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How Rick’s retirement triggered a two-year struggle with insomnia and what he did to get his sleep back on track (#18)

Rick’s insomnia started in 2017 shortly after retirement. He started to wake during the night and would find it hard to fall back to sleep. Before long, he started to feel very anxious every time he woke and began to worry about what the day would be like after each difficult night of sleep.

Rick started to cancel social events, he would try to take naps during the day, he started to change every aspect of his life in a bid to improve his sleep. He also started experimenting with a cocktail of supplements and pills — none of which helped.

Fortunately, Rick discovered evidence-based cognitive and behavioral techniques that changed the way he thought about sleep and helped him implement behaviors that would improve his sleep for the long-term.

Gradually, Rick started to get more sleep without a single sleeping pill or supplement. As his sleep improved, Rick began regaining sleep confidence and that really got the ball rolling!

Today, Rick averages somewhere between seven and seven-and-a-half hours of sleep each night. In this episode, Rick shares all the techniques he implemented to transform his relationship with sleep. Just as Rick was able to improve his sleep, you can too!

Click here for a full transcript of this episode.

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

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

Martin Reed:
Okay. So Rick, thank you so much for being on the Insomnia Coach Podcast.

Rick McNally:
Well, thank you for having me.

Martin Reed:
So can you start at the beginning for us. When did your sleep problems first begin and do you remember what initially triggered them?

Rick McNally:
Well, they started back in 2017 and it was shortly after I retired. I really didn’t seem to think there was much stress going on in my life at that time. I do have a small bit of tinnitus, which I was able to sleep with and I think just retiring and changing my going to bed time and my waking up time had completely changed. I was going to bed like at eight o’clock and getting up at 3:00 in the morning and heading off to work. All of a sudden, I didn’t need to go to bed at eight o’clock and I didn’t need to get up at three o’clock, but I still went to bed at 8:00 and was probably getting up about 6:00 or 7:00 and didn’t realize it as I retired all the things that would come into play. Trying to get health insurance, taking care of financial situations. A lot of things I think, started to build up and I thought, wow, this wasn’t a just an easy transition like I thought.

Rick McNally:
All of a sudden I noticed, boy, I’m really having a tough time going to sleep and I was probably spending at least eight or nine hours in bed. Then I thought, well, I’ll take a sleeping pill. Then I looked at supplements and I started mixing, coming up with a cocktail of supplements and sleeping pills. I got to the point where I started to think, well, I don’t think I can sleep without these. It got worse and worse and I thought, well, the more time I spent in bed, which we all know where that leads, I really started to worry. And then the whole deal was worrying about sleep, going to bed at night and starting to worry and being very, very worried. I think that’s how it all started.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. So what was your struggle when you were finding sleep difficult? Was it more to do with falling asleep at the start of the night or was it more to do with waking and finding it hard to fall back to sleep? Or maybe both?

Rick McNally:
It was both. It started out, I think probably the first few nights when I woke up, it was a little hard to get back to sleep. And within a few days it was spending an hour or more, it seemed like trying to get to sleep. Then when I woke up, that’s when I really started to worry because I knew in the beginning that was the problem at first. My heart started pounding and I was very, very anxious and I really didn’t know what to do. All I could think was, I’m not going to get any sleep and what’s tomorrow going to be like? I’m going to be really tired, it just perpetuated itself.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. You touched upon it there, but how did you feel this struggle with sleep was impacting your life, your daytime life?

Rick McNally:
Oh, well, I started to cancel social events and stuff because I didn’t feel up and really in the mood to talk because I hadn’t slept very well, I was really tired. I started worrying about trying to get things done. I was actually trying to take naps during the day and of course that wasn’t working and it just continued on like that. I started to change every aspect of my life. I actually started to lose some weight because I wasn’t too hungry. I was more obsessed and worried about what the next day would be like. How long would this go on? Is this going to happen the rest of my life? It was quite worrisome.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. I think that everyone listening to this is really going to identify with how you’ve described that initial sleep disruption. Just morphing into this bigger longterm issue that builds into consuming your life almost. And that’s quite typical because we actually have this model for how chronic insomnia develops, whereby some of us are just a little bit more predisposed to short-term sleep disruption. I think the fact that you have tinnitus would definitely mean that you’re more susceptible to some sleep disruption. And then we have that precipitating event, that initial trigger of the sleep disruption, which sounds like it was that retirement, that big change in your routine and your schedule. Then this led to all these perpetuating factors, which are the things we do in response to that sleep disruption that make it hard for our sleep to get back on track.

Martin Reed:
In your experience, those were looking for sleeping pills, looking for supplements, coming up with those cocktails of supplements and canceling social events, taking naps during the day, spending more time in bed. All those things that we do often in an attempt to improve our sleep actually backfire and they make it harder for our sleep to recover. So I think that you just sharing that description, that story is really going to resonate with a lot of people listening.

Rick McNally:
Yeah, definitely.

Martin Reed:
The issue with those perpetuating factors, the reason why we call them perpetuating is because they can disrupt our sleep in three ways. They disrupt our sleep by reducing sleep drive. So if we’re spending more time in bed, like you’ve experienced, it reduces our sleep drive and it makes it harder for us to sleep the following night. If we’re getting out of bed at all different times of the day, that can lead to body clock disruption, which again, makes it harder for our sleep to improve. And then all these attempts that we make to improve our sleep, when they don’t lead to improved sleep, we worry and that triggers this other perpetuating factor of insomnia, which is arousal. Just this high level of worry and anxiety, self-monitoring, and we just become really vigilant about sleep and we spend so much time thinking about sleep. And that in itself makes sleep difficult as well.

Rick McNally:
Well, when you said thinking about sleep, when I did sleep well, that was the thing. That was