How Kirstin rediscovered her natural ability to sleep after feeling completely dependent on sleeping pills (#59)

Listen to the podcast episode (audio only)

Kirstin began using medication every now and then to help her sleep on Sunday nights. When she faced a big personal challenge that made sleep more difficult, she started to use it more often. The plan was to take a small dose to get her through that difficult period and then stop the medication because she didn’t want to be reliant on something to help her fall asleep.

Unfortunately Kirstin found that when she tried to stop taking the medication, sleep didn’t happen. She went without sleep for three or four days straight before reaching for the medication in a desperate attempt to make sleep happen. Kirstin developed the belief that she couldn’t sleep without medication and this created a lot of panic, distress, and confusion.

Kirstin became obsessed with sleep. All she could think about was insomnia. Her days were filled with researching sleep remedies and experimenting with sleep-related rules and rituals. Nothing worked.

Kirstin tried to stop herself from thinking about insomnia. That didn’t work either. As nighttime approached she would get extremely nervous, scared, and upset. People tried to be supportive but nobody understood what she was going through.

Things changed when Kirstin came across the Insomnia Coach podcast and realized that she wasn’t alone. As she listened to the stories of others, insomnia started to feel less mysterious.

At this point, Kirstin started to reclaim her life from insomnia. She made and followed through on daytime plans, regardless of how she slept. She prepared for difficult nights in advance so she had alternatives to struggling and battling all night long. She abandoned all her sleep efforts, rules, and rituals. She allowed all the difficult thoughts and feelings she was experiencing to exist — she acknowledged them and allowed them to come and go as they pleased. She practiced being kinder to herself.

Kirstin’s journey was not easy. She experienced ups and downs. When things felt difficult she made the conscious effort to focus on actions that would keep her moving toward the life she wanted to live and the relationship with sleep she wanted to have.

Kirstin is also applying many of the skills she gained from her experience with insomnia to other parts of her life. And, she is sleeping without medication.

Click here for a full transcript of this episode.


Martin: Welcome to the Insomnia Coach Podcast. My name is Martin Reed. I believe that by changing how we respond to insomnia and all the difficult thoughts and feelings that come with it, we can move away from struggling with insomnia and toward living the life we want to live.

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

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

Kirstin: Thanks for having me, Martin. It’s really exciting to be here.

Martin: Yeah, I’m excited to have you on. I think you’ve got a great experience and a great transformation to share with us. So let’s start right at the beginning.

Martin: When did your sleep issues first begin and what do you think triggered those initial issues with sleep?

Kirstin: So I think a bit of a complex question, so I’ll break down the answer. I’ve always had this thing, that everyone calls Sunday night blues. I used to For a lot of my life struggled to fall asleep on a Sunday night, but I knew it was happening.

Kirstin: So I knew Sunday nights were going to be a bit difficult and I just carried on with my life and it was fine. In May, 2023, I was working extremely hard and I think I was very close to burnout maybe even burnout completely. And I started having this weird, Thing happened where there was nights that came in ebbs and flows where I just completely stayed awake the whole night And I would I thought okay, this is strange didn’t worry about it yet, but I was like, it’s not nice I’m lying there the whole night and My alarm goes off 6am and I haven’t slept the whole night and it was very weird for me.

Kirstin: And I was freaking out a bit when it happened, but I was like, okay, it’s fine. It’s gonna carry on as normal. Then at the start of June, I went through quite a big personal challenge. And it lasted for about two weeks. And the first night of this personal challenge, I struggled to sleep. So I was like, okay, definitely.

Kirstin: struggling to sleep because I’m just going through a tough time. And there’s a lot of things to work through mentally, et cetera, et cetera. You know what, I’m just going to take a half a sleeping tablet and I’m going to use that to help me get through this little patch. Then I’m going to leave it and I’ll carry on as normal.

Kirstin: So for this period of two weeks, I took my sleeping tablet, just a half a one. It was actually Zolpidem, so a Z drug which I never researched how, for lack of better word, hectic or intense it is to take those types of drugs. But I just took it because every now and then when I had Sunday night blues, I would take a half a tablet and it would be fine.

Kirstin: So then obviously on just before I left the tablets, I was like, okay, tonight I’m not going to take the tablet after two weeks. And. Obviously in my subconscious, I was like, I need a tablet. I’m not going to fall asleep. So I completely panicked and freaked out when I didn’t fall asleep that night.

Kirstin: So I ended up taking a half a tablet and then all the nights following that, I couldn’t sleep if I didn’t take this half a tablet and it really just went downhill from there.

Martin: So it sounds as like you initially thought of that medication as this temporary thing just to help you weather the storm and then it seemed once you’d started you had to stick with it or all these difficulties with sleep would reappear.

Kirstin: Agreed. And it was almost like a subconscious thing. So it wasn’t like I went to bed that night thinking I’m going to struggle to sleep tonight. I was like, things are fine now. Like things are going to be good. I’m like in a positive space again. And I think just subconsciously, maybe a little bit, maybe you do become addicted to those tablets.

Kirstin: But also subconsciously, I just think I thought if I don’t take this tablet, I’m not going to sleep tonight. And I didn’t give myself a chance to even fall asleep because it would be two hours, three hours, and I would just be stressing, getting hyper alerted.

Kirstin: It was a very intense period for me. It felt like it was every night. So whenever I didn’t take it, I Wouldn’t fall asleep. So I would try it for About Three, four days. And then after the fourth day, because at that point in time, I didn’t understand insomnia and I didn’t understand this whole, I almost think it’s like a whole different world that you discover.

Kirstin: I was really freaked out. I was like, People, when you Google can’t sleep, it’s it’s people use it as a form of torture. And I was thinking, what’s going to happen to me? Oh my word, if I don’t sleep, this is terrible. So I never gave myself like a week or two weeks or however long you need to actually just fall asleep by myself.

