How Jessica broke free from insomnia by letting go and accepting it without judgement (#54)

Listen to the podcast episode (audio only)

Jessica’s journey with insomnia began on a family vacation when she suddenly found it really hard to sleep. When she got home, her sleep recovered — until it was time to travel again. This pattern repeated itself, with sleep getting more difficult each time she traveled until insomnia stuck around even after she returned home.

In response, Jessica started to go to bed earlier. She tried supplements and medication. She practiced good sleep hygiene. And yet, night after night, her bedroom remained a battleground.

When bedtime approached, Jessica experienced a sense of impending doom and intense anxiety. She would feel a tightness in her chest. She worried how she was going to function during the day and feared making mistakes at work.

In this episode, Jessica describes how she practiced a new approach. Instead of fighting insomnia and the difficult thoughts and feelings that would come with it, she started accepting their presence. She started to be kinder to herself. Jessica noticed that it wasn’t being awake or experiencing certain thoughts and feelings that were the real problem — it was her judgment of those things and her ongoing resistance to them that made things so much more difficult.

As Jessica shares, her change of approach wasn’t easy. Progress was not immediate or linear. However, with ongoing practice she found that she was able to free herself from an ongoing struggle and reclaim her life from insomnia.

Click here for a full transcript of this episode.


Martin: 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.

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

Jessica: Yeah, you’re welcome.

Martin: Let’s start right at the beginning. Are you able to pinpoint the initial cause of your struggle with sleep? And how long ago did that all begin?

Jessica: It’s been over a year. Uh, maybe like a year and a half.

Jessica: And, uh, I have a distinct memory of when it started I, I was traveling and I was away like on a group kind of family vacation and I wasn’t able to sleep at all that night. Uh, it was very anxiety producing. The second night I cause it was like a two night, uh, trip, uh, the second night I was really anxious about sleeping and not being able to sleep.

Jessica: And eventually I fell asleep, but it was difficult. When I came back home, there was like another kind of off night, and then I, I was able to sleep okay. I then had another traveling plan maybe like a month later. And during that time I was fine, but then when I traveled, it was the same kind of story, where I wouldn’t be able to sleep, I was really, really anxious and just up all night.

Jessica: That happened one more time, I think, because I had multiple… Traveling episode, uh, traveling plans about, about a little less than a month apart and then each time it got worse. And then after that last travel, it, it stuck around even when I came home.

Martin: Did you, had you traveled in the past, like before that year or so ago and been able to sleep OK, and then it was…

Jessica: Yeah, I was able to travel. No problem. Uh, I had a lot of like life stressors going on, uh, leading up to that initial kind of episode. At the time, if you asked me, I would have been like, yeah, I’m fine.

Jessica: Everything is it’s fine and okay. I can look back now and, and see that I probably wasn’t fine. And that the travel was a bit of the tipping point, uh, uh, for me to deal with all of this. stressors that were going on or maybe not deal with all the stressors that were going on.

Martin: And so you mentioned that then you came home.

Martin: When you came home did you find that sleep disruption was sticking around or did it come and go?

Jessica: No, it, it rapidly progressed. What’s interesting is it started in, uh, like an August, so not this past August, August 4th. And And I was on a trip during Thanksgiving break, and that’s when it really stuck around.

Jessica: Even, even probably leading up to before Thanksgiving, maybe like in October or November it was. And it, like I was getting anxiety like during the evening hours leading up to going to bed when I was home. And I would just have this kind of feeling of impending doom. It wasn’t, it wasn’t fun at all.

Jessica: And I was trying to like white knuckle my way through it. And, uh, and then I went on that trip and then after the trip, it was really bad. What’s interesting is on that trip, I I didn’t tell you this, but I, I found like a recording of one of your podcasts. That you had done and so probably within a few months I there was this understanding that like I could make it better and I could do things to make it better So it’s not like it went on for years and years or something and then I tried to I signed up for like your newsletter or something, and I tried to do some of it just myself.

Jessica: Unstructured, and that did not go so well. I really needed your structured guidance, because I was having a lot of anxiety. And I wasn’t, particularly anxious like that before. But it really was around sleep and falling asleep, and I I would not be able to sleep at all. I was up for hours.

Jessica: Very, very anxious. You would think I was being attacked by like a, a saber toothed tiger or something. That’s how really anxious I was about sleep and trying to fall asleep.

Martin: Yeah, that anxiety can just be so difficult, right? We can, like you touched on, we can have anxiety about what the night is going to bring, and then because the anxiety itself is so difficult to experience, we can have anxiety about the potential of experiencing the anxiety. So we add that on top and it just gets so difficult. You mentioned that there was this impending sense of doom, as bedtime approached or as you were getting into bed and you started to get all these anxious thoughts related to Sleep.

Martin: What kind of things was your, was your brain telling you? Was it generating different stories or specific thoughts that you would find would regularly crop up?

Jessica: No, I, I tried to, to think what are the thoughts, and quite honestly, I didn’t Like, recognize any thoughts. I only recognize this feeling this tightness in my chest.

Jessica: I was like, I don’t even feel like I’m having any thoughts about it. I’m just having this anxiety feeling. It wasn’t probably till much later on that I could see that. I think my body was just starting to generate a response to the whole going to sleep process. What is that going to be like?

Jessica: How bad is it going to be tonight? Am I going to be up? Am I going to be able to function? Those common thoughts that people that have sleep issues think about. But I, I didn’t, I didn’t really notice a particular thought, which is the interesting part. I only recognized that feeling, which was, like, awful.

