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How Pat got rid of her insomnia by embracing a philosophy of “fake it until you make it” and accepting anxious thoughts (#27)

Like everyone else, Pat experienced some difficult nights every now and then — but her sleep would always get back on track. However last summer, her neighbors starting throwing loud parties and this made sleep increasingly difficult.

Before long, Pat found herself starting to fear falling asleep because she knew she would end up being woken by her neighbors. She soon started to pay a lot of attention to sleep and thought that something was terribly wrong with her. She was canceling plans and would rearrange her life around sleep.

Since none of these things led to better sleep, Pat adopted a radically different strategy — she decided to approach each day pretending that she’d had a good night of sleep. She went about her days as normal and pursued enjoyable and enriching daytime activities, independently of how she slept. She also stopped talking about insomnia.

Pat shifted her attention away from sleep and refused to allow sleep to control her life. She also stopped all attempts to control anxious thoughts and instead, chose to acknowledge and accept them. The final piece of the puzzle came when Pat was able to abandon all attempts to control her progress and was able to accept that sleep is something that cannot be controlled.

As Pat discovered, if we can place less importance on sleep and refuse to allow sleep to control our lives, sleep often becomes a whole lot easier!

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, Pat, thank you so much for coming onto the podcast today.

Pat Boldys:
Very pleased to be here!

Martin Reed:
It’s great to have you on. I’m really excited to talk about your sleep issues, what you did to try and tackle them, and just to talk about where you’re at today. So before we get to start to going through that journey, let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell us when your sleep problems first began and if you have any idea what caused that initial sleep disruption?

Pat Boldys:
Yeah, so it started this past summer, in August. And I had had a few nights prior to that where I had a difficult night sleep but it wasn’t every single night. And what had been happening, I’d say since about May, is that we had some rowdy neighbors, and they were having parties at night, and we were being woken up, us and some other neighbors, calling the police at 2:00 AM and things like that. And this became kind of not every night, but it was very disruptive.

Pat Boldys:
Anyway, so starting in around August is when my sleep problems became chronic. And I didn’t realize at first that it was because of that. It took me a while and actually after watching a lot of your videos that kind of a light bulb went on. Because I remembered saying to my husband one night when I got into bed, “I’m actually afraid to go to sleep tonight because I know that we’re going to be woken up.” And all of a sudden, one day I said, “That’s it.” I thought there was something terribly wrong with me. I’ve listened to a lot of your clients and a lot of your videos and people, and I thought, “Oh, there’s something wrong with me.” But then I realized that it was because I was now becoming afraid to go to sleep because I had been woken up so many times. That’s how it started.

Pat Boldys:
And then my reaction to not sleeping was very irrational. It was as if I had been diagnosed with a horrible disease and I was almost hysterical, “What’s wrong with me?” And then, finally, I found you, you’ve sort of made me almost feel like this is sort of normal and a lot of other people are experiencing the same types of things. So that’s really how it started, yeah.

Martin Reed:
It’s interesting how you have this clear memory, although it didn’t seem obvious at the time, yet now on reflection you have this clear memory of what that initial trigger for the sleep disruption was. And on reflection again, we can probably say, “Well, that makes sense that I would have sleep disruption dealing with neighbors, dealing with the concern. I’m probably going to have my sleep disrupted dealing with the stress associated with it.” And then it’s interesting because often once we’ve kind of adapted to whatever that initial trigger is, we usually find our sleep gets back on track.

Martin Reed:
But if it doesn’t, often, again, it’s another one of these things in hindsight, we can see that, “Well, maybe the way I think about sleep changed, maybe I started to pay a lot more attention to sleep, and I think and worry about sleep more. Maybe I even found it controlling my behaviors or I was controlling my behaviors in a bit to try and improve my sleep.” And it’s often when we fall into that part of the insomnia journey that we fall into this stage where our superstructure isn’t really down to our initial trigger anymore, it’s more to do with our response. Do you identify with that as a kind of typical journey that most people with insomnia experience?

Pat Boldys:
Yes, I do because I’ve had difficult nights in the past. In fact, I think it was in March, my husband and I were in New York City and one night, I couldn’t sleep the whole night, I don’t know why, but the next morning I felt very tired, but I didn’t even think about it. And we went home on the plane, and I kind of dozed on the plane, and I said, “I’ll just get to bed a little early that night,” which I did and I slept fine, I never thought about it again.

Pat Boldys:
But this time, I think because I had night, after night after night of little or no sleep, then it became just this feeling that there was something terribly wrong with me and I started just paying so much attention to it. And I remember one thing that you said in one of your short videos that insomnia is like a schoolyard bully, the more attention you pay to it, the worse it becomes. I thought, “Wow, that is just exactly what’s happening to me, so.”

Martin Reed:
Yeah, what kind of ways can you recall that insomnia was is affecting your life? And can you give us any examples of this kind of heightened attention, or this heightened role you’re allowing sleep, or the idea of wakefulness to play in your life? Did you find that it was, for example, affecting what you chose to do during the day or was it more to do with just your thought processes around sleep?