Kirstin: And I got so panicked in the evenings. Like three o’clock in the morning, I would be absolutely so panicked, crying, distressed, It was really traumatic and terrible. So I think it was every time I tried to not take the tablet, I couldn’t sleep. So I ended up having to take the tablet, the half a tablet.

Kirstin: Otherwise like nothing was going to happen for me in my mind.

Martin: It’s just so easy to get stuck, isn’t it? Because we understandably do not want to experience being awake when we’d rather be asleep. And we don’t want to experience all those thoughts and feelings and stories and suggestions and statements that are going on inside our minds as our brain is doing its job, trying to look out for us.

Martin: It doesn’t feel good, so it makes sense that we want to avoid it. And that can so easily pull us into these behaviours or these actions that we’d rather not be engaging in. For example, Sounds like for you, you prefer, you would rather have not been taking sleeping pills, but it felt like you had no alternative, because otherwise then you had to deal with the wakefulness and all the thoughts and feelings that come with it.

Martin: And so we end up feeling stuck, like we’re out of options, what do we do next? And that in itself can then generate even more intense and difficult thoughts and feelings.

Kirstin: That’s very true. And I think you make a valid point. I’m a person that doesn’t really like to use a lot of medication. I think it’s necessary when it’s needed, but for me, it was like, I don’t want to be reliant on something to help me fall asleep.

Kirstin: So it was almost like a spiral. I didn’t want to take the tablet, but if I did take the tablet, then I was able to sleep. And if I didn’t, I wasn’t able to sleep. So I was almost going in this absolute spiral and nowhere seemed to give me like an answer to this terrible thing that I was going through.

Martin: It sounds like it was, in addition to it being difficult, it maybe felt like a little bit confusing and mysterious as well.

Martin: Like, why is this happening? Up until that point, I never really had an issue with sleep. So why is this kind of showing up now? And then that in itself can lead to all these new questions. Is there something wrong with my sleep? Is my sleep system broken? Like what is going on here?

Kirstin: Exactly that. It was a very confusing time, lonely time. I was beyond myself and I didn’t know what to do.

Martin: I think a lot of people who aren’t really familiar with insomnia just think of it as like a nighttime problem.

Martin: It’s a struggle during the night, but really, it’s a Daytime struggle too right because we have to deal with everything associated with insomnia during the day like how we feel All the fatigue the anxiety the worry that’s difficult to focus How are you finding? struggle with sleep at night was affecting your days.

Kirstin: Oh, it was really terrible. It completely took over. I was obsessed with sleep, researching, Googling actual like not sleeping, but then also the, taking sleeping tablets and reading all these articles of you become addicted to it and you’re going to have to take more and more as your body becomes used to it.

Kirstin: So I was, again, just a spiral being filled. Also as soon as the nighttime approached, I was very nervous, very upset. I remember crying a lot. I’ve never cried so much in my life. It was terrible. I think another thing that you raise, I spoke to a lot of people who were trying to be very supportive. I do have a lot of friends and family that are supportive.

Kirstin: And I think they have either heard a story or themselves experienced sleep disturbance. And now that I’ve got a bit more knowledge on insomnia, I, for lack of better word and inverted commas, get annoyed when people. Say sleep disturbance is equal to insomnia because it’s really not insomnia is being scared and having a fear To not be able to sleep But what makes it so terrible is that it comes around every single day and every single night So if people are scared of heights and i’m not taking anything away of other fears i’m taking that because that’s the easiest example You can do things to prevent yourself from being in that situation.

Kirstin: You can try not fly as much or not go up in high buildings or that type of thing. Almost give yourself a little bit of time to recover and just work through the situation before you faced with it again. However, with insomnia, whatever you do, it comes every single day and you faced with it.

Kirstin: Day and nighttime and this fear just absolutely keeps building and that really made my days really difficult another thing that I That I found myself doing quite a lot is having sleep envy During those days when I was so confused and what’s happening with me I would literally walk around and apart from being so obsessed With researching sleep I would be thinking everyone that I walk past I’d be like I wish I didn’t have the sleeping problem.

Kirstin: It looks like you don’t have a sleeping problem I don’t know. My mind was playing so many tricks on me. I would literally be wondering is anyone else walking around me that’s also having this problem because no one seemed to, when people were saying to me, sleep disturbances, you just need to relax and, get out of this burnt out position and things will get back to normal.

Kirstin: I knew that was not the issue because I knew it wasn’t something else hindering me. It was. Oh my word, I cannot sleep and I’m so scared of not sleeping. And it was really difficult to put it into words. So my days were very terrible.

Martin: Yeah. I think you just highlight how difficult it can be. And I think you make a really good point that this is something that it’s almost, we, so we’re dealing with.

Martin: All the difficult stuff that comes from the fact that we’re struggling. And then on top of that, we’re dealing with anticipating a whole renewal of that struggle. as the night approaches. And I guess for, maybe for people who aren’t that familiar with insomnia, maybe this, like a parallel would be something like, maybe this is what made the Nightmare on Elm Street movies so scary or so effective was because these terrible things happened in their dreams.

Martin: And so these people were trying to avoid dreaming but the fact of the matter is you can’t right if you’re gonna sleep you’re gonna dream So they had this knowledge that every night this thing was gonna happen to stick with the movie theme, I remember when I first watched the Blair Witch Project and I don’t know if you’ve seen it or if anyone listening has seen it, but this group of people and they get lost in the woods and every night is a really traumatic experience.

Martin: And I think what made the movie so effective and so powerful was the fact that they’re trying to get out of the forest each day. And as, as it becomes apparent that they’re not, As the audience, you’re watching this and you just start to feel like this anxiety and this discomfort as you know the night is coming and how difficult and how traumatic that night is going to be.

Martin: And so I’m really glad that you raised that because I think for people that aren’t really struggling with chronic insomnia, they might not get that part of it. It can be really difficult because you’re dealing with all the stuff as it happens and then you’re preparing yourself for what might happen.

Martin: Night after night.

