How Eileen used CBT-I techniques to improve her sleep after taking sleeping pills almost every day for 15 years (#11)

Eileen is a registered nurse of almost 30 years. She was always a light sleeper who felt that she needed perfect conditions for sleep to happen. After becoming a parent she started to get less sleep and this triggered more sleep-related stress and worry that made sleep even more difficult.

Before long, Eileen became totally focussed on sleep and soon developed the mistaken belief that she just couldn’t sleep. After seeking help from her physician, Eileen ended up on Ambien — a drug she took almost every day for 15 years.

In this episode, Eileen describes how insomnia became part of her identity and how she went from constantly worrying about sleep and struggling with sleep to someone who now sleeps very well without sleeping pills.

Eileen’s willingness to implement cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) techniques (and her positive attitude!) helped her get to the point where she is now able to relax at night and let sleep happen naturally. Eileen no longer worries about sleep and, as a result, she is able to relax at night, get into bed, and 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 cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) techniques can help you enjoy better sleep for the rest of your life.

Martin Reed: Okay, Eileen. Thank you so much for being on with us today.

Eileen Reali: Thank you for having me.

Martin Reed: Let’s get the ball rolling here. Can you tell us how long ago your sleep problems initially began, and can you remember what initially triggered the sleep disruption?

Eileen Reali: Oh, I always was a light sleeper, and I had to have perfect conditions for me to go to sleep. I couldn’t sleep in a car or on a plane. I would have to be laying in bed in the dark with no noise. Then when my kids were young, I noticed I’d be up a lot with them and I was getting less sleep, so I would start to stress about that, and then the more I stressed about it, the less sleep I was getting. And the more I was concentrating on the hours I was in bed and not sleeping, the less sleep I was getting. It was just a vicious cycle.

Martin Reed: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, that is so common. I’m not sure if you’re familiar, if we ever discussed this, but we have this model for insomnia called the 3P model. Have you heard of that?

Eileen Reali: No, I haven’t.

Martin Reed: Okay. This is a model that we use to kind of describe how just this initial sleep disruption, how a one-off night of bad sleep can kind of develop into a longer term problem. It’s based on this idea that there are three Ps. Okay. The first P is this predisposing factor. The P stands for predisposing. This can apply to people, if we’re light sleepers, like you just mentioned, if we’re naturally light sleepers, we’re more predisposed to sleep disruption. If we have a stressful job or if we’re just more reactive to stress or anxiety or worry or if we’re really strong night owls or really strong morning larks.

Martin Reed: But we can kind of progress on to this precipitating factor, this event that makes this sleep disruption occur. I would say that a big life change, even something more minor, like an argument with a spouse just before bed, that can lead to a bad night of sleep. Or, in your case, a big life change, having children, and then the children disrupt your sleep. These are all these precipitating factors. But, again, we’re still onto just this initial short-time sleep disruption.

Martin Reed: Then we move into the third P, which is these perpetuating factors, and these are generally all the things that we do in response to that understandable sleep disruption, that we do to try and get our sleep back on track, but they actually make it harder for our sleep to get back on track. They kind of perpetuate the problem. This is often things like we go online and we start reading all about sleep. We maybe look and explore different supplements for sleep. We start to really worry about sleep, maybe change our days, modify our plans in response to sleep, go to bed earlier, stay in bed later, maybe try and nap or conserve energy. All these things that we do to try and get our sleep back on track actually perpetuate the problem.

Martin Reed: The reason I wanted to just give you an overview of that is because just from what you’ve said, it sounds like you kind of fit that model almost to a T. Did you recognize any of yourself or any of your experience in what I just went through there?

Eileen Reali: Oh, definitely. Also, I notice that I totally focused on not sleeping, and it consumed my mind and I would talk about it like, “I can’t sleep. I only got two hours of sleep last night. I’m a terrible sleeper.” I kind of said, “I’m an insomniac or I have insomnia.” I said those words a lot. And I focused on that a lot, and I put a lot of energy and a lot of negative talking into it. Also, I just thought that my father was a poor sleeper, and I just thought, “Oh, well, it’s just in my genes and I have inherited it from my father, so it’s something I just need to deal with myself.”

Eileen Reali: I sought help from my physician and she initially had given me Ambien, and I tried Ambien and I used that almost every day for like 15 years.

