How Kristina dealt with anxiety, worry, and stress as her insomnia shifted from difficulty staying asleep to difficulty falling asleep (#38)

Listen to the podcast episode (audio only)

Kristina had a very stressful job. One night, her husband woke her suddenly after experiencing a really bad nightmare. This event seemed to trigger the release of a lot of anxiety that had been building for some time and Kristina was unable to fall back to sleep. Unfortunately, sleep proved to be difficult on subsequent nights, too — and this created even more worry and anxiety.

At first, Kristina found that she could fall asleep but would wake in the middle of the night with a racing mind and find it hard to fall back to sleep. This then shifted into difficulty falling asleep — and this change created even more anxiety and sleep disruption.

Kristina’s mind constantly worried about sleep. Even if she was doing something she really enjoyed, her mind would interrupt her with thoughts like, “What if I don’t sleep tonight?”. She wondered if this would be her entire life from now on. She worried that if her sleep didn’t improve, she wouldn’t be able to live the kind of life she wanted to live.

After trying lots of things that didn’t seem to help, Kristina started to do things that are known to starve insomnia of the oxygen it needs to survive. Instead of chasing sleep by going to bed earlier and staying in bed later, she started going to bed later at night — when she felt truly sleepy enough for sleep, rather than fatigued. She got out of bed by the same time each morning — no matter what. Whenever being awake at night didn’t feel good, she did something more enjoyable instead.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Kristina decided to work on shifting her focus back to the present moment and what was in her control. She engaged in things each day that helped her continue to move toward the kind of life she wanted to live, independently of sleep and even in the presence of difficult thoughts and feelings.

Sleep is no longer a problem for Kristina. There is no more mystery and there is no more struggle with wakefulness and difficult thoughts and feelings. Kristina’s experience proves that although we can get stuck, we are never broken.

Click here for a full transcript of this episode.

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

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

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

Kristina B:
Hi, Martin. No problem. So glad to be here.

Martin Reed:
It’s great to have you on. Let’s just get started right at the beginning. Can you tell us when your issues with sleep first began, and what you feel might have triggered those issues with sleep?

Kristina B:
Absolutely. So, at the time it was specifically around Christmas of 2019. I had a couple different reasons that filtered all into one overlying issue, but a couple things were I had a very high stressful job that was very goal oriented and deadline driven, very micromanaged. So, I always had that kind of stress hanging over my head. Then that filtered into one night in particular. My husband had this really bad nightmare that he normally doesn’t have and woke me up from a dead sleep and kind of startled me. And I think from there, it triggered all of this anxiety that was building up for months and months and months. And I wasn’t able to get back to sleep, particularly that night. And then it kind of filtered in, in this drabble of days then leading into weeks that I did not sleep, probably going maybe four days in a row. That very first insomnia kind of problem started for me. So, it wasn’t one underlying thing. I think it was many different things, but what caused it to come out was that particular time that my husband had his nightmare.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. Wow. And so when you were experiencing that disruption, it sounds like it started by your sleep was interrupted during the night when your husband woke up, maybe. Was that what the sleep disruption was like for the following nights, the following weeks and months? Was it difficulty of falling back to sleep when waking? Or is it more just the whole process of falling asleep from the start of the night, or maybe both?

Kristina B:
So, that’s a great point. So at first for me it was the… I could fall asleep and then I would wake up in the middle of the night, kind of have these racing thoughts about what I needed to do, or checklist, and day to day things. So then, I kind of had this shift where it then turned into not being able to fall asleep at all, that I would just lay there for hours and hours. So, it was kind of twofold. I began with just waking up and then not being able to fall back to sleep. And then it turned into just not being able to fall asleep at all.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. It’s obvious that that’s going to make the nights more difficult, but I like to think insomnia isn’t just about nighttime symptoms. It comes with all these daytime symptoms too. Were you finding any knock-on effects on your days? How was insomnia affecting your days?

Kristina B:
Absolutely. So, with the insomnia, this was… The first instance was around that Christmas time and so going into the new year, I had then found and got a new job. I was really stressed with making sure that I was going to be able to have enough sleep. So I could function at this job. Then I was going to have enough sleep so I could enjoy my daily things. If there was something that I was having to do either at work or after work, or in my personal life, I always had then… was very anxious if I wasn’t able to sleep. So I think that the anxiety came hand in hand with that and those sleep related worries, definitely, I think was the biggest struggle that I had because that I think was the biggest effect from the insomnia.

Kristina B:
It was always, “What if I don’t sleep tonight?” Even if I was doing something that I was completely enjoying, it was always in the back of my head. And I always would think, “What if I don’t sleep tonight? If I don’t get enough sleep right now, I’m not going to be able to enjoy X, Y, and Z.” This isn’t going away. This is something that I need to find the root cause of it right now.”

Kristina B:
And so it led to a lot of sleep related anxiety or sleep related worry. That was the biggest thing. Physically I was okay. I did feel like I was always in that hyper arousal stage or feeling where it just… elevated heart rate and just kind of jittery, a lot of it. That’s kind of where it led to.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. So before we started working together, what kind of things did you try to do to kind of fix the sleep, to try and fix the anxiety? Looking back now you can reflect on… They probably had good intentions. They came from a good place, but maybe they weren’t proving to be helpful.