Kirstin: Exactly. It was, that was the hardest thing about it. Just not being, it sounds bizarre if you think about it, it’s what do you mean? It’s such a natural thing. And that’s what makes it also so bad because you’re like, Oh my word, am I broken? What is wrong with me? How am I not sleeping?

Kirstin: Yes, I know it’s natural. And really. I don’t think if you don’t go through insomnia, you don’t truly understand what it means. You can be supportive for someone and be there for them and learn as much about it. But this thing that happens in your mind of how it takes over and how I used to be a person that, and I guess this comes later on in the discussion of how insomnia has helped me, but I used to be a person that stressed about everything.

Kirstin: And when I was going through this insomnia period, I stressed about nothing else but sleep. Everything the whole long list that I always had about life stresses completely went out the window. All I could think about was insomnia day in, day out. And it also becomes all you can talk about and you just sit there and you start crying and it’s I also feel sorry for the people that are around someone suffering with insomnia because I’m sure most of people’s families try to be supportive, et cetera, but it, I feel sorry for, as a person that went through insomnia for myself and other people that have gone through it or going through it, but the people around you.

Kirstin: If you just take a step back and look or put yourself into their shoes, it must be something just so you can’t expect them to relate to you because it is something so personal that you only really experience if you go through it. And that was something I only realized and saw like a lot later on in my journey, because in that point in time, all is your insomnia.

Martin: Even though you were quite lucky in the respect you had a supportive environment around you, you still felt quite isolated and quite alone in this.

Kirstin: Very much. Loneliness and isolation is definitely the best words to describe this experience.

Martin: When you were tangled up in this struggle. What kind of things did you try in an effort to get your sleep back on track and to deal with this?

Kirstin: Initially when I stopped the sleeping tablets or tried to, wanted to the first thing I did was, okay, I’m going to go to the pharmacy and I’m going to try get some herbal thing.

Kirstin: And I remember quite prominently going to the pharmacy and telling this lady that I am struggling to sleep. I don’t want to take, um, intense medication, prescription medication. What herbal things can she offer me? And she decided to tell me this whole long story. And she was like she gave me this herbal medicine to take, but then she was also like, you need to change your life.

Kirstin: If you’re not sleeping, there’s obviously something happening. And she was telling me about her own story of not sleeping. And now I know that was sleep disturbance, what she went through. Cause she was saying things like she left her job. She left her country and she ended her marriage because all of these things were causing her to not sleep.

Kirstin: And I just think back and I’m like. Oh my word, imagine, like you should be so careful what you say to someone that has insomnia, but it’s a weird thing because if you don’t go through insomnia, you don’t know what to say to them, or you don’t know what the right advice is actually, because You don’t understand it, but her saying those things to me, I obviously didn’t do any of that, but if I was maybe slightly more of a, in a more desperate situation, even though I felt very desperate, it’s very difficult.

Kirstin: And you should be very careful what you say to people with insomnia. It was just something that I remembered. And I was like, that was quite a scary thing to just give advice freely like that. But. My days were filled with also trying to think of other sleep remedies. So I would stop drinking coffee and I really like coffee a lot.

Kirstin: So I was like, let me give up coffee. Let me drink herbal teas chamomile tea. take a bath, have candles, read before bed, not because I actually enjoy the reading, but because it’s supposed to help me sleep. So I had all these sleep efforts. And the other thing that was quite a big sleep effort, I was like, I’m not allowed to think of insomnia.

Kirstin: I call that a sleep effort because I think that is also something A lot of people told me they’re like, just don’t think about your insomnia. Just go to bed, lie there, think about happy things. Think about people like going outside on holiday and just being in the nature, et cetera. So I tried all of that and it actually just made it worse.

Kirstin: Cause if you’re telling someone with insomnia to not think of insomnia, it’s actually. So counterproductive. I also started running, trying to exhaust myself, and go to the gym more often. And none of these things were working, and I was becoming more and more desperate, and thinking, Oh my word, now I’m really broken.

Kirstin: This is, nothing is helping. And then I obviously had to resort asleeping tablet the whole time.

Martin: You make a really good point there about this difference between sleep disturbance and insomnia. And I think that one of the key differences, sleep disturbance is generally more temporary in nature.

Martin: And I think it has the characteristic that it’s, We can identify the trigger. So you use the example of like your pharmacist. I think they said when they travel, they tend to experience some sleep disruption. But then it gets back on track either when they’re home or when they’ve adjusted. And that’s the difference is when we experience these temporary sleep disruption, we can generally recognize what’s causing it, and it tends to go away when that trigger or that situation isn’t present or it’s not relevant.

Martin: And the difference with chronic insomnia is the trigger might be mysterious, or we might not know why it’s showing up, or we might know when it first shows up. When that trigger was first present, when the insomnia first started, but that trigger now is no longer present, or it’s no longer relevant, but yet the sleep issues remain.

Martin: And then there’s a change in our approach to sleep as well, which is a common characteristic of the longer term struggle of chronic insomnia, where we start to put more effort into sleep, where we never really thought, I’ve got to put effort into sleep before, and now we want to fix this problem, and so we’re putting more effort into sleep.

Martin: We might have new rules around sleep, like I can’t watch TV in the evening, I can’t drink coffee in the morning. We might have new rituals, like I have to read one chapter of a certain book at a certain time. And we might try and change our thoughts like you suggested. And this is again where we can get so stuck because when all of this stuff doesn’t seem to work, we can start thinking we’re broken, there’s something seriously wrong.

Martin: Really, when this stuff doesn’t work, it’s a valuable insight which often is clouded in the fog of the struggle that we’re dealing with. And the insight is. no matter what we’re doing, no matter what we’re trying, doesn’t seem to be getting us unstuck. So perhaps that suggests that our experience is telling us that the more we try, the more effort that we’re putting into sleep, although this effort and all these attempts and all this focus is completely understandable, perhaps that implies that Sleep cannot be controlled.

Martin: And the more we continue to try, the more effort we put into it, the more rules and rituals we have around sleep, the longer we’re going to remain stuck.

