’s going to help a lot of people, so thank you so much.
Good. Thank you as well. My pleasure.
Thanks for listening to the Insomnia Coach Podcast. If you’re ready to move away from struggling with insomnia and toward living the life you want to live, I would love to help. You can get started right now by enrolling in my online course or you can book my phone coaching package. My online course runs for six weeks. It will help you make changes that can create better conditions for sleep, it will help you identify and get rid of any behaviors that might be making sleep more difficult, and it will help you respond to insomnia and all the difficult thoughts and feelings that come with it in a more workable way. You can work through the course in two ways. You can choose the self-coaching option and work through it by yourself with the support of an online forum that is available only to clients.
Or, you can choose to add one-on-one email coaching and work through the course with me by your side. With the one-on-one coaching option, you get unlimited email access to me for eight weeks, starting from the day you enroll. Any time you have a question or concern, any time you are unsure about anything, any time you want to focus on the challenges you face or any difficulties that show up, you can email me and I will be there to coach and support you. You can get the course and start right now at insomniacoach.com.
With the phone coaching package, we start with a one-hour call (voice only or video — your choice) and come up with an initial two-week plan that will help you create better conditions for sleep and practice moving away from struggling with insomnia and all the difficult thoughts and feelings that come with it. You get unlimited email access to me for two weeks after the call and a half-hour follow-up call at the end of the two weeks. You can book the phone coaching package at insomniacoach.com/phone.
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.
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