Martin: Absolutely. Some people can recognize specific thoughts showing up or can notice them. Other times it’s more the physical sensations that we… are more aware of. I don’t think there’s really any difference between the two. It doesn’t, there’s not really any meaning to draw from the fact that I don’t know what I’m thinking.

Martin: I’m just feeling it, whereas other people know exactly what they’re thinking that there’s stories coming up in their brain they’re having specific thoughts. I don’t think there’s really any meaning to draw from that. It’s all really the same thing which is the body or the brain doing its job ironically of trying to look out for us.

Martin: So it sees this approach of nighttime. As a potential threat because it’s learned that there’s going to be this battle, we’ve got all these troops coming up over the horizon, which is bedtime. Start getting that heart racing, maybe the shakes, feeling cold, feeling hot, all those fight or flight symptoms, right?

Jessica: Yeah, it was total, not flight. It was fight. Like I definitely felt it in my chest and my, I can see now that I was really just preparing for this big long battle of sleep and what it would be like.

Jessica: And All the thoughts about it and stuff, yeah.

Martin: I think just listening to your story there, we can assume that the nights are going to be really difficult. But were there any kind of common characteristics to what an average night at that time was like? Was it just really difficult to fall asleep?

Martin: Or would you find that you could fall asleep, but then you’d wake and find it really hard to fall back to sleep? What kind of things were you dealing with? As it comes to what sleep was like on those nights,

Jessica: Well, in the beginning, I think I would try to go to bed earlier. That’s silly thing though.

Jessica: Some of us do that. I’ll just get some more sleep tonight. So I’ll go to bed earlier. That, of course, is not helpful. But when I would get to bed, no matter what time it was I would have difficulty falling asleep. I could be up for hours just yeah. tossing and turning and getting really frustrated.

Jessica: Really feeling like I wanted to just jump out of my skin with, anxiety or stress. And then what I realize now thanks to my husband actually noticing this is that, uh, sometimes I would fall asleep. But I would fall asleep for five, 10 minutes or something, really, really short.

Jessica: Short enough that I didn’t register it as sleep. And I’d kind of like wake back up I’m ready to fight again. That kind of, uh, and I would feel as though there was a long, long period of time, like maybe 10 o’clock to, to three o’clock that I didn’t sleep. There’s probably periods of time that I was.

Jessica: And then eventually I would, I would fall asleep and then wake up for work. In which I’m getting up around 5 36. Sometimes I would, uh, sleep in a little bit. Obviously that’s before I started the working your program, but prior to that, I would sleep in a little bit more. But I can’t sleep in much past like 6, 630 because I have to get up and go to work.

Martin: So what kind of insights did you get from your husband sharing his observations? Was it you’d have a night where it felt like there was just no sleep happening whatsoever and your husband was sharing that insight. Well, actually, I saw a little bit of sleep happening and then maybe that was a little bit reassuring?

Jessica: Yeah, I mean he could see that I was really struggling he doesn’t have any sleep issues, so He kind of like stayed up when I said I’m just gonna stay up with you and support you He was just just trying the best he could you know to support me And and, uh, he was in this position where he was uncomfortable, but he froze because he saw that I was sleeping and eventually had to get out of that uncomfortable position.

Jessica: And it woke me up and he’s I knew it was going to wake you up. But in that moment, like later on that next day, I had a little bit of insight Oh, like he said, I was sleeping. But if you asked me, I would have said I wasn’t sleeping at all. Cause it felt like I wasn’t sleeping. So, and he, I mean, he just saw how anxious I was, but that provided me a little bit of insight.

Jessica: That I wasn’t completely broken because probably like a lot of people, I really felt like something’s really wrong with me. I don’t know how to sleep anymore. Like, why can’t I sleep? Those thoughts.

Martin: It’s really interesting that you said that because I think that’s one, that’s one reason why it can be, feel even more difficult.

Martin: It can become even more difficult is our, our brains can just tell us that No sleep happened on one night, and sometimes for sure that could be true. But other times that might not be true. There might be some sleep going on, but as far as our brain is reporting to us it’s nope, there was nothing.

Martin: There was no sleep, and then we get really concerned. You know that somehow we’ve lost the ability to generate sleep. But there is always the possibility and Quite often, it’s more likely than not that some kind of sleep has happened, even if it’s just tiny little bursts of sleep, that some kind of sleep has happened, and being aware of that, that there is that possibility that some sleep happened without us being consciously aware of it or able to remember it can be quite reassuring.

Martin: So it’s, it’s really good to hear that your husband was able to observe that first and foremost, and then share it with you.

Jessica: Yeah. Yeah. It was a good, good learning point for me. And this whole process has been, uh, like these tiny little insights um, And slowly uh, chiseling away at, what was insomnia to learning about myself and how the brain works and and, and how I work, uh, and melting away all of that, it takes time.

Martin: Absolutely. So you talked about. What the nights were like and the approach of the nights, were you finding that as you were tangled up in this really difficult struggle, that this was affecting your days as well?

Jessica: Truth be told, I actually don’t think it was affecting my days. I think I was able to go to work every day just fine.

Jessica: I, I did worry obsessively about it affecting my day at night, especially how am I going to work? How am I going to do this? I won’t be able to function. I had, uh, this study in my head that I had heard about that, uh, like residents I work in the medical field and, uh, that residents, uh, when they didn’t have sleep for whatever, 24 hours, their, their brain capacity is though like under the influence of alcohol.

Jessica: And so I had this. And I have this really like responsible job in which I take care of other people, and so I really, it really weighed on me and, uh, and I, and I had that thought like in my head, in my head, in my head, in my head but truth be told, Overall, I was fine. Now I probably wasn’t as jovial.