Kirstin: That’s very true. Honestly. I completely agree with what you’re saying and you get into the spiral where you just try more and more rituals and you research more and more on Google and everything is just.

Kirstin: going more and more south as you’re in this the spiral and it really affects your mental being and like how you view Just literally everyday life you become so desperate and lonely and isolated as we spoke about earlier. So just being stuck this insomnia thing is a phenomenon where you’re battling with your thoughts and you are stuck until you really do the right thing to try and overcome it, which is, working through the mental aspect of it.

Martin: I think battling is the key word that you shared there because I think many of us would recognize that if we’re engaged in a battle, then maybe sleep is less likely to happen.

Kirstin: Exactly. Completely agreed.

Martin: But again, I think one reason why we can get stuck is because we think if I don’t battle, what’s the opposite of that?

Martin: Surrender? And I don’t want to surrender because this is awful to deal with. So again, we feel stuck. We might even recognize the battling isn’t working, but we see our only alternative is surrender, which means a lifetime of this. So we’re stuck in the middle of those two options, which feels completely impossible to deal with.

Kirstin: Exactly. And I almost think battling you a little bit more, it’s more known. So you know what’s going on, where If you tell someone that’s not got any context of insomnia and they’ve just started their insomnia that you need to surrender, I think, I know I would have said, what do you mean surrender?

Kirstin: And that sounds so extremely scary. Because even just the, one of the things I Googled during this time was people speaking about CBT I and I obviously didn’t know what it means at the time when I was in the struggle. But then, Also, obviously some bad articles written about it, but where they would only let you sleep for two hours and monitor you for a few weeks or months and like each day or each week you would add an hour or something.

Kirstin: Like to me, that would have been a thought of surrender, but that sounds even more terrible than this battle that I, that’s known to me that I’m currently facing. So I think This whole surrender thing sounds super scary and it’s so just you don’t understand what that’s supposed to mean at that point in time.

Martin: That is a great point. Surrender has so many negative connotations, right? It means giving up it means defeat. Whereas when it comes to insomnia, it’s really more about how workable is the battle, is the strategy of battle proving to be. And if it’s not, is there an alternative approach? Did sleep in the past require all of this effort?

Martin: Did it require the battling? And if it didn’t, can we get to a place where that’s not required again? And surrender isn’t about giving up. And it’s not about defeat. It’s about exploring a different way forward that doesn’t involve battling. That doesn’t involve struggling. I’m curious because tried so many things, did a lot of research.

Martin: When you came across my work, what was it that you felt, either stood out or was appealing or was different or captured your interest compared to all the other material and information that’s out there?

Kirstin: I remember the day so well. It was a weekend that my partner and I were actually visiting some family.

Kirstin: And. I was drinking my sleeping tablets and I was on actually other medication that my psychiatrist prescribed to me. And she was even saying to me, oh my word, she doesn’t understand how this stuff doesn’t knock me out. So then I was even in a worse place. But then my psychologist that I was seeing, who I was also seeing to try and help me through this, I literally, I tried everything.

Kirstin: It was crazy. She said to me, Go and YouTube or Google since you love googling so much and go and check out Sleep anxiety and honestly, I am so grateful for her to have said that to me because she’s not a sleep expert but she gave me that advice and I went and I was like, okay, I mean Let me just try this.

Kirstin: And I came across one of your videos and I watched it. And it was actually the video with Maria and honestly, I watched that video so many times. So if Maria is out there and she’s ever listening, just thank you for your story, Maria. She was just saying so many relatable things. And for the first time.

Kirstin: I feel like very few times in life you have this aha moment and that video was honestly just made me relax so I listened to this video felt such relief for the first time didn’t feel so lonely Hearing that people didn’t sleep for days. I was like i’m not the only one in this world that’s experiencing this absolute terrible thing.

Kirstin: So hearing her going through her stories, and I think why her story also stood out to me was she spoke a lot about going off medication and she was on medication. So for the, it was a really relatable story to me. So I really was so intrigued by this, but then also my problem solving mind afterwards would be like, No, surely not.

Kirstin: It can’t be it like, surely you need medication and stuff to fix this. Surely it can’t be like just a mental thing that you need to work through and, do this acceptance and do everything that’s in your course. But it was cool and weird at the same time, because for the first time I felt relief.

Kirstin: But then also I was like really questioning this. And I didn’t know how to apply any of the things. I think now looking back to that moment, it was, it’s really cool to look back to that moment now.

Kirstin: Because it was actually a life changing moment.

Martin: That’s really powerful and it’s one reason why I’m so grateful for people like yourself coming onto the podcast to share your story because like we talked about earlier it can just feel so lonely and isolating and scary and to hear other people’s experiences, how they’re, how they struggled, the fact they got through it.

Martin: You can really identify with so much of what people talk about. And you do realize that you’re not alone. There’s it doesn’t necessarily make things easier. Like it’s still difficult what you’re dealing with, but it’s almost like that burden is now being shared a little bit. with others who are out there, you realize you’re not alone.

Martin: And you also realize that maybe there’s that glimmer of hope that if other people are going through what you’re going through and have come out the other side, then perhaps you can too. And now, of course, your problem solving mind will probably be coming up with all the kind of what ifs, what if you’re the exception?

Martin: Yes, but this person had this or did this, you’re a little bit different here as it’s trying to look out for you. So you, on one hand, you have that kind of relief. And then on the other hand, you have your brain going what if still now, what if this doesn’t work, then you’re all out of options.

Martin: So we’re still dealing with all these difficult thoughts and feelings, but just realizing you’re not alone, that your experience isn’t unique or even unusual can be so helpful.

Kirstin: Something that you said now that I think is really important is this whole thing of you thinking you’re the exception. I remember, I know I could relate to this one particular video very well, but my problem solving mind would try and search for exact similarities to myself and other people in other videos.

