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How Jovana put insomnia behind her by recognizing that her insomnia wasn’t unique and that sleep is a natural process that cannot be controlled (#32)

Listen to the podcast episode (audio only)

In 2019, Jovana experienced a night of no sleep whatsoever but she was confident that she would get some sleep the following night. However, the next night was just the same — Jovana didn’t get one minute of sleep.

At this point, she started to panic, and her anxiety was further compounded by the fact she was a new mom. Jovana started to dread going to bed. She felt frustrated. She felt lonely. Fortunately, she found the Insomnia Coach YouTube channel and the Insomnia Coach podcast and started to realize that she was not alone and that her insomnia was not unusual or unique.

Ultimately, Jovana stopped the endless sleep-related research and ongoing detective work. She stopped experimenting with medication and supplements. She started to remove herself from the process of sleep and began to accept that sleep cannot be controlled. At the same time, she committed to actions that helped her move toward the kind of life she wanted to live, even after difficult nights and even in the presence of difficult thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

As a result, Jovana regained confidence in her natural ability to sleep and is once again living the kind of life she wants to live.

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:
Hello Jovana, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to come on to the podcast.

Jovana Mühle:
My pleasure. Thank you, Martin.

Martin Reed:
So I’m going to start right at the beginning, just like I do with all my podcast guests. So can you just tell us when your sleep problems first began? And what do you think caused your initial issues with sleep?

Jovana Mühle:
So it first began, I think I know exactly the date, which is, it’s so weird, right? You remember some things very precisely, I think it was the 13th of December. And I think it was a weekend you can recall, and check if you’d want to check. I think it was 2019 13th of December. And it happened for me two nights in a row that I couldn’t sleep, so I really remember it’s the first time it began because before that, I would have bad nights of sleep but I wouldn’t panic.

Jovana Mühle:
And I wouldn’t react the way I did when it happened then in December, so basically, I had the feeling I couldn’t sleep. So I was laying down in my bed, I even tried to go to the couch, tried to sleep there, I just think nothing was happening. I didn’t sleep a minute, which never happened to me before. Because even if I had a bad night, and I couldn’t fall asleep, at some point and say, four or 5:00 AM, I would fall asleep, eventually. This didn’t happen then, and I didn’t know why, and then the night afterwards, I was sure I would sleep because I still had this belief sleep is natural.

Jovana Mühle:
It happens at some point, if you’re tired. It didn’t. And then it hit me really hard because I really thought there’s something wrong with me, there must be because I just had my baby a few months before. My son was born in August 2019. And I believed that maybe some, how do you say hormonal imbalance was the cause, or maybe the reason why I don’t know some. The thing is, I wasn’t informed very much about sleep. And all those things, even melatonin wasn’t a word for me.

Jovana Mühle:
I just thought there must be some chemical in your body, it allows you to sleep, and if you don’t have that, doesn’t work. So I really started thinking, I have a problem now. And it happened, so eventually, the third night I would sleep, but then I kind of I remember, I talked to some friends. And I was, can you imagine two nights in a row? Who had that? And I felt pretty lonely because I only had one friend who had it, and I think that’s one of the problems I had at this time is not knowing anyone who was going, or experiencing those things.

Jovana Mühle:
So I started to panic, I googled. And then, god, you can find anything on Google. So it happened a few nights after maybe just even a week afterwards, I couldn’t sleep again. And apparently, there was no apparent reason for me not to sleep because it’s not as if I did something different on that day. It’s not as if I overslept the days before. I couldn’t I had a baby, so it was, my baby was waking me up anyway, I was sleep deprived from my baby. So I thought this is not normal, something must be really bad with my health.

Jovana Mühle:
But the root cause, I think now, is not this hormonal thing. I really believe it was just stress, and insight, which was kind of there the whole time but I wasn’t really aware of it. And this is why when it happened again, I know now, but this is really in hindsight I couldn’t say that back then, but when it kept on happening, Christmas, I still had this, probably it was, it went on, basically until this year, beginning of this year, so kept on coming and happening.

Jovana Mühle:
And I couldn’t figure out what was the cause. But now, I would say I think it’s more stress related, and that my arousal system, as you told me is called, but this thing wouldn’t just come down. I wouldn’t calm down in the evening. And what’s interesting is, I don’t know why I wouldn’t notice that this was the cause, you know what I mean? In backwards now, I believe, god, it was so obvious, it was stress, but why would you think something’s wrong?

Jovana Mühle:
It’s very weird to me even now, to understand why somebody gets so lost with their thinking, it’s you take a wrong path, and then you.

Martin Reed:
It’s really easy to do. Did you ever have issues with sleep before that period of December 2019?

Jovana Mühle:
So I think I would say, but not a lot, I would say maybe, I don’t know, twice per year. So I would have a bad night where I would think about stuff, and then I noticed it’s already 2:00 AM, I’m still not sleeping. This is bad, I have to wake up in the morning, how I’m I going to do that, this kind of thing that. As I said four or five or even 6:00 Am, at some point, I would sleep. Eventually my brain would stop, think about those things, I guess, and then I would sleep.

Jovana Mühle:
So and this was rare, I wasn’t, I didn’t call myself insomniac. I didn’t even know really what this was, and then I started to pull myself I think insomniac now, when I had it a couple of times because it was just, I remember I was saying, but I don’t belong to those people, as if it’s something really bad. I really had this feeling, this is not me. And why is it happening to me, and I couldn’t figure it all out. And then I developed all the other problems like sleeping anxiety.

Jovana Mühle:
And I think this is the worst part because I already was anxious, because of my baby, being a new mom the whole thing. And then the sleep anxiety made it, this made my life horrible because I was dreading going to bed, even maybe just thinking about when the evening begins here, 6:00 PM already, should I go at 8:00 PM tonight to try to compensate? And this behavior began, wow. I was really I remember I was having, it was in my tummy because it’s somewhere in there to both stress ball, or something it’s holding you and I was really anxious.