Kristina B:
I feel like I did everything that I could try to do or find that was online. I think the biggest thing when any individual is facing this, the first thing you do is just start Google searching everything. So I think the easier part was what I didn’t do, but I tried… First was melatonin, magnesium, obviously probably more than the recommended dosage, weighted blankets, essential oils, lavender, oil lotion, candles, aromatherapy, THC, either ingesting that, CBD oil. I mean, anything that was a, “Hey, this will help make you sleep more restful,” from a sound machine. Or anything that was… Blackout curtains, I pretty much did it all or tried it, we’ll say.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think you made a great point that our default whenever we have an issue, normally we just go online, search Google, find all these tips and tricks and techniques because we want to fix the problem. But unfortunately all these kind of tips, tricks and techniques that tend to be right at the top of all the search results, pages of stuff, that’s generally not that helpful for people with chronic insomnia. And it can be a bit… That can make things even more difficult because when we see… I would try this, try this, try this, then when we try those things and they don’t work, then we can become even more worried that maybe there’s something unique. We’ve got this unique strain of insomnia that’s not responding well to all of these things that we’re told should be helpful.

Kristina B:
Yes, that is so true. With that being said with Google searching and you’re doing your own thing, and I know personally for me, I have general anxiety disorder. So things get very heightened where sometimes my thoughts do get away from me, and I did happen to go to the doctors. I was always a good sleeper. I never had anything like this happen to me before. I loved sleep and naps and everything. So I went to the doctors and explained to them what was going on. And they had kind of chalked it up to stress and here was a variation of sleeping pills, or benzos, or antidepressants that I could take. And so I even had one doctor tell me that I should just lather myself in the lavender lotion and count my blessings twice. That’ll help me fall asleep.

Martin Reed:
Wow.

Kristina B:
Yeah, it was quite… So, it definitely, you try to find the… You think that you’re, like you had said, this is a different kind of insomnia that you’re experiencing and you just… Once you find that perfect little or think you’ll find that perfect little formula to help you combat it, you’ll be completely fine, but that’s all of these little things that you think you’re doing right are actually pulling you more from the actual root cause of what’s going on.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, exactly. And it can just add more… This veil of mystery to insomnia, when really there isn’t any mystery to insomnia. From person to person it’s really similar. The characteristics are almost identical from person to person. Our individual circumstances can be different. And as a person, we’re absolutely unique, but the insomnia, no, not really. There’s not really much mystery there. And as you know, when we were working together, we actually… Insomnia is just so predictable and so generic that we actually have a model that describes the development of insomnia, where we have some of us are just more predisposed to some sleep disruption. Maybe we’re we have a more sensitive arousal system. We’re more prone to anxiety or stress or depression. So, we’re already a little bit closer to that bar of sleep disruption than maybe other people are, but we’re not experiencing sleep disruption yet. We might go for years, decades, even maybe our whole lives without much sustained sleep disruption.

Martin Reed:
But then we get the second P which is the precipitating event. That’s just whatever triggers the insomnia. And some of us, we don’t really know. There’s no obvious cause, but many of us can actually pin this down to a specific event that happened, whether it’s our husband’s waking up during the night with night terrors, or a nightmare, or new job moving house, going on vacation. Just any change that leads to some sleep disruption.

Martin Reed:
Now we’ve got some so insomnia going on, probably more than nine times out 10, once that trigger is no longer relevant or we’ve adjusted to it. We fall back below that bar sleep comes back. But when it doesn’t, it’s almost always down to these perpetuating factors. And these are just all the behaviors that we implement to try and improve our sleep, to fix our sleep and all the thought processes that go on often related to putting pressure on ourselves to sleep, to put effort into sleep, or to try and push away all those difficult thoughts and feelings that like to come along for the ride when we have insomnia. These are the things that keep that insomnia alive.

Martin Reed:
And so when we can recognize that, that, “Oh yeah, this does sound like my insomnia,” we can perhaps also recognize it if we can change some behaviors, change our relationship with those thought processes. In other words, address all those perpetuating factors. We might then be able to make progress towards getting our sleep back on track for the long term, rather than these things that might just be quick fixes. This is like a real long term solution.

Kristina B:
Yes, yes, absolutely. And that was a big thing for me was always the… Setting it up so I wasn’t going to just… If I was having a difficult time falling asleep, or if I had woken up and wasn’t able to, to use everything and implement it. Because before the course, I would just sit or, excuse me, lay there, and just keep my eyes shut thinking that that was going to help me or that if you’re laying there still and to keep your eyes shut, that’s going to help you just automatically fall asleep, even if you’re you’re anxious and thinking about everything else and you toss and turn and then you look over at your partner and there’s sound asleep. And you’re like, “Okay, what’s wrong with me? This is just something that’s happening to me.” And then you kind of lead into this downward spiral before you take those tools to kind of take a step back.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I always think it’s important to emphasize that all these things that we do to try and fix the problem, they’re completely understandable why we do them. They make sense. “I want to get more sleep, so I’m going to spend more time in bed.” It’s completely logical why we would do these things. But when we’re kind of caught up in that moment, in that struggle, sometimes it can be harder to see that there might be a different way of doing things that, for example, instead of spending more time in bed, “I wonder what would happen if we spend less time in bed?” If most of the time we’re spending in bed is awake anyway, what if we just spend less time in bed to…An amount of time that more closely reflects how much sleep at the current time we’re getting.

Martin Reed:
So, we’re not going to be taking sleep away from ourselves. But what we can do is take so much of that prolonged nighttime wakefulness away from ourselves while also building more sleep drive, because we’re going to be spending less time in bed. We typically will be going to bed later or getting out of bed earlier or maybe both. So we’re spending more time awake, more time for the body to get truly sleepy enough for sleep.