Kirstin: So I would have this relief that, okay, maybe there is something out there that can help me. But then I almost wanted to marry back my story exactly to someone else’s story. And of course that’s not how it works. It’s a bit, everyone’s story is a bit tweaked in different ways, but it was just so interesting now that I can look back and analyze the situation of how extreme your problem solving mind can really be.

Martin: It’s always so much easier to look back on this in a different context, right? And you’re able to more easily pull out these little insights and actions and behaviors that may not have been helpful or that were helpful. It’s just a completely different context, right? And it’s great that you’re able to look back on that and reflect on this and to share your insights with others by coming onto the podcast.

Martin: So I’m curious when you found these videos, you related to other people’s stories. Of course, information is just one part of the puzzle, right? We can consume all the information in the world, but unless we do something with that information, it’s unlikely that we’re going to experience much change.

Martin: What changes did you make in response to this new approach or this new direction that you uncovered?

Kirstin: I watched all these videos and I had a to do list of things. I’m careful to say to do list cause you don’t want to actually say any of those types of words with insomnia, but there was at least like a plan to follow and that was, okay, firstly, I’m going to.

Kirstin: Wean myself off any medication if I’m going to do this plan. I want to do it on my own Through my own ability without something helping me because I knew if I had to stay on the sleeping tablets and if this worked because I now finally had a bit of a Glimmer of hope I would be thinking oh, it’s only working because i’m applying it with taking medication So I slowly I weaned myself off the medication Watch the videos during the day.

Kirstin: And then I, the first night I said to my husband, I was like, I’m going to just, If I can’t sleep tonight, I’m going to get up and I’m going to go to the lounge. You don’t need to worry about me. Because he would always be quite worried. If I get up because obviously he knew this was such a traumatic thing that I was going through and you would, try to chat to me or, support me.

Kirstin: But I said to him, I need to take a step back from. everyone around me, i. e. family and friends in terms of taking advice and just talking about the sleeping thing. I don’t want to talk about it. I’m going to take a step back and I’m going to try and follow this plan that I found.

Kirstin: This was my I had to try this. This was worth a shot because I just couldn’t carry on how I was carrying on. It was just so lonely and depressing and so many people were saying that this worked for them. So the first night I, it didn’t work. But I knew that was probably going to happen.

Kirstin: It wasn’t going to just happen overnight. The second night I was also still struggling to sleep. And I think in those days, I think I emailed you and I was asking you questions cause I was seeking reassurance cause I was thinking, okay, no, but I saw these videos, but now it’s not working. I need some reassurance, but anyway, I didn’t cancel any of my plans.

Kirstin: I remember I had a friend visiting and I was like, I haven’t slept for two days, but I’m still going to see this friend. In all the videos that I’ve watched, they say, don’t cancel your plans, just go. And I was really fatigued, but I still went. And on the third night, the magic happened. And for the first time in months, I slept without any tablets on my own for about six hours.

Kirstin: And I was like, no, this can’t be. I remember being so shocked, but so happy when I woke up that morning, I was. So happy, but obviously then as the night time approached again, I was like, Oh no, maybe that was a one off cause I was really tired. And for about a week, I actually fell asleep every single night.

Kirstin: I had my comfy corner on the couch. I set it up every night before I went to bed. And I knew that if it didn’t happen tonight, I had a place to go and I had a plan and I wasn’t going to worry about being awake the whole night. So that’s where this whole struggle then started to. Like the pressure started to alleviate a bit

Martin: just knowing that you had an alternative you had a plan in place so whereas before When sleep just wasn’t happening, it would just create Struggle because you had no options No kind of plan of action for what to do in response other than what maybe you’ve been doing up to that time Which was trying to think about?

Martin: change what you were thinking or putting pressure, putting effort into sleep, trying really hard to just make sleep happen, clear your mind. Now you have this alternative plan that said if I’m awake and things start to feel difficult, I can just move to the couch and maybe I can read, or maybe I can watch TV.

Martin: And really that’s what it’s all about, right? Because what you’re doing there is you are giving yourself the opportunity to reloan or to rebuild that skill in experiencing being awake with a little bit less struggle. Because we can, the more we struggle with being awake at night, the more difficult it becomes.

Martin: And the more we might be training our brain that being awake at night is a threat, it’s a danger, it needs to be alert to protect us from being awake. And that in itself then makes sleep more difficult. So you’ve got this alternative plan that helps you practice being awake with a little bit less struggle in a slightly more appealing way.

Martin: Now it’s probably not going to lead to you feeling this overwhelming sense of joy that you’re awake. But if it just helps you practice being awake with a little bit less struggle, that’s perhaps going to be more appealing. And continuing to struggle.

Kirstin: 100%.

Martin: And it also, perhaps, over time helps to train your brain that yeah, when you’re awake it still probably sucks.

Martin: You’d much rather be asleep, but it’s not a physical threat. It’s not a danger. And the brain learns this because if it was a danger, then you wouldn’t be reading a book, watching TV. You’d be engaged in the struggle. And I think that’s where the difference is. In that context, a lot of people say to me, I don’t want to get out of bed when I’m awake.

Martin: And I say to them you don’t need to. Really, what the goal is just to practice experiencing being awake with a little bit less struggle. If you don’t want to get out of bed, Feel free to stay in bed and just explore ways of being awake with a little bit less struggle. So you might read in bed instead of reading out of bed.

Martin: You might even watch TV in bed, which is crazy when you read all of the stuff that’s out there that says you cannot do anything in bed other than sleep. But really the nuts and bolts of it is insomnia is a struggle problem. It’s kept alive the more we struggle with it. By having an alternative option of responding to wakefulness that involves a little bit less struggle can help us start moving away from feeling stuck, from being in that hole of insomnia.

Martin: And it sounds as though that was your experience, if I’m hearing you right.

Kirstin: That’s correct. That’s absolutely right. And also as my recovery journey progressed, I was quite fluid. It’s a good point that you made that you don’t have to get out of bed. So definitely at the start, that was something I definitely did.

