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How Jessica transformed her relationship with sleep by challenging her sleep-related thoughts and changing her sleep-related behaviors (#22)

Listen to the podcast episode (audio only)

When Jessica moved back to her hometown with her husband and two children she began to struggle with sleep. She soon found herself spending a lot of time researching sleep and experimented with different supplements and techniques to improve her sleep.

When none of these things worked, Jessica found herself becoming increasingly obsessed with sleep and started to really worry about how she’d function if her sleep didn’t improve — after all, she was a stay-at-home mom with two small children!

Jessica started to believe that she’d lost the ability to sleep and was losing hope — until she learned more about how insomnia develops and realized that her insomnia wasn’t unique or unusual.

When Jessica recognized many of the common thoughts and behaviors that perpetuate sleep disruption in her own experience with insomnia, she started to feel a sense of hope. This allowed her to start exploring and challenging her beliefs about sleep while implementing behaviors that build sleep drive, strengthen the body clock, and reduce sleep-related worry and anxiety.

Today, Jessica rarely thinks about sleep and it no longer controls her life. She is able to do all the things she once put off because of concern about how they might affect her sleep and this has given her a whole new outlook on life.

Jessica transformed her relationship with sleep by challenging her sleep-related thoughts and implementing helpful sleep-related behaviors. If Jessica can do it, you can, too!

Click here for a full transcript of this episode.

Martin Reed:
Welcome to the Insomnia Coach Podcast. My name is Martin Reed. I believe that nobody needs to live with chronic insomnia and that evidence-based cognitive and behavioral techniques can help you enjoy better sleep for the rest of your life.

Martin Reed:
The content of this podcast is provided for informational and educational purposes only. It is not medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, disorder, or medical condition. It should never replace any advice given to you by your physician or any other licensed healthcare provider. Insomnia Coach LLC offers coaching services only and does not provide therapy, counseling, medical advice, or medical treatment. The statements and opinions expressed by guests are their own and are not necessarily endorsed by Insomnia Coach LLC. All content is provided “as is” and without warranties, either express or implied.

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

Jessica Brondyke:
Yeah, thanks for asking me to join you.

Martin Reed:
Absolutely, I always like to just start right at the very beginning with everyone that I talk to so I’m going to do the same for you. When did your sleep problems first begin and what do you think caused your initial issues with sleep?

Jessica Brondyke:
Okay, it was almost four years ago now, so back in 2016, my husband and I moved back to our hometown from Georgia. And that was just a huge transition for us in our life, we had two small kids, sold a house, we’re looking to buy a house. He was totally changing jobs, we left a community that we… It was just a lot of stress and change. I was also nursing my youngest daughter at that time, and she was not sleeping very well during the night. And I mean, I had never really thought about it, but all of a sudden when she would wake up and I would put her back to sleep, I wasn’t able to go back to sleep then. And so then the next day I would just feel terrible and immediately I just began worrying about it and researching like, “What can I do? Why is this happening?” Trying to really control her and make her sleep so I could sleep, then I remember we had crickets in the rental house we were in, it was just something constantly that was keeping me awake.

Jessica Brondyke:
And then it kind of leveled back out for awhile and I never really thought about it, every now and then, maybe once a month I would have an off night, especially if we were traveling, but I would always fall back to sleep, I’d still get a couple of hours. But before that I was just used to sleeping and never thinking about it like I fell asleep watching movies all the… I mean, I was just the type of person that went to bed early, slept all night, didn’t think about it.

Jessica Brondyke:
And so then fast forward to the next fall, it began to be an issue again. And so I was seeking, I’ve always really wanted to do things naturally, I guess, when it comes to supplements, medication, that kind of thing. So I sought out a natural doctor just to see if my… I was thinking hormones are off, I wasn’t sure what was going on. And she started me on this cleanse and a lot of supplements. I think some things for the liver and thyroid and just a lot of different things. And for two weeks I felt great, was sleeping great. And then all of a sudden, one night I woke up at one, I think, and I could not get back to sleep. So for the next about 10 days, that same thing happened and I was just really, I became super obsessed about it like, “How am I going to be able to function? I’m a stay at home mom with two little kids.” And my husband was actually going through another job change at that time, so there was just a lot going on too, that now I see that makes sense.