Martin Reed: Wow.

Eileen Reali: And some nights I still didn’t even sleep, because I would lay there worrying about the time or how much time I was in bed or how little bit of sleep I was getting.

Martin Reed: Mm-hmm (affirmative). During that time, did you ever develop this belief that if you didn’t take the Ambien or whatever sleep medication it was you were taking at the time, did you have this belief that you kind of needed that in order to get any sleep at all? Or did you just feel like it wasn’t effective whatsoever?

Eileen Reali: I absolutely thought I need to take that in order to sleep. I totally had convinced myself if my doctor has given this to me, it must be something that’s going to help me and that I should be taking this. And even sometimes I had gone back and I said, “I’m trying to get off of this or I want to try something else,” she had just said, “Oh, just keep taking it. Take it every night.” I was like, “Wow. I’m going to take this every night? Okay.”

Martin Reed: Yeah.

Eileen Reali: And that was in the beginning, and then she did try to then get me onto different things. I had to try different medications, but none of those helped, so I always went back to the Ambien.

Martin Reed: Yeah. Yeah, it’s really like a double-edged sword, I feel like, when you end up down that route with the sleep medications or even if it’s not a prescription sleep medication. There are supplements even like melatonin or all of these different kind of sleep supplements that are on the market these days. The big issue that I see when I work with people with insomnia is it’s so easy to develop this belief that you can’t sleep without them, that they’re somehow generating sleep for you, when the only thing that generates sleep is our own internal sleep drive.

Martin Reed: Sometimes a medication can help you get over that initial barrier to sleep, which maybe is, let’s say it’s like a high level of anxiety. Sometimes that can give you some comfort to take a medication, slightly lower the anxiety, but it’s still just your own body that’s generating sleep, so it’s really this slippery slope when you start to believe that there’s this pill or this liquid or this tea or anything like that that’s actually generating sleep for you.

Eileen Reali: That’s right. Yeah. And I learned so much from your course, that just the first tip that you gave was to get rid of your clock. And I couldn’t get rid of the clock, but I turned it around, and that alone, because you had said that you’re focusing on the time and calculating the time and your brain is working, and I recognized that’s exactly what I was doing. I was just calculating and making my brain work, and my brain was always in overdrive when I would lay in bed. I used to always say that to people, too. I said, “I can’t stop the mind chatter. It’s constant.” And I was perpetuating that just by even talking about it.

Martin Reed: Yeah. That checking the clock just seems to be such a really simple behavior, just to suggest to people, just try not checking the clock. But it’s one of the things that I get people come back to me and say that they recognized that as one of the most helpful things they did, which is kind of incredible when you think just that one relatively straightforward behavioral change can just have such a big impact.

Eileen Reali: Yep. Oh, yeah, that was a big deal for me.

Martin Reed: Yeah. Did you have any hesitation about it when I first suggested that? Did you think, “Oh, no. The very thought of not checking the time is giving me anxiety”? Or were you kind of quite accepting of the idea behind it?

Eileen Reali: Oh, I am totally time-focused. I wear a watch all the time. I feel naked without a watch. I used to even sometimes sleep with a watch that had a little light on it, so if I wasn’t facing the clock, I would press my watch on my wrist and I could see the time. I even had said that I thought about purchasing the clock that projected the time on the ceiling so I could see it any position I’d be in bed.

Martin Reed: Wow.

Eileen Reali: Getting rid of the clock, for me, was very hard but I recognize it was very necessary.

Martin Reed: Mm-hmm (affirmative) .

Eileen Reali: Like I said, I didn’t get rid of it. I just turned it around so that I couldn’t see it and be focusing on it. That was a big thing for me to get rid of that, but it was a huge help, and it was the start of my helping myself.

Martin Reed: Did you find it helpful immediately, as soon as you did it? Or did you find you kind of still had this ingrained habit, this urge and desire to check the time, so, therefore, it took you a while to accept not checking the clock? Was it a big challenge for you in the short term or did you find almost immediately it was helpful?

Eileen Reali: I think in the very beginning it was a challenge, but then I’d have to tell my mind you can’t think about that and just … I knew I just had to turn over and not look at it and try to focus on something else.

Martin Reed: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that’s a good idea, just trying to focus attention on something other than the time. Well, what kind of things did you try and distract yourself with?