Kirstin: But as it went on, I thought to myself I’m going to be fluid with this. And sometimes I would read in bed or I would just Lie in bed and do some of the exercises from your course, or I would watch my series in bed. So I then made it very fluid so that I didn’t want to be boxed into anything.

Kirstin: When I started understanding insomnia, I was like, I need to be fluid because I need to be able to deal with anything coming my way and need to be able to work through it.

Martin: I think that Being more flexible in how we respond is one of these indicators that something is changing.

Martin: Because when we’re really tangled up in that struggle, it seems as though we’ve got no options. That the only thing we can do is resist and fight and battle, and understandably to try and fix this issue. That’s the only way we can respond. There’s only one possible response. But then as we start to move away from the struggle, we realize we do have alternative options that we can respond in a slightly more flexible way.

Martin: And one way is we can get out of bed, or we can stay in bed, we can read, or we can watch TV. And we can respond the next day in different ways too. This can be really difficult because we can feel exhausted and fatigued and stressed and anxious and depressed and worried. So our brain is screaming at us to do less, to withdraw from life.

Martin: And unfortunately, that rarely makes things easier, especially over the longer term. If we’re able to somehow just push through that, even if they’re tiny actions, and just do some things that are important to us, that matter, no matter how small they are, then, again, we’re responding in a more flexible way.

Martin: And We are giving ourselves the opportunity to keep moving toward the life we want to live, to keep doing things that matter, even when the insomnia is still present. And the more we can do that, I think the more we also perhaps train the brain again, that wakefulness isn’t something you need to be quite so alert to protect me from.

Martin: I can still do some of the things that matter to me, that are important to me, even after difficult nights. And, when you’re able to continue to practice this, you do start to generally notice things change and sometimes it can be this really insightful moment, like you shared, like that first night when you sleep without medication.

Martin: And other times it can just be, It can be less of the aha moments, but more of just things slowly start to change. You start to notice you are able to do more of the things that matter independently of sleep. You notice that maybe there’s a little bit less fear and trepidation rising as the night approaches because you’ve got an alternative plan in place.

Martin: You’ve got alternatives to just endless struggle. Um, yeah, I really appreciate you, you sharing that experience and that insight with us. Were there any other changes that you made to your approach other than, having that alternative plan for dealing with wakefulness when it showed up and trying to follow through with your plans or continuing to do things that mattered to you?

Kirstin: I think I definitely threw all the sleep efforts out the window so that I went back to drinking my coffee didn’t need to do all these sleep rituals and be, do this at a certain time before bed, be calm put on candles. If I put on candles, I would put on candles because I actually wanted to, not because it made me sleep.

Kirstin: And I think the other thing to, to stress was that It didn’t just become like that first, I would say, first week it was amazing and I was on this almost like this high, in this cloud of just being so happy. Like I’m seeing everything in color again after struggling for so long. But the speed bumps are very real and this You have to keep applying everything that you learned.

Kirstin: I, I had a few months where I had to implement this and I had speed bumps and I had to each day dedicate to change the way I was thinking. So I think one thing I changed was just how I was thinking and not applying all these sleep rituals and also trying to be. excited about life in general. And also when I had things that were going to freak me out, like a speed bump or dealing with, if you have family over or other people staying over thinking about how am I going to deal with my insomnia tonight?

Kirstin: If I’ve got people staying in my house. Going through all of those things and working through them also really helped me and helped generate positive thoughts as to how to work through it and not be so scared. So I think I just, I really changed my mentality of how I thought about insomnia and how I thought about going through the day and preparing for nighttime.

Kirstin: But I didn’t really, I didn’t change anything else specifically. I didn’t incorporate something or take something away other than what I’ve already done.

Martin: I’m glad you mentioned those the speed bumps or the ups and downs on the journey because they are a part of progress. Setbacks are a part of progress and they can still be quite crushing though, right?

Martin: Especially when we feel like we’re making this. stretch of progress and things are looking up and then some difficult nights show back up, it can be quite crushing and we can feel like this isn’t working, I’m back to square one, maybe I should give up and go back to the struggle, we might even get pulled back into the struggle.

Martin: But really what matters is how we respond because it’s we’re always going to have these setbacks, there’s always going to be difficult nights, what matters is how we respond to them because we have a choice. We can respond in the old way and maybe we can reflect on our own experience there and ask ourselves how workable is that as an approach?

Martin: Or we can pause and give ourselves a moment and then decide if my experience is telling me that the old way wasn’t that helpful, maybe I should just continue on. And just continue focusing on actions that help me move away from the struggle and toward the life I want to live. And it’s not easy.

Martin: And it’s natural and it’s human to get pulled back into the old struggle. To get pulled back into the direction that moves us away from where we want to be. But no matter how far we get down that road, we can always stop. We can always turn around. We can always be kind to ourselves in response, because it’s normal for us to get pulled in the wrong direction.

Martin: And we can change direction, no matter how far down that road that we didn’t want to take, we’ve gone. We always have that opportunity to stop, pause, notice what’s happening, and change direction. And that’s really what matters.

Kirstin: I completely agree with you. And I think especially on my recovery journey I was hoping and expecting to, I’m quite an efficient person and I like to, get things done and that type of thing.

Kirstin: So I was thinking, okay, maybe I’m going to struggle for a couple of weeks, a month or so, and then things are going to just go right back to normal. Again, like how I thought if I just stopped the sleeping tablet, things are going to just go right back to normal. And I think I should stress that I had a lot of setbacks or speed bumps in my journey.

Kirstin: And each one feels more terrible than the last one because your problem solving mind is telling you all these things of why this one is different and why this one is going to, destroy your journey and everything that you’ve learned.

Kirstin: I just try to, when I had these difficult nights and setbacks, I would go back, remind myself of all the teachings from your course.

Kirstin: And it was a difficult journey and it really was not linear. It was very bumpy and it was hard.

Kirstin: It was just really hard sometimes. But I had the tools to help me. And that is what I was so grateful for. I was never back in that very desperate moment because although I might have been sad that I was experiencing these setbacks, I wasn’t so desperate because I knew that it could work. There is a way out.