Jessica Brondyke:
But basically I started experiencing anxiety that week that I had never known before, I had a couple of panic attacks, even concerning not being able to sleep. And I really think that little stretch of time created some different trauma affects in my brain towards sleeping. I’d thought I lost the ability to sleep, I just felt I was going crazy. So I went to the doctor because I was really just like, “What is wrong with me?” And she prescribed Ambien then, just to kind of see if it would even things back out. Well, I was super afraid of the medication then and so basically anxiety just became a really big issue for me through this.

Jessica Brondyke:
And so she also recommended that I look into the root cause of anxiety and different things, so I started seeing my therapist around that time. And we’ve been addressing so many different things in my life but this sleep issue and my thoughts towards it, they just wouldn’t leave. I would get back into a routine of sleeping well, and then I would feel anxious about something and it would just come back full force. And I kept thinking I was over it and it would come back. So that pretty much has been the way it’s gone until this last spring, when I found your information and I’m just so thankful. I kind of had heard about CBT-I a little bit, just because I was doing some cognitive behavioral therapy in my sessions with my therapist, but I just really thought I was broken concerning it. And I didn’t think there was hope honestly. And so that… Yeah, that’s how it all started.

Martin Reed:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. I always like to start with that question, how do you think this all began? Because virtually everyone listening will be able to identify with at least a certain part of your story in terms of there’s almost always this point, this memorable initial trigger or a bunch of them. And for you, you had this whole list of them, you were moving, you had a baby in the house that it was disrupting your sleep, your husband had changed his job, this huge period of change. And upon reflection, it’s quite understandable that sleep will be disrupted. And most of the time what would happen is as soon as we’ve adapted to that situation our sleep just gets right back on track as though nothing ever happened.

Martin Reed:
But sometimes what can happen is quite understandably, we become concerned by this sleep disruption. We start to worry is there’s something wrong, is there a chemical imbalance in my body? There’s something wrong with me. And that change in the thought process, the change in our relationship with sleep is often what turns what might have otherwise been just this kind of short blip in sleep disruption and can kind of transform it into a longer term problem. So just hearing your description of it in your own words, to, I know, is just going to be really helpful for a lot of people.

Jessica Brondyke:
Well, I totally relate to what you’re saying about that. I think for a lot of people they just would’ve gotten over it and continued sleeping well, but for me it became an obsession and I don’t shame myself for that because I did what I knew to do in that time of my life. But it’s good to see that and to know I’m not, the biological process of that is not broken, it will always come back abut I’ve learned that through you, so I’m very thankful.

Martin Reed:
You made a really important point there that we shouldn’t blame ourselves or feel bad that we’ve engaged in these thought processes or this effort to improve the situation because of course we want to improve the situation, our sleep is disrupted so we want to put the effort into fixing the problem. But the thing with sleep is it’s different to pretty much everything else in that it responds negatively to effort. So everything else in our life responds positively to effort and sleep is the one thing that the opposite is true.

Martin Reed:
So it’s quite understandable that we put effort into fixing the situation, but unfortunately it is often that effort that perpetuates the problem. So it is important not to blame yourself or shame yourself for the efforts that you put into fixing this situation, because of course you tried to fix it. It’s just a case of being aware of the best and most constructive ways of doing that.

Jessica Brondyke:
Right, I totally agree.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. You touched upon, you were having these issues waking up around one o’clock in the morning and then finding it really hard to fall back to sleep, where you’re typically finding it pretty easy to fall asleep at the start of the night, or was that a problem too?