Jessica: I was my, my baseline personality was, was a little bit more subdued. And I had this kind of like little bit of nervous. Energy under the surface. That was definitely going on, but overall, I don’t actually think it affected my day except for the anxiety. I would start to feel that obviously affected things.

Martin: I think there’s 2 great insights. The key insights I think you shared there, and I think the first one is, we’ve got evidence that you’ve got one of those human brains that’s always doing its job, trying its best to look out for you, right? So you’ve got a job where you’re looking after other people it’s important, what you’re doing is important, and mistakes, for example, do have consequences, so your brain is firing up and looking out for you, because obviously, if you’re going to work the equivalent of being drunk.

Martin: That’s going to cause you issues. It’s going to cause your patients issues. And that’s not reflecting the kind of person you want to be or the life you want to live, right? It’s contrary to what you want to be known for, what you want to stand for, and the life you want to live. So I think that’s the first thing.

Martin: And I think that can be helpful to acknowledge that because often we can develop a really adversarial relationship with our brain when it’s doing things. that don’t feel good, or when it’s doing things that feel unhelpful, right? So, when it generates that anxiety, we want to get rid of it, we want to sleep, this doesn’t feel good, stop doing this, why are you doing this to me, brain?

Martin: But really, it comes from a good place. It’s your brain looking out for you, it’s just maybe it’s trying so hard, it’s getting in the way a little bit. Totally. And I think the second insight that you shared was that… The thoughts that might be getting generated by your brain can sometimes be different to the experience from your own experience.

Martin: Or different from facts. So sometimes the thoughts we can have are true, are facts, are helpful. And at the same time, sometimes they’re maybe less true, not really facts, not really that helpful. So your brain might tell you that if you don’t fall asleep tonight, then… You’re going to give a patient like the wrong medication for example or something like that and that’s terrifying But then you know from experience that well, hang on a minute.

Martin: I’ve done this I’ve had multiple nights like this, still to this day, not given a patient, for example, the wrong medication. I’m not sure what your career is or if you give people medication, but I’m just using that as an example because it’s something serious, right? And I think just knowing those two, just those two insights can be helpful, no matter how difficult what the brain is doing comes from a good place.

Martin: And second of all, that what the brain is telling us. Can be true and helpful and sometimes it might not be true and it might not be helpful.

Jessica: Yeah, totally. My brain was trying to help me. It just went a little haywire and It had the right setting and circumstances that just allowed that to occur. Yeah.

Martin: As human beings when we’re dealing with difficult stuff, we want to fix it, right?

Martin: We want to get rid of it. When you were still tangled up in that struggle, arm wrestling with all this difficult stuff, what kind of things were you trying at that time to maybe make sleep happen or get rid of wakefulness or to deal with those, that, that anxiety that you’ve already described?

Jessica: Yeah, so, I tried melatonin. Uh, I was taking like up to 10 milligrams a night. And and because I had used it in the past, like I would use it here or there if I. Wasn’t, wasn’t able to fall asleep and it was never like a problem because it was very like as needed. And then so I was like, oh, well, I’ll just keep using it because it’s as needed.

Jessica: Not understanding the bigger picture at that time. I used Benadryl, uh, that like in combination of the two. Because I was having such anxiety. I thought the anxiety was the problem which I think we should talk about because all of a sudden I had a ton of anxiety, and I thought that’s the problem why I’m not sleeping.

Jessica: Not the other way around, like the sleeping was causing, the not sleeping and how my brain was dealing with that was causing like anxiety. So I thought the anxiety was causing the sleep issues. Now, maybe not dealing with some of the issues, the stressors that was going on, I definitely helped set the stage for it.

Jessica: But in general, I, I look back now and I see that it was That the whole sleeping issue that was causing the anxiety. So I went to like my provider and I was like, I’m really anxious. They prescribed me Xanax cause I, cause I asked for it thinking if I just take care of the anxiety, I’ll be able to sleep.

Jessica: Like I could take a Xanax. I had doubled the dose. Benadryl melatonin. I was still like up, and ready to fight. So, it wasn’t definitely the medications did not help. Uh, so I definitely took those meds in the beginning, uh, for a few months. Again, I was lucky in that I, I found your information.

Jessica: Sooner than maybe some other people I didn’t do much of the sleep hygiene stuff Because I I could see that I was already doing that stuff like for the most part I have good sleep hygiene. Like I You know go to bed at a normal time. I wake up around the same time. I Not doing like strenuous things right before bed.

Jessica: My room was dark and cold. So I was kind of like, eh, like that stuff doesn’t really apply to me.

Jessica: So, uh, I say that like I was having this anxiety like reaction when I would go to sleep a few hours before bed.

Jessica: And I thought I was just… Like anxiety and stress was the problem if I just dealt with that, then my sleep would get better on its own. And that’s not really the case. I had a few nights of bad sleep. From a combination of probably a few months worth of some significant, life stressors that were going on and that was how my body like responded.

Jessica: It was like, we’re done. Like you, you are too revved up. And because I was in the thick of it and it was like a slow boil. I just didn’t. I didn’t recognize it like at the time. And so yes, dealing with life stressors is an issue. What I came to find out through starting therapy, in this process and talking with you and work and working through all these steps was that what I was doing with like life stressors in general, as I was just like white knuckling my way through them.

Jessica: Like I would be like, I’m fine. I’m dealing with it. Like it’s fine. It’s not a big deal. And I just keep busting through every day, all day long, work and kids and family life and stressors. And that has like a, a, a cumulative effect. If you’re not actually dealing with it, I like suppressed and pushed down emotions and I just blasted through every day and not really taking the time to honor my emotions or my thoughts.