Kristina B:
Yes. The sleepy enough was a big thing for me and staying awake and because when you go through your whole life thinking, “Okay, bedtime is bedtime.” And even if I wasn’t tired, I would just crawl into bed and I would try to compensate for the hours that I wasn’t getting. So rather than going to bed at 10, I would climb in at eight and then that just led to more tossing and turning and frustration before getting out of bed and realizing that when you do acknowledge this, what we know as the sleep window and allowing yourself to feel what it’s like to be tired again after this prolonged period of just, well for me, anxiousness and sleep related worry, and just not being tired at all, it definitely helps you realize that this is what it’s like to feel tired again, rather than just trying to force your body to do something that it’s not completely ready for.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s easy for people without sleep issues to confuse fatigue with sleepiness as well, and fatigue, along with like anxiety and all those difficult thoughts and emotions, are probably the number one symptom associated with insomnia. But ironically sleepiness, not so much, because when we have a really intense sense of sleepiness, like we are really finding it hard to actually stay awake, we’re really likely to fall asleep.

Martin Reed:
But what can happen is when we are caught up in that struggle with chasing sleep like you described, or we’re using the clock to tell us when it’s time to go to bed, rather than that sense of sleepiness, we can feel… “I’m fatigued, I’m exhausted, I’m run down, I’ve got brain fog. I can’t think straight. This must be time to go to bed.” But fatigue doesn’t really lead to sleep, whereas sleepiness does lead to sleep. So, it’s really easy to get those two sensations confused and muddled. And that’s, I think, one reason why allotting a little bit less time for sleep, spending less time in bed can be really helpful because one of those early wins… I like to think of them as like little wins, a little stepping towards recovery, is you suddenly start to recognize that difference again between sleepiness and fatigue. And that can be really powerful. Just bringing that experience back.

Kristina B:
It really is powerful because… And then another thing that I would do is always watch the clock. And so knowing that it was not the clock watching. The clock obviously is not anything that doesn’t do any good for you except to perpetuate the problem. But it was definitely something that I felt different once I realized, “Hey, this is sleepiness.”

Kristina B:
And there were nights where, when I really started to notice things were working that I wasn’t even making it to my sleep window because I was so tired and actual sleepiness that I was falling asleep on the couch. So there was a few times that I would say, “All right, let’s try to go to bed and see what happens. And if I feel like I’m getting a little not tired again, I’ll get out.” And it definitely helped me realize that sleepiness is what’s going to lead to sleep. And, soon enough I was sleeping. So it was really good thing to recognize again.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, it can be really powerful. I think it’s almost ironic, isn’t it? Because our initial, your struggle is we feel like we just can’t sleep. And then if we start implementing the sleep window technique, we can then find, “I’m struggling to stay awake now.” It’s just a complete transformation that can really just give you that motivation to keep moving forward and stick with these kind of behavioral changes and maybe even implement some new ones too.

Kristina B:
Yes. Yes, absolutely. That was a big one for me was the sleep window. And that really was something that I obviously needed because before I didn’t know how to absolutely tackle insomnia. So, that was something that really helped me back on track with sleep.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. So, I’m just curious when, when we were working together and you learned about the sleep window and we were talking about how about we spend less time in bed, go to bed late or get up earlier, just allotting less time for sleep, what were your first thoughts on that? I mean, did it seem logical to you or, or was it kind of a leap of faith? What were your thoughts when you learned about this?

Kristina B:
Yes. At first thought, I was trying to go in as open-minded as possible, knowing that I was doing this course, and this is going to help. But at first, I definitely had those thoughts of, “I don’t understand why I would stay awake even more.” And then I would always think like, “Okay, well I’m always getting up to go to work at five or six in the morning,” and I have to go to bed later than what I thought would be a restful bedtime. At first I was like, “Oh, okay. This seems like I’m not going to get any sleep if I’m sleeping between the start time and when I wake up.” But I mean, at the beginning of it, I really wasn’t sleeping at all. So I learned that this is what I need; the step I need to take to get to better sleep.

Kristina B:
But at first it was a little bit of a challenge for me. I think the challenge came with doing things that would help me relax into that sleepiness. So it was the not watching the clock, and to learn to relax again and to use either tools that you had recommended or just to kind of relax in my own way. And that was really helpful too. Because I would just… If I didn’t have this sleep window, I would just sit there and watch the clock. And even when I did implement it, it was still like, “Okay, just because it’s whatever time it was, doesn’t mean that I go to bed, even if I’m not tired, just because this certain time is starting. If I was still wide awake doing those certain techniques or tools, or just relaxation things, if I wasn’t tired, it helped me to realize, “Don’t go to bed, because this is just going to keep me awake. I’m going to have to get out of bed soon and we’re just going to start the whole cycle over again.”

Kristina B:
So it definitely I think, it reinforced that if you’re doing this, then don’t go to bed just because you have this time. It was a big clock watching kind of mind thing for me.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. And I think that’s worth emphasizing as well because we do see some of the advice that’s online is, “Go to bed at the same time. Get out of bed at the same time.” And I think the latter point, getting out of bed around the same time each day, I think that can be really, really helpful because it helps strengthen the body clock, and it makes sure that we are just going to be spending enough time awake during the day to help build that sleepiness come nighttime. But I don’t necessarily think it’s always helpful to go to bed exactly the same time every night. I like to think of giving ourselves like an earliest possible bedtime.