Pat Boldys:
A little bit of both, I would say. I do remember August, it was my birthday, and my son wanted to come over to give me a gift, and we’re going to celebrate. And I just said, “Not this year, I’m just miserable, I can’t function properly.” And I explained to him what was happening, and he was very surprised and I think kind of hurt. But I said, “Next year, I’m sure it will be better.” So I remember that and I remember just feeling really just sort of fragile during the day. I could burst into tears and, of course, my husband didn’t know what to do, and what to say, and that kind of thing.

Pat Boldys:
But it was when I actually started watching your videos and you talked about how a bad night sleep doesn’t have to set you up for a horrible day. And after I watched many of your videos, I completely changed my attitude and it was like night and day. I wasn’t sleeping any better at that point, but I got up and I said, “Okay, I’m just going to pretend I had a good night sleep.” And got dressed, went out for my walk. And if I saw someone that I knew, I just talk and I wouldn’t mention anything about not being able to sleep or having this problem, I just acted very normally. And that really changed a lot for me. And I give you all the credit for that because I was really in a bad place for a while.

Martin Reed:
Well, first and foremost, I give you the credit because it’s really hard, especially at first, to change those behaviors. And in the short term, it definitely does feel like a case of fake until you make it, this idea of going about your day as though you slept well when the thing that you really probably want to do is just either stay in bed all day or just sit on the couch all day, try and conserve that energy. But in hindsight, that typically just leads to more fatigue. The inactivity usually means more thinking and worrying about sleep. So that daytime inactivity is one of these things that we see that perpetuates sleep disruption and gives insomnia the oxygen it needs to survive. So I think it’s one thing to hear someone suggest, “How about you just try going about your day as normal, do some good stuff during the day,” but it’s quite another to actually get that fortitude to actually do it because it does take time for that mindset shift to happen.

Pat Boldys:
Exactly, and it’s hard when you feel. I could get through the morning okay, and then by the afternoon I felt sort of leery-eyed but I just thought, “I just have to do this because I know that if I sit here and feel sorry for myself, it’s just going to make everything so much worse.” And so, I finally realized, “Wow, at the end of the day, I really had a good day. I wish I could sleep better but I did things. I accomplished things.” I started reaching out to some friends to go out to lunch or something like that. Or if I saw my neighbors, I’d go up just to try to talk with them to get my mind off of my issue but I never mentioned anything to anybody about the insomnia except for my family, my husband and my two kids, those are the only people that knew about it.

Pat Boldys:
Because I thought that if I started telling my friends, then they’d be asking me about it all the time. And then I thought, that’s not good because then I’d be talking about it all the time. Like I said, they could try and make it and I think if you asked anybody if they ever knew I was going through this, they would say, “Absolutely not,” because I was still doing things as much as I can being in this pandemic, but still this summer, getting together with some people here and there. And that just helped, to act like, “Well, wow, I really had a decent day. I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself. And so, the rest will come, I just have to be patient.”

Martin Reed:
Yeah, I think that’s a big thing about choosing to talk about insomnia and discuss sleep because the old adage is a problem shared is a problem halved or a problem solve. But often when it comes to sleep and insomnia, when we start to talk about difficult nights of sleep and how we’re struggling, things like that, it does just bring more focus and more attention to it, and it can almost extend that negative feeling and that negative relationship we can have with it.

Martin Reed:
So I think that it can be beneficial to talk about how you’re struggling with a small circle of people, just as you suggested, but maybe just don’t use that as a conversation starter or the core subject of your discussions with every single person you meet, because it does bring more attention to sleep. It kind of builds this insomnia identity within your personality as well because people might start to think, “Oh, here comes so-and-so, here we go, they’re going to start talking about their insomnia and if they don’t, what do I talk to them about? Oh, I know, I’ll have to talk to them about their insomnia because that’s all they really like to talk about.” So I think that was a really interesting observation. It’s interesting that you mentioned that and that you found that to be helpful.

Pat Boldys:
Yeah, and I even remember my husband would get up before me, and I’d come downstairs, and every morning he would say to me, “Did you sleep okay?” And I would just kind of go… or I’d say, “Yeah, actually I did.” Sometimes I’d burst into tears because it just be… And then, recently, now that I’ve been sleeping much better, I said to him about a month ago, I said, “You know what, don’t ask me anymore.” I said, “I know you’re concerned and you care.” I sometimes felt as though when I came downstairs, it was this anxiety I had that I had to say that I did sleep well where I felt like a failure, it was kind of strange.

Pat Boldys:
And so, he said, “Okay.” I said, “I know you care and everything I said, and if you don’t ask, I’m not going to think you don’t care.” I said, “But it kind of just made me feel like I was put on the spot.” If I’d walk into the kitchen and he’d be there, he would get up and come over, “Did you sleep okay?” It was very kind and I don’t know. So finally, now, he just doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t really have to because I am sleeping so much better.

Pat Boldys:
But I felt like, again, the more attention you pay to it, the worse it can be or I think more so though, I just felt as though it was like performance anxiety or something that I had to come down and say, “Yeah, I slept great. I slept like a baby last night.” And I almost never said that because usually… Or I don’t know, maybe I got two hours of sleep, maybe I got zero, so anyway. It’s funny how if you think about these things that are going to make things a little bit better if you say, “Well, that’s really bothering me that he’s asking this every morning, and I feel better coming downstairs and just saying hi, good morning, and getting a cup of coffee, and have a little chit-chat but no mention about sleep.”