Jovana Mühle:
Just thinking, Okay, I’m going to go to bed and it’s not going to work. And then what’s going to happen, I’m going to have another night without sleep. And wow, it’s frustrating. And the lonely part, feeling lonely, this component I think it was something that really wasn’t helping me because I figured when I started, when I discovered later on your podcast, your videos on YouTube, the whole class, everything.

Jovana Mühle:
This helped a lot and very fast. Just I know, I remember the first week I was watching at least five videos of yours, either hearing podcasts, or just some explanation videos, and I felt already a support just in knowing, okay, other people are having the same things, they are experiencing the same symptoms, or they are calling themselves Insomniac. So this thing, I think, is what I missed. And I’m sad I didn’t find this out before.

Martin Reed:
I think you touched on a great point about how we can just so easily get caught up in our thoughts. And a lot of it is to do with that especially that anxiety of what each night will bring. And I think something that some people listening to here will identify with, and I’m really glad you mentioned it was the fact that back in December 2019, apart from the fact that you have had a baby a few months before that, when those sleep issues kind of cropped up, there didn’t seem to be an obvious cause of them.

Martin Reed:
And that in itself can be quite concerning, right? And lead us down this rabbit hole of really starting to worry that maybe there’s a chemical imbalance, or there’s something uniquely wrong, we’ve lost that magical chemical, or that ability to sleep. And the reason I’m really glad you mentioned that is because sometimes there are obvious causes of sleep disruption, and that can be quite comforting. But sometimes there’s not and that can be where we can get caught up in our thoughts then.

Martin Reed:
But the fact of the matter is, it really doesn’t matter what the initial trigger of that sleep disruption is because we can eliminate those from our lives, there are always going to be some nights where we have difficult nights, sometimes it’s an obvious reason why, sometimes not. But it’s when we get caught up as a result of those difficult nights, and start to worry really start to feel anxious about what each night will bring, and start to modify our behaviors in response in a bit to try and protect our sleep, or to make sleep happen.

Martin Reed:
That’s when we can, the real problems can start, and that’s why it’s really helpful to kind of move away from trying to figure out the trigger, and instead just work on all those thoughts, and behaviors that can perpetuate the sleep disruption.

Jovana Mühle:
But even before I, no, after I googled obviously, first I googled, but then quite quickly I after a few months let’s say just after Christmas so it began December and I said I think 13th, so middle of December, and then I waited Christmas, it was bad. Everything was barging me. I think even already in January I went to a doctor, and okay obviously, not all doctors are bad, but her advice was pretty bad for me because the first thing she gave me was sleeping pills.

Jovana Mühle:
Obviously, not even the ones you buy over the counter, some herbs, or stuff, how do you call it it’s a drug I use, it’s like a Valerian. So not even that, she went full on, and gave me really a prescription of sleeping pills. And she was, no, if you take once per week, it’s fine. Now, obviously, this concept of I’m going to have one night of good sleep per week this is already triggering your anxiety because you think okay, I cannot do more than one because I’m going to be addicted, and it’s dangerous.

Jovana Mühle:
And I don’t know, I felt really, this was a bad idea to start with that. And the fact that she didn’t, she also said she didn’t want to test, or because I was mentioning my thought okay, probably hormonal imbalance, some chemicals, and magical chemical, it doesn’t work anymore. And she said, it’s very hard actually to, when you do a blood test, or you just want to go for a check.

Jovana Mühle:
She said, it’s quite hard to identify, where, if there is a problem really in the hormones, or something, she was also saying, there is a kind of no way to know precisely, if you really have this biological problem, or any chemical problem in your body. So this also left me okay, must be I don’t know, but it’s probably that it contributed to, it was just worse.

Martin Reed:
I think there’s two great points that you made there. The first and foremost is that we kind of sometimes can see the sleeping pills as being this kind of magical elixir, the solution to everything, but they can also come with their own issues, you said, If I’m only allowed to take them one night a week, does that mean that I’m just not going to sleep for the other six, then you’ve got this idea that sometimes they can reinforce this assumption, or this belief that we can’t sleep without some kind of external help, some external crutch.

Martin Reed:
And then just this drifting off into the detective work there’s some mystery going on, I’ve got to investigate it, is it chemicals? Is it hormones? Is it this? Or is it that, and often it’s that ongoing detective work that can really kind of trap us, and lead us down this slippery slope, and it can kind of just consume our lives, and we’re just spending every waking minute just thinking, or investigating what could be the problem here?

Jovana Mühle:
Exactly. Because for me, it wasn’t normal, that she would just prescribe those sleeping pills. I thought we need to figure out what’s the root cause, I wanted to know. So it really was you say, it really triggered my detective mode. And I kept on googling, and I thought maybe she has doesn’t know everything, I need to seek somebody who’s really professional, a generalist a doctor who really is just for sleep. But it’s funny how I didn’t think of this, how do you say TVCI?

Martin Reed:
CBT-I.

Jovana Mühle:
In French, it’s another way, but so the behavioral therapy, nobody mentioned that, she didn’t mention that.

Martin Reed:
That is a real shame, and your story’s really familiar, unfortunately, that we have this magical collection of techniques is cognitive and behavioral techniques, which is just a fancy way of saying, we can explore the thought processes that can perpetuate sleep disruption, and we can tackle the behaviors that we implement that can perpetuate sleep disruption. And when we take that kind of two pronged approach, it’s really helpful and really effective with chronic insomnia.

Martin Reed:
And it’s usually recommended as the first line treatment for chronic insomnia as well, but unfortunately, we have an issue where a lot of doctors just don’t know about it, often through no fault of their own, because the training just isn’t there most of the time. And also, we have an access problem. So even doctors that are familiar with the techniques, they don’t really have the time available to work through these techniques, one on one with their clients.

Martin Reed:
And there’s not many people they can refer these patients out to either so we have a real problem in terms of knowledge and accessibility of these techniques. And they’re not, we don’t need to shroud them in mystery. The techniques themselves are pretty straightforward, they can definitely be challenging to implement. But we don’t need to really ring fence access to them. They can be straightforward, people can implement them independently.