Jessica Brondyke:
That was never a problem until I began really worrying about it and then I would be so… Yeah, I would say the first year of the occasional insomnia, it was mainly waking up and not being able to fall back asleep. Now I can even remember the thoughts I would have during that would be, “Oh, no, I only have a couple hours before my alarm clock will go off. What am I going to do tomorrow?” Especially if there was something big happening the next day, I’m going to feel awful. but then as I began to create this anxiety surrounding it, it was even hard to fall asleep. So then if you have both of those things that makes for some pretty bad nights. So yeah, I would say at the beginning it was just waking up and not being able to fall back asleep, but it quickly became all of it.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, and no wonder that you found yourself increasingly worried and concerned when it first started off as waking during the night, and then it progressed into difficulty falling asleep because then in your mind you’re thinking, “Well, I’m on some kind of downward spiral here. What’s going to happen next? How can my sleep possibly get any worse?” And that can just feed into that worry and anxiety, which in turn makes things more difficult, unfortunately. So you said that you found me, you found an insomnia coach, as you learned more about these evidence-based cognitive and behavioral techniques was there anything in particular that really resonated with you? Like the theory behind these techniques and how did you see them as applying to your life and your circumstances and your relationship with sleep?

Jessica Brondyke:
I started just listening to the very first podcast I remember, and it really from the beginning, I just felt an immense comfort that I was not alone. Even that there was a coach for this, that I think you mentioned you suffered a little bit with insomnia. And I would say the comfort of that kept me coming back and like, “Okay, there’s hope, there’s a little bit of hope here. I’ve never heard this hope before.” And then I remember you mentioning the three P’s and sometimes I forget what they are, but precipitating, perpetuating, and you may want to say that.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, so we have to the predisposed, the precipitating and the perpetuating factors.

Jessica Brondyke:
There you go. All three of those, I was able to kind of go back into how this began for me and even how it was continuing and see… It was like, “Oh wow, this makes total sense.” So that was a huge one for me. And then just hearing the fact that sleep is a biological process that happens and you really, the only… The gas and brake concept, I guess, of where the only thing that stops it is hyper arousal. And I knew that, I was like, “Well, I know that is what is happening for me.” It helps me come away from the idea that something is wrong with me and more of this is something more psychological, I guess, within my mind. But that can be a little disheartening at first because then you have to start creating new thought patterns and it takes time. So I think those are the main ones that it was just right away I resonated with and started observing myself through that.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, I think it can be really helpful just to recognize first and foremost that you’re not alone because it can be really easy to believe that your insomnia is unique or it’s different to everyone else’s. And when you can hear these stories from other people, you can recognize so much of your own experience in other people’s stories. And then when you can do that, it does give you that hope because especially when you’re hearing stories of transformation because you can identify, “Oh, my insomnia was pretty much exactly like that persons, they did this, this and this and now they’re doing so much better.” So that gives you that hope that you can do the same and be successful too.

Martin Reed:
And yeah, just to briefly cover that three P model, it basically just explains how insomnia goes from just this temporary sleep disruption to a longer term problem. And it’s so predictable, we actually have a model for it called the three P model. So the first P is predisposed factors, so some of us are just more predisposed to sleep disruption for whatever reason. Maybe it’s genetic. Maybe we just more reactive to stress. Maybe we have stressful jobs. Maybe we are on call, all these things that just kind of put us a little bit more at risk for sleep disruption.

Martin Reed:
And then we have the second P, which is the precipitating factors, and these are just those initial triggers for that sleep disruption. So maybe we moved house, maybe we ended a relationship, maybe we got into a new relationship, we went on vacation, just a change, just anything, there’s as many initial triggers for sleep disruption as there are people in the world. We could be here all day listing all the potential disruptors there are.

Martin Reed:
And normally once we kind of adapt to whatever that initial trigger was, we’ll go back to sleeping as we did before. But sometimes this third P can get in the way, and these are the perpetuating factors. And these are typically all the things we do in response to that sleep disruption, quite understandably in a bit to improve our sleep. So they might be things we’ll start to spend more time in bed. We’ll start to sleep in late in the mornings. We’ll start researching sleep, experimenting with supplements, Sleepytime teas, trying to add exercise or mix up different types of exercise in our days, cancel plans with friends and all these different things, basically sleep just becomes part of our decision making process in life. And all these things unfortunately tend to just perpetuate the problem and that’s how we go from just short term sleep disruption into a more chronic problem.