Martin Reed:
So, let’s say we want to start spending six hours in bed instead of 10 hours in bed, we might say, “Okay, that’s midnight to 6:00 AM.” So, we think then instead of midnight, “I have to go to bed,” we can just have midnight. “I’m not going to check the clock anymore from that point onwards. And I’m just going to go to bed whenever I feel sleepy enough for sleep. But then regardless of how the night goes, I’ll get out of bed at 6:00 AM.

Martin Reed:
Just give that I for a couple of weeks. Many people find it helpful. But yeah, I think we can combine this bedtime with only going to bed when we feel a strong sense of sleepiness by just thinking of the start or the start of that bedtime as earliest possible bedtime rather than the time I must go to bed.

Kristina B:
Yes. And I like what you had said about waking up at a certain time every day. That was I think one of the other challenges that I had to overcome because I realized that when I was going through all of the height of this insomnia, I was definitely trying to… If it was on the weekend, I would, if I did fall asleep, I would potentially sleep in later. I was finding myself not wanting to, or having the urge to want to call out of work because I wanted to turn off the alarm and go back to bed. So, that was really important too. Just telling myself that, “Hey, no matter what time that you fall asleep and go to bed, you’re going to…”

Kristina B:
And I try to use it as more of a looking forward tool. “I’m going to wake up at say six o’clock and I’m going to complete whatever I have to do before work or take some time for myself.” So that was something that had helped me to with just the sleep window and having that set time to wake up too. Because that was also… I was noticing that, “Hey, okay. I’m not sleeping or I didn’t sleep last night, so automatically I’m not going to go meet my friend or family member because I’m going to feel so exhausted. I’m not going to have a good time because I’m going to be thinking about sleeping and everything.” So that was something that reinforced the positive sleep for me, was wake up at the same time, no matter what happens, even if it’s only an hour of sleep that you think you got just get up. So it was hard if I was asleep, because there were nights that there was no sleep, but it definitely helped with the days I got a little sleep.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. Did you have ever have those nights where it feels like you just fell asleep, like half an hour before your alarm was due to go off?

Kristina B:
Oh many, yes. Many times. I think the biggest thing was I would finally get relaxed and use a lot of the techniques or tools or just, I guess, pass out from pure exhaustion and then my alarm would go off. But that was another thing too that I would start. I noticed that I would be thinking like, “Hey, I can use this day and go to work and do everything that I need to do. Workout or go grocery shopping.” And by the end of the day, my sleep drive from last night’s non-existent sleep or whatever sleep that I didn’t get is going to help with this night’s sleep, rather than looking at it as, “Oh my God, I’m not going to sleep tonight,” or, “I can’t stop thinking about what happens if I don’t sleep. And I feel like this is going to go on forever.”

Kristina B:
So that was something too that really kind of helped with that, was building that sleep drive. So, even if it was a half an hour before my alarm, it was definitely a… Started to turn as the weeks went on.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think that’s one of the hardest things to do, I think is getting out of bed at that consistent out-of-bed time, especially on those nights where you got very little sleep or it feels like you just fell asleep just before the alarm is due to go off. Yeah. But, it can feel great at the time to just switch off that alarm and just kind of catch up on that sleep. But then all we are doing is we are just perpetually playing catch up. We’re never kind of setting ourselves up for good sleep on subsequent nights. We’re just always caught in that struggle of just playing catch up, just treading water. So sometimes we might have to sacrifice a little bit of that extra sleep we might have got in the short term to get those longer term results that most of us are, upon reflection, actually looking for.

Kristina B:
Absolutely. Yes.

Martin Reed:
One thing I did want to touch upon was the fact that when you started to implement this sleep know by allotting less time for sleep and when you started getting out of bed by the same time each day, it wasn’t like this miracle cure. It wasn’t like the very next day or two days later, everything was fixed and sleep was this magical experience for you. It took time, right, for you to implement these techniques consistently before you noticed some consistent results and started to get a little bit more confidence in the techniques? Is that fair to say?

Kristina B:
Yes, absolutely. It was not, I think we go, at least for myself, I went into this thinking that it wasn’t going to be that miracle. Snap-my-finger cure, we’ll say, that I think a lot of us set out to find with perpetual or chronic insomnia. So, it definitely took the time and the willpower to know that this is what I have to do to get my sleep back on track. And with that too, knowing that it wasn’t going to take or be an instant fix, it really helps your mind make room for more positive thoughts rather than always having just the self destruction that I think a lot of people experience in just listening to previous podcasts that you’ve done with individuals, that we think it is very, very specific to our personalities or whatever that we’re dealing with. But it definitely, if you allow yourself the time and just keep going, even if you’re going into it and you’re in your fourth week or the last week, and you’re having a really hard time or had a bad night, it helps you know that it’s okay to have a bad night, and sleep is going to come back. It’s all beyond your control, and the less control that we have with it, the better it’s going to be for us in the long run.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think the only thing that we can do to make sleep happen is to just be awake for long enough. That’s the only thing that we actually have control over is trying to stay awake. Any other kind of aspect of sleep, we have no control over. And it’s when we do try and control it, that we tend to get most caught up in that struggle.And this is where that sleep window could be helpful because we’re not trying to make sleep happen. We’re not trying to generate sleep. We’re just trying to build some sleep drive. We’re kind of reducing that opportunity that’s available for long periods of nighttime wakefulness. We just kind of setting the stage for sleep and maybe just undoing all those behaviors that we might have implemented to try and fix things that haven’t proven to be too helpful.