Martin Reed:
And if we can put all of our efforts into implementing those techniques instead of all the things that can lead us astray, this ongoing detective work, doing all that researching, or that doctor googling it can be so helpful and I like to emphasize this because we can get caught in this trap through no fault of our own, we can do everything right. We can go to the doctor, or we can look online, we can do our research but we can get trapped, or caught up because there’s a lack of information out there on the good stuff, the stuff that works and there’s a, we have challenges in terms of access to the good stuff as well.

Martin Reed:
So I think you touched upon the kind of issues that you were having it was, you would just be worrying about sleep all day long and then, we would normally expect let’s say if you didn’t have insomnia, we would normally expect after a night, or two maybe things would get back on track, you’d have those nights to catch up sleep, but it sounds that didn’t really happen for you. What were you finding was a kind of typical night? Was it issues just first falling asleep, or was it waking during the night finding it hard to go back to sleep? Or maybe it was both?

Jovana Mühle:
It was both. It started with the falling asleep, which I think was the main cause of my anxiety then because it was the worst part just dreading going to bed, but I also had and this happened, I didn’t know exactly when because it’s hard to say, because as I say I wasn’t sleeping through my night anyway because of my baby so even just breastfeeding, or just waking up to changed my baby, or something made me, sometimes I couldn’t fall back asleep, but I didn’t think about that until I had my insomnia, and then when this happened I could really notice.

Jovana Mühle:
I knew sometimes if my son would wake me up at two or 3:00 AM I wouldn’t sleep until the rest, even if I had fallen asleep first somehow, and I didn’t understand why falling back asleep it didn’t work. So I will wake up, do what I have to do and then go back to bed and then I just couldn’t sleep even if, maybe in this moment anxiety wasn’t there. So this is also why because I started to analyze because I was obviously, then conscious okay, I am stressed when I go to bed now obviously, I am stressed.

Jovana Mühle:
And I tried to do relaxation techniques, and stuff like that, and also mentioning this Valerian because I didn’t take those real sleeping pills for a long time because I was scared. And obviously didn’t work with the whole concept of I’m not sleeping five days, and I have one night what’s the point. So I quit this but then I tried to do a cure with Valerian, and this was kind of helping the time I was taking it because I felt less stressed I guess, so this is good because it’s worked on that but then the falling back asleep, falling back asleep when in the middle of the night this started not working, kind of really it was obviously well there’s something wrong now.

Jovana Mühle:
So this must be again another, you’re always kind of tried to analyze and to figure out what’s the root cause, and if something works the stressed part, it’s a bit relieved or diminished through this medication so then what’s next Why is still something wrong, god. I might not sleep at night, this is just, I don’t know, it was a very bad time so many bad memories of this, all the things I tried because it’s not the only thing after I finished three months of Valerian obviously, I went off and maybe, I think maybe for a week it was fine, kind of fine again.

Jovana Mühle:
But then I would eventually have another night where I didn’t sleep for a minute, and then I knew okay, so I’m back on this and I tried melatonin. I took it also, first of all, I figured this works. And I don’t know, in hindsight I don’t know why it worked because I don’t believe much in melatonin now after the whole experiences I had, but it did work, also maybe, how do you say, punctually so I would take it one time if I noticed I’m not falling asleep, and usually I do quite fast if I am falling asleep, it’s very fast.

Jovana Mühle:
So after 20 minutes, it’s not going to happen till, I think it’s more psychological effect they had on me, so I would just take it maybe it’s, by then it’s maybe 11 or 11:30, I would take it and still worked. And this is where I think it’s maybe a placebo effect it helped me to produce maybe my anxiety, or just it made me believe this thing could make me sleep. And I was on and off, and then again, I went to a naturopath, using naturopath, and she recommended not taking it the way I did because obviously it was already a couple months I was going this six months.

Jovana Mühle:
And she said, I think you need a cure because probably and this is where again, I fell back in my detective mode and whole, and she said, maybe you have a deficiency, or the pineal gland is not producing enough. Maybe you even have serotonin, a lack of serotonin, she was mentioning a lot of stuff there, and she didn’t really analyze or check it properly.

Jovana Mühle:
But she was saying, we don’t need to find out and run some tests, we can just take the cure you do again, three months of it, of melatonin every night, and she was melatonin too strong, you need to start with five milligrams, and you go on three months, and then you go back downwards. Basically, she felt this will teach my brain to produce it again, in case it wasn’t. And I remember I was thinking, god, we’re back again on something, and then I already knew I was dreading the moment I was to go off of it.

Jovana Mühle:
And I think it’s exactly at this point that I found out your podcasts, and your videos because I contacted you also and asked about this, how do I do that? Because I was I reduced from five and three, two, one. And then this is ridiculous, but I was taking even a quarter of one pill. So I reduced from one pill of one milligram, first, I did a half, then I had to cut into a quarter, and at the end I was still kind of biting off a little corner, this quarter of a pill and I was I’m so ridiculous, but I’m so thinking it’s I’m not going to sleep if I don’t take any.

Jovana Mühle:
So I don’t if I had this addictive profile people who are addicted to stuff easily, or just mentally thinking they need it. And, god, I couldn’t go on, and if I would, I wouldn’t sleep. So then I had my response to you. I had my confirmation. I’m not sleeping without melatonin. So what do I do now?

Martin Reed:
That whole, just listening to you describe that whole experience of sitting there and maybe we need to address the serotonin, maybe you need to have all this melatonin, maybe we need this and that, it made me start to feel anxious, just imagining myself in that situation. So I think you raised another great point there as well. And it’s when we end up taking supplements, or over the counter stuff, or anything, it could be prescription medication even, it can lead us to just it can reinforce this belief that we need something to generate sleep.

