Insomnia Coach will stay open as normal and continue to accept new clients during the COVID-19 outbreak.

How Jennifer moved past 18 years of insomnia by exploring her sleep-related beliefs and recognizing her own insomnia in the stories of others (#33)

Jennifer’s issues with sleep began 18 years ago when she started to wean her firstborn from breastfeeding. When Jennifer fell pregnant again, things got better — until it was time to wean her second child. As the mother of five children, Jennifer went through this cycle for a long time — and when she decided that she was done having children, she started to get really nervous about sleep.

Jennifer tried lots of different things in an attempt to get rid of her insomnia — she tried different foods, she experimented with supplements, she tried medication, she tried alcohol. Fortunately, Jennifer recognized that her body wasn’t missing any vital vitamin, mineral, or chemical — and that a hormone imbalance wasn’t to blame for her ongoing issues with sleep.

After listening to a few episodes of the Insomnia Coach podcast, Jennifer felt that it was her belief system that was the real reason why she was enduring an endless struggle with sleep. At this point, she felt ready to implement some changes that would lead to new habits and a new relationship with her thoughts and beliefs that would help create better conditions for sleep.

When Jennifer started to feel a strong sense of sleepiness again (rather than ongoing fatigue and brain fog) and learned from experience that sleeping pills weren’t doing anything for her, she felt confident she was on the right track.

Ultimately, Jennifer regained confidence in her natural ability to sleep after learning that she wasn’t alone and that other people were experiencing insomnia in a similar way to her, and by making changes to her behaviors and the relationship she had with her thoughts. It was these changes that helped create better conditions for sleep and helped Jennifer put chronic insomnia behind her.

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:
Hi, Jennifer. Thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to come onto the podcast.

Jennifer B.:
Yeah, you’re welcome. Happy to be here.

Martin Reed:
It’s great to have you on. I’m really excited for our conversation, which I’m just going to start right at the beginning, like I always do. If you could just tell us when your problems with sleep began, and what you think might have caused those initial issues with sleep?

Jennifer B.:
So I had problems when I was weaning my firstborn from breastfeeding. He is 18 now, and so I struggled with it for quite a while. I had gone to the doctor, and they had suggested some Benadryl. I tied it to the weaning, and it really didn’t get better until I got pregnant six months later with my second child. I have five children, so I cycled through this for 11 or 12 years. When we were finished having children, I really struggled with it, and was convinced that I had some sort of hormone imbalance or hormone problem that was leading to it, because I would sleep well for the duration of the pregnancy and the breastfeeding part. But it was always that weaning that triggered it.

Martin Reed:
Wow. So I’m guessing a workable solution for you wasn’t to just keep having more, and more, and more kids.

Jennifer B.:
Right. By the time I had my last one at 40, it just wasn’t going to be an option. That’s when I really started to get a lot more nervous about it.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. So what were the nights like when you were struggling with sleep? Maybe you can just describe what an average or a typical night was like when you were going through that struggle.

Jennifer B.:
Sure. I would lay awake there for a while, an hour or two. In the early days, I would get up and take a little swig of NyQuil, and then go to sleep, or I would go to sleep on the couch, and then I wouldn’t be able to sleep in my bed. Then I would wake up in the middle of the night and then not be able to go back to sleep. Then I would just get more frustrated and more anxious about it.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. So you mentioned the time you felt maybe it was hormonal related, because it tended to crop up when you were weaning. When you were struggling with that wakefulness during the night, do you feel like it was really hard to fall asleep because maybe there was a hormonal issue? Or do you think there was some something else at play, like maybe your mind was racing, or there were some thoughts that you were really struggling with?

Jennifer B.:
My mind wasn’t really racing until I got very anxious about it. So I had convinced myself that it was a hormonal problem. Then when I thought about that more, that’s when I would get more anxious. But it wasn’t really about stress or anything going on during the day. It was more about what my internal beliefs were about what was causing the problem, because it was just so consistent through all five of the babies that I had.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. So what do you feel it was about this idea of struggling with sleep or just experiencing long periods of wakefulness during the night that maybe created some anxiety and maybe fed into this insomnia and these prolonged periods of wakefulness?