Martin Reed:
But yeah, I think it is really helpful to just recognize that we can’t control sleep, but what we can always control fortunately, are our actions and our behaviors. It might seem impossible or really difficult to do that, but we can. We can always do things even when our mind is telling us we can’t do them. Everyone listening to this, now we can just say to ourselves, “I cannot lift up my right hand,” or, “I do not want to lift up my right hand,” and then try and lift up your right hand. You can still do it.

Martin Reed:
You mentioned that you first learned about that sleep window and your mind was generating all those thoughts. “What if this doesn’t work? I don’t think this is going to work. This doesn’t sound logical.” But you are still able to do it. We don’t have to push all those thoughts away or try and challenge them or get tangled up in them. We just have to recognize that the mind’s generating these thoughts because it wants to look out for us, it wants to protect us, but we get to choose what to do next. And we can always make that choice. We always have control over those actions.

Kristina B:
Yes, that is I think so applicable to this and a lot of other aspects in life. But just knowing that, like you had said, your thoughts are just going to generate and they’re automatic and your reaction to them is the biggest thing of what we can control.

Kristina B:
I know for myself, I think the biggest thing with going through the insomnia was the sleep related worry all the time. I had these rapid fire thoughts of everything that I had mentioned before of what if I don’t sleep tonight or ever, or what if this is my entire life from here on out. And that would be the biggest struggle for me. So, definitely with learning, they’re just a thought, let it hang out and kind of carry on with your day. That was so life changing too.

Kristina B:
And it really, it applies to everybody. It’s not specific to a certain person, and everybody can do it, which is a great thing. Our mind, it’s so powerful, and if we start to give it what it’s telling us that we think we need, so worry, or stress related things, then it’s going to react to that and just kind of generate more stress thoughts. But if we just kind of let them hang out and carry on with our day or whatever we’re doing, it can take away some of that anxiety that surrounds it.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, definitely. I like to think of it as just making some space for them, because the mind’s always going to generate them. I think our default response just as human beings is, “This thought or this emotion doesn’t feel good, so I want to shut it down. I want to push it away, get rid of it.” But then it’s a bit like a beach ball where you’re pushing a beach ball under the water. It just pushes back harder the more you try and push it away. So if we can maybe change practice, it takes practice. It’s a new way of thinking or a new way of developing a relationship so to speak with our thoughts instead of just by default, trying to push them away.

Martin Reed:
What if we can just make a little bit of space for them? Acknowledge them that they’re here, identify them, maybe even name them. Here’s that anxiety again, make a bit of space for it, and then kind of redirect our focus and attention onto where we are, what we’re doing, the present moment. And actions and behaviors we can do that might be more constructive and more beneficial than trying to control our thoughts, trying to control our brains. So we might say, “Okay, I’m going to make sure I get out of bed at 6:00 AM today,” or whatever, whenever your alarm’s going off. Or, “I’m going to make sure that I call up my friend today,” or, “That I meet up with a friend today,” or, “I’m going to go for a walk today. I’m going to do something that’s kind of aligned with my values that helps me live the kind of life I want to live, even though my brain is in the background, going nonstop, telling me I can’t do this. I’m feeling anxious. ‘You should rest.'”

Martin Reed:
We still get to choose how to respond to that. And I think it does. It’s a new skill, right? I think it takes a lot of practice because I think all of our brains are hardwired to first of all generate difficult thoughts, but then also to try and get rid of them and stop them from happening. And that’s where we can kind of really get caught up in the struggle.

Kristina B:
Yes. I really, really valued what you had just said. That is just basically encompassing of everything with what you kind of think about and how you deal with things, so that was great. And I really like that beach ball analogy. It’s very valid because you’re not really doing anything by trying to think you’re pushing the thoughts away. Kind of just, oops, comes right back up.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. And you know, and what happens to a beach ball if we just let it float next to us if we’re in the ocean or a swimming pool? Eventually it just kind of drifts off all by itself. We don’t have to try and push it away. It will just come around. It will come and it will go if we just can make a little bit of space for it to do that.

Kristina B:
Right. Yes. So true. Very, very true.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. You know, I know that there was another technique, another change that you had made when you were lying in bed and finding that sleep just wasn’t happening. And it was just getting out of bed as an alternative to just staying in bed. And I remember when we were working on this, you mentioned that this is something you’d tried before, but maybe in a slightly different way. So we kind of explored maybe different ways of implementing this technique. Do you remember the differences you remember when we were working through that? What those differences were? And do you have any idea why you may have found a slightly different way of implementing this technique helpful?

Kristina B:
Yes. Before I had signed up for your course, if I couldn’t sleep, I would get out of bed. And with that kind of we’ll say my trial, getting out of bed, before I signed up for your course, I would get out of bed if I couldn’t sleep. And then I was also thinking, “Okay, I’ll give it a half an hour and then I’ll go back to bed.”

Kristina B:
But the biggest thing was that I was just watching the clock for half an hour and thinking that, “Okay, it’s a half an hour. I’m going to just go back to bed and then I’ll be able to fall asleep.” But it really didn’t do anything even. So, at first I would get out of bed and just go sit on the couch and either watch TV or read a book or do something. But it wasn’t a relaxation technique at all. It wasn’t anything that I really wanted to do. My mind was just ultra focused on the clock. It was always watching the clock and what time it was. “Okay, it’s been 30 minutes. I should go and try this again.”