Martin Reed:
So I always to explain that to people, because just as you described, it’s almost knowledge is power, right? Once you can identify that everything you experienced is somewhat normal and to be expected, it can really give you that confidence that therefore this isn’t something necessarily unusual and it can be fixed and you can move past it. So what would you say, you already said the learning about this three P model was really helpful for you. Did you kind of relate to each of those P’s? I could just tell right away when you were talking about moving, the baby, they were all really good precipitating factors that fit the model perfectly. Maybe more on the perpetuating side, what kind of behaviors were you able to recognize there that may have been feeding your insomnia and keeping it going?

Jessica Brondyke:
Yeah, well I think really it goes with the first one, precipitory and the perpetuating, I really like to seek knowledge and get to the root of something and figure it out and then grow because of that, I’ve always been that way. And so when it came to sleep, it was like, “I’m going to figure this out and I’m…” Which created an obsession with thinking about all the time and researching, and finding a lot of things online that weren’t helpful that created more anxiety and… So I would say that was a big one for me, right away I just started searching, why is this happening to me? What is insomnia? All of that. I also tried magnesium, I’d tried different supplements, magnesium, melatonin, I tried essential oils, lavender camomile, definitely Sleepytime Tea, I tried that, valerian root was a big one I tried, yoga before bed, basically rearranging my sleeping schedule, even though it didn’t make sense really, I guess.

Jessica Brondyke:
So it was just basically anything that I’ve read or thought of I tried. I mean, that is totally throwing your body even into a more change constantly. None of those really helped either, none of those helped. Maybe they would if it was just your normal bedtime routine, like the sleep hygiene if you’re not struggling with it, but when you’re in that, I would say they did not help at all.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, you touched upon it there as well, that kind of endless research, and thinking about sleep, and conducting all these different experiments that can really perpetuate the problem as well, just because you’re always trying these new things and then when they don’t work, which on reflection is quite understandable why they wouldn’t because they don’t really get to the root cause, those perpetuating factors. When they don’t work then it just leads to this heightened worry and anxiety, “Oh, that’s another thing that didn’t work.” And it just leaves you scrambling, researching, spending more of your days trying to look for the next solution. And you just end up down this rabbit hole, right? Of just always searching, always thinking about sleep and always experimenting, which is really unhelpful.

Jessica Brondyke:
Yeah, And then, like you said, if it didn’t work, you’re like, “Well, I’m really messed up. Everyone else says this works.” I also tried CBD oil, I remember trying that as well. So pretty much anything you read to try, I tried, with little success though.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, what would you say was the kind of breakthrough moment for you? Because you tried all these different things, you recognized they didn’t work. It’s one thing to just say to someone, “Well, this is why you have insomnia. This is what you need to do.” But words are easy, right? Everything’s easier said than done. What was it about this idea of changing the way you think about sleep that kind of made sense? That made you think, “Okay, maybe this could work. Maybe these techniques will work and they’re different to everything I’ve tried in the past.”

Jessica Brondyke:
I would say listening to so many success stories was a big, big factor. And I really just decided to address the fear head on and the fear of this was going to last forever and I’ll never be able to do what I really want to do with my life. I decided just to try to get to the root of it. And that was really, I would say back in March when I found your podcast and did the 14 days through email. Really, it was a mind shift of, “I can do this, I’m going to do this. I’m not broken.” So yeah, that’s what I…

Martin Reed:
So what were the key takeaways, that kind of little snippets of information that you picked up along the way that you found really helped in terms of building more confidence in your just natural ability to sleep and reducing that sleep related worry and anxiety?

Jessica Brondyke:
Yeah. I would say for me in relation to the anxiety concerning it, I had been recognizing that when I start feeling anxious during the day, which it’s been a hard year for me and my family, so that happens often and it could be about something big or a little. But when that feeling comes it’s almost like my brain immediately starts zeroing in on the issue of sleep. And I don’t know how to describe it, except it’s just that’s what happens, it’s like an automatic response. And I have been able to recognize that and then ask myself, “Okay, you slept fine last night, you’re doing fine with sleep, what is the root of this anxiety really?” Which has been so helpful just in general for my own personal mental health in life, to be able to then not ignore those things that I am anxious about by zeroing in on sleep.