Jennifer B.:
I was always worried about how I was going to function the next day, especially the more kids I have, and the job that I have as well. I wanted to be able to function for work. So it would get really hard. So I would end up just laying there, trying to rest the best that I could, and not get so angry about it.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think a lot of people are going to identify with that. I think one of the biggest concerns, if not the biggest concern when I’m working with clients is how are we going to function the next day? That concern really is at the root of so much of the anxiety, and in turn it almost becomes a self fulfilling prophecy in terms of, because we’re worried about what the next day will be like, maybe we’re putting more pressure on ourselves to sleep. We’re putting a lot of effort into sleep, a lot of monitoring on sleep. That, in itself, makes sleep more difficult.

Martin Reed:
Then because sleep has become so much of a focus, it can also make the days more difficult, even if we do actually have quite an okay night or a decent night, because it’s just something that we’re always thinking about, always worried about. Okay, maybe last night was good. But what’s the next night going to bring? It does feed into itself and just becomes this vicious cycle of worry and sleep disruption. Does that sound like something familiar to you?

Jennifer B.:
Yeah, definitely. I remember nights where I would wake up early, and not be able to go back to sleep. Then I would start craving sleep for the next night, like I would just say, “Okay, I’ll make it up tomorrow night.” Then my husband has always been a great sleeper. So I would get so angry at him, as he just laid there, sleeping. I’m thinking, “God, he’s such a showoff. This isn’t fair.”

Martin Reed:
It’s really funny, I think there is another podcast episode where I had someone say virtually the exact same thing as you. It seems strange, because even when I’m working with clients, it seems like the partners that people with insomnia end up with are kind of like the world’s best sleepers. It’s just a really strange observation that I’ve made over the years.

Jennifer B.:
Yeah, that definitely applies to me. He can sleep anywhere.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. Just leading on from that, I think there may even be a silver lining to that, because I think a common question that we have when we’ve been struggling with sleep for a long time is what do I do to make sleep happen? What do I think about when I get into bed? What can I do to fall asleep? If we have a partner that sleeps really well, maybe we’ll ask that person. Then what tends to happen is we kind of get that blank stare back. “I don’t know what I do to make sleep happen. I just get into bed, and then I sleep.” Did you ever have that conversation with your husband?

Jennifer B.:
Yes, absolutely. Yes, definitely. He didn’t understand that.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. But sometimes, I think that can be really helpful, because maybe it provides a little bit of evidence that all these efforts and all these completely justifiable concerns about sleep, and the strong desire for sleep, and the striving for sleep, maybe that’s contributing to the problem, because if we have a partner that sleeps really well, and they have no clue what they’re doing to make sleep happen, maybe that suggests that if we get to that place where we can maybe abandon all these efforts, abandon all this striving, maybe we’ll be like our partner and sleep well, and not even give sleep a second thought.

Jennifer B.:
Right. I have a tendency to overanalyze a problem, and then try a bunch of different solutions for it. I’ll do that until I find one that works. Really, what worked was doing the opposite of that, which didn’t make any sense. But it’s true. Once I didn’t care about it anymore, then it seemed to go a lot better.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think it’s completely understandable, it makes complete sense why we would look for a solution, because whenever we have a problem in our life, we want to look for a solution. So that’s completely understandable. Our natural inclination to put effort into a problem, so if sleep is a problem, we want to put effort into it to fix it. Everything in life responds really well to effort, right? But sleep is kind of that outlier. I think this is where we can so easily get caught up, because our whole life experience associates effort with good outcomes.

Martin Reed:
So we do the same thing when we struggle with sleep, but the problem is with sleep, the more effort we put into it, the more striving, the more desire, the more difficult it becomes. We kind of make conditions more difficult for sleep to occur. That’s kind of where we can get trapped, because then we start to really, we can really start to worry that something is uniquely wrong with us. Maybe we’ve lost our ability to sleep, or there is something really, seriously wrong with our ability to sleep, or our sleep systems. So I think it’s worth pointing out that it’s understandable why we’re putting effort into sleep, and if we found that sleep hasn’t responded to that effort, again, that is normal and to be expected.