Martin Reed:
And then you said, especially if we taking it contingently, so for example, we’re not planning on taking anything tonight, we’re going to see how the night goes. And then if we do find that we’re struggling, then we might reach for whatever it is we’re taking, that can be problematic, too. Because first and foremost, we kind of setting up a little test for ourself, are we going to fall asleep pretty quickly, or are we going to fall back to sleep. So that in itself just keeps the brain a little bit more active, it has to monitor more for sleep and wakefulness, that can make sleep more difficult.

Martin Reed:
And then let’s say we do reach for whatever it is we’ve got close by, if we do then fall asleep, we’ve kind of reinforced this belief that that thing is generating sleep. If we don’t fall asleep easily, then we’re just reinforcing this belief that we’ve there’s something seriously wrong with us and that we’ve kind of lost the ability to sleep so really there’s no lasting positive outcome to these things. They can really be one of these one of these traps that we can get caught up in.

Jovana Mühle:
Interesting as you mentioned this thing of I say self monitoring, you kind of observing yourself, and trying to see if you are going to fall asleep, or not, but it happens unconsciously, right? And I didn’t know this was a thing as well. And I was trying, I remember, it happened also, maybe let’s say summer 2020. So December 2019 first time and then a few months later, I remember I had this for the first time when it’s not just this twinge normal ones you have when you fall asleep, it’s honestly my heart started racing so fast.

Jovana Mühle:
And I was feeling so alert, and stressed at the same time. I was relaxed the second before, so I didn’t know where this came from. I couldn’t, I didn’t know how to explain it, I remember I was saying this to some friends, the friend who had insomnia for example, and she didn’t have those things, but she also really like to talk much about insomnia because I think it was contributing to her anxiety as well, so I couldn’t I was lonely anyway.

Jovana Mühle:
And so I remember this feeling of just going to bed, even noticing this is the thing you’re noticing that you’re falling asleep, which normally doesn’t happen and then you have your heart, the stress, start racing and it wasn’t a physical twinge necessarily the thing you have sometimes, it was really, what’s happening my heart was pumping so fast. And luckily you describe it in your videos because this just a fact acknowledging the fact that this is a normal thing, or is a part of your brain wanting to be actually nice, and reward you, and tell you Okay, look, you’re falling asleep just after a few nights.

Jovana Mühle:
After I learned about this concept, self monitoring, I noticed it will fade off, it faded off and I didn’t have it anymore luckily. So because this was also a very bad thing, it would happen I don’t know maybe 15 times before I gave up even trying to sleep then because it was so uncomfortable.

Martin Reed:
They, I think in hindsight all these things, and we know once we have an explanation for them, it can be so reassuring, but before, we don’t know what we don’t know, right? And so if we don’t know what the explanation for these things is, it can just lead to more worry that there is something uniquely wrong, or that there’s something dangerous going on, or is really all just it’s just a manifestation it’s just a symptom of just heightened arousal, whether it’s thought based just thinking about sleeping pressure on ourselves to sleep monitoring for sleep.

Martin Reed:
Or the all the physical symptoms of heightened arousal, which is a racing heart feeling cold, feeling hot, sweaty all those things, these are all kind of normal reactions to heightened arousal it’s basically the body trying to protect us from what it sees as a threat, which is wakefulness, not falling asleep, the body can’t really differentiate between a real physical threat, and just kind of an imagined one, or just a mental threat or the reaction is the same so the body’s going to gearing us up to fight, or to run away, and that’s not really helpful when we want to be sitting there setting the stage for sleep.

Jovana Mühle:
Definitely, and not only that, I also noticed how I could fall asleep on the couch, and I was really sleepy, and you can fall asleep in the couch for a minute, and then I would go to my bedroom, and not even the part where you are fully suggest the fact that I would go into my bed, my mattress, this was already enough to make me fully awake, aroused I was just, I didn’t understand, and this is the other thing that helped understand when you explained the conditioning, or what do you call it.

Jovana Mühle:
And I think your brain has associating the fact that you’re not sleeping in your bed, so now we’re going to be awake in our bed. And it seems now, really in hindsight seems so obvious, but at back at the time it was I thought something was as you say uniquely wrong with me this is exactly the words I was using to say I have a unique problem something’s really wrong, and I’ll never find out.

Martin Reed:
I think it’s really helpful you just explaining all this, and just talking a bit about it because you said, it’s that worry that something is uniquely wrong with us, but the fact of the matter is insomnia from person to person is almost identical. So I just know from my own experience that so many people listening to this are going to be, my goodness, she is telling me, I’m hearing exactly what I’m experiencing and that in itself-

Jovana Mühle:
I found your videos, I was, god, I have this, finally.

Martin Reed:
That can be so reassuring, right? Just to realize that you’re not alone in what you’re going through isn’t unique, and that we don’t have to be looking for all the answers there. There are simple explanations to everything that you’re experiencing. See you mentioned I just wanted to go back really briefly about that, the trials, and tribulations of trying to come off that melatonin. You’re reducing the dose, you decided, because I remember you actually sent me an email about you really wanted to just get off this melatonin supplement.

Martin Reed:
And you would just go in smaller dose, tiny little nibble off the edge of the pill. But you went through that experience where when you had that night where there was no melatonin, then you have difficulty sleeping so it makes it really hard, right? So then have that confidence to maybe go a second night, or third night with no melatonin, it’s so much easier to just bring it back into our lives. So how did you shift away from that? How are you where we are today? Where I’m guessing maybe I’m assuming wrong you don’t have a big pile of melatonin pills right next to you.

Jovana Mühle:
I’m completely off since a few months, I think I stopped in February it was I guess I’m not sure exactly the months of this year. When so, there’s a thing I wasn’t paying much attention because it was, I was healing from this problem, and it was just happening smoothly. And then this when, counting exactly the days, but think I think it was beginning of the year.

Jovana Mühle:
And how I finally managed is just because I took a class honestly, so when I first I think I emailed you, or I was just I watched a YouTube videos, a few people interviews on your podcast. And this reduced the anxiety level of a lot, and I remember I would even watch before going to bed, sometimes twice the same, just to about this because it was a big problem of mine, I was really sure. Nobody has that, it’s unique, it’s very weird.