Jessica Brondyke:
So that’s been a huge one for me. I feel empowered now because I know that I do sleep fine in general, and that I may have a night here or there that are hard and that’s okay because I’ve had plenty of those and I’ve gotten back into a good schedule after that. So I would say, I feel empowered now. I know that if I’m lying in bed awake, it’s not going to be good to stay there all night, get up and do something. And that’s been a huge like, “Oh, I’ll find a new book.” And one night I read a whole book, that was kind of fun. It was maybe half of the book, but it was like, “Oh I enjoyed that.” Rather than tossing and turning and feeling so overwhelmed. That’s been a huge one on the behavioral side, I would say for me. Yeah, and that’s all I can think of at this moment.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, so they’re really great. I think it sounds what a lot of that thought process, when you found those worries occurring during the day are related to sleep were perhaps connected to, “If I don’t sleep tonight, how am I going to get through the next day?” That kind of thinking, which is really common among people with insomnia, which is actually quite ironic because people with insomnia are probably the world experts on getting through the day after a difficult night. So how were you able to kind of address that or recognize that, the even after a difficult night, maybe you can still get through the day, maybe you could even have a good day or at least some okay moments. How were you able to get to that point, where you just then ratcheted down any temptation to put pressure on yourself to sleep or put effort into sleep?

Jessica Brondyke:
I would say basically just acting like I don’t have an issue with insomnia. So one huge thing for me, I love to exercise and when this was all going on and it was like I thought anything that would drain me more of energy was not… I think I really fell into depression concerning it and that will lead to a decrease in activity and everything that you enjoy. So I just kind of started… I wrote down, what do I love to do? And I do it no matter what. If I slept none or if I slept a little, I’m still going to go run, I’m still going to do yoga, I cook dinner for my family and just pretend like this isn’t an issue. And it sounds kind of silly, but that’s huge, that has been really huge for me.

Jessica Brondyke:
I think something really cool that’s happened is, even back in December and January of this year, for a while, I’ve been wanting to go to grad school to become a therapist and a counselor. But with this issue with insomnia, I was so afraid to that. I was so afraid of how I would get through study studies and then one day the stress of being a therapist, but I just got accepted to grad school for that. And I think for me that has been such a huge… I’m pursuing things even though before it would have caused me anxiety because of lack of sleep. And we just got a new puppy, and I was so afraid of doing that before because of the factor that the puppy could wake me up at night.

Jessica Brondyke:
Just everything affected this for me, everything, it had gotten to that point. I wouldn’t express it very often, but in my mind it was constant and it really gave a negative outlook on life like, “Oh, well, I’m not going to enjoy that. Well, I don’t want to go there because I may not sleep.” And instead just like, “Well, if I don’t sleep, I know I will still be okay and that I probably will the next night.” So it’s really, I would say giving me a better outlook on my life and I just feel more excited about life and I’m doing the things I love to do again and that feels so good. So whether I sleep or not.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. Well, congratulations first and foremost making that decision to go to grad school, that’s huge, congratulations.

Jessica Brondyke:
Thank you.

Martin Reed:
And it’s really good that you’ve talked us through that experience of adding good stuff to your day to making sure that you remain active, that you have those opportunities for enjoyable moments and the, you don’t put off things because of concern about sleep. Because when we do that, we just guarantee that sleep has a negative role in our lives and that sleep makes decisions for us, and that we kind of concede control over our lives to sleep.

Martin Reed:
And so often when I’m talking to people about this, the main goal, right, is to improve your sleep, I want to sleep better at night. And then when I start talking to people about, “Well, what do you have planned for today? What do you have planned today that’s going to be fun and enjoyable and get you moving and not thinking about sleep?” People can just think, “Well, I’m not really interested in improving the quality of my day. I don’t really care about my days. If I improve my sleep, then my days will get better.” Which is kind of back to front thinking, right? Which we can tell on reflection because really our sleep depends on everything that we do during the day. Because if we’re active, just being active in itself is a good signal for the body clock to be awake. And then when we’re less active, that’s a good cue for the body clock to prepare for sleep, for example.