Jessica: And that I think is what led me to, having this bit of, of initial insomnia. And then, and then it became the insomnia that was really the driving force of all that anxiety. Because I had a lot of thoughts about… Now I can see I had a lot of thoughts about in insomnia, like I shouldn’t be having it.

Jessica: I should be able to sleep. I used to be able to just go upstairs whenever I thought I should go to sleep and I would just fall asleep. And I never had any issues, so I shouldn’t have them now. And so I had a lot of thoughts about that, that they shouldn’t be occurring. The should, should, should, right?

Jessica: And, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but that it was that insomnia and my thoughts about insomnia that were really driving all that, that secondary anxiety, which is what I was really like responding to.

Martin: When you talk about like that white knuckling through it all, I think that might be connected as you touched upon, to, trying to just suppress certain thoughts, certain feelings, certain emotions, right? And a symptom of when we’re trying to suppress them can be all those stories coming up in our mind. Like, why am I having to do this? Like, why is everyone else able to do this but I can’t? Why am I struggling so much?

Martin: And then… We can get caught up in that attempt to suppress those too, right? So now we’re trying to suppress our emotions, then we’re trying to suppress our feelings, then we’re trying to suppress the thoughts and the stories and all of this stuff. And boy, that’s, that just takes so much energy, right?

Martin: And we’re engaged in that struggle to fight or avoid everything that’s going on inside our minds. On top of, if we’ve got busy human lives like most of us do, and all the stress that comes with just being a human being and having to get through every day, and it just all piles on top and makes everything so much more difficult.

Jessica: Yeah, yeah, it becomes like the knot of the Christmas lights, yeah, where everything’s affecting everything. Yeah, I definitely, it definitely wasn’t. I probably didn’t have the best just general stress management techniques and accepting what is, uh, and, uh, like honoring that feeling or emotion, accepting it and then moving on. I’ve gotten a lot better with that. Thanks to insomnia. Actually, now I look at it like it was like this gift to me that I learned so many valuable lessons that make me like a better, friend and spouse and provider, to like my patients. Uh, because I learned a lot of valuable things from this experience.

Martin: We’re going to try and mine your brain a little bit to get some of that, that good stuff out to help other people as well that might be listening to this. So, first and foremost, when, when this anxiety turns up whether it’s the physical sensations or whether it’s difficult thoughts and feelings that are being generated by the brain.

Martin: From your experience, what did you find was. a useful or a more helpful way of responding to them compared to how I think most of us are hardwired to respond, which is to try and get rid of them. What did you find was a more, a more useful way to practice responding?

Jessica: So I used to tell my, so it depends, if it was like at night when I was laying in bed the thoughts of I should be able to sleep right now. And I’d say, Oh, I’m just, I’m not right tired right now. I just have to respect my body. Like my body saying it’s not tired right now. So I’m going to have to, do the steps that you told me if I don’t feel good laying in bed, I’m going to get up and get out.

Jessica: That was of course after, going, going through your your course. And then I, or if I’d start to feel myself getting really anxious, I literally would, for me, it works good to talk back to the thought which sounds a little like wonky, but I would just say like you’re safe right now you’re in bed.

Jessica: You’re safe, there’s nothing else going around you’re okay and if you don’t sleep a little bit, you don’t sleep, you don’t sleep, or if you sleep, you sleep that practicing acceptance, or I would just say I feel anxious right now, and I would just try to take deep breaths and know and keep telling myself that it was, I was, I was okay nothing serious was going to happen to me and this is of course through stages.

Jessica: But those are the things that that worked well for me. And then of course doing your steps I learned that I. Had to wait till I was sleepy to go upstairs to go to bed because of like my brain learned really quickly that the bed and the bedroom and trying to sleep was like the enemy.

Jessica: And it ramped up this big, like response to it. It took time for that to, to resolve and get better. And it wasn’t always linear. So I, I would have to like, watch like some quiet show I watched all of Downton Abbey. I watched uh, uh, to call a midwife, these really quiet, like non, uh, energizing shows animal shows at night gentle talking to kind of like calm you down and took hours.Hours to calm me down and, and have my body and my brain in a spot where it was ready to actually go to sleep.

Martin: Did you ever have the experience where you’re hanging out, watching TV, or doing whatever you’re doing, you start to feel really sleepy, like you’re drifting, maybe finding it really hard to stay awake, then you go off to bed, and then it’s like this switch flicks, and you’re suddenly wide awake again.

Jessica: Definitely, like on the couch I could get sleepy and tired, especially 1, 2 o’clock, and then I would get to bed, and I would feel like right back awake again. And uh, definitely that happened in the beginning. And then very quickly, things got better for a bit and then they stayed in this weird zone where I, I felt like I was like walking on eggshells a little bit about sleep and I can’t ever talk about it with anybody cause then I’m keeping it alive and I can’t read a bed and I can’t do this and I can’t do that.

Jessica: I can’t live my life. And it’s all modeled around like sleep and not sleeping and cause it wasn’t like Really bad. I wasn’t having all this anxiety, but it wasn’t normal either.

Martin: How did you respond to that kind of switch being flicked? So you’re staying out of bed, till, say, 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock in the morning, finding it really hard to stay awake. You go to bed and then, boom, you feel wide awake again. How did you respond to that?