Eileen Reali: Well, one of your tips was to do this mind kind of thing where you focus on a back corner of your mind. At first, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, this is so hokey.” But I tried it and it really helped. And I would just then turn my eyes kind of back and look in the back corner of my brain and really just try to focus on that little part of my brain, and that helped also. Like I said, at first, I didn’t think that would do anything, but it did.

Martin Reed: It’s kind of amazing how just some relatively small techniques or suggestions, they can just be really effective at just distracting the mind. I really think that because anxiety and a high level of arousal is such a big driver of sleep disruption, such a perpetuating factor, just finding something that helps distract you from just thinking about and worrying about sleep can be so helpful. And it can really be different from person to person. Just as you found trying to focus on the back of your mind or the back of your head was helpful for you, for someone else it might just be getting out of bed and just reading a book or even just watching TV for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, just to distract you from this endless cycle of just thinking about sleep and just checking to see if you’re asleep and feeling frustrated that you’re not asleep yet.

Eileen Reali: I had also, through your program, learned that I would get into bed and I had trained myself to just start worrying. It was like I would lay in bed and my mind would go into overdrive and I’d think about all the things that I didn’t get done that day and all the things that were going to pile up for the next day. That was my routine. I’d lay in bed and then it would just start. My brain would just start. it’s just like I taught myself how to do that. And I recognized that and I said, “Really, I got to lay in bed and teach myself this is where you sleep, not where you worry.” It took a while, but it was just recognizing those things that I was doing really, really helped, and it just pointed me in the right direction.

Martin Reed: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Talking about that, how did you manage to move on from that? Because a lot of people with insomnia will no doubt identify with what you’re saying in terms of they get into bed and that’s it. Their minds just become really active and start thinking about everything. It might not even be related to sleep. It just becomes really active. You start thinking about everything you need to do tomorrow, and there is also often a lot of sleep anxiety in there, too.

Martin Reed: The whole process of relaxation is such a big topic and it can be really hard to become really hyper focused and really almost spend too much time on it. What I like to say and suggest when it comes to relaxation is … Obviously, relaxation is important because we want to feel relaxed when we go to bed because it’s an important part of the falling asleep process. But really, when it comes to what specifically to do, it really is just up to the individual, and it should just be whatever you personally find relaxing and enjoyable, because, like we just suggested earlier, there’s nothing that creates sleep apart from your biological sleep drive. It really is just if you find something relaxing and enjoyable, that’s usually the best thing to do, like an hour or so before you’re planning on going to bed, just reserve that time for activities that you personally find relaxing and enjoyable. I think, really, that’s the best advice I have when it comes to relaxation.

Eileen Reali: Right. Yes. I agree.

Martin Reed: All right. It was quite a long time ago that you … it was four and a half years ago that you first started implementing these techniques to help improve your sleep. You already talked a lot about some of the things that you learned. I think not checking the clock you said was quite a big thing for you. Were there any specific techniques related to cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), these CBT-I techniques such as allotting less time for sleep or getting out of bed when you couldn’t sleep? Were there any techniques like that that you found helpful or that you tried?

Eileen Reali: Yes. I would get out of bed if I couldn’t sleep. Like you had said, don’t lay in bed tossing and turning. Just get up, maybe go out. I would go out to the living room and sit on a chair or on the couch and just until I started to fall, get a little sleepier, and then I’d go back into bed. Those tips also helped. And that was just, again, to train your brain that the bed is for sleeping. It’s not for tossing and turning and worrying. It’s just training yourself. I’m a nurse and I always tell patients, I say, “Your brain is very powerful. It can hurt you and it can heal you.” And I wasn’t taking those words myself. But I really was, I was hurting my brain by just worrying and tossing and turning and keeping my brain going. I was hurting myself, and I learned how to change that and turn it around so that I could heal myself.

Martin Reed: Yeah. Yeah, it can be such a powerful technique, just the process of getting out of bed when you can’t sleep. But it’s one of these techniques that sounds completely counterintuitive when you hear it. Right?

Eileen Reali: Right.

Martin Reed: How is the idea of getting out of bed, how’s that going to lead to more sleep? How’s that going to help me improve my sleep? When you first heard about this technique, did you have any reservations about it or any concerns about it before you started to implement that?