Martin Reed:
And second of all, when we just do stuff during the day, so less time to think and worry about sleep. And thirdly, especially if we can add enjoyable activities to our day, these don’t all have to be physical activities, they can just be things that give us a sense of reward, enrichment that make us feel good. It’s less time for us to think about sleep and it helps us recognize that we have control over our day, our days aren’t 100% dependent on sleep. And let’s say you had a bad night the night before, it helps you recognize that a bad night of sleep doesn’t guarantee a bad day. All that really guarantees a bad day is when we react to that bad night of sleep by canceling plans, staying inactive, not doing things that we’ve always wanted to do for fear of how hard it might be because we might have a bad night of sleep or how it might negatively affect our sleep.

Martin Reed:
So I’m really happy that you shared that because it’s one thing for me to talk about it from a theoretical standpoint, but it’s so different, it’s so much more powerful when someone else can talk us through it and say, “Yeah, I made sure that I did these things. I stayed active during the day. I did these things that I was always putting off, it made me feel great. It made me recognize that maybe sleep isn’t as big of a deal as I always thought it was.”

Jessica Brondyke:
Yes, I totally relate to that.

Martin Reed:
When you found yourself kind of worrying about sleep, we talked about you kind of identified how concerned about the effect of a difficult night would have on your day, was generating some worries and anxiety. Was there anything else? What other kinds of thought processes where you recognizing that were leading to this sleep related worry and anxiety? Was it just concern about what the day would be like, or were there other concerns there too?

Jessica Brondyke:
I think also, because I was only staying in the bed or going from one bed to the other and trying to sleep if I did have a bad night, that was miserable. And so the worry of another miserable night was a big factor. And now I’ve learned, just get up and do something else.

Jessica Brondyke:
So that was one thing I would say, also just I think I mentioned it before, but just the fear that something is really wrong with me, this will be my life forever. I remember just being on a walk or something and seeing other people I’m wondering, “Do they struggle with this? Am I the only one that feels this way?” And so I think those thoughts throughout the day, just it all related. I kind of got to the point where I knew I could get through the day and no one really even knew I didn’t sleep all that night. I don’t know, I’m just a go-getter I guess, so I would still do what I had to do, but I just felt miserable on the inside. And so I think that was my biggest fear of that constant… really just wanting to get rid of the obsession about it and fearing that that would never go away. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that was my biggest fear I would say.

Martin Reed:
So how did you move past that? Was it just purely just trying to go about life pretending or imagining the, you slept fine each night? Just saying active, doing things that you enjoy? Was there something else, anything else that you can share with us for people that might be struggling with similar issues?

Jessica Brondyke:
Yeah, that’s pretty much the main factor. Another little piece of it is, and I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet, but my doctor prescribed Ambien and so I was taking that and the fear had become so great that I was pretty much taking it every night, just because I would fall asleep watching a show, that has been my norm for my whole life, I’d just always fall asleep watching TV at night. And I was getting super afraid that I was going to be dependent on the medication. And so for me, really what happened was when I tried not to take it and I slept, it was like, “Oh, wow.” That was a big factor for me, I was afraid of being dependent on a medication to make me sleep, realizing that one, it didn’t make me sleep, that nothing can except your natural process was huge. And then I think also just observing it happen, it felt so good.

Jessica Brondyke:
And that was happening before, but I think just different factors in my life this past couple months was creating a lot, I had a lot of stress going on. So I think it was just getting worse and then in order to get through the hard things you have to walk through sometimes in life, it feels even more impossible without sleep. So I was like, “Well, I know if I take this, it doesn’t put me to sleep, but it calms my mind enough to make me fall into sleep.” I guess, I don’t know how to word that but I would say the medication was a big factor. The fact that I want to prove to myself that this does not make me sleep. And once I did that, a lot of anxiety fell away from me, so I think that answers the question.

Martin Reed:
Absolutely. It can be such a confidence boost, right? If you come from this place where you feel that you’re dependent on anything, whether it’s medication or anything else, or a magnesium pill, whatever. When you have that night where you sleep without it, it’s just such a boost your confidence because it does help you recognize that you have this natural ability to sleep. And the fact that you slept without it proves that all that time you slept with it was still sleep that you just generated all by yourself and that can just be so powerful of building that sleep confidence.

Jessica Brondyke:
Yes, that has been I would say, a big factor in this journey for me is the empowerment with that.