Martin: I’m curious on the subject of all the difficult thoughts and the stories that the brain comes up with when things are difficult. Did you find that how you responded or your relationship with them changed as you were on this journey?

Martin: Perhaps at first, again, you were maybe trying to battle with those thoughts, trying to fight them, trying to avoid them, and then maybe as you practice a different approach of, I think you said the word, detaching from them a little bit, maybe being more able to just acknowledge them, make space for them to exist, be more of an observer of them rather than getting tangled up in a kind of tug of war battle with your mind.

Martin: Was there a change in that relationship or that approach?

Kirstin: Most definitely. Yes. And I think that was one of the Most valuable things I learned from your course, because like I said, I mentioned previously that one of the sleep efforts that I was doing was I’m not allowed to think of insomnia or that I have this problem, or I always try to avoid thoughts.

Kirstin: And I remember thinking, how am I going to get through insomnia? Trying to. Am I supposed to pretend like I didn’t have it? How do I get rid of this thought? Like you can’t, if you’re thinking of something the whole time, it’s very impossible to not think about it. And if you’re putting pressure on yourself to not think about it, you’re going to think about it.

Kirstin: So I was like really confused with this idea of am I supposed to just forget that I have had this problem or like everything that’s happened to me. And. I think what I did with my thoughts and what I could incorporate to other stresses in life, I saw myself doing as I was carrying on is actually just welcoming those thoughts in and allowing them to exist.

Kirstin: So anything that I was stressed about, I was like, okay, bring it on. Okay. I’m stressing that I’m going to have another setback. Okay. Bring it on. Let me just allow that thought to exist. And I could again just separate myself from that thought and that helped me immensely. Just being able to not chase the thought away, completely allow it, almost say to your thought, okay, cool.

Kirstin: Like I get you. I get that you, you scared about tonight or that you’re not going to sleep or that you’re going to have to go through all these things and it’s fine. Just chill there or just mellow there. You’re allowed to exist. And I just try to. Go on with my day knowing that this thought is going to be there.

Kirstin: And I was actually just okay with the fact that thought was going to be there. And it brought me so much calmness to just allow these thoughts to move around in my head and just chill there as I would like to call them.

Martin: If someone’s listening to this and they’re hearing you say talk about The benefits or this change of approach of welcoming difficult thoughts and feelings or giving them permission to exist.

Martin: And they’re thinking to themselves, I don’t want to welcome them. I don’t want to give them permission because they’re awful to deal with. How do you respond to that?

Kirstin: That is a very good question. I think one thing that, that I learned was you don’t have to, you Enjoy the struggle or the battle that you’re going through.

Kirstin: If you just fear it a little bit less, then you can see some progress. Or you can learn to have some calmness in the storm. I would just encourage those people to really just open their minds to really take this approach. You have to take a bit of a leap of faith. You have to, buckle up and go on this journey.

Kirstin: But again, you don’t have to enjoy it. So maybe it makes them feel better knowing that they don’t have to enjoy letting these thoughts go all around, but you just live with it for a little while and have the hope. That it is going to get better because sometimes nothing easy comes without a bit of a struggle.

Kirstin: And I think it’s just, there’s hope that it will get better. You just have to, be brave and just try it. Because you have nothing to lose by just trying it. And if it is difficult, It’s because it is meant to be difficult and you just eventually, through practice, you get there.

Kirstin: So I would just encourage them to, just be brave and try and embrace it. Because there’s no other way to do it than just to actually do it.

Martin: I think you made a really good point there that welcoming or giving these difficult thoughts and feelings permission to exist the same thing as enjoying them.

Martin: The difference is we’re just creating less resistance. We’re making more, a little bit more space for them to exist. And sometimes it can be helpful to just ask yourself, openly, kindly and honestly, what might be the benefits to this? To lowering the resistance level just a little bit, especially if your own experience tells you these difficult thoughts and feelings are going to show up anyway.

Martin: What might it be like to experience them showing up, if they’re going to do that anyway? But you’re not adding that struggle, that resistance on top. Instead of battling with them when they turn up, you’re maybe just being more of an observer of them. And so I’m really glad that you raised this idea of giving thoughts and these feelings permission and welcoming them isn’t the same as enjoying them.

Martin: We’re not trying to trick ourselves here. What we’re trying to do is just reduce our level of struggle with them. Reduce the power and influence they have. Reduce the amount of attention and focus and energy they’re consuming when they show up. And it’s not easy. And it does take ongoing practice. So yeah, I’m really glad that you shared that.

Martin: I think that’s a really important thing. And interesting point that you made that welcoming is not the same as or giving permission is not the same as enjoying these difficult thoughts and feelings because they’re still difficult. It’s just we’re not piling on struggle on top when we adopt this alternative approach.

Kirstin: Completely agreed that was something that really was significant in my journey when I made that, that mind shift. And again, it doesn’t come after the first or second time that you implemented it’s practicing it over and over again. And eventually your brain just calms down. And I think that is the big thing.

Kirstin: It just starts to really not freak yourself out so much.

Martin: Yeah. And I think one, One reason why that might be the case is when we give a little bit more permission for this stuff to show up, we acknowledge our thoughts and our feelings rather than just immediately start battling with them, is The brain then knows that we’re listening.

Martin: The brain, our brain is always doing its number one job of looking out for us. And as it tries to look out for us, it’s going to try and get our attention for things that it perceives as a threat. And one way to do that is to generate really uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and stories. And, if we, quite understandably take an approach where we try and fight or avoid those thoughts and feelings, then the brain can really start to panic because it’s generating these thoughts and feelings for a reason to try and look out for us.

Martin: And then if we respond by trying to ignore it or trying to resist, Then the brain gets really worried, and it starts to yell louder, and it generates even more difficult thoughts and feelings, and things get even more difficult, and then we respond with more fighting, more battling, more struggling, and the brain is going, getting even more and more powerful.