Jessica: I got out of bed and I went back downstairs and I’d watch more TV. And in the beginning, that was a lot. And then as time progressed that got better. And then as that kind of initial, I don’t know, six months where it was really intense, I had this ability to look back a little bit and see and understand, that it was just my brain looking at the bed as it’s time to be awake now. Like now it’s just time to be awake. And I could see that in, in how my body was responding and then the information that you get when you do your course.

Martin: To use that kind of battleground analogy again. I think it’s a bit like, we’re behind the, we’re behind the enemy front lines when we’re sitting on the couch, so we’re no threat there, so we feel that strong sense of sleepiness, then we move to the bedroom and we’re back on the front lines and the brain, I don’t think it’s necessarily an issue where the brain is oh, this is a place we have to be awake, so we’re going to be awake, but it’s a place where it’s like, Oh, here comes the battle now, we got the, the, the enemy is lurking here, so we’ve got to fire up everything to protect, to protect you from, from all these warriors that are about to face us down, so then we get feel wide awake, thanks brain, because you’re protecting us from this, this threat that you perceive is no different to a physical threat, it thinks that this is a real threat, so it’s firing up So really what we want to do is just to maybe train the brain that It’s okay that we’re awake, we might wish we were asleep for sure.

Martin: But it’s not a physical threat. It’s not the same thing as being on the front lines in the middle of a war zone. It can be really uncomfortable. We would much rather be asleep. But like you said earlier, we’re safe, even though it feels we’re not safe. We are safe.

Jessica: Yeah, my, I would have this kind of thought and it wasn’t like a loud thought. It was like this quiet subdued thought of, am I going to be able to sleep? When I go upstairs to bed, am I gonna, and I think that’s enough for your brain to start thinking about, are you, am I I don’t know. Let’s find out. And, uh, that, that would happen to me for sure.

Jessica: Yeah. Or, or I lay in bed and all of a sudden my brain, I think I would have that kind of, am I going to be able to sleep? And then my brain would just kick on. And it like a song I heard during the day, like the words would start replaying or like a conversation or a thought process that maybe I didn’t finish during the day what kind of kick back on.

Jessica: And that’s partially, and that stuff was going on, of course, in that like really intense period too. That’s why I thought it was, the anxiety piece of it Oh, my brain just won’t shut off. Like it just keeps generating thoughts. And I realized that there was like this one day where I had heard a song and during the day that this, the song was playing in my head, doing normal things and I was like, well, wait a minute. This song going on during the day in my head and doesn’t seem to bother me at all. But at night in my bed, suddenly now it’s a problem. Hmm. Like this doesn’t make sense to me. Like I realized that like my brain was actually doing the same thing.

Jessica: Uh, it was always doing generating thoughts and songs and this and that. And, but I was labeling it as bad in the bed. Oh, this is the reason why I, this is why I can’t sleep. My brain feels like it’s going. And I could see that it actually wasn’t like a problem, but I thought it was at the time.

Jessica: My brain said I thought this is a problem, but, and then, then it didn’t bother me anymore. So once I had that insight, I could have another song in my head play again and it didn’t bother me at all. Like I was like, that’s fine.

Martin: Yeah. That’s, that’s really interesting. And something I was curious to hear your thoughts on was, when you said that you were able to start getting more comfortable with listening to what your brain might have been saying, whether it was helpful or not and maybe having a little conversation with your mind when it was generating thoughts, feelings not necessarily to dispute what it was saying, but maybe just like more of a curious mind with some curiosity, or maybe just being like, yeah, that might happen.

Martin: Or why are we thinking this? What does, what’s the information? What’s the insight behind this thought? What is, what’s the meaning behind this? Is there some important information here? Were you able to share? Practice doing that when you were in bed and that’s, and the kind of brain flicked into like hyperdrive, overdrive.

Martin: Were you able to get any practice in with that whilst you were in bed, or did you find that you would just get out of bed and maybe, maybe work on responding to those thoughts and those feelings in a different way out of bed? I’m just curious to hear what your, what your personal approach was, just because everyone is different.

Jessica: Sometimes I was able to do it in bed. Like I… If I felt like comfortable, like I, I wanted to be in bed, but my brain was like, generating a lot of like thoughts. I would try to be like, well, is that really the case? Am I fine? Like I, I, I would just kind of like try to be more rational because, when you’re all worked up about something, usually that’s not the time that you’re very rational, right?

Jessica: Like they, you’re all upset, someone says, calm down, you don’t calm down. So I tried to have a rational, uh, and I tried to be more rational in the moment and question like with curiosity more than to get caught up in that. But I, I was able to sometimes and other times. I was still too revved up and I wouldn’t be able to and I would have to, wait till I calmed back down again.

Jessica: And that was probably, where I was on in my journey, right? And that maybe depended on the day, like how my day went or. What kind of other, uh, internal strings I could gather, like at that, at that day versus some other days that aren’t that great, you know.

Martin: Some people are just like, if I’m going to be awake in bed and it’s really unpleasant, I’m just going to get out of bed and do something more pleasant instead. Until I feel those cues for sleepiness again. Other people are just kind of like…

Martin: I’m just going to allow this to happen whilst I’m in bed. I’m just going to practice responding to this stuff. Maybe just observing it rather than trying to fight or avoid it. And, I don’t think either approach really makes much difference. It’s really about what our intent, what our goal is.

Martin: And as long as our goal is… Just to practice experiencing that wakefulness with less of a struggle. It doesn’t really matter whether we’re engaged in that process in bed. Or out of bed. What we’re really looking to do is to avoid moving away from that battle, right? From going to war with the wakefulness and the thoughts and the feelings that might be showing up.

Martin: And if we can practice responding in a way that involves less struggle, it probably doesn’t matter too much whether we’re… In bed or whether we’re out of bed.