Martin Reed:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. And I think that you touch upon that behavioral aspect as well of getting out of bed when just being in bed during the night doesn’t feel good. That really helps, I think, with the arousal, the anxiety and the worry too. Primarily we talk about that as more to do with conditioned arousal so we don’t want to associate the bed with unpleasant wakefulness, we want to kind of retrain you to see the bed as a place for sleep and the only way of doing that is to get out of bed when being in bed doesn’t feel good.

Martin Reed:
But I think that one of the things we don’t really talk about with regards to that technique is it can just be so helpful at just resetting your mind and giving it something else to think about compared to being in bed in a dark room, tossing and turning, worrying about sleep. If you just kind of shift that weightfulness out of the bed, maybe read a book, even watch TV, just do something else, it can just distract your mind and just help you refocus and just feel a little bit more calm and relaxed a bit quicker compared to staying in bed and struggling.

Jessica Brondyke:
Yes, definitely. I thought of one other thing that was… I remember it was really a turning point, it was back when I emailed you about the medication, maybe a month ago now. And I was feeling super anxious and I just wrote in my journal, I wrote out every single fear that I had concerning sleep. It ended up being 30 things that had just come over the course of four years because of so many nights with it, 30, and I probably could thought of more. Something about seeing that on paper was huge for me, and then beside that I wrote a list of the patterns I had created, or behaviors I had created because of the fear. And I would say that was a turning point and I’d kind of forgotten about it, but it was a big turning point because I saw it written out, it wasn’t just in my mind and I kind of decided I’m going to just address one of these kinds of at a time and it may take a while, but I’m going to be kind to myself and do it this way.

Jessica Brondyke:
And the first one for me was just getting back to my bed with my husband. I had started sleeping in our guest room just because I was afraid, my one daughter comes in our bed almost every night, she doesn’t anymore, which is great, but she was and so that was causing me to then go to sleep. So that was my first thing is, I’m going to build confidence that I can sleep, even if she wakes me up and that was a huge step for me, it tackled a lot of fear in one. So for me, I’ve just decided I’m taking this slowly, and I think it’s been really great because the confidence and empowerment that I’ve received just in tackling one thing at a time has been huge. And before it was like, “I’m going to give myself a couple of weeks and if this doesn’t work, then I’m doing forever.” Instead of just seeing it as, I think you mentioned to me one time, it took a while to get to where you are now, it will take a while, it’s a process. It’s not a quick miracle fix overnight. No pun intended.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, exactly.

Jessica Brondyke:
No pun intended.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, no, exactly. Did you find that when you were writing down some of those thoughts or concerns you had about sleep, that once you’ve written them down and looked at them, did you find that, “Oh now I’ve seen that thought written down, maybe that thought isn’t even that accurate, but yet it was generating so much anxiety when it was floating around in my head.”

Jessica Brondyke:
Definitely, that was huge. And the funny thing is I can barely think of them now, which I never thought that would happen. But I’m trying to think of one and I can’t even think of one, so I definitely, without… It was like, “Wow, that’s not true. That fear is not true.”

Martin Reed:
Yeah, exactly. Well, I think a classic one, which correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m going to guess that you put this one down would just be that concern over getting through the next day after a difficult night.

Jessica Brondyke:
Definitely.

Martin Reed:
So many people just have that as one of their overriding concerns. I’m not going to be able to perform at my job. I’m going to get fired. People depend on me to make decisions, I’m not going to be able to make decisions. But sometimes, all these thoughts they’re completely understandable why you’d have them, but sometimes when you can just take a step back and just look for evidence to support them, and there may be evidence that doesn’t support them, that will kind of refute them, just take a more balanced look. And when you do that, you can often recognize that these thoughts, which are generating so much worry aren’t even all that accurate. There might be some truth in them, but it’s probably not a 100 % true, maybe it’s 70% true or 50% true or less. And once you can see that it can really just chip away and lower the intensity of the worry that these thoughts can generate. So what’s life like now compared to back in the day when you were really struggling with sleep? How has your outlook changed? How have your days changed? How has your sleep?