Martin Reed:
Yeah, like I already said, I think it can be really helpful. But sometimes when I’m talking to clients, they’ll tell me, for example, “When I go to work, how do I deal with this? Because as soon as I get to work, everyone asks me about my sleep and about my insomnia because it’s something that I’m so used to discussing.” So I think a good example to help overcome that challenge, as you just said, is to say to people, “I’d prefer it if you didn’t ask me about my sleep, if it’s something I want to talk about, I’ll raise it and I’ll broach the subject.” Because like you said, especially when you’re having a lot of difficult nights, it’s hard enough to deal with those difficult nights, let alone then have to relive them again during the day if that’s all you’re talking about or you’re thinking about.

Pat Boldys:
That’s right. Like I said, that’s why I didn’t tell hardly anybody about it because I didn’t want to have people asking me all the time. And so, it’s funny how when you’re going through this, as I said, there are certain things that you just know you don’t want to do, or you don’t want questions or something. And that was one of them, coming downstairs, it was kind of like getting out of bed and saying, “Oh, no.” I felt like I was being judged or something. Not that my husband was judging me because, of course, he wasn’t, but it was just this, when I stepped into the kitchen like, “Oh, gee,” and he kind of, I think, was bracing himself wondering, “Oh, gosh.” So that worked out well because he said, “Well, I just want you to know that I really care.” And I said, “Of course, I know that you do, but this is just what’s going to work, so.”

Martin Reed:
Yeah, well, that’s good. It’s nice that you had someone close to you that understood that, that wasn’t offended by your request. So many times we can feel nervous or hesitant to say that to people like, “Please don’t ask me about my sleep,” for example, even people that were really close to for fear we’ll hurt their feelings or make them upset. We very rarely think about ourselves. But sometimes we do have to do things for ourselves, and more than nine times out of 10, I would say, that the people closest to us do understand that, when we raised the issue.

Pat Boldys:
Yes, and I think as long as you let them know in a nice way, and you just explain to them how you’re feeling, and why you’re making that request, then I think that makes all the difference. If you say, “Don’t ask me about that and I don’t want to talk about it,” then that’s a hurtful way to say it. But if you just say, “Listen, this is how I feel. I know you care, but the more attention that’s called to this, the harder it is for me.”

Pat Boldys:
And even I think when I was dealing with my therapist, filling out the sleep log and reporting back to him every week, again, I felt like I had this performance anxiety because I was two hours of sleep here, no hours of sleep there, and I just almost feel like a failure. And that’s one thing that I didn’t like was that I just couldn’t sometimes stand seeing how little I slept. And then he’d say, “Oh, gee, you need to…” I felt like I wasn’t doing as well as I should have been doing and it was taking too long. And so, that was sort of a bother to me too. I mean, he was a big help to me in many ways but that sleep log really bothered me a lot.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, it is really interesting with the sleep logs, the sleep diaries. Sometimes they can be really helpful, for example, if we feel like we’re not making progress, nothing’s really happening, sometimes they can tease out little snippets that suggest maybe we are doing little bit better than we might think. But for some people, other times they can bring more focus and more attention towards sleep. So it’s definitely not something that if you want to improve your sleep, you must fill out this sleep diary, this sleep log every single day, I don’t think that’s helpful. Some people find it helpful, but for some people, it just brings more attention towards sleep when our goal is almost always to shift attention away from sleep and onto other things in our life.

Pat Boldys:
Yeah, that’s just how I felt. I could see that I was making some progress based on the sleep log, which was good, but I don’t know, I guess after eight weeks of doing it, I just felt like I had enough of it. And then I started sleeping a little better, by the way.

Martin Reed:
Oh, wow, as soon as you stopped with the sleep log, you found that you were doing a bit better?

Pat Boldys:
Yes, I think it was around Thanksgiving. I was into this CBT-I therapy about eight weeks and I had made some progress, not as much as I would have liked, but I just told him that, I said, “I’d like to just take two weeks off and we’ll meet up again in two weeks.” And in those two weeks, I didn’t keep the sleep log. I kind of went to bed when I felt tired. I got up at the same time every day. I was very good about that and I did sleep better during those two weeks. I can’t say I slept great, but I got more sleep than I had been getting. And then I decided to just end therapy after eight weeks and to kind of go in on my own. I felt like I had learned so much from your videos and from Daniel Erichsen, his insomnia insights on his channel that I felt like I had the tools to keep going on my own.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, sometimes it can be helpful, if nothing else, to just experiment, give yourself a couple of weeks if you feel like maybe a change would be beneficial, for example, not keeping a sleep log anymore. If you just tell yourself, “Hey, I’m not really sure what the outcome will be but I give myself a couple of weeks. So for the next two weeks, for example, I’m not going to keep a sleep diary and I’ll see if I find it helpful or not.” If we just approach it with an open mind, a curious mind, sometimes it might be helpful, sometimes not, but we don’t know unless we try.

Martin Reed:
And it sounds like for you, you found that really helpful by giving yourself that opportunity to just keep on implementing the techniques and making sure that you’re not engaged in those thought processes or those behaviors that can perpetuate sleep disruption, but just make that change where you’re not just logging your sleep anymore, you’re not writing it down. You’re drawing a little bit of attention away, a little bit less attention on sleep. Give yourself a couple of weeks, see how it goes, and it sounds like that was helpful for you.