Jennifer B.:
Yeah, that was my experience.

Martin Reed:
So you touched upon you were using that NyQuil every now and then to try and generate some sleep. What kind of other things did you try in an attempt to get more sleep, that looking back, perhaps didn’t prove to be that helpful?

Jennifer B.:
I tried Benadryl. I would get so sleepy with that during the day. Then it progressed from there, to some of the prescription sleeping pills, several different types of those. Then I’d try beer, and then no alcohol, and then exercise, and melatonin, and magnesium, and black cohosh, and herbs. I’d go to the natural foods store, and try to figure out what I needed, what my body was lacking or had too much of to try to get that balance. It didn’t matter, that wasn’t the problem. I think the real problem was the belief system and believing that there was a bigger problem than what there really was.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. Did you ever find that that search for the solution, whether it’s all these different supplements, or medications, on reflection, maybe that was feeding into this concern, and this worry, and this focus on sleep?

Jennifer B.:
Oh, absolutely. Yes, definitely.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. The reason I ask that question is because I think it’s something that so many people listening to this are going to identify with. Again, it goes back to that natural inclination and that completely understandable desire we have to fix a problem. But the trouble with chronic insomnia is it’s not really caused by a mineral deficiency, or a vitamin deficiency, or hormonal deficiency. But yet we can get really caught up in believing that or trying these different supplements, these different experiments. Soon, we can even find ourselves maybe thinking less about sleep, and thinking more about, okay, what’s the next experiment to try? What’s the next ritual I can try? What’s the next thing, the next X, Y, or Z?

Jennifer B.:
Right. Then you pour over the internet, and try to Google solutions. It just made it so much worse for me as I got older. Then I got closer to perimenopause, and then I thought, “Oh my god, it’s going to get worse. Then I’ll be menopausal, and then I’ll never sleep for the rest of my life.” So it would build on the anxiety, and then the anxiety would make it so much worse. Finally, I just made a decision to figure it out.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. So let’s talk about that. So you found out about these cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia, these CBT-I techniques that I talk about.

Jennifer B.:
Right. I had talked to my doctor about it, and she was always willing to refill these sleeping pills. I kind of wish she wouldn’t. But I felt dependent on them until I was ready. I had listened to a couple of your podcasts. But she had mentioned a few of the techniques, like getting out of bed, and not making the bed a place where you lie awake and get angry, things like that. I thought, “I want to sleep. I don’t want to get out of bed. I want to get better.”

Jennifer B.:
It wasn’t until I listened to a couple of your podcasts and thought, “I could have done that podcast, or I can relate to this girl, or I tried these different things that this person tried.” Then after I had listened to two or three of them, then I knew that I could change my beliefs about it. Once I did that, that’s when everything started to work. Once I committed to the techniques, and believed that they were going to work. I think once I stopped believing that there was a big problem with my hormones, or with minerals, or with my chemical composition, that’s when things started to get so much better.

Martin Reed:
So it sounds like you were already familiar with a couple of the techniques, a couple of these CBT-I techniques. But it wasn’t until you really heard real life examples of people using them, and discussing, and talking about their experience with them that you had that confidence, maybe to really go all in and give them a try yourself? Is that right?

Jennifer B.:
Yeah, absolutely. There was a nurse on the podcast that I listened to maybe about a year and a half ago, and then there was a pediatrician. I related so much to those two women. Once I heard those, then that’s when things changed, and I knew that I could get better without having to take anything to go to sleep.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. So what kind of techniques did you end up implementing? I think you just touched upon this idea of getting out of bed when being in bed doesn’t feel good. Another core component of these techniques involves allotting a more appropriate amount of time for sleep, spending an amount of time in bed that’s similar to the kind of sleep that you’re currently getting. Were they the kind of techniques what you were implementing?