Jovana Mühle:
And just to have you say again, and again Okay, this is normal, this something that happens, and this reduced the stress level. So I remember, then I emailed you, and then you responded something very smart. It was what do you think, if you would go off melatonin now, and you wouldn’t you would force yourself to not sleep, now that you were recommending me to do that, suggesting I should note that, when you said, imagine just if you would force yourself not to sleep for five, or six nights in a row, do you think you still wouldn’t be able to sleep with your melatonin pill.

Jovana Mühle:
And I remembered this kind of triggered my motivation to really say, Okay, god, it’s so obvious just try now. And I think I kind of succeed, and maybe not the first time after this because I needed to kind of integrate this information, and probably rewatch a few videos saying always the same things, but just to accept those facts, and integrate them. And then I just, I think stress level was reduced enough, so actually, I wasn’t self monitoring me or my brain wasn’t monitoring.

Jovana Mühle:
And then I fell asleep, and it wasn’t enough after one night because I am, I think a very anxious person in general. So I was still think, okay, maybe one night, but I needed to have maybe a week of good nights to be able to build the self confidence. I think it didn’t happen after one success, it’s you need to have a lot of successes to just so that, there’s an overweight not this compared to what you’ve been experiencing since two years. So took a while, but I was watching, as I said, a couple of times, just for me, I need to have this, somebody telling me things a couple of times, so I integrate them quite well.

Jovana Mühle:
And then, it reassures me I’m not alone, or people are going through this, other people healed, or it’s not even healing, it’s, I guess, you understand things and you integrate them, and then you kind of you liberate yourself from all those beliefs. It’s not even you needed to heal, I didn’t need to heal from something, or maybe from a mental beliefs. But it’s not a healing that happened, it’s just some kind of integration of this information, and which would use this stress, anxiety, and slowly my brain stopped monitoring.

Jovana Mühle:
I think that’s what helped because it was about the falling asleep at the beginning of the night, but then in the middle of the night, sometimes I would have, again, where I couldn’t fall back to sleep, especially if it was early morning let’s say four, 5:00 AM for sure I would sleep anymore. But then again, this knowing you brought was reducing your sleep window and then I knew even before I tried to reduce it, I knew, okay, so it just means to me I’m rested, or it’s enough for tonight, and just this thing of accepting that maybe I don’t need to count eight hours on the clock to be, this helped because as I say, the first part of falling asleep was about having less stress, anxiety, not thinking of monitoring myself.

Jovana Mühle:
But this didn’t heal, or help the other problem immediately, which was fine because my worst nightmare was just going to bed. So when this was done, I was kind of okay, with sometimes just waking up at 4:00 AM or five and then I would lay in bed, but I wasn’t stressed anymore, I was, okay, maybe I’ll sleep maybe not at some point 6:00 AM, up, wake up anyway, or just and it’s fine. And we didn’t touch on that, but that was a big part of my understanding not needing to focus on those eight hours which was by the way the advice I got from the doctor because obviously, sleeping pills, but also sleep hygiene.

Jovana Mühle:
She informed me of all those things which just contributed to my anxiety again, and it wasn’t helping me so the fact that you kind of broke down all those elements of sleep hygiene was very good to just not be stressed if in the middle of night I’m not sleeping anymore, and then I tried eventually I remember I refused to do the sleep restriction because I thought since I still have a small child it’s waking me up at some point in the night, I’m not going to restrict too much because I didn’t know how to because sometimes I’ll be up anyway for twice in a night.

Jovana Mühle:
So it wasn’t eventually really going to help me, but at some point I realized Okay, if I’m always awake at five I could easily go maybe to sleep One hour later, and I’ll wake up maybe at say, you know what I mean? I did a bit of the sleep restriction, but not forcing it too much and eventually, I will still sleep maybe eight or nine hours because I’m quite tired in general and my child, I guess and then some nights I do sleep nine hours, and it’s fine, but some others I’m happy awake at five 5:30, and my day begins and it’s even a bonus time, so I’m not stressed about this part anymore for sure.

Martin Reed:
I think there’s kind of a common theme in everything that you’ve mentioned there, and I think it comes down to control, our desire to control sleep whether that’s through medication, or supplements, or trying to fall asleep trying to get eight hours of sleep, trying to sleep, and naturally wake up at say 7:00 AM instead of 5:00 AM.

Martin Reed:
Implementing all these different sleep hygiene techniques, or rituals all of these things really can just be distilled down into we’re trying to control sleep, and as you can probably tell just now looking back you’re able to do that it all just comes down to our desire to control sleep which is not helpful, it just increases arousal, makes sleep more difficult because sleep ultimately is something we can’t control, it’s a natural process and it’s when we try and get involved in the process that we tend to see sleep becoming more difficult than it needs to be.

Jovana Mühle:
Definitely and not to mention it, if I had a very bad night which means for me back then I wouldn’t sleep at all, I remember I would I was calling in sick, or not for work, but I just some things I had planned even with some friends, or nice stuff just easy easygoing things those ones I would cancel especially if it’s on the night following, on the evening following my bad night so I was no, I need to catch up on that sleep, so I go to bed extra early and it’s funny because I think from all the things that I’ve been through with insomnia where I’m now so I’m definitely I’m going to bed whatever time I want.

Jovana Mühle:
I’m not even thinking about it I’m falling asleep immediately as I always was before so I feel completely cured, but the only thing is sometimes I notice, and it’s interesting especially with the friend thing if I have friends over, or the dinner goes a bit longer, or something and sometimes I have thought about how I used to think before. So it’s maybe already 11:00 PM which is a bit late for me because I’m getting some time to get to bed, shower everything so I know I already think about it okay won’t be before midnight until I’m home showered, and in my bed.