Jessica Brondyke:
Yeah, I think one interesting thing is this change has happened for me during COVID-19, so life changed drastically, as soon as I decided to implement these things. But I think for what’s awesome is that before I would have been extremely worried about being stuck inside and homeschooling my kids now and all of that and that I really haven’t even thought about that, so that’s huge. I would say just honestly, some days before, my thoughts were only on sleep. I felt like I was in a huge brain fog with it. I would be doing something else and still be thinking about sleep. And I don’t remember the last day I had like that and I just can’t express how good that feels. And then that alone has given me clarity and energy to think about other things that I actually like and I feel like I’ve kind of found myself again. So my outlook has changed 100% I would say.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, that’s great. I think once you just get to that point where you find that you just don’t really think about sleep anymore, I think that’s the ultimate goal. It’s so easy when we’re struggling with sleep to set ourself goals, such as I want to get X number of hours of sleep, or I want to feel great every single day when I get out of bed. But I think that the best goal is to just be, “I want to get to that point where I don’t think about sleep anymore. It doesn’t really play an important role in my life anymore.” Because not only does that feel good to be at that state, but when you’re at that point where you just don’t really care about sleep anymore, that’s when the conditions are perfect for sleep to actually happen.

Jessica Brondyke:
Right. Yeah, I totally have seen that.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. All right, well, I really appreciate the time that you’ve shared with us today, you’ve shared such great insight and a lot of people can identify with it. But I do have one last question for you, and it’s question that I ask everyone at the end of these episodes, so you’re going to be no different. If someone with chronic insomnia is listening and feels as though they’ve tried everything, they’re beyond help and that they can’t do anything to improve their sleep, what would you tell them?

Jessica Brondyke:
I would tell them they are not alone, no matter how alone they feel, they’re not. And that there is hope, I was there, there is hope. I would tell them to take it as slowly as they need to, and really focus in on the thought patterns that have been created. I would definitely tell them to check out all of your information and your videos and listen to the podcast because it’s just really great information. And you’re so caring and just answer my emails and questions so willingly, and that was a comfort as well. So yeah, this may sound weird, but I almost just want to give whoever it is a hug and just say, You’re going to be okay.” Because I felt like I needed that at times.

Martin Reed:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), that’s perfect. Well, thanks again for coming onto the podcast, your story is going to be really helpful for a lot of people. So in a way, your words are going to be that hug for everyone that’s listening, so thank you for coming on.

Jessica Brondyke:
Oh, good. Thank you.

Martin Reed:
Thanks for listening to The Insomnia Coach Podcast. If you’re ready to implement evidence-based cognitive and behavioral techniques to improve your sleep but think you might need some additional support and guidance, I would love to help. There are two ways we can work together. First, you can get my online coaching course. This is the most popular option. My course combines sleep education with individualized coaching and is guaranteed to improve your sleep. You will learn new ways of thinking about sleep and implement better sleep habits over a period of eight weeks. This gives you time to build sleep confidence and notice results without feeling overwhelmed. You can get the course and start right now at insomniacoach.com/online.

Martin Reed:
I also offer a phone coaching package where we start with a one hour call. This can be voice only or video, your choice, and we come up with an initial two-week plan that will have you implementing cognitive and behavioral techniques that will lead to long term improvements in your sleep. You get unlimited email-based support and guidance for two weeks after the call along with a half-hour follow-up call at the end of the two weeks. You can book the phone coaching package at insomniacoach.com/phone.

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

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

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2 thoughts on “How Jessica transformed her relationship with sleep by challenging her sleep-related thoughts and changing her sleep-related behaviors (#22)”

  1. I just found your podcast and website today and I listened to 3 episodes in a row. I resonated with every single thing Jessica said, I literally feel like it could have been me talking. It is so helpful to hear we are not alone in our struggles and that others who are like me have experienced success moving forward. I just started working with a CBT-I therapist but am so grateful to have found your resources to help back me up. Thank you for the work you’re doing.

    Reply
    • I am so happy to hear this, Sarah! Sharing stories that are relatable is the exact intention of the podcast because if you can recognize yourself in any of these success stories, you can recognize that your insomnia isn’t unusual or unique — and this means you can improve your sleep, just as all my guests did!

      Reply

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