Eileen Reali: Yeah. I thought, how could this help? Yeah, you’re getting out of bed. How could this be of any help? And the other thing, too, was not concentrating so much on how many hours of sleep I was getting, but thinking more about were they restful hours of sleep and not so much the time in bed. It was just changing my thinking about what things would work and what wouldn’t work is really what it did.

Martin Reed: Yeah. Well, there’s a couple of really common objections that I hear in relation to the idea of getting out of bed when you can’t sleep. One of them is the idea of getting out of bed, that’s just going to leave me feeling more awake. Because I’m in bed, maybe there’s a chance I’ll fall asleep, but if I get out of bed, I’m going to feel wide awake and then I’m going to struggle. The other one is some people just feel that just the very thought of getting out of bed makes them feel worried and, therefore, they just think, “I can’t follow through. This is just going to be too difficult for me.”

Martin Reed: Do you identify with any of those objections? And if you do, how did you get past them yourself?

Eileen Reali: Well, I was willing to give anything a try, so I would get out of bed and try reading till I would get a little sleepier and then get back into bed. And I didn’t think it would work, but I found that it did work.

Martin Reed: I think that’s key, is just you were willing to give it a try and just willing to experiment with it. A lot of the times if I’m talking about some CBT-I techniques with people and they object to it, I encourage them just to instead of thinking this is something that you’re going to have to do and force yourself to endure, how about just doing an experiment? Give yourself one or two weeks and just go all in and really commit to it. And then, after the week or two, then evaluate and just see has it had any effect. Because, really, unless you really commit to it and give it a couple of weeks, you’ll never know.

Eileen Reali: Right. That’s exactly it. If you try it, just … I didn’t think turning the clock around or stop thinking about the clock would do anything until I actually did it and, wow, this was huge. I thought, okay, I’ll give something else a try that I didn’t think would help, and it helped.

Martin Reed: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that’s key, just the willingness. I really think that so much of it is just down to our willingness to try. It really does come a lot down to attitude as well. If you have this positive attitude, which can be hard when you’ve lived with insomnia for so long, but if you’re just willing to embrace and experiment with new techniques, often that’s more than half the battle is just that willingness to try new things. Because, after all, you know that what you’ve been doing up to this point hasn’t been working, so why not try something that for many, many people has proven to be effective and helpful?

Eileen Reali: Yeah. Because most people like physicians and on television … Television ads will say if you have trouble sleeping, take this PM medicine or those other sleep aids. They make it sound like having trouble sleeping is normal and just the way to fix it is to take a pill.

Martin Reed: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Eileen Reali: That’s the only thing that you hear in our world today is just like, okay, this is your problem and this is how you fix it, you take a pill.

Martin Reed: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Eileen Reali: Everybody thinks that’s the only way you can fix it.

Martin Reed: Yeah. It is a problem that there’s more money behind the medications than there is behind techniques like CBT-I. And I think on top of that, the big problem is these CBT-I techniques, they do take some … Well, some, they take a lot of effort and commitment, especially if you’ve been living with insomnia for a long time and your insomnia is really entrenched, it can take time and you have to be so consistently committed to the techniques in order to get the benefits from them, whereas the big selling point for sleeping pills is kind of you don’t have to worry about any of that. You just pop a pill and then-

Eileen Reali: Very easy.

Martin Reed: Yeah. Exactly. And I think that that is another thing that we’re kind of up against when we’re talking about changing the way you think about sleep and changing the sleep-related behaviors, because that just takes so much more effort. But I think that in the long term, it really, really is worth the effort.

Eileen Reali: Yeah. And we are a society that wants things instantly. We don’t want to put the time and effort into … It’s an effort to do a training and that you can’t see the results immediately, and we are used to having immediate results.

Martin Reed: Yeah. Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I couldn’t agree more with you. Okay, so let’s wind back a little bit. You were always a light sleeper. Your sleep got disrupted when you had your children. You already mentioned that you were on Ambien for 15 years. It’s clear that insomnia was a very real problem for you and it was obviously a big part of your life. I understand that … Well, you already mentioned that you work in the health field yourself. You’re a registered nurse. I think a lot of people listening to this would think, well, as a registered nurse surely you already knew about CBT-I techniques and you had all the skills and the support that you needed to get your sleep back on track.

Martin Reed: What would you say in response to that?