Jessica: Yeah, I, I do remember my brain would sometimes say Uh, like you don’t know how to sleep or you can’t sleep. And I’m like, that’s not true. Like I slept three nights ago. You know what I mean? So I, I I didn’t try to engage too much, but there’s times where uh, that worked really well for me and I could relax right down, it’s that fight. It’s that like struggle. That can really keep you going.

Martin: Absolutely. So, something that you mentioned earlier, which I’m keen to explore as well is, So, when we’re tangled up in this struggle and then we feel like we’ve got this new approach that’s proving to be helpful, it can feel a little bit like, we’re walking on eggshells, we’re we’re noticing improvements, things are getting better, but there’s always that kind of residual nervousness or fear that it’s all going to come tumbling down like a big house of cards or something and we’re going to be back tangled up again. And then that can lead us to. Still acting in ways that might not be, we’re acting in this way because this is what we want to do. This is the life you want to live, but we might be getting influenced by, I’m going to act in this way to protect sleep or to avoid thinking or feeling in a certain, feeling certain ways.

Martin: So for anyone listening to this, you might feel like. Yeah, I’ve been making progress, but, my confidence is still a little bit shaky and maybe I’m still doing things in an attempt to protect my sleep or to avoid certain thoughts, feelings that might trigger insomnia.

Martin: How did you get through that last obstacle? So it felt like you weren’t walking on eggshells all the time. What was that process like for you?

Jessica: Well, I called you. Part of it is, like reaching out to people that are going to help you. Right. So, that was you, at that time, which I’m eternally grateful for.

Jessica: I, I was, wasn’t fully free yet. Right. But it was a lot better. And there’d be times where probably I was a little bit more stressed or just like life stress. Right. And then it would kind of like start to go the other way. And then I quickly start getting out of bed again and going to bed later. And then it would get better and it would just like wibble wobble between those two spots.

Jessica: But I wasn’t ever like better, better where I felt free to not worry. Right. And. And I was having behaviors that were, in a way, reinforcing that insomnia is something bad and, and serious. Like not reading in bed. I always read in bed before. Or, watching a scary show or something like that.

Jessica: Uh, I did those things before and it was like, fine. And so I was always really like fearful of it. Like it was like this dark, creepy guy, just in the, like the periphery, uh, of my vision. And I felt like I just wasn’t. There was something not clicking yet with me and when we spoke you, you insinuated or talked about Oh wow, you have a lot of uh, thoughts about, sleep still, like you still have a lot of thoughts about it and you have a lot of judgments.

Jessica: And I was like, I like started crying. I was like, Oh my goodness. I had another insight that I was judging my sleep if I was sleeping that night, how well I slept that night uh, and the judgments about it was packed with a form of nonacceptance. I had no idea like that was the case. I had no idea that as I was judging my sleep every night I was not practicing just accepting what is right and what, what’s going on.

Jessica: And that’s like a point of resistance. It’s a bit of the habit of white knuckling my way through things, it’s judging it and critiquing it. And when you do that, you’re not just accepting that you’re tired right now or you’re not and, and, that I realized. Was keeping it alive a little bit like it was a little bit of the fire or the the Oxygen for the fire and it was keeping it alive And since I’ve had that Realization things have gotten a lot better and and progressively better where I, I really don’t struggle with it anymore.

Jessica: There’s no struggle. I still have nights where I don’t sleep as great. Or I have a hard time falling asleep. Or maybe for some reason, like my kid wakes me up at 3. 30 and then I have a hard time falling back asleep. And okay, like it’s not a thing anymore to me. And that’s like a slow, a slow washing away.

Jessica: But I realized because I’m not judging it anymore. I’m not judging if it’s good or bad to sleep. I’m not judging how I did with sleep, right? Like I’m just accepting what is I didn’t sleep so good. Well, I was a little bit worried about something else or a little stress like, okay. Or I, there’s just this nonchalantness about it that I used to probably have on my episodic, sleepless nights or whatever. That I now have again. And I don’t have judgments about it. I don’t judge or critique it in any way. I just accept it for what it is. I’m constantly trying to do that with life because I’m always like, I’m a trier, I’m a doer, like I’m always like working really hard at something and with sleep, it does not work like that.

Jessica: If the more attention and focus and walking on eggshells around it and, and doing different activities. You’re just reinforcing that it’s like this big beast, and, and, and you’re not just saying, Oh, it’s part of life. It’s okay. It’s all good.

Martin: There’s so much great stuff there. I think when people sometimes hear the word acceptance, some people struggle with that.

Martin: Accepting. Like, how do I accept this? This is awful. This is like the worst I’ve ever felt in my life. How do I accept insomnia? How do I accept anxiety? How do I accept the fatigue that comes with it? How do I accept all the distracting thoughts and feelings? Why should I accept it? I don’t want to accept it.

Martin: How do we get our heads around this? Like, how is acceptance helpful? And if someone is listening to this and they’re thinking, I don’t want to accept it. How would you explain… The possibilities that acceptance might be a helpful approach.

Jessica: I would say I was there too. And when I was really like revved up about everything, I definitely was like, I don’t accept this. I, but again, that was part of my problem is I didn’t accept what was. And so I was creating a battle in that. I think I had an internal shift like an internal realization. And it was like a light bulb went off and I don’t think you can force that. Of course, you can’t force that on yourself, like you can’t make yourself realize this or see this it has to happen naturally, I think and I think it’s being open, open to the idea that what if this kind of concept of.