Pat Boldys:
Yeah, and even now, I’d say the last month I really seem to make a lot of progress but I don’t ever think, when I wake up in the morning, “Oh, how many hours did I sleep?” I don’t want to know, I don’t care, all I know is I slept, I wasn’t wide awake all night. It could be five hours, it could’ve been seven or maybe even eight, usually five, six, seven, but I don’t know. And all I know is that when I wake up, I feel fine, I feel rested and that’s all that matters to me.

Pat Boldys:
I don’t want to get into that trap of feeling as though I need a determinant amount of sleep every night. I have to get seven or eight hours. I don’t like that at all. I just want to know that I slept and I feel rested when I wake up, and I think that that’s the key really. And I don’t think every night is same, I think some nights you can sleep more than other nights and sometimes you have more awakenings than other nights, and that’s fine, I’m absolutely fine with that, it doesn’t bother me at all.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, it’s interesting how our mindset, to your sleep duration as an example, changes when we have insomnia. If insomnia is something that’s more recent, it hasn’t been with you all of your life, you can probably remember a time when you didn’t really think about sleep. And if someone asked you how much sleep you got, you wouldn’t have a clue. You’d kind of think, “Well, what time did I go to bed last night? What time did I get out of bed?” And you’d just kind of figure out the difference between those two times because it’s just something you didn’t pay attention to.

Martin Reed:
And when you had a difficult night, which is a normal part of life, again, it was something you didn’t pay attention to but it all changes when you have that struggle with sleep, then you become really focused on things like sleep duration. You pay a lot more attention as well to how you feel during the day, and especially in the morning, and it becomes really easy to attribute any kind of ache or pain or niggle, or blemish on your skin, for example, with how you slept. But because we’re not paying that attention when we have a better night, we kind of convince ourselves in our minds that everything depends on us getting X amount of sleep.

Pat Boldys:
Right, exactly, and I found it interesting too when I started watching your videos how you talked about having these predisposing factors to insomnia. And I checked all the boxes, just a little anxiety about my health even though I’m very healthy, what I eat, exercise, I’m a little too, I’d say, hyper-focused on those things and I think you could probably put sleep in that category to all these things that you think are going to make you really healthy and sort of being a perfectionist, which I am. I thought, “Wow, I can see now why this happened to me because I have, I think, this underlying anxiety about my health even though I don’t need to.”

Pat Boldys:
There’s one thing I did want to mention was that during this whole bout of insomnia, there were things about me that I sort of wanted to change in the way of being too hyper-focused on health and things like that. So I feel like there’s almost a silver lining to this because I did make some other changes in my life in response to the insomnia because it’s so funny. I thought, “Well, I’m not going to care too much about this or that because all I want to do is sleep.” That was the thought I wanted. It’s like, “If I gained two pounds, well, that’s okay, I don’t care, all I want to do is sleep. If my husband’s making a mess in the kitchen, I don’t really care because all I want to do is sleep.”

Pat Boldys:
And so, I did make some changes because I felt like I had needed to anyway. So this sort of facilitated that in a way and I feel like I’m in a better place now actually. And even having gone through this for several months, it was almost worth it to come to a better place, and to make changes that I think have reduced some anxiety, and that kind of thing. So it’s funny how sometimes you do go, “There is adversity,” and then something good can come out of it if you pay attention, and I think you have to pay attention to all of that, so.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, I think you’ve raised so many great points there, I’m just trying to keep track of them in my head as we’re going through it. One of the great points, I think, you made back a little bit earlier was some nights are different. Sometimes we lose track of that, we kind of expect every night to be the same. Sometimes we can place really hard goals in ourselves like, “I want to get this amount or this type of sleep every single night.” But that’s not how life works, that’s not how sleep works. It’s just like how every day is a little bit different. Every day’s a little bit different so it makes sense that every night is going to be a little bit different too, and shifting that mindset can be helpful.

Martin Reed:
And I think another great point you raised was being able to identify yourself either in others that have had insomnia, for example, just listening to these podcasts episodes or when you realize that you fit this model of insomnia, this 3P model perfectly. You realize that your insomnia isn’t unique because that can be helpful because then you’re like, “Oh, my insomnia isn’t unique, so that means that if I do what everyone else that had the same insomnia as me did to sleep better, then surely that will work for me too.” And recognizing the precipitating factors that might just push you a little bit closer to some temporary sleep disruption, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of insomnia, it just means you might experience some difficult nights from time to time, a bit more frequently than someone else.

Martin Reed:
It’s always, well, we need this precipitating event, this initial trigger, that’s what actually makes the sleep disruption happen. But it’s always our reaction that determines how long that sleep disruption sticks around, these perpetuating factors, the final P in that 3P model that I like to talk about. So as long as we can tackle those thoughts and behaviors, it might take time, we can’t make progress, we can’t command our bodies or our sleep to respond immediately, but if we work on tackling those thoughts and behaviors, we’re always going to make progress sooner or later because that really is the oxygen that insomnia needs to survive over the longer time.