Eileen Reali: I would say I did not know about CBT-I training until I did searches on the Internet and found your site. Nobody had offered that solution to me in the medical field. It was either take this pill or don’t take any pills and you’ll fall asleep eventually. And there was no in between, there was no other alternatives for my sleep problems. And I find that this is something that I had to do, search out on my own and I thank God that I found it because it has changed my sleeping dramatically. But it’s like that more people need to hear about it, and the medical community needs to know about it.

Martin Reed: Yeah. I completely agree with you. And I think in a way, you were very lucky that you found out about CBT-I techniques when you did a search because so much of the stuff, if we just type how to fall asleep, how to beat insomnia, all this stuff into Google, first of all there’s a lot of kind of this sleep hygiene advice comes back, which generally isn’t all that helpful for people with chronic insomnia, because I like to think of sleep hygiene as kind of like dental hygiene. It’s more to do with prevention of sleep problems, but once you’ve got to that point where sleep is an issue, it’s kind of a bit late for the sleep hygiene advice.

Eileen Reali: Right.

Martin Reed: I will say you get all these search results coming up with all these really sensationalized media articles about if you sleep less than X number of hours, this will happen to you, or if you don’t sleep like this, this will happen. And that can just really raise your sleep-related worry and anxiety and just make you put all your efforts and attention into stuff that’s not helpful and not constructive and isn’t really going to help you get your sleep back on track.

Eileen Reali: Yes. Worrying about all of those things do not help.

Martin Reed: Yeah.

Eileen Reali: I tried that.

Martin Reed: Yeah. Absolutely. Can you tell us a little bit more about the sleeping pills? Because a lot of people listening to this, they’re going to either be taking them now or they’ve taken them in the past, and I understand … Are you taking sleeping pills at all anymore or are you completely off of therm?

Eileen Reali: No, no. Not at all. Not at all. Nothing. Yeah.

Martin Reed: How did you get to that point? That’s the simple question. How did you get from taking Ambien for 15 years and having the real belief that if you didn’t take Ambien, you would never sleep, to where you are now where you don’t take sleeping pills? How did you get there?

Eileen Reali: I had to do a trial kind of basis. In the beginning, on days that I didn’t have to work the next day, I would not take it and see what would happen. I would just kind of push through it and then over on the weekends, I would not take it. And eventually, it was just like I started to sleep and I noticed that I didn’t need to take the Ambien, so I just kind of cut it out. I guess also my doctor at the time, too, was not liking that I was on Ambien all the time. She kind of changed. She went from take it every night to no, maybe you shouldn’t be taking this, but she didn’t offer anything else. I was like, well, I’ve got to just get myself off of this because … And I got to figure out something else to do to help with my sleep. So, I kind of just said, “This is going to be it, and I’m going to do this training and I stuck with it. And it took a little bit. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did definitely start to work.

Martin Reed: Did you find on that first night, when you decided that you weren’t going to take any medication that night, what was that night like for you? Was that difficult or was it easy?

Eileen Reali: Well, I just made up my mind. I have functioned with two hours or less of sleep before. I’ll just do it again. So I just made up my mind, I’m doing something to help me and this is going to work, so stick with it.

Martin Reed: Yeah. How did you feel on that first day when you woke up after a decent night of sleep and you hadn’t taken any medication? What was that feeling like?

Eileen Reali: Oh, wow. I can’t … Let me think. I’m sure I felt great, but I don’t think it just happened like … I kind of weaned into it.

Martin Reed: Yeah.

Eileen Reali: I don’t remember exactly like that first time, “Oh, my, I slept through the night.” I don’t remember when that happened, but I’m glad I don’t have to rely on sleep medication.

Martin Reed: Yeah. I think it is important to recognize that it is a process and that’s why I was so happy that you said, “It didn’t happen overnight. It was a process, and it took me time.” Because it’s so easy if you’re at that point where you want to come off the sleeping medication, very often when you first start to either taper off or you hit that first night where you’re not taking it, it’s quite normal for sleep to be disrupted because you’re actually more alert, looking for the results of the fact that you haven’t taken anything.

Eileen Reali: Yeah.