Jessica: What if that other person is right? What if, like what if Jessica’s right? What if I’m judging it or not accepting it? And then I’m doing things because I don’t accept it and that’s what’s keeping it alive. It’s this idea that what if I’m thinking about things incorrectly and someone else that’s been through it may have a different approach that works.

Jessica: I think that is like that kind of open curiosity is what can move you through the steps. For me, but I would say I was there like I had that big internal battle that I didn’t accept insomnia and I didn’t want to have it. And. I was probably ashamed, even I didn’t really talk about it with many people because I was like so like ashamed by it, like this big secret or something.

Jessica: But in that we’re, we’re giving life to it in a way, uh, yeah. I don’t know that you can force that. Again, you can’t force. You’re trying to like force things. There’s like this tension and pressure I’ve never done well in anything By really forcing that doesn’t mean I don’t work hard like for school or, or, or whatever.

Jessica: There’s a lot of things that I work hard for. I, I, I do the reading and I do the studying more, other kinds of examples like that, but I don’t force it. I do the steps, I do the work but if I try to force, force, force, force, force, that’s when things don’t happen. They don’t work well. It’s better when I like do what I, what I can do, do what you can control and let the rest go.

Jessica: That is where in my life in general, I’ve made any headways in growth, like as a human being. And, and in insomnia, it’s been the same way, from, it’s, it’s, my life has really followed that. And any time I steer from that is usually when I get a bit jumbled.

Martin: I think sometimes it comes down to controllability.

Martin: So there’s some things that we can control. But even when there are things we can control. We can’t necessarily control the outcome. So an example would be I’ve got an exam I have to study for so I can control studying. I can read the books, do the work, do the studying. But I can’t guarantee the outcome, right?

Martin: I can’t guarantee I’m going to pass that exam. I can’t guarantee I’m going to get a certain score on that exam. I can only control the act of studying for that exam. And I think that sometimes that’s where we can get tripped up, right? Is we can have this outcome or this goal that we want to reach.

Martin: And that’s usually helpful to have goals to work toward. But the actual goal itself, we usually can’t make happen. We can work toward it. And that’s where we can get a little bit distracted. And that’s where I think sometimes the word acceptance can be useful. Because it’s about really just accepting that there are, there is stuff that we can’t control.

Martin: There’s stuff we can control. And there’s stuff we can’t control, and it’s when we get tangled up into trying to control what we can’t control, that maybe we’re more likely to get caught up in that struggle.

Jessica: Definitely. Definitely. Definitely. Yeah, you can’t control a lot, unfortunately. Uh, and, uh, I definitely think I went…and probably still do a lot, go through life with this kind of, I’m going to control for everything. And to have it be the exact way I want it to be because that’s the way it should be. Right. And I was like that about sleep. I’m going to try to control it, because that’s how, how it should be.

Jessica: I should be able to sleep and I should be able to sleep when I want to sleep and I shouldn’t have this problem. And letting that go a little bit because I can’t control it. I cannot control if I’m going to fall asleep. Like I was a little nervous for the interview, today. So I didn’t, I didn’t sleep as well last night, but I feel fine, like I, and it took me a little bit longer to fall asleep and, and then I, my son woke me up and it took me like a lot longer that to fall back asleep and I’m like right back.

Jessica: But I was a little worried. I was like a little nervous. But it’s okay because I didn’t judge it. I didn’t try to control it. I was like, okay, like this is what it is. I’m just not gonna get the best night’s sleep that I want to, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. But it took me a long time to get there.

Martin: It’s so funny hearing you say about your night last night because I I’ve done like 50 of these episodes, and I still get nervous the night before and the day of when my mind’s generating all these thoughts and feelings about it. So I’m just lying there in bed thinking about it, and then my son wakes up.

Martin: He’s, uh, two years old. He’s a little bit under the weather right now. So he comes into the bed with us, and he sleeps sideways. He doesn’t sleep like a regular person. And so we’re in our bed. And I got my wife and my son is right across the bed and basically he’s, his legs are resting across my face.

Martin: And that’s the only way he will sleep when he’s, when he’s in our bed, cause he doesn’t feel good. And so I’m lying there and then I’m thinking, okay, so I’ve got, we’ve got this podcast we’ve got to do. We’ve got these emails from clients. We’ve got some other phone calls booked. Okay. We’ve got all this coming up tomorrow and then we’ve got to plan the weekend.

Martin: And then all that time I’ve got this foot. In my eyeballs but you know. It is, like you said, it’s about how we respond to it, right? Because I could have responded by just getting really mad, really self judgmental maybe cancelled everything I had planned for today, or I could have accepted that, yeah, this guy, I wish that I could maybe shut the brain off, but I know from experience I can’t.

Martin: It’s my brain doing its job looking out for me. I know from experience that even if I move my son, He’s going to go sideways again. I’m not going to be able to get him to fall asleep somewhere else tonight. So I’m probably going to spend quite, quite a good chunk of time awake. But it’s about acknowledging that, being kind to yourself when things feel difficult accepting that we can’t really control that stuff, and then committing to what we can control which, in this example, for you, it was, thank goodness, and I’m really grateful for it, for you giving up your time and still coming on today And, I had a difficult night too.

Martin: Here I am still. Just still doing those things because they matter to us. Not because we necessarily feel obligated to do them, but we’re just doing things that are important, things that matter. Those are the things that we can control even after difficult nights or even when there’s difficult stuff showing up for us that we can’t directly control and get rid of.

Jessica: Yeah, I guess before this course, I never realized how much our actions affect. Like our thoughts, I thought it was just thoughts to action. I didn’t Understand that it could go the other way too. So I definitely again one of the beautiful things that I learned from all of this Was that our our our actions can really?