Jennifer B.:
Yeah. So when the pandemic started, and my work shut down, I thought, “This is a perfect time.” That was when I had become very scared about this for the rest of my life. When that happened, I thought, “If I don’t do it now, I’m not going to do it ever, probably.” So now that I don’t have to worry about getting out of bed at a certain time, or having this not work, I can really focus on it. So I had a piece of paper and a pencil next to my bed where I could take notes about what time I went to sleep and what time I woke up at.

Jennifer B.:
Then I went to the library and got some books that were interesting enough, but boring enough, like a book about grass, and a book about farming and ranching, where there were some interesting stories, but I really didn’t have much in common with the people writing them. So I would get pretty bored reading them. I would go downstairs, and put my head lamp on, and read for a while. Then when my head would bob, I knew it was time to go back. So I wrote down the times, and then figured out how long I was sleeping. It didn’t take very long. I would say maybe a week or so before I knew it would definitely work. So I think for me, it was just committing to the whole CBT-I process for about a week before I really saw substantial change, where I could sleep long periods of time without having to take any sleeping aids.

Martin Reed:
Wow, that’s incredibly fast to get those early results within a week or so. What was it, you mentioned that it took you about a week for you to realize there was some change going on. What was the symptom of that positive change? What kind of differences were you noticing?

Jennifer B.:
I felt sleepy. I just felt like I couldn’t go on anymore unless I went to sleep. Another thing that really helped me was when I had made the decision and had a date that I was going to start implementing the techniques, and sticking by all of the rules. I had gone and I bought a new bedspread, and new sheets, and new pillows. I said to myself, “These are going to be the sheets that I actually fall asleep on, and sleep soundly.” I got rid of my old bedspread, and my old sheets that I had had for years.

Jennifer B.:
I think creating that environment was really helpful for my brain to know, “Okay, these are the sheets I’m gong to sleep on and not have to take anything.” So that was another big change that I made, at least for me and my bedroom that was helpful. But I think the biggest thing was my belief system was changed. After a week or so of doing the sleep deprivation thing, I just felt differently. Like, I was so sleepy that I had to go to bed and sleep. I think the trigger was just the fact that I started believing that I didn’t need to have an aid or that I had a problem.

Martin Reed:
I think it can be so powerful to rediscover that really strong sense of sleepiness, because in my experience, people with chronic insomnia tend not to actually have that much sleepiness, but have a ton of fatigue. Feeling exhausted, worn out, run down. It’s really easy to confuse that with sleepiness. But there is a difference.

Jennifer B.:
Oh, I agree, very much. Because I was foggy brained for at least a decade, and never really felt particularly well rested. So once I was actually sleepy, then it changed for sure. I would try to go to be dearly, thinking that would help. That certainly didn’t.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think that’s one of these areas where we can get caught up, because when we mistake that fatigue for sleepiness, fatigue isn’t a sign that we need to sleep or that the conditions are right for sleep. But sleepiness is. So when we get those two mixed up, which is quite common, even people without insomnia can mix those symptoms up, if we go to bed when we’re fatigued rather than sleepy, it makes sense that we’re probably not going to fall asleep, because we’re not sleepy enough for sleep.

Martin Reed:
Then because we’re not falling asleep, if we have concern about that, it’s just going to heighten that concern. Then it makes conditions even more difficult for sleep to occur. So rediscovering that sense of sleepiness by maybe allotting less time for sleep or going to bed later, waiting for that really strong sense of sleepiness to appear, it can really be a breakthrough moment for many clients. It sounds like that was your breakthrough moment too.

Jennifer B.:
Yeah. It was such a relief.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. Absolutely. So what other kind of, were there any other behavior … Before we move onto the thought side of things, were there any other behavioral changes you made?

Jennifer B.:
I noticed a lot of things as I thought about this more during my time when I was analyzing. That wasn’t all bad, over analyzing, because there were things that I, once I started sleeping better, I did tie to not falling asleep or not sleeping through the night, or waking up early. That was if I would fall asleep anywhere other than my bed, so the couch, or in my kids’ beds after I would read to them, they would want me to lay with them until they fell asleep. I told them I have to stop doing that, I can’t do it anymore. We can read on the couch, and then I can lay with you for a minute, but that’s about it. So not laying there for 20 or 30 minutes, dozing off, and then going to my own bed.