Kristina B:
I was so anxious to try to get myself to sleep, it was just always… I was always watching the clock. So, when you and I were working together, it was more so of get out of bed if you can’t sleep; do something that’s actually relaxing; and don’t go back to bed until you feel that sleepiness. That was the biggest difference. And to not obviously watch the clock was that… Time is irrelevant in that sense and just use your body cues. If you think it’s been a half an hour or an hour or however long it takes, then that’s how long it’s going to take.

Kristina B:
The 30 minutes was just kind of a guideline. If you’re starting to feel those sleepy cues, then I would approach bed, but if not, then I would stay awake. So that was definitely I think the biggest thing, was to get out of if I wasn’t tired, but then to not watch the clock until I felt that I was ready to go back to bed doing something that was relaxing me too. It wasn’t stimulating me too much.

Kristina B:
I would go and read a book or I would go and just kind of stretch out or just sit in my living room and be mindful or breathe or meditate rather than thinking, “Well, I’m awake. I can just go and watch TV or do something that I have to catch up on or look on my phone,” which is never a good thing. So, that was I think the biggest difference.

Martin Reed:
Yes. I think, I think many people who have done a lot of research on it, some have probably come across this technique, which is usually referred to as stimulus control. And often it is suggested if you’re in bed awake for like, it’s always different, it’s like 15 minutes or 20 minutes or 30 minutes, then you should get out of bed for 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and then return back to bed and just keep repeating the process.

Martin Reed:
I think where this can be most challenging is we can easily lose sight of what the goal or what the purpose of this technique is. And really the purpose of the technique is just to prevent us from reinforcing the idea that the bed is a really unpleasant place to be. If we think that that is our goal, rather than trying to make sleep happen, getting out of bed during the night logically isn’t going to make sleep happen. And it’s not to punish ourselves for being awake or for finding it hard to fall asleep. All we’re trying to do is to make sure that when we’re awake, it’s not too unpleasant to be awake and that we are not reinforcing this association between the bed and unpleasant wakefulness.

Martin Reed:
So, with that in mind, I don’t don’t think we have to really pay any attention to the time. Like you said, when we’re just looking at the clock or trying to mentally, chunks of time, we’re just going to be more awake, just doing, being engaged in that process. Instead, how about we just use how we feel? If we’re awake in bed, as long as it feels good to be in bed, then we are not forming an unconstructive relationship with our bed because we’re in bed and it feels good to be in bed. I don’t think we need to do anything. But, if being in bed starts to feel unpleasant and it just feels like conditions aren’t right for sleep, then how about we just get out of bed or even just sit up in bed maybe, but just do something that helps make being awake a little bit more pleasant.

Martin Reed:
It really just gives us an alternative to just staying in bed and just struggling throughout the entire night, which is never, never really pleasant.

Kristina B:
No, it’s not. And getting out of bed, I really think is with all of the other tools, it is the biggest, we’ll say rule that I think is the most beneficial, because if you think that, “Hey, that’s not going to work for me,” you’re just going to lay there and toss and turn and think about… Your mind’s going to go and it’s not effective and like you had said, you reinforce that bad relationship with your bed, rather than getting out and saying… That was one thing that I had remembered too, once I started to really not pay attention to the clock and say, “Oh, you know, I’m going to go to bed when I’m tired, because my bed is a place of rest.” It’s not my adversary which I think I was treating it like that. And that really helped to form that relationship again with my bed. That’s where I get the most restful sleep and that’s where we’re going to sleep. And I really had to… It’s weird to say, but rebuild your relationship with your bed. I think when you go through insomnia you want to blame something and obviously you just subconsciously just blame your bed because that’s where you’re not sleeping and not resting and recharging. So, that’s the biggest thing that you think is the problem. I’m glad that we touched on that.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think it was about around like four weeks, six weeks of us working together. I remember you said that you kind of shifted your attention more towards things that you can do, things you have control over, like things that, actions that kind of add enrichment to your life, that add some enjoyment to your life, help you live the kind of life that you want to live. And you started to say… You started to experience the… You were finding that you were a little bit more able to be present, not always obsessing about the what-ifs I don’t sleep. You started to get that sense back that you do have a natural ability to sleep. Your relationship with your bed, like you touched upon, started to change. What was it that led to these changes? Do you think it was just purely those behavioral changes, or was there a change in your relationship with those thoughts and those emotions as well? Or, was it both? I’m just curious to hear your thoughts and how you got to that point.

Kristina B:
That’s a great question. I think it was a little twofold. If I had a day where I was adding enrichment and I basically, I think accepted what was going on and accepted that I don’t have control on any of this. And I don’t really have control on anything in my life, but, and nobody does except for nothing. But, I think the biggest thing was letting go and accepting, which really to me, was that, “Hey, I’m going to have these rough nights no matter how great of a sleeper I was or how great of a sleeper I think I should be. I’m going to have bad nights, even if I have five great nights. One night’s going to pop up and it might be really bad, but I’m still going to enjoy my life and enjoy those things that I can bring happiness and joy to myself.”

Kristina B:
That definitely had kind of brought my focus back to being present. I did use a little bit of meditation too, and that kind of helped for mindfulness, but it was mostly adding things that I wanted to do that I knew, regardless of how tired or sluggish or anxious I felt, I still enjoyed these things before, and I’m good to enjoy these things again, no matter what, and sleep is not going to take that away from me anymore.