Jessica: Influence our thoughts and that’s that’s really important it’s an important, important piece of this for sure. Yeah, and I definitely still have nights like that too. Just like last night.

Martin: I think most of us can recognize how our thoughts can influence our actions. I just feel like too tired, I can’t do this, then we don’t do something.

Martin: On the flip side, how did you find in your experience that your actions could also influence your thoughts or your relationship with your thoughts?

Jessica: Ooh, that’s a good one. So I think in general. It was always doing what I was going to do, like going to work every day in the very beginning when it was really, really intense.

Jessica: I like called out of work one day which is like super unlike me. And, uh, I, I was like, really, cause I was so anxious, like all day long, this anxiety all day long kind of thing. And, uh, so I think going and doing what your plan is and not. Skipping out. I, even when things were kind of like, okay, but not great.

Jessica: Because it wasn’t a hundred percent linear plan. There was like group vacations and trips and stuff that we had planned. And I was a little like, Oh, I don’t know if I’m going to go, I’m not going to sleep. What am I going to do? And like that whole thing. But I did it. I was like, you know what?

Jessica: I’m going to do it. I’m going to go. And if I don’t sleep, Oh, well. I’m going to go and I’m going to have fun. Even when I was in the throes of it, I still and it was really bad. I still went to have this big family trip and I went and suffered all night long. But I still did my thing during the day.

Jessica: So going and doing what you’re planning on doing is like a pinhole in a tire. You know what I mean? It’s, it doesn’t feel like a lot, but over the course of time. You’re leaking air out of that tire, if the tires insomnia, you it’s it’s leaking that air It’s leaking that life out of it.

Jessica: So I do think that’s really important stopping all the medications Was really important because to be honest, they they weren’t even really helping me. And, and I, and I say really meaning that they weren’t helping me at all. Like I could take a lot and I’d be like, still really wired. So slowly and rather quickly, I think weaning off of those so maybe it wasn’t slowly, it was rather quickly weaning off those.

Jessica: But I didn’t just stop them cold turkey, I guess is my point. Because taking the medicine is communicating to your brain that the insomnia is a really bad thing. And so that was helpful for me talking about it a little bit because when I, I’m a bit of a open book. Sometimes, and, and, and if I’m keeping things a secret from other people it’s kind of like keeping it like alive in a way.

Jessica: I’m not like kind of like freeing myself. So not like obsessively talking about it, but, but saying I had a hard night or something or when I was talking with a friend and just being open and honest about it For me, that was an action. That represented, uh, that it wasn’t a big deal, nothing to be ashamed of, right?

Jessica: Nothing to hide. I can understand there’s that whole process where if you keep talking and talking and talking about it all the time, you’re keeping it alive. But it was the other way for me, at least to not be like shameful about it.

Martin: The whole topic of medication is itself really interesting when it comes to sleep because some people say, feel that it is really helpful, other people find that it’s not helpful at all, other people find it’s helpful but they don’t want to be taking it other people find it helpful and they’re fine taking it, which is, which is fine, right?

Martin: We’re the experts on ourselves at the end of the day so if we feel like this is something we want to move away from, I think what you’ve, you’ve showing us is that it is possible first and foremost. But anytime we talk about medication, always good to talk to your doctor first before making any of those changes.

Martin: Now you’re able to reflect back on this whole journey, this whole process. If we had to put like an approximate timeline on it, like, how long roughly would you say that it took for you to get to a point where sleep wasn’t something that you felt was like this ongoing struggle, to use your word, you felt free from it, more free. You were able to act independently of sleep. How long did it take you to get to that point, would you say?

Jessica: There was an intense, probably like six months and then another six months where it was kind of like, getting a little bit better. I would say, like eight months. Cause I remember you sending me a thing like, Oh, it’s a year. And I was like, Oh wow. I don’t even feel like it’s an issue anymore.

Martin: I like to ask this question in more recent episodes, just because when we talk, talk these things through, we can, they sound a lot more simple when we’re just using words to just describe the process, but in reality, the actual.

Martin: The physical process itself usually takes time. There’s usually ups and downs. So I think when people put that into words, it was closer to months or maybe even a year rather than days or weeks that can give us a more realistic idea that this isn’t easy. It is often difficult.

Martin: It does take a lot of ongoing practice. And it’s not a quick fix and progress is very rarely linear, but we can get to that point where we free ourselves from that struggle. But it’s very rarely a quick or an easy journey.

Jessica: Yeah, that’s true. Uh, but you know, that’s life. Unfortunately, it’s rarely ever quick or easy.

Martin: I’m really grateful for the time you’ve taken out of your day to come onto the episode, Jessica. I’ve just got one last question for you which I’d really love to hear your insights on. 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, beyond hope maybe that they’ll never be able to stop struggling with insomnia, what would you say to them?

Jessica: I would say to do your course. I, I would say, do the course. Or an equivalent course and say to yourself, what if it could get better if I tried a different approach, what, what, what would happen if I tried this approach? Can I try this approach, because that’s really what worked for me.

Jessica: And I think it could work for them too.

Martin: Thank you again, Jessica, for taking the time out to come on and share your experience.

Jessica: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

Martin: 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.

Martin: 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

Martin: 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

Martin: 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 move away from the insomnia struggle so you can start living the life you want to live, click here to get my online insomnia coaching course.

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2 thoughts on “How Jessica broke free from insomnia by letting go and accepting it without judgement (#54)”

    • Many people experience that same confusion, Ernest — insomnia can be really difficult and feel really mysterious. Did you find anything useful or helpful in my discussion with Jessica?

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