Jennifer B.:
Screen time is a big thing for me. I still have to be really careful for that. Being aware of caffeine, that was big for me. Anything after 12 o’clock would affect me, even if it was just a piece of chocolate with caffeine, that sometimes would be something to keep me up a little bit later. Alcohol, I could not drink a lot of alcohol. If I knew I was going to, I would have to say to myself, “Okay, I might have a bad night’s sleep tonight.” I did a lot of meditation for this, and I still try to maintain that at least four or five days a week, because it really helps to not get so anxious about it, and to not think about it as much.

Martin Reed:
So what is it about meditation in particular that you feel was helpful?

Jennifer B.:
It was helpful to not get so anxious about it, and to not care so much about sleep, and to focus on something else besides work stress, or family stress, or worrying about falling asleep. It just kind of gave my mind a break. I look forward to doing it. I know that if I skip time for medication, I definitely feel a little bit more stressed and anxious, which can lead to the insomnia again.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think meditation, or any relaxation technique, is really an interesting topic of discussion, because it can be, it’s really easy to kind of get caught up in it as a concept of being a sleep effort. I’m going to meditate to try and generate sleep. If we go down that road, it’s really unhelpful, because it just leads to us putting more pressure on ourselves to sleep, as we’re supposed to be relaxing or we’re supposed to be meditating, in the back of our brain, the brain starts monitoring are we asleep yet? Are we feeling sleepy yet?

Martin Reed:
But on the other hand, if we can use meditation or relaxation as a way to generate relaxation, as a way to build skill in adjusting our relationship to our thoughts, shifting attention elsewhere, then I think it can be really helpful. A byproduct can be creating better conditions for sleep through a weakened arousal system. So I think it can be a bit of a double edged sword. If sleep is our intention, it becomes one of those unhelpful sleep efforts. But if it’s something to just promote relaxation and self awareness, and acknowledging and accepting thoughts as thoughts, that’s where it can be really helpful.

Jennifer B.:
Yes. So it was very calming once I got past that initial motivation for sleep.

Martin Reed:
Yeah.

Jennifer B.:
When I thought of it as more of a calming activity, and a way to keep stress from building up too terribly much, then it was better. It helps to avoid negativity in my mind, too. All of those are helpful for staying calm.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. Do you find that your meditation practice is helpful even when you’re not actively engaged in meditation? So for example, if during the day, when you’re active, some uncomfortable thoughts start to come into your mind. Do you feel like you now are more skilled or better able to manage your reaction to those thoughts thanks to meditation practice?

Jennifer B.:
Yes, definitely. So at work, if I have a stressful event, then I find myself just automatically going into some of the breathing techniques, and calming techniques. I find that if I’m in a period of time where I’m not meditating, or I had given it up for a week or two, that’s when I get a lot more stressed out. It seems to effect me where I can’t bounce back to the next activity, I feel. More stressed if I’m not doing the meditation.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. How long do you feel that, if you remember, how long were you practicing meditation before you found this is helping, this is helping me change my relationship with these difficult thoughts? When did you notice some positive improvements from that?

Jennifer B.:
I would say it took a few weeks to really see a substantial difference.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think it was kind of a loaded question, because I was expecting you to give me that answer. I would have been surprised if you had told me, “Oh yeah, just a few nights, a few days of practice, and then I was all good.” Because relaxation, really, is a skill. Right? It’s something that we have to learn to do. It takes a lot of practice.

Jennifer B.:
Oh, absolutely. I would start with just five minutes, and then I worked my way up to 10, and then 12. Then eventually 20 minutes or so. I didn’t really go beyond that. But it did take a few weeks to really see a substantial benefit with this stress reduction.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think that’s another area where we can kind of get caught up as well. First of all, as I just touched upon, if we’re doing something in a bid to generate sleep or sleepiness, it’s probably not that helpful. But also when people try relaxation techniques, if they’re new to them, we might just try them a couple of times. “Oh, no, this isn’t helping,” then move onto the next thing, just decide it’s not working. But it’s kind of like a skill. If one day we decide, “I want to learn how to play the piano.” We probably wouldn’t expect to be able to play the piano really well after just two days of practice. We recognize that it’s going to take a lot of practice. Relaxation is exactly the same.