Jovana Mühle:
And I still have this, in the morning I have I only have six hours a lot of sleep because I decided to have fun so I still have this little thing sometimes coming up in my mind and thinking okay, but usually what I do then, and I think it’s a very good recommendation for if you are cured, and you still have these problems at some point. I immediately think of everything I’ve learned Okay, so we’re not going to control sleep, we’re not going to try it will happen naturally and luckily I had I think enough months behind your success where it didn’t happen at all anymore.

Jovana Mühle:
So I kind of related that I don’t think that okay, I’m not controlling anything and look it works, it’s just natural, and just look repeating those things helped me.

Martin Reed:
I think what was really helpful that was just the way you were talking about, you’d sometimes call in sick after difficult nights, or you’d even cancel plans with friends. Those kinds of things are completely understandable why we would do them, but what typically then happens is, what are we doing instead. So let’s say for example, we call in sick from work, now we’re just kind of sitting at home, we don’t have any kind of distractions, what are we going to do, we’re going to start probably thinking, or worrying about sleep, maybe firing up Dr. Google again.

Martin Reed:
Maybe even just trying to take a nap, maybe we’re going to be more sedentary. All these things can kind of make us feel more fatigued, can generate more anxiety, more worry. And when we remove good stuff from our lives, those plans with friends, we reinforce this connection between difficult night equals difficult day. And definitely difficult nights can make the day is more difficult. But we also have quite a lot of control over the quality of our days independently of sleep. Often, what happens to us during the day, or what we do during the day, has more of an influence on the quality of our day, rather than this being completely 100, predetermined by how the night goes.

Martin Reed:
So if we’re able to still go into work, maybe or if we’re able to still go out with friends and carve out our days as normally as possible, can really help us come to that realization that a difficult night might not be the end of the world, it might not make the next day a complete disaster, there’s still an opportunity to be productive, or to have some good moments, or even just some, okay moments, after difficult nights, and then that in turn, maybe then we might put a little bit less pressure on ourselves to sleep, and feel be less likely to get caught up in all those anxious sleep related thoughts.

Jovana Mühle:
That’s not so easy, I have to say, because I remember, I think I can only now I can apply what you’re saying, and not cancel something, because I have this information in the background but if I would do that I tried sometimes I was okay, so good. I’m going anyway. And that evening it was COVID time anyway, so it wasn’t partying, or whatever it was more just staying up late at some friends, or having friends over.

Jovana Mühle:
And I remember I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I used to, you know what I mean? Even if I first have to do that, I will still have the anxiety because then you are really, this means I’m not going to bed before, maybe 1:00 AM, or which this is also the hard part, even if you shouldn’t cancel, how do you still enjoy something will bring some stress, and anxiety, and worrying.

Martin Reed:
Definitely, I think what can be helpful there is to kind of ask ourselves a question, and it will be something along the lines of, is this behavior helping me live the life I want to live? So for example, if you’re tempted to cancel those plans with friends, is canceling those plans helping you live the kind of life you want to live? If it is, then that’s fine. You don’t need to make, then cancel those plans. If it’s not, then why would you want to cancel those plans?

Jovana Mühle:
Okay, interesting. I think I’m going to keep this one because, as I say, sometimes even out by the end of an evening, or something, and if it’s late, I would still have those thoughts it’s late just this. I think this is so funny, because I think they’re really groups of people, either you’re born with this, or have to figure it. May be educate, get it from your parents, or from I was thinking did I get this from my parents? I think I did because I remember my dad was always saying, you need to go to bed.

Jovana Mühle:
I was maybe three, or four, or five I don’t know exactly because my memory is a bit low. But it was you need to go to sleep now because otherwise you’ll be very tired tomorrow. And I think this is something that it’s ingrained, or how do you say it’s a seed they put in you voluntarily, or unconsciously, but it can have this thing. It’s why I say there are two groups of people there was who don’t even look what time it is when they go to bed. And even if they need to wake up at five 6:00 AM very early to go to work. If there’s a nice movie, something on the TV or something they’re watching, it’s 2:00 AM they don’t care.

Jovana Mühle:
They just go to bed when it’s finished, you know what I mean? Those people I was never this type of people anyway, so I was always okay, so I have to allow myself to be able to sleep at least seven, eight hours. So this thing I think it comes on already from my childhood, or something either my parents kind of taught me somehow because I think, the next day if you don’t sleep enough, you’re it’s bad things are happening to you. I think this is why I say there are two groups of people, I really believe.

Jovana Mühle:
If you are already in this category of somebody who’s very conscious about how many hours you should sleep, and you kind of have this tendency to be worrying more about it.

Martin Reed:
Definitely and we see that in this common model that we have to describe the development of chronic insomnia, we call it the three P model. And so we start off with these predisposing factors, and some of them it might just be a different belief system about sleep we might just have place more importance on sleep, we might have been raised in a family where sleep was something that was talked about a lot, and maybe we were told that we must go to bed now, you must get out of bed now, you must get a certain amount of sleep.

Martin Reed:
We might have more anxiety, we might be really strong night owls, or really strong morning larks, so we might be more susceptible to some sleep disruption. So I think there are definitely some factors there that can predispose us, or kind of lift us closer to that bar of insomnia. And then we have I might as well talk about the last two now. So otherwise, people will ask me can we have the second P which is just the precipitating events, whatever triggered that temporary sleep disruption, that initial sleep disruption, it can be really hard to pinpoint that.

Martin Reed:
And it’s often not very helpful, because we can’t eliminate every potential source of sleep disruption from our lives. Normally, more than nine times out of 10, our sleep just gets right back on track, all by itself, but when it doesn’t, it’s almost always down to that last P, which is these perpetuating factors, which is all the changes to our thought processes around sleep, and all the behaviors that we completely understandably implement in a bid to improve our sleep, to control our sleep, to protect our sleep, that actually backfire on us, and make sleep more difficult.

Martin Reed:
Because all those thoughts and behaviors can end up lowering our natural sleep drive, our drive to sleep, they can disrupt our body clock, and they can lead to heightened arousal. And when we have high levels of arousal, we usually need to generate more sleep, try be awake for even longer to help overpower that arousal, and generate sleep.