Kristina B:
I think it was giving myself the confidence and power back with that. And knowing that, like I had said with the control thing, and kind of that I think was a really big breakthrough with the course, was just noticing that this is how it is right now and it doesn’t have to be bad. It’s kind of just the viewpoint on it, but definitely helped me for sure. And that’s when I really started to notice the sleepiness and everything was really starting to come back to me and really starting to strengthen the feelings of, “I can sleep and sleep didn’t leave me. There’s nothing wrong with me. There’s no… I don’t have any ailment that’s causing this.” It’s just a matter of your mind at that point.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think everything that you’ve said is completely logical and I think there are going to be people listening to this that can recognize, “Well, yeah, sure. If I can get to that point where I can just let go of all the effort of trying to control sleep, or if I can just allow myself to feel all these difficult thoughts and emotions, then yeah, sure, I would probably be able to sleep fine. I realized that it’s the anxiety that is causing or perpetuating the sleep disruption.” But how do I get to that point where I allow that to happen or I accept it? What would you say to people having those thoughts right now?

Kristina B:
That’s a great question. I, I think it comes down to, and I know for myself and I know everybody’s different, but I think that I’m just kind of thinking back to when I was going through all of this. I think the biggest thing for me was it has to be when the time is right for you. And there’s nobody that can tell you when that is. And you think that it’s going to be a certain time and you think that just because you’re doing all of these things that it’s going to … Miraculously your mind’s just going to say, “All right, this is you’re fixed. You don’t need to do this anymore. We’re going to be perfect now or sleep great.”

Kristina B:
But I think it’s just when you’re ready. And I don’t really know if there’s a solid answer as to how to get to that, except to just not give up on yourself and not stop. It’s definitely a commitment. And like we had touched on before, the mind is a really powerful thing. This is a whole process. It’s not going to be an overnight thing, but if you keep going and not give up on yourself and just invest the time… I mean, we do so many things and between work and personal lives, it’s just I think realizing too that you have to… At least for me, it was I had to take care of myself too, which I think sometimes we can put on the back burner. I know.

Kristina B:
I probably got a little away from the question, but I don’t think it’s a tailored suit question. It’s kind of go at your own pace and when you are ready and when you keep doing these things, it’s going to fall into place.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think it’s great. I think that somewhere, a place where we can often get tripped up is this idea of acceptance. Accepting difficult thoughts, accepting difficult nights. That can be really hard to get our heads around, because it almost sounds a little patronizing at first, when someone tells you, “Oh, if you just accept that you had a difficult night or you just accept that you’re stressed, then everything will be fine.” We can equate acceptance with giving up, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s just about accepting what we can’t control. And what we can’t control is things like sleep itself and all the stuff that our mind wants to tell us and generate and all those thoughts and feelings, those emotions. It’s just about accepting what we cannot control.

Martin Reed:
I love that you said commit, because it’s then about committing to doing things that we can control that might help create better conditions for sleep. That might help just move us toward that kind of life that we want for ourselves, rather than our mind says something, we immediately react and end up kind of getting hooked and moving away from the kind of life we want to live.

Martin Reed:
And like you said, we don’t have to do huge changes immediately. We can just take those baby steps. We can just do small, subtle changes as and when we feel ready to do so. It’s almost like a version like exposure therapy, where we just try and do something that might make us feel uncomfortable. Let’s start off really small and then as we start to recognize that we can get through that challenge. We can face that challenge. Maybe then it’s time to add a little bit more or to try something else, try something new and just go from there. There is no one size fits all and we don’t need to pressure ourselves to do everything right away.

Kristina B:
Right. And that’s the biggest thing. I think there’s a lot of power with that too. And I think what you said of definitely don’t compare yourself to what everybody else is going through, or even people and myself right now doing this podcast, that everybody is at a different place. And everybody goes through things differently and reacts to them differently. It’s just do what’s the best for you essentially. But yes, that’s such a great point.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. We worked together for eight weeks, but that was a long time ago. It was like over a year ago when we actually stopped working together. Looking back on that kind of timeline, where do you feel you were at? How many weeks, or how many months till you got to this point where you felt just like more confident about sleep? It was like less of a… Sleep wasn’t up on a pedestal in your life anymore, and you felt more confident. It was taking less of your attention and you felt it was kind of behind you now rather than on your shoulder or sitting, waiting for your own future nights.

Kristina B:
Yes. I would say it was probably a solid month after completing everything, a month or two. I really had regained confidence with sleeping after the course was completed. And I really had noticed everything that we had talked about previously with reactions and enrichment and putting those anxious thoughts into the back of your head. But I do think that I gained the most confidence with sleep probably a month or two after I was complete with everything. Because at that point it just kind of became, okay, we’re still going to… If I’m having these thoughts, or have a bad night sleep, I have this whole tool chest of things that I can use that I know how to do now. And that really built the confidence with sleep is back and sleep is now my beautiful, awesome friend.