Pat Boldys:
Yeah, and I felt as though when I first started going through this that the insomnia was more physiological kind of thing, and I had no idea that it was really all about what’s going on in your brain and the anxiety. And that’s one thing that was just so eye-opening and so educational. When I started to educate myself about this, and I got your advice, and Daniel’s advice, and the videos, and I thought, “Oh,” it was like a relief because I thought, “Okay, this is something that’s fixable.” And for me, the biggest change was to change my thought process more. And the behaviors, of course, helps too, but I think with me, because I did have some of this underlying anxiety, changing my thought process and changing my attitude about this really did sort of change things for me.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, I think there was another great point that you made as well was how you’re talking about maybe now you’ve emerged from this, this made you stronger and more resilient, so maybe there was a silver lining to all of this. And the point that you made that I think really stuck with me was that what can happen is sleep just becomes our overall arching goal in life when we have insomnia and it can be so easy to not pay attention to other things that would probably make our lives better as well, other than sleep.

Martin Reed:
A common example I can think of is we just put things off or I can’t go on vacation until I get my sleep back on track. I can’t do this or that until I get X amount of hours of sleep. But the problem with that is then we put more pressure on ourselves to sleep and we just make sleep the number one focus in our life. Whereas if we can kind of take the opposite approach and be like, “Regardless of my sleep, I’m going to go on vacation. Regardless of how I sleep, I’m going to be doing this.” And all those things that you then do, they’re going to add enrichment to your life, have positive moments to your life and draw attention away from sleep.

Martin Reed:
And that can just be so beneficial because often, when we think less about sleep, put less pressure on ourselves to sleep, worry less about sleep, that’s when sleep becomes a whole lot easier. And in the meantime, you’re also enjoying your life a little bit more because you’re just kind of forcing yourself to do good stuff during the day and plan good things.

Pat Boldys:
Yes, exactly, and I even started to do some volunteer work, I felt like I needed a little something else going on during the day. In the back of my mind, I said, “Well, what if I can’t sleep the night before?” And then I just said, “You’re just going to get up, and you’re going to go, and you’re going to just do it.” And sure enough, there were times when I would show up for this work and I didn’t feel very well at all, I felt tired, but I just did it. And I got through it, enjoyed myself, and talked to some people, and it was fine. Or I’d make plans with a friend for lunch or something. And when I went to bed, I thought, “Oh, no, again, what if I don’t sleep tonight, how am I going to meet this person for lunch?” But I did anyway, whether I got five hours of sleep, or two hours of sleep or no sleep, I just said, “No, you’re going.”

Pat Boldys:
And I had a good time, it wasn’t like I was miserable, I enjoyed it. And while I was having lunch or doing what I was doing, I wasn’t thinking that I hadn’t slept because I was focused on being with someone, talking with them and so forth. So I be better than sitting home feeling sorry for myself. I was very determined that I wasn’t going to let this take over my life at first. I was awful when it first started, but then I just thought, “I can’t live like this, this is crazy.” So I was determined, and I just stuck with the plan, and fortunately, things have worked out pretty well, so.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, it feels like maybe we’re repeating ourselves, but I think it really is important because it is so much to do with mindset. Before we think about sleep or paying attention to sleep, we can recognize that if there’s something about to happen the next day, we might experience some sleep disruption. And we kind of almost sort of expect it, pay no attention to it, don’t worry about it. An example off the top of my head is anytime I’m going to go on vacation, the night before if I know I got to catch a flight, for example, I find sleep more difficult but I don’t let it phase me. I certainly don’t then cancel the vacation because of it.

Martin Reed:
But what can happen is our mindset just shifts completely when we have insomnia, especially if we’ve had it for a long period of time. And anytime we experience that sleep disruption, it really just fires up this whole cascade of worry and anxiety, and it can make us avoid doing good stuff that would improve the quality of our life. And then, as a result, we ended up doing more thinking and more worrying about sleeping, it kind of just feeds into that insomnia.

Pat Boldys:
Yes, exactly, and that’s why I think you have to get on with your life, get on with your day. And I don’t think there’s any other choice, really, to just be miserable all day or like you said, conserve energy because you say like, “Oh, I didn’t get any sleep so I can’t really do much today because I…” I can remember getting almost no sleep and in the morning, I went out and ran three miles. And I had my music on, and I took a run, and I came back and I was just so proud that I did that on hardly any sleep and I felt good.

Pat Boldys:
The sun was out, it was a nice fall day and I remember thinking, “Wow, I feel great.” I wish I had slept better but I still was able to do that, and I felt strong, and I felt like I can get through this. It gave me strength. But it takes a lot of willpower or just, I guess, our strengths get your head in the right place to do that because it’s easy to do the opposite, to do nothing. It’s just lying low in bed, and maybe pick up a book and go. So I was determined but it’s not easy.

Martin Reed:
No, absolutely, and it is definitely way easier to be more sedentary during the day. But I bet, especially that first time that you just kind of forced yourself to go out for that run, for example, if nothing else, I bet it just improved the quality of that part of the day, if not the whole day, that part of the day compared to had you just have stayed at home. And I think the other bonus is, sometimes when we do these things, we can recognize that we can be remarkably capable, maybe more so than we give ourselves credit for even when we have difficult nights or if we’re living with insomnia.

Martin Reed:
The mind by default wants to try and protect us and it sees insomnia as a threat, so it says, “No, there’s no way you can walk out, don’t do it.” It’s kind of screaming at you not to do it. But then when you do it, you might notice, “Wow,” let’s use running as an example, “I covered an amazing distance or I run in pretty good time bearing in mind I didn’t get much sleep or I got no sleep whatsoever.” And when we can realize that we might be a little bit more capable too regardless of how we sleep, we might then put less pressure on ourselves to sleep, and worry less about sleep, and then that helps us get to that point where we think and worry less about sleep and start to sleep better.