Martin Reed: You’ve removed that crutch. So it’s quite normal and natural for sleep to be more disrupted on that night, so I obviously thought it was interesting how you mentioned that you started off doing it on the nights where there would be less pressure. You did it on a weekend night or a night where you knew you didn’t have to go to work the next day. But at the same time, you reminded yourself that, look, hey, even if I do only get a couple of hours sleep, I’ve got through the day before on only a couple of hours sleep, so it’s not as big of a deal as perhaps I might first think or worry that it might be.

Eileen Reali: That’s right. It’s what you tell yourself, too, and I learned that, too. Like I said, I was telling myself I’m an insomniac, I’m a terrible sleeper. I can’t sleep with this, this, this or that. I told myself those things, so I knew I had to change my thinking to, yes, I can do this. I’ll be able to do this. This will work. And to think positively about it.

Martin Reed: Yep. That positive attitude or just the willingness to be a little bit more open-minded or just to trust something new. So much of success, I think, is just down to that. I really do think that a lot of the contributing factors to success are just about attitude and willingness to try something different.

Eileen Reali: Yes. Oh, definitely. That’s with anything. It’s not easy in the beginning, but if you stick with it, it is definitely worth it.

Martin Reed: Yeah. Do you kind of recall, because I know it was a few years ago now, but do you recall roughly how long it was from when you started implementing CBT-I techniques to when you got to the point where you felt more comfortable in your ability to sleep, you kind of didn’t really think of yourself as someone with insomnia anymore and you didn’t really think about sleep that much?

Eileen Reali: Again, it didn’t happen overnight. It was probably a couple of months before I totally was like, “Wow, I can go to sleep on my own.” I mean, it took a while. But I don’t remember exactly how it just happened, but it did eventually and it’s just something that took a while, but it worked.

Martin Reed: Yeah. I think that’s important to emphasize as well, that it is this gradual process. It’s very rare that someone just implements these CBT-I techniques, like allots less time for sleep or gets out of bed when they’re struggling and within two or three days, they’re suddenly transformed. It is important to emphasize that it is a process and it does take time. Just like it took time for insomnia to develop and become entrenched, it takes time to go back in there and kind of undo that process and help get your sleep back on track.

Eileen Reali: That’s a very good point because, yeah, it didn’t happen overnight that I wasn’t sleeping. It was a long process of worrying and thinking and doing all these little things that were keeping my brain awake, and it took a while. In the beginning, years ago, I’d have trouble sleeping every now and then, but then it became a real problem where it was every night.

Martin Reed: Yeah.

Eileen Reali: So, yeah, it was a process to get to that point. So, yes, it makes sense that it would be a process to get the change in that.

Martin Reed: Yeah. What’s your sleep like now? How would you describe your sleep?

Eileen Reali: I sleep very well. I go into bed. I’m not pressured about I got to get to sleep. I just kind of get into bed and I just kind of turn off my brain and let sleep happen. I don’t have to worry or force myself to go to sleep. I just kind of relax and let sleep happen. Before, I was trying to force myself to go to sleep. Now, when I say that, it doesn’t even make sense that I would be forcing myself to try to go to sleep before. Just relaxing and falling to sleep and not worrying about the time. I did in the beginning try to keep my sleep schedule pretty consistent, but I’ve kind of fallen out of that habit because my work schedule is different. On some days, I start at different times. Even now I don’t have to keep a strict sleep schedule for me to fall asleep now, but in the beginning, I found that helpful, too.

Martin Reed: Yeah. From what you’re saying there, to me, it just sounds like it can all be summed up in that you just no longer have any sleep effort. You just make no more attempts to kind of control sleep or make yourself sleep. You don’t even really think about sleep anymore. Does that sound accurate?

Eileen Reali: Yep. That’s very accurate.

Martin Reed: Yeah. And that’s where I think that’s the kind of the breakthrough moment. Whenever I’m working with clients, that’s always the goal that I want to have. That’s where we want to get to, that process of just not even thinking about sleep anymore. You wake up, you don’t immediately reflect on how well or how poorly you slept, how many hours you got. You don’t even give sleep any thought during the day. And you just don’t try and control sleep, and as soon as you get to that point, I think it’s a symptom of just having more confidence in your ability to sleep. You’ve got that confidence back that you can sleep. There’s nothing broken with your sleep system. Once you have that confidence back, you just naturally don’t really pay any attention to sleep, and as soon as you get to that point, sleep just becomes so much easier.

Eileen Reali: It does. Oh, definitely, so much better.