Jennifer B.:
Yeah. It is. I agree.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. So I think earlier on you were talking about the thinking side of things, how your thoughts and your beliefs have since changed since you were struggling with sleep. Were there any specific thoughts or beliefs that you can recognize now, looking back, that were maybe not helpful, not that accurate, and that might have even been perpetuating this sleep disruption?

Jennifer B.:
I am going to go back to yeah, that hormone imbalance. Because it seemed to happen so frequently, every month, for a couple of days. That was pretty consistent, plus the weaning. Then being able to sleep once I would have kids, or I would be pregnant. I think that it was really … Just that thought, I had just convinced myself so much that there was a problem, and that everything that I was trying wasn’t working. The anxiety would build more and more. Then I would believe more and more, since the things I weren’t trying weren’t working, then it just was so frustrating. Until I found your site, and listened to a couple of the podcasts.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think, I don’t know if we’re touched upon this yet. But when we were talking, before this, before recording this episode, we were talking about the role of sleeping pills…

Jennifer B.:
I would say it was every single night, and it started as a quarter of a pill, then a half, and then a whole one, and then two or three, or four of them just to get to sleep. So it was more, and more, and more. Then my brain would be so foggy during the day that I couldn’t function, and I knew that there had to be a better solution. It seems like everybody could sleep but me. But yeah, just seemed to be more and more of these sleeping pills. Then I thought, people don’t have to take these. There has to be some other way.

Martin Reed:
How did you get to that point where you maybe had this realization or a changing of belief that, “Huh, maybe I don’t need these pills to generate sleep.” Or, “Maybe I can sleep without them. Maybe I can sleep well without them.”

Jennifer B.:
I had a refill of one of them. When I got the refill, I had a different shaped pill, I think. I had two or three nights where they weren’t working, at all. I thought, “They had to have given me the wrong medicine, they had to give me an expired medicine. This can’t be right. I’m going to go down to the pharmacy.” That’s what I did. I had woken up in the middle of the night and went there when they opened. It was a pharmacy where they opened really early, or were up all night. I can’t remember for sure. But I went down there, and I took the pills. I said, “You had to have given me the wrong ones. These aren’t working, I haven’t slept in three days, and I’ve had to take more.” I’m like, “This is wrong. You have to change it.”

Jennifer B.:
So she took the pills, and she’s like, “I just opened this bottle. Here you go.” It was very unpleasant, because I hadn’t slept that entire night. Went and yelled at this pharmacist. I got home, and I’m like, “What the heck just happened? What did I just do? I accused them of giving me this wrong medicine.” I got home, and I just thought, “That was so wrong. I have to make a change. I can’t be going down to the pharmacy and telling me they’re giving me the wrong stuff.” But that was a turning point for me, when I thought about what I did, and how ridiculous that was. So that was just prior to the pandemic, maybe a month or two. I had decided that I have to figure it out.

Jennifer B.:
I have to find something that’s going to work. I had talked to my doctor about it. When I thought more about the things that she was saying, “You hae to get out of bed, you have to make your bed a place for sleep, and that’s all.” A lot of the CBT-I techniques, once I had tied them in, and watched enough YouTube videos on CBT-I, and found your site, and listened to some of the other women. That’s when I knew I could a make a change. But it was that, yeah, that one trip to the pharmacy, where I was like, “This is wrong. There has got to be something different that I can od.”

Martin Reed:
So did they give you the wrong pills? Or was it just the fact they were a different shape?

Jennifer B.:
No, no. It was just they weren’t working anymore. If you take them enough, then they stop working, they lose their efficacy. That was really what the problem was. So no, they didn’t.

Martin Reed:
Wow. It’s amazing the things that, these coincidences or these events, these random events, they can enter our lives but just be real light bulb moments. Just change our whole way of thinking.