Pat Boldys:
Yeah, and one thing that stands out in my mind when I was listening to one of Daniel Erichsen’s videos, he was saying how when you have these thoughts in your brain about, “Oh, no, I’m not going to sleep tonight.” Instead of sort of diverting your thinking to sort of welcome those thoughts and say, “I hear you, brain, I know you’re trying to warn me, but I’m okay. I’m not frightened. If I don’t sleep, I’m okay with that.” He always talks about sort of the friending wakefulness, as you do, about getting up and doing something you enjoy.

Pat Boldys:
But when I started doing that, that really changed a lot. It was really interesting how I started falling asleep a little faster or if I would wake up in the middle of the night, I think I mentioned to you in an email that I hated getting out of bed. And so, I would take myself on this visual journey of a trip that my husband and I had taken and kind of like narrate the whole trip in my head, which was something very pleasant, so I could stay in bed. I didn’t have to get out of bed, but I was very happy, and calm and thinking of a lot of very good memories. And that’s another thing that helped me too because I think I would’ve made progress a little sooner had I gotten out of bed more, but I kind of really struggled with that part of the therapy.

Pat Boldys:
I should say, when I was getting these thoughts, instead of trying to divert them, to welcome them and talk to my brain that way, that really seemed to be really great on. It was like, “Wow,” I was amazed how much that helped me. And then I noticed now, I’ll still sometimes get thoughts in my head but they’re fleeting, they sort of just go in and out of my head and then I’m thinking of something else. So the thoughts about sleep are much less than they were before I wake up and that’s all I think about during the day, is, “Oh my God, when is this going to end? I can’t stand this, another day, this is horrible.” But I found that insight to be extremely helpful, so.

Martin Reed:
Were you finding it was this similar kind of thoughts each time that will come up, whereas in the past, maybe you try and force them out of your mind, or push them out of your mind and you gradually adopted this approach of, “Well, these are just thoughts? Thoughts are just thoughts, they’re not necessarily true, they’re not necessarily predictions of what’s going to happen.” Did you find there was a common thing? Were they the same kind of thoughts cropping up time and time again?

Pat Boldys:
Yeah, I just wanted to know when is this going to be over? Am I ever going to sleep again? And after I found your videos and Daniel’s, then I knew that I would because I knew that there is this therapy. Everything you said, I was like, “Oh my God, it made perfect sense.” But getting back to your question, my thoughts were about, when is this going to end? How much longer is this going to go on? I knew there was nothing wrong with me, I knew that, I figured that all out at that point. I knew that there’s nothing physically wrong with me, but I guess it was just one of these things where, “Is tonight going to be better?” I never knew what I was going to expect.

Pat Boldys:
I think when you’re going through that, sleep is very unpredictable. You could have a good night, and then you can have three nights of lousy sleep, and then another… So that’s what was going through my mind but I kept trying to just kind of swap them away and not think about them because I thought that that would be bad to sort of ruminate into. But I think if you talk to your brain that way and you say, “I hear you,” because your brain is saying there’s this perceived threat. But if you say, “I hear you but I’m not afraid,” that really seem to help. I was amazed.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, I think that when you try and push these certain thoughts out of your head, it just confirms to your brain that they are serious and they are something that it has to worry about, so therefore, it pushes back even harder. Whereas if you take the approach of, “Okay, mind, bring it on, give me all these thoughts, I’m ready for them.” Then there may be your brain’s like, “Oh, they’re telling me to think about this? He or she is telling me to worry about this, think about this, maybe it’s not quite a threat after all. Maybe I don’t have to pay this much attention to it.” And I think that’s where it can be so beneficial to get to that point where you just welcome these thoughts or, at the very least, just recognize thoughts for what they are, which is just thoughts, just little bursts of chemical electrical activity in the brain. It’s really all to do with our reaction to those thoughts that determines what it’s going to do to our stress levels and what our relationship with our thoughts is going to be.

Pat Boldys:
Exactly, and I hadn’t realized that. I thought that the answer was just to not think about it and that that was going to make everything worse. So it just seemed kind of, I don’t know, counterintuitive or whatever, to welcome those thoughts as opposed to trying to divert attention away from them. So I found that to be very, very useful. I heard Daniel talking about it and I said, “I’m going to try that from now on.” And he mentioned too, the visual journey and take yourself to a place maybe you’ve been that is beautiful. And that’s what I did, and narrated through the whole trip, when we left and where we went, we went to dinner here, and did that and all these nice memories. And that was really great because I was lying there thinking of something really pleasant, not, “Oh my God, when am I going to get back to sleep? I’m so miserable. What time is it?”

Pat Boldys:
And now the other thing you both of you mentioned was not to check the clock, and that is just so smart. And even now, when I’m sleeping so much better, I still never look at the clock, it doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t matter the time it is. I know my husband gets up at 5:30 or 6:00, so I know what time it is when he gets up. But If I wake up, I don’t care if it’s two o’clock, or three o’clock, or four o’clock or whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. And that’s huge, I think, because I think if you’re constantly checking the clock, it’s just so anxiety-producing. So I’m very glad that I found your videos. And the content on your channel is excellent and it really helped me a lot, tremendously.