Martin: So taking this alternative approach of lowering those barriers a little bit, acknowledging them, being kind to ourselves, making space for these thoughts and feelings to be present. Because they’re going to show up anyway, trains the brain that we’re listening.

Kirstin: Exactly. Key to the success is really just really engaging with your thoughts and allowing them to exist.

Kirstin: Because you can’t pretend like it’s not there. You have to find a way to cope with it and work through it. And all the teachings from your course gives you those tools. To be able to work through it. And maybe afterwards you even find that this horrible traumatic thing Because it is traumatic for me.

Kirstin: That’s a word that I used to describe it. It was Really traumatic. Maybe the teachings that you learn from it you can implement to Make other parts of your life successful and that’s truly What I believe. You can gain from insomnia. And it’s exciting. There’s an element of excitement to it as well.

Kirstin: When you get to understand these teachings and allow these thoughts to exist because it goes further than just where you are at that point in time. And you will it’s, again, it’s not a, you’ve got it and then you can just go and that’s how you’re going to apply it. It’s, A few days you maybe got it, then you could slip back a little bit, because it’s difficult to apply that frame of thinking, and life happens there’s difficult things that happen during your day, maybe at work, or when you’re out, or, I don’t know, whatever you’re doing, it’s not gonna be easy to apply all those thoughts.

Kirstin: Every day, but if you’re kind to yourself and what is being kind to yourself mean go that do something for yourself I don’t know whether that is making yourself a cup of tea and just sitting there or Buying a coffee from your favorite coffee shop or something like that. Be kind to yourself on the difficult days but know that an easier day will come again and just trust the journey a little bit

Martin: How long would you say it got to a point where you felt that you were just no longer engaged in that constant struggle with sleep when you felt as though insomnia and all those thoughts and feelings that come with it were losing their power and their influence over your life?

Kirstin: It was probably six or seven months. Where it started to alleviate. Where I don’t fear sleep or not sleeping. I know it could happen. Cause it happens to everyone, whether you suffer from insomnia or not, but it’s not a, like I don’t get into bed fearing that I’m not going to sleep. So that took about six or seven months.

Kirstin: And again, I’ve seen videos where some people it takes quicker. Some people it takes longer. There is no right answer because it depends. You experience the journey and it could take you a year. It could take you two years. And it could flare up again at some point, but it probably took me to just get over that horrible fear and getting used to setbacks and not seeing them as setbacks.

Kirstin: It was about six or seven months.

Martin: Yeah. I like to ask that question because It’s important to emphasize this isn’t really like a quick fix. Very few people notice that everything is transformed in a few days or a few weeks. It is often we’re looking at months, right? Because it takes, really what we’ve been talking about is a skills.

Martin: They’re action based skills and they require practice. It might be like we want to learn how to play the piano or no one’s going to learn how to play the piano in a few weeks. We might feel really good and make that we’re making lots of progress pretty quickly in a few weeks, but then there’s going to be setbacks where it feels like we just can’t do this and it’s going to take.

Martin: ongoing practice, keeping on taking actions that just keep us moving in the direction we want to be heading. And as long as we’re heading in that direction, sooner or later we’re going to get to where we want to be. It’s just a case of keeping on going, heading in that right direction through consistent practice and consistent actions that are going to get us there.

Kirstin: Exactly. I agree with you 100%.

Martin: So Kirstin I really appreciate the time you’ve taken out your day to come onto the podcast. I do have one last question for you which I’m keen to hear your answer to. And it’s this, if someone with chronic insomnia is listening and they feel as though they’ve tried everything, they’re beyond help, they’ll never be able to stop struggling with insomnia, what would you say to them?

Kirstin: Oh I would just say to them. There absolutely is hope. I’m actually excited for them because the journey can only get easier from here. If you apply the teachings from your course I think. I’ve learned so much from my insomnia struggle.

Kirstin: And I think I’ve touched on it during this video, just in terms of how I deal with other stresses in life. Nothing is so big that you can’t, separate your thoughts. Because your thoughts are always going to try and make you scared or prep for the worst or that type of thing.

Kirstin: You can really apply this teaching to so many parts of your life. And I would just say there is hope and you can get over it. You really can. And you just need to be patient and you need to go through the ups and downs and also just embrace this time because you’re gonna get through it if you apply everything that you can teach through this course and through all the videos and then it’s going to be so nice to look back and just see how much you’ve progressed as a person and how you’ve gotten through this really traumatic, terrible thing.

Kirstin: Cause I’ll stress again. It, I know it’s terrible. It really is traumatic and it’s terrible if anyone is, going through it right now. But I just cannot stress as other people in other videos stressed and I watched it over and over again. There is hope and you really can get through it. And you just need to be patient and keep going and you will get there and be really kind to yourself.

Kirstin: I was serious when I said, do the little things. Everyone has something small that makes them feel better. If it’s like I said, a cup of tea or a cup of coffee, it doesn’t need to be big because you can’t do big things all the time to make you yourself feel better. It’s the little things, do little things to make yourself feel better and.

Kirstin: Embrace this course and these teachings because I truly do believe this is the way that you can get past your insomnia and you really can. I thought it was impossible. I was in such a desperate place. But it’s actually really exciting and there’s a lot to look forward to on the journey.

Martin: That’s great.

Martin: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to come onto the podcast Kirstin. I’ve got no doubt that hearing your story and your experience is going to help a lot of people. So thank you.

Kirstin: Thanks, Martin. It was such a pleasure.

Martin: Thanks for listening to the Insomnia Coach Podcast. If you’re ready to get your life back from insomnia, I would love to help. You can learn more about the sleep coaching programs I offer at Insomnia Coach — and, if you have any questions, you can email me.

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

Mentioned in this episode: From the Insomnia Coach Podcast: How Maria faced the fear of insomnia by allowing it to exist and discovered that all its power came from how she responded to it (#49)

I want you to be the next insomnia success story I share! If you're ready to move away from the insomnia struggle so you can start living the life you want to live, click here to get my online insomnia coaching course.

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