Jennifer B.:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. So I had gone cold turkey after I was up to numerous pills at night. Just said, “Okay, this is the day I’m going to take them away, and do all of these CBT-I techniques.” Once I started to feel really sleepy even just after a week or so, that’s when I knew.

Martin Reed:
Wow.

Jennifer B.:
But it was definitely listening to the stories about others that really made me know that I could get better. So once I knew that, then I wasn’t trying to figure out a problem that really wasn’t there.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think it can be so powerful to hear other people’s stories. That’s why, again, I’m so grateful for you coming on to share yours, because from person to person, insomnia is pretty much unique. The struggle is the hallmark of chronic insomnia is virtually same from person to person. So when we recognize our own experience of others, and we hear how people have transformed their relationship with sleep, and are sleeping better, regardless of how long they’ve been struggling with sleep, it can just be so inspiring and so motivational, and so reassuring. It can be that impetus to abandon all these efforts, and this search, and that ongoing detective work, and to just really focus attention on things that are helpful, things that do work.

Jennifer B.:
Right. Yeah, if I can just help one person to not have to use any type of sleeping pill, then it will all be worth it, for sure. Because I struggled for 17 years. Not that I never have struggles anymore. But I’m so much better, and I know that it’s going to get better.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, and I’m glad you mentioned that, because it is important to realize that there are always going to be some difficult nights, everyone has some difficult nights from time to time. It can become easy to have either unrealistic expectations, to believe that implementing some techniques will give us perfect sleep, 100% of our nights for the rest of our life. It can be easy to worry as soon as we have a difficult night that, “Uh-oh, the insomnia is back. Now I have to restart this search, maybe these techniques aren’t helpful.” Whereas the fact is we just had a difficult night, and everyone experiences them from time to time. It’s completely normal and to be expected.

Jennifer B.:
Right. I was going to tell you about a period of time earlier this year where I had a little bit of a setback. I was skiing, and I had torn my ACL, which is one of the major knee ligaments. It required a surgery. I tore it on January 15th. They like you to wait a while after the injury to let all of the swelling go down before you have the surgery. So I waited about a month after. Part of the recovery process is both after the injury and the initial days, you’re super tired, and your body is worn down. So it takes a while for energy to heal. So I was laying in my bed with my leg up, and I had to do the same thing in the post operative period too. Sorry, I’d have to elevate it.

Jennifer B.:
I couldn’t really turn, and I couldn’t really move around. I had to be in one spot, because it was braced. I’m usually a side sleeper or a stomach sleeper. I was kind of worried about this, especially because I had to take pain medication for about three days or so afterward. I was filled with a lot of negative emotions about the injury, and I was scared, and I thought, “How is this going to heal?” I know the techniques to fix that knee injury are different from my college soccer days, when people would have it. They were a lot more immobilized. But I was thinking about to the people who used, who did have that injury. It’s 20 years later, and then I had that injury. I was just anxious, even though the techniques were different, and they like to get you up and moving a little bit faster.

Jennifer B.:
I did go through a period of time where my sleep was definitely affected, until I didn’t have to brace it at night, and I didn’t have to wrap my leg at night. It did start to get better. But I did have some difficulty going to sleep, waking up early, and some of the things that I had before with the insomnia. But I reviewed some of the techniques, and re-implemented them. So I told my husband, I said, “I need some more boring books.” I took those ones about grass and farming back to the library. So he got about a dozen of them. Once I could get around without my crutches after my surgery, I would go downstairs and read the book, and it only took about four nights or so before I did the sleep deprivation technique again, and got back on track.

Jennifer B.:
I knew that it would get better. So even when I was filled with all these negative emotions, and negative thinking about the injury, and being mad at myself for slipping on the ice, and falling backward, and tearing my knee up, going back to my meditation, and then the sleep deprivation, getting out of bed, it worked. It worked very quickly.b ut I think the biggest thing was I knew it would work, because it worked before. I wasn’t so anxious about it.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think it’s amazing how our whole relationship with sleep changes once we go through that struggle, because I think for someone who has never struggled with sleep or has ever had any issue with sleep, if you said to them, “Okay, let’s say I need to have surgery, and I’m going through the recovery process, and I have some difficult nights. I experience some sleep disruption.” The person would probably say, “Well, of course, you’re going to have some sleep disruption. You had a big accident, you had some surgery, you have to recover. Everything, there is a lot of changes going on there.”