Kristina B:
I still do have a tendency to have a bad night’s sleep every now and then. I think it’s very natural and we have a lot going on in our lives and it’s easy for something to sneak up or be excited about. There’s a loud noise or you just can’t fall asleep kind of thing. But I definitely think that on average, it was probably a month or two after the course was complete.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I love asking that question especially more recently because everyone wants to know how long is it going to take and everyone’s different. So, some people get results really quickly, some people longer. And just like you said, we can’t compare ourselves to others. We are all unique individuals. And also, because we can’t control sleep, when we try and hold ourselves to a timeline, we can then find that can be just like completely counterproductive, because we are trying to achieve results in a certain amount of time, but we can’t directly get those results. It is kind of like if we set ourselves the goal of, “I want to have a job promotion. I want to get this job promotion in like six months time,” there are definitely things we can do to try and increase our chances. We can say later at work, we can ask the boss if they need any extra projects being done. But at the end of the day, we can’t get that job promotion. We can just implement behaviors that might make that more likely to happen The timeline itself or reaching the goal that we’ve set, we can’t actually directly control. We can just control the steps along the way.

Martin Reed:
I think it’s really helpful that you said, “I worked with Martin for eight weeks, but it wasn’t until even a month or two months after we even stopped working together,” that you felt that this is just not so much of an issue for you anymore. That you felt really confident in the results you were getting. And like you touched upon, because they’re all skills based, behavior based, they’re with you for the rest of your life. So, you’re going to have some difficult nights like everyone does. If they stick around, you know exactly what to do in response to avoid perpetuating those temporary nights of sleep disruption as well.

Kristina B:
Yes, absolutely. And yet I still, still sometimes have I call them my junk thoughts, but I have, “Oh, what if I can’t sleep tonight because I’m doing something?” Or, I have this thought or had a bad day. I honestly just shrug it off now. Well, I know that I can’t control sleep. I can’t, and tell myself everything else. So it does go hand in hand.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. How would you describe… You probably don’t think about sleep quite as much as you did like a year ago, but if you just think about an average night, what’s an average night like for you these days?

Kristina B:
Well, I mean, I go to bed when I get tired. I mean, I would say, and I should preface this by saying I have a seventh month old baby. So sometimes I go to bed as soon as she goes to bed. But on average, and I will sometimes have to wake up in the middle of the night, but on average I climb into bed depending on the time is whenever I get tired and I’ve been able to just fall asleep with no problem.

Kristina B:
If sometimes my husband and I will watch a show or something in bed, because I feel obviously confident to do that again, and I’ll just pass out. I don’t stay up very long. So I don’t really have too many disruptions unless my daughter is awake. But if I do find myself waking up either to go to the bathroom, or I just have a thought come up and I can’t seem to let it go, I still will use the tools of getting out of bed or just relaxation, breathing, and visualization, those kind of things. They really do help.

Kristina B:
I’m sleeping restful with the sleep I do get, but I’m definitely sleeping restful. I wake up when, obviously still at the same time, because I have to go to work, but I’m not anxious feeling. I don’t feel that jittery kind of anxiety. So, I definitely have my sleep back.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. Wow. That’s amazing. And what about your day? What are the days like now? Has there been any change into the quality of your days or how you reflect on that life satisfaction, so to speak?

Kristina B:
I still to add try to add as many enriching things as I can into a day outside of work and routine and everything like that. But I mean, on average, I have really great days. I mean, obviously everybody has a bad day here and there, but I absolutely think that in a weird way, it kind of made me take a step back with everything, having insomnia. And I know we talked about, you had mentioned, it’s not one thing. It kind of is all of these perpetuating things and it makes insomnia either happen or prolong it.

Kristina B:
But I definitely think that I had to go through it to teach me something about letting go and control, and I feel like I bring that into different aspects of my life now. So, I’ve learned a thing or two. And that’s just me personally. I’ve learned about the control and, and anxious thoughts and, letting things go a little bit more than I previously had. On average, I feel just like a better person. I don’t know if that sounds cheesy, but it definitely helped me kind of refocus a little bit with things.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think that’s great, Kristina. I really appreciate you coming on and just sharing your story because I think a lot of people are going to really identify with a lot of what you’re saying. I think these stories can just be so powerful because almost everything we read about insomnia is really kind of like doom and gloom, because it’s not nice. It is a struggle, it’s difficult, it’s a challenge. But if we can recognize our story or our experience in that of other people, and we can hear in their own words what it was like for them, how it was affecting them, the changes they made, their struggle with those changes and how they kind of came out the other side of it, it can really kind of give us that reassurance that our insomnia maybe isn’t as unique as we felt, that maybe if there was hope that that person had a transformation, maybe there’s hope for me too. And just give us the motivation and the confidence to maybe explore making some changes ourselves. I think it can just be really powerful.

Martin Reed:
But, having said all that, I realize I haven’t asked you this last question, which I ask every single guest, so I want to make sure that I ask you too, so you don’t feel left out. 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 just can’t do anything to improve their sleep, what would you tell them?

Kristina B:
I think the first thing would be to not give up on yourself. When you’re going through this and you feel everything, every emotion, and you feel isolated and alone, because nobody that you know has gone through this, don’t give up. It’s only temporary. It’s not a permanent thing. It’s something that you can absolutely find a solution for, and I highly recommend that you do use Martin’s course and implement every thing.

Kristina B:
I hope that you find sleep again, and I think that you will, but the biggest thing is to not think that this is the way life is going to be. This is not the end of your sleep. Your sleep will return, and know that it’s going to be okay. And I think we need to hear that more, but know that it’s going to be okay, and know that you’re not alone, and it will get better, for sure. It will get better.

Martin Reed:
Great. I think that’s a positive note to end on, so thank you again for taking the time out of your day to come onto the podcast and sharing your story of transformation, Kristina.

Kristina B:
Absolutely. Thanks for having me and good luck to all the listeners out there.

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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