Martin Reed:
That’s great, and that not checking the time during the night, it seems like such a small thing but I think it can really be so helpful because really, the best possible outcome of checking the clock during the night is not outcome, it’s neutral. So it’s never really going to have a positive effect, I don’t think. But almost invariably, especially if we’re worried about sleep, it’s going to lead to worry or just an increase in arousal. If nothing else, we have to kind of just figure out in our heads how much time is left till the alarm goes off, and that requires some brain activity, some additional thought which we don’t need to be concerning ourselves with during the night when we want to be asleep. So I think it can be really helpful.

Martin Reed:
Anything that you can do or think of that just makes being in bed more pleasant during the night, so for yourself you said it was welcoming thoughts, guided visualizations, just remembering pleasant things, pleasant memories, that can be really helpful too because it just makes being in the bed feel good. And I don’t think there’s any need to be getting out of bed during the night when being in bed feels good because it means, really, that conditions are right for sleep, so why get out of bed? But it’s just if you’re spending long periods of time in bed and that time doesn’t feel good, that’s when it can be sometimes more helpful to get out of bed, do a mental reset, maybe watch some TV, listen to music, read a book. Anything you can do just to make that wakefulness a bit more pleasant and just not fall into that trap of firing up all those anxious thoughts, thinking and worrying about sleep, putting pressure on yourself to sleep again during the night.

Pat Boldys:
Exactly, if I woke up, and it was a long time, and I was really anxious, I would get out of bed for a while, come back and it would go on three, four times or whatever. But it was always, especially when winter set in, fall and winter, and the house was kind of cold, and I’d have a place that I would go to with a blanket and all of that, but it wasn’t pleasant. But I think that lying in bed when you’re anxious and miserable is really not helpful. I think that’s when you have to get up and get out of bed.

Pat Boldys:
But the other thing too that I found so helpful is when you talked about, and I hadn’t understood that at all, the hyperarousal and those hypnic jerks. And I had no idea why I would start to fall asleep and then have that jerk. And then when I heard you talking about it, and people on your podcast, and things, then I was like, “Oh my God, everyone seems to have this.”

Pat Boldys:
And I think you also said the hyperarousal, that’s why sometimes you would get up in the morning and you wouldn’t feel that tired or if it is during the day because you are in the state of this hyperarousal, or I would try to take a nap and I still couldn’t sleep. And I thought, “Why can’t I sleep? I didn’t sleep all night long and it’s now two in the afternoon, I still can’t get to sleep.” And so, you explained, I believe, about this hyperarousal and my God, that, again, made just so much sense. And hearing these other people talking about, it just made me feel normal, that this is a very typical part of insomnia.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, that inability to nap is something that I come across quite a lot. So if you have insomnia for a long period of time, you might want to try kind of making up for lost sleep by trying to sleep during the day. And then when you try and sleep during the day and you still can’t sleep, then you can become really concerned that there’s something seriously wrong. But the issue is often twofold. First of all, there’s that heightened arousal, which is always going to make sleep a bit more difficult, requires more time awake to overpower that arousal. And second of all, sometimes it can suggest that we might not actually need some additional sleep. What we might be feeling is fatigue rather than sleeplessness, it’s so easy to confuse the two. Fatigue doesn’t lead to sleep, but sleepiness does lead to sleep.

Pat Boldys:
Right, and those, I think they’re called hypnic jerks.

Martin Reed:
Yeah.

Pat Boldys:
I would just be drifting off to sleep, and then I would just get that, and I’d be like, “Oh, then I’d be wide awake.” I guess that was my sleep for the night, I don’t know, two seconds or something, that was awful.

Martin Reed:
How did you find that you were able to move beyond them? Was it just a case of just accepting they’re going to happen for as long as we have that heightened monitoring, that heightened attention on sleep, or?

Pat Boldys:
Because that was interesting to me, there was a one point and I said, “Gee, I don’t have that hyperarousal feeling anymore. I don’t have those jerks anymore.” But I was still struggling a little bit with sleep, but I could tell that clearly, my anxiety level had come down quite a bit. And I attribute that to education from listening to your channel, from understanding really what was going on with me and I was accepting of it. And I said to myself that, “This is not great right now but I have to be patient. And I know that I have made progress, not as quickly as I would like, but I’ve made progress.” I could see that from when I was working with a therapist, but it was just very up and down, but still there was progress and I had to hang on so whatever little bit I could.

Pat Boldys:
I think that all of those things sort of contributed to the anxiety level kind of going down and realizing that slowly but surely, I was kind of overcoming this. And so, the education piece of this is so important, it’s so key because once you understand pretty much anything, then it’s just a relief and it’s kind of like, “Okay, now I know what’s going on.” And I think you’re able to just deal with it a little bit better than saying, “Oh my God, what’s wrong with me?” I had gone for a checkup, and my doctor, and thinking, “Oh.” And clearly, there was nothing wrong with me but it was just what was going on here in my brain which was really preventing me from sleeping, so.”