Martin Reed:
But when we struggle with sleep, we can become really concerned by that sleep disruption. Maybe see it as something else we have to deal with on top of our recovery, or it’s a sign that the insomnia is now coming back. The insomnia is seeing this opportunity to come back into our life, and disrupt our sleep again. But I think that the great thing about these techniques as you just touched upon is you know they work. So you know that during this period of recovery from surgery, or if we’re unwell, then we listen to our bodies, we rest, we recuperate, and then when we’re able to do so, if we are still struggling with sleep, then we know we can just reach into our metaphorical back pocket and just re-implement those techniques that have worked for us before.

Jennifer B.:
Right. Yeah. It definitely worked when I had my surgery, for sure. But I think knowing that it would work was a big part of it. Yeah, sure, it was miserable for those four days, and I got out my pen and paper, and wrote down my times. It only took a couple of nights of writing down my times, and getting out of bed when I wasn’t sleeping, and up by six o’clock every day. It didn’t take long. But it’s miserable for a few days, but it gets you back on track. So I’m very thankful for that.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. It’s a difficult surgery. I remember my wife actually had it, I think it was a little while back now, like 10 years ago. She had the ACL reconstruction. I know that it is a difficult recovery journey. So yeah, I trust that you’re doing better now. How is the knee?

Jennifer B.:
Yeah, I’m four months post-op now. It’s nice and strong, it doesn’t give out. I think part of the recovery has been being appreciative of my body, and my health, and I’ll have this motivation to be stronger going forward, and to avoid the negativity, because quite honestly, in the week or two after the injury, and then a week or two after the surgery, my thoughts were so negative, and it just seemed to affect the healing part of it.

Jennifer B.:
So that’s where my meditation came in to be calm, and not thing about the negative part, and think about the positive parts, like next ski season I’m going to be super strong, and this is never going to happen again, because I’m going to be so much stronger than I was going in. So not having those negative thoughts can be really helpful, just like they were for the insomnia, once I got rid of the negative thoughts, and thinking, “I’m never going to be able to go to sleep again.” Then I was able to go to sleep, once I didn’t have a lot of that negative thinking about it and it was true with my surgery recovery too.

Martin Reed:
I like how you linked the two, because I was just going to do that myself. It’s amazing how through adversity we can become stronger. We go through these really difficult periods of our life. But I think we can emerge from them stronger, change in a way, a more positive way from those experiences.

Jennifer B.:
Yes, definitely.

Martin Reed:
All right, Jennifer. Well, I really appreciate you setting aside some time and coming on today. I would like to fit in one last question, if you have the time for it.

Jennifer B.:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Martin Reed:
It’s a question I like to ask everyone at the end of these episodes. It’s this. If someone with chronic insomnia is listening, and feels as though they’ve tried everything, that they’re beyond help, and they just can’t do anything to improve their sleep, what would you tell them?

Jennifer B.:
I would tell them to study the CBT-I, and learn all the techniques, become familiar with them, whether you believe it will work or not. Then give yourself a certain amount of time, say a week or two weeks, and follow the rules to a T. See how you do. That worked for me. Do the CBT-I for a week or two, and see how you do, because it didn’t take long once I knew it would work. Knowing that I wasn’t alone, and that other people have similar struggles was really helpful for me as well. Yeah, commit to it for a certain amount of time, and I think it’ll work.

Martin Reed:
That’s great. I think that’s a really positive note to end on. So thank you, again, so much, for coming onto the podcast, Jennifer.

Jennifer B.:
Yeah, you’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

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.

Share this page

2 thoughts on “How Jennifer moved past 18 years of insomnia by exploring her sleep-related beliefs and recognizing her own insomnia in the stories of others (#33)”

Leave a Comment