Martin Reed: Yeah. Do you recognize any change in your life during the day, your quality of life, how that’s changed as a result of your sleeping a little bit better?

Eileen Reali: I used to manage pretty well with little sleep because I guess having lots of small kids at one time kind of prepped me for that, to be up all night and up all day, and so I functioned. But there would be times when it would snowball, where if it was a lot of nights in a row that I hadn’t gotten any sleep, it would get to a point where I would just say to my husband, “I’ve got to go to bed early tonight,” even just to get on top of the two hours of tossing and turning before I would eventually fall asleep. I thought if I got into bed earlier, maybe I’d fall asleep earlier. It did affect me that way, but most every day, I just kind of just got through it and just forced myself to get through it until it got to the point where I had to go to sleep then and just said, “I have to get some sleep.”

Eileen Reali: My husband doesn’t have any trouble sleeping and he could not understand, like, “How could you not sleep?” That didn’t make any sense to him. He could fall asleep anywhere. So that was challenging. It just didn’t make any sense to him that I couldn’t go to sleep.

Martin Reed: Yeah. That is quite remarkable, I think. Just from my own experience anecdotally, I think that people with insomnia tend to pick or end up with partners that are remarkably excellent sleepers.

Eileen Reali: Yes. And that’s the same with my mother and father. My mother could sleep anywhere, and my father had trouble sleeping, so …

Martin Reed: Yeah. Yeah, and then the difficulty can become you want to go to bed at the same time as your partner and get out of bed at the same time as your partner, but if you go to bed like you just alluded to earlier, when we go to bed before we’re ready, which is actually quite common when we have insomnia, the idea that we go to bed early we might get some more sleep, but the problem is if we’re not sleepy enough to sleep, we’re just not going to end up falling asleep.

Eileen Reali: Right.

Martin Reed: Also, if we go to bed before we’re sleepy, it just encourages this rumination, the sleep-related worries and thoughts, which actually can make sleep even more difficult compared to if you’d have just waited a little bit longer. Then you have that thing where you’re just in bed awake and you just look to your partner and they’re fast asleep. It can just drive just resentment and just build up this more anxiety and more frustration and make sleep even more difficult.

Eileen Reali: Yes. Oh, yeah. My husband is more of a early bird. He’s 4:00 in the morning is his time to shine, and that is not my time to shine. If I had my way, I think I’d get out of bed at 7:00 in the morning every day. That’s more my time. And I would stay up later than he would. So, it’s like we’re different anyway, even when I don’t have sleep troubles or when I didn’t have sleep troubles.

Martin Reed: Yeah. I think it’s really important, especially when you have a spouse, is just to try and follow your own sleep cycle, not that of your partner, and you go to bed when you feel sleepy, not necessarily when your partner feels sleepy and to work out a bedtime that works for you. Because ultimately, if you want to improve your sleep, you need to sleep how you want to sleep, not how your partner’s sleeping.

Eileen Reali: Yeah.

Martin Reed: It sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s so easy to kind of fall into that trap, especially when you have insomnia, of just going to bed based on someone else’s schedule rather than really paying attention to what a more appropriate schedule would be for you.

Eileen Reali: Right. Yeah.

Martin Reed: All right, Eileen. Well, I really appreciate the amount of time that you put aside for us today. I just want to ask one more question for you. If someone with chronic insomnia is listening and feels as though they’ve tried everything, that they’re beyond help and that they can’t do anything to improve their sleep, what would you tell them?

Eileen Reali: Definitely give this a try. And that if you put effort into it, it does take effort, if you put the effort into it, it will pay off and you will train yourself to fall asleep and you won’t need any, like you had said, crutches like sleep aids, because they are a crutch, and you won’t need that crutch anymore, and that you’ll be able to get rest and sleep if you try this.

Martin Reed: That’s great. I think that’s a really positive note to end on. Again, I really thank you for your time, Eileen. And, yeah, thank you for sharing your story. I’m sure many people are going to find it really helpful.

Eileen Reali: Thank you, Martin, for having me.

Martin Reed: Thank you.

Martin Reed: Thanks for listening to The Insomnia Coach Podcast. If you’re ready to implement cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, CBT-I 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 unlimited support and guidance and is guaranteed to improve your sleep. I will teach you and help you implement new CBT-I techniques 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

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 CBT-I 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

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

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

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