Jovana Mühle:
It’s funny because I remember at some point I was, yes, obviously, not as some point. During the whole time, I was talking to my husband, and tried to get some support from him, which obviously wasn’t easy for him because he belongs to this other group of people. So no predisposition, nothing that triggered, he never had this insomnia thing, and he even because I was thinking at some point, okay, maybe this relaxation, or you have a lot of, what is the name, AMSR, those videos where people either cut through some sponge with a knife, very slowly, or something going on with some little pearls, or it can be sand.

Jovana Mühle:
I don’t know you usually see on those videos on YouTube fingers moving through some material. And it’s kind of relaxing to watch those but I remember, I was trying different things just to relax before bed. And I remember I asked him, do you know sleep is something special, I asked him, his face was he didn’t know what to tell. He was you just close your eyes and you go to bed.

Jovana Mühle:
And this also helped a little bit, to kind of realize what, or to validate what you were saying in your videos, being sleep is natural, and there is no need to control anything around it. And it happens naturally. And this was kind of a validation because for those kinds of people belonging to this other group, where they’re just naturally good sleeper they’re not doing anything. And it helped me to let go a bit of this wish to control everything because it wasn’t working obviously.

Martin Reed:
It can be I think, that can be really powerful is just asking someone who we know doesn’t have any issues with sleep. What’s your secret? What do you do to make sleep happen? And I get emails from people, how do I make myself fall asleep? What do I do when I get into bed to make sleep happen? We can, it’s that very act of trying that is the challenge, that is the obstacle to sleep happening, that the less we get involved, the easiest sleep becomes.

Martin Reed:
And I think that something else you mentioned, which I think is really worth emphasizing is that even today, sometimes if you’re out late, for example, you might think, if I stay out, this might mean I’ve only got six hours left to get sleep, or less time. And I think that the reason I emphasize that is because that’s normal and natural, it’s just the brain looking out for us, our brain is kind of hardwired, our brain is hardwired to protect us at the end of the day.

Martin Reed:
So it’s always going to consider what the worst possible scenario might be. It’s kind of we were living in a cave, and we see a bunch of people from a tribe that we didn’t know way off in the distance, the brain, the person that passed on their genes successfully, their brain told them don’t go down there, we don’t know those people stay in the cave. The brain of the person that didn’t get to pass down their genes probably said, go down. We don’t know who those people are, let’s go say hi to them, went down there probably got boiled in a big cauldron and eaten.

Martin Reed:
So our brain is, we are all here today, every single one of us because our brain is really cautious. It wants to give us the worst possible outcome in our mind because that’s its protection mechanism. It’s always going to be doom and gloom priority number one, that’s how it protects us. So we don’t want to prevent that from happening. We don’t want to try and push those thoughts away, or fight them or avoid them because it’s futile. It’s just our brain trying to protect us, we’re always going to have thoughts, some of them are going to be happy nice thoughts, some of them are going to be unpleasant thoughts, but they are just thoughts, so we don’t have to react to them.

Martin Reed:
We don’t have to fight them. We don’t have to try and avoid them. Sometimes it’s helpful to just recognize there’s that thought, I’m only going to have five hours to get to sleep tonight, but here I am out doing things that are important to me, that are meaningful to me, that are enriching my life. Maybe that’s worth more than getting an extra hour, or two of sleep tonight.

Jovana Mühle:
This is good. I’m going to keep this for me for if it helps again because I was thinking if those thoughts begin, and you engage in this, when you’re really, I was thinking, Okay, anxiety might come back. And this is when I’ll be again maybe self monitoring my sleep, or something this. So it’s good to say this, and emphasize on this that you should not engage, you just acknowledge Okay, this is a thought and not try to too much think, okay.

Jovana Mühle:
So anxieties may be coming back, or maybe Okay, I’m going to be aroused now, as soon as I go to bed. My arousal system would be not aroused, you know what I mean. My arousal system will go on, and I will all these symptoms we usually have. So this is why I think this is a very difficult part in not perpetuating your problem even if it happens once in a while here and there, just I think what you said, not engaging too much, with this thought just acknowledging it. Because what I do now, obviously, I do have sometimes trouble falling asleep, but it’s very rare, it may be happen only twice in the last couple of months.

Jovana Mühle:
And what I did is when I noticed, and this is also something I had from your online course, was if you feel bad, if you’re anxious, or angry, or even frustrated, any bad emotion you might have while you are lying in bed, then you should get out of it. And this is what I do, and I practicing this, from where I am now, this is great. So I would just stand up, go out of my bedroom, go down, maybe even watch some TV, which also was interesting because from a sleep hygiene, you should not do that, or they say you shouldn’t. But actually, when you are an insomniac are struggling with so many issues, you just do that, and your distress and you won’t think about your insomnia which is your main problem I think.

Jovana Mühle:
So I go down in the living room, and I would watch maybe some TV, or even on my phone I actually don’t read I do something else. I have a book there so if it happens, I could just read, and usually just falling asleep there will solve my problem meaning I will wake up maybe after an hour, or two because I know either the TV is still on, or my light is on, and my book is on me, or you know what I mean? I just fall asleep for, slept a few hours. And then this is something I cannot explain I think it’s due to the fact that I’m relaxed then I go back to bed because I think okay, it’s more comfortable than my couch.

Jovana Mühle:
So I do this, I go back even if it’s already 4:00 AM, or something, I go back, and I always fall back asleep. And I’m thinking, wow, this is interesting. This shows just the fact that if you’re thinking about even your stress, and this pressure you’re putting on yourself doesn’t work, just moving up, even walking, going up the stairs, where you think I might be wide awake now. Not at all. I think I fall asleep in a second, and this is another validation for me that it’s just natural, and you really don’t need to think about it, control it, just let go of all those things you’re doing.

Jovana Mühle:
Going back to my bedroom, the stress is gone. Because I know, because there’s this kind of knowing, I can sleep my body can do that. So actually, I’m just going to go back and it works.