Martin Reed:
Yeah, some people find it just quite comforting to recognize that those jerks tend to happen as we’re actually transitioning into sleep. So if nothing else, they show the mind the body is capable of sleep and it is successfully transitioning into sleep. But it’s often that monitoring for sleep that we do when we’re really concerned about sleep. So as soon as we kind of drift off, we make that transition, the brain kind of snaps its fingers and says, “Hey, you fell asleep, congratulations.” But obviously, that’s not very helpful when we want to be actually staying asleep. So that’s why we do often see once the arousals, that monitoring starts to form, those jerks tend to happen less frequently.

Martin Reed:
So finally, I just wanted to quickly ask you, you talked about how just really the education, changing the mindset alongside some behaviors, really what you identify as the key to your success. How long did you find from the day you found, for example, my videos, the day from when you started working with a therapist to where you got to this point where you feel like the insomnia is kind of really in the rear-view mirror, how long was that process, would you say?

Pat Boldys:
I’m trying to think. I started working with the therapist the end of September, beginning of October, kind of like maybe October, 1st, and that went for eight weeks. So I’m trying to think, maybe four, five months, maybe four months. It was longer than I had thought. I thought by the end of eight weeks working with a therapist, I would be pretty much over it, but I wasn’t. And I think he was maybe a little surprised too. I don’t know why it took me longer, I guess it doesn’t matter, all that matters is that you do get over it. I hadn’t had the insomnia for very long when I started the therapy, it was only a couple of months. But I’d say in this past month is when things really got a lot better than I can say, “Now, I guess I’m kind of back to normal.”

Pat Boldys:
Sometimes I don’t want to say it to jinx it. I feel like I’ll jinx it but my husband says to me, “Gee, I think you’re really over this now.” And I say, “I think so.” I say, “But I don’t want to think about it.” I go to bed and I just kind of fall asleep usually. But even tonight, I went to bed and I had a bad night, I just would get up and be okay with that. I’d just be absolutely fine and say, “That’s the way it goes.” But I would say it was a few months before I really made the progress that I wanted to make. It was frustrating.

Pat Boldys:
But I think it took longer too maybe because I wanted the progress to be more so than it was, to go at a quicker pace. And I think that I was getting kind of, I don’t know, disappointed in myself. I felt like, “Oh, I can’t stand this much longer” But I just said, “You got to just hang on to any little bit of progress.” And that’s really what’s important, it’s not linear, it’s just sort of up and down. I think from August till now, it’s about six months, I would say. But I’d say the past month has been way better, maybe a little more than that. Maybe a month, maybe a little bit more, so.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, I think it’s really helpful for people to hear you describe that process, that it’s not linear, there are ups and downs, that we quite understandably want progress to happen quickly, but we can’t control progress, and so sometimes it does take longer than we’d like or often it takes longer than we’d like because we want it to be fixed immediately. But the problem is we can’t control progress, but we can control our behaviors and we can explore our thoughts, all these things to perpetuate that sleep disruption. And as long as we continue to do that, we are going to make progress, we’re going to keep moving forward. So it’s helpful to just focus on all the things we can control and let the things we can’t control like sleep take care of themselves.

Martin Reed:
And if we stay on the path, we will always make progress. Some people make progress quickly, some people take longer, but we’ll always make that progress as long as we keep moving forward. I know I’ve taken up a lot of your time here. So there is just one last question that I do like to ask everyone that comes onto the podcast. So I’d like to ask that question to you as well and it’s this, if someone with chronic insomnia is listening and feels as though they’ve tried everything, that they’re beyond help and they can’t do anything to improve their sleep, what would you tell them?

Pat Boldys:
I would tell them immediately to go to your channel, to look at all of your videos, they are extremely helpful. Your beautiful British accent is very soothing and your whole manner is soothing, it’s reassuring and especially to hear, “You will never lose the ability to sleep, your body will never lose the ability to sleep,” that was such a relief to hear that because I thought… So definitely go to your channel and hire you as a coach if need be because I think you’re very well-educated in this subject and knowledgeable. And you’ve been a tremendous help to me and I know that you’d be a tremendous help to anyone.

Martin Reed:
All right, well, I really appreciate your kind words. And as always, I always like to remind people that have got past insomnia, not really thinking much about their sleep anymore, that’s entirely down to their own efforts. Because I can give the information out, which is what I do, but it’s up to people to take it upon themselves, to make the changes, to give them a chance. And so, stay consistent, especially in the short term where you’re making all these changes and they don’t seem to be getting you the rewards or the progress you want, it’s so easy to give up.

Martin Reed:
So whenever I talk to people like yourself who’ve experienced this transformation, I really admire them because you show that determination, that tenacity. And I do think that you come out of it stronger, you come out of it more resilient, not just in sleep, but in other parts of life too. Maybe you now have shifted focus away from sleep on to other things that actually help you have an even better life. So yeah, I appreciate your kind words and I really appreciate you coming on and sharing your story. I’ve got no doubt that people listening to this can now identify with a lot of what you said. And hopefully, it will motivate them to make some changes and to recognize that all is not lost, there is a way past insomnia.

Pat Boldys:
There is, and just takes not to get discouraged, just to keep going, moving forward and they’ll get there, so.

Martin Reed:
Great, thank you so much, Pat.

Pat Boldys:
Thank you, Martin.

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.

Mentioned in this episode:

Insomnia Coach YouTube Channel

Daniel Erichsen’s YouTube Channel

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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