Martin Reed:
Exactly, if you can sleep on the couch, then you can sleep anywhere. So it shows that you can sleep if you’re one of these people that you recognize you’ve got that really high conditioned arousal, where you seem to be able to sleep on the couch, but you can’t sleep in bed essentially, you’re into bed wide awake again. Well, this just shows that maybe it’s an arousal, an anxiety issue, rather than a sleep issue, because after all, you are recognizing that you’re able to sleep somewhere else.

Martin Reed:
And so it shows that you can sleep and everyone can sleep as long as you’ve been awake for long enough. So, I think that’s helpful. And just having that plan in place, we said we don’t have to react to all these thoughts that race through our mind. They can be unpleasant, they can make us feel uncomfortable, but we can also have a plan in place. So if being in bed really starts to feel unpleasant we’re tossing and turning. We just don’t feel good, conditions don’t feel right for sleep. Then we might as well get out of bed and just do anything that might make being awake a bit more pleasant compared to staying in bed, and struggling.

Martin Reed:
And that could involve watching TV, might involve reading doesn’t really matter too much what we do because our goal isn’t to make sleep happen, because we can’t control sleep, it’s just to make being awake, a bit more pleasant. But it comes with that bonus that we’re not reinforcing that conditioned arousal, we’re not reinforcing that association, or that idea that the bed is an awful place to be because we’re getting out of bed whenever it doesn’t feel good to be in bed. And that can be really helpful.

Martin Reed:
So I know I’ve taken a lot of your time, and I’m really grateful so I’m just going to kind of get to the last question which is the one that I like to ask everyone, and that’s this if someone with chronic insomnia is listening and feel as though they’ve tried everything that beyond health, they can’t do anything to improve their sleep. What would you tell them?

Jovana Mühle:
Watch this podcast, watch the videos I would tell them, honestly I would tell them to get informed about all the things we just mentioned in this episode, but get informed about how sleep is natural, how it happens naturally, how they, this knowledge it seems so obvious to some people, and you need to go back it’s something so simple and obviously to go back to this. So I would honestly try your course which is great.

Jovana Mühle:
This is what I thought because I was already anticipating what will happen if this doesn’t work, we kind of thinking one step forward and I was thinking okay, so if the online insomnia coach doesn’t help me, I’ll get someone in person, I thought maybe this I need this contact, this is the next step. So maybe if you feel online stuff don’t really help you then definitely do the CBT-I therapy, the cognitive therapy, I would do this.

Jovana Mühle:
And it’s difficult to say because if you had this since your whole life, it’s also hard I can understand how hard it is to imagine a different way of living, or being regards to your sleep because for me I could relate to how it was before it happened two, or three years before that. So I had the goal of kind of going back to this detached, just relaxed person I was regarding sleep, and if there is where maybe I don’t know if you’re really struggling since you’re a kid, or a teenager, or something. I guess it’s really important to have somebody to help you, or follow you, a coach, you basically with this, and to know that you’re not alone.

Jovana Mühle:
I would say this is one really important thing, knowing that there are other people struggling, and maybe even people who are not willing to talk about this because they know that this triggers them, or contributes to their own anxiety, and which is something I couldn’t understand, and now I do a bit. And I think this is important if you have those people so find someone else maybe who can talk to you about this, and use those platforms. You also have I think one, I didn’t use this one, but I think there’s a forum, or something where you can also ask questions, and talk to other people, and have this I think this helps to feel supported to not be lonely. And to be reminded you’re not having a uniquely wrong issue.

Jovana Mühle:
It’s something, insomnia is very similar, and it’s natural, this word, it happens natural sleep happens naturally, everybody can sleep this is you’ve been printed out I was thinking, also I did this on my fridge you can print it out somewhere, put it in there have a constant reminder of those things until you integrate them when you’re breathing, your body you really have the knowing from the inside, not just somebody telling you need to kind of really integrate this information.

Jovana Mühle:
And I think then you’re really cured because I think everybody can be cured. It’s obviously everybody can sleep, it’s natural. It’s funny, I wish I had all this information when it started because I would have saved a lot of money buying my pills, and everything I did consultations, and would have been sleeping better earlier. So don’t waste your time trying other things just.

Martin Reed:
I think I don’t, that’s something I hear a lot is I wish I’d found out about all of this sooner. It’s very common that people feel that way. And obviously it’s understandable but I think the great thing is, the past is the past, but what matters is the present, and now you do know all these techniques. And just talking to you, you can just tell that your whole relationship with sleep has just changed, but if sleep issues ever happen again in the future, you’re in a completely different place now.

Martin Reed:
You know way more about sleep, you know specific techniques that have proven to be helpful, you know you can just pull them out of your back pocket, and just implement them again if needed. So maybe you’ve come out of this even stronger, you’re now more resilient, more confident. So maybe in a way maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but maybe there is even a glimmer of a silver lining to this whole experience.

Jovana Mühle:
I believe in that I’m working actually as a healer, energetic work, and stuff this. And I do believe that all experiences have actually a good purpose for us. We learn something from it, even the bad stuff, so I would take away, this is definitely.

Jovana Mühle:
And even just by talking to some friends, I didn’t know they had this, and I recommended also your podcasts, and videos, and everything. And I think even just being able to help other people who are maybe not talking, but still, 9:00 PM thinking I need to go to bed, and everything’s a bit stressed around this bedtime thing there’s helping others.

Martin Reed:
That’s great. All right, well, I think that’s a great note to end on, so thanks again for being such a great guest, and sharing your experience, it’s been great to talk to you, Jovana.

Jovana Mühle:
Thank you for having me.

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

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

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

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

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2 thoughts on “How Jovana put insomnia behind her by recognizing that her insomnia wasn’t unique and that sleep is a natural process that cannot be controlled (#32)”

  1. I’d like to see a testimonial from an older long term chronic insomniac. The several videos that I’ve watched are young people who resolve quickly because they’ve not had long term entrenched insomnia.
    Can you direct me to one of these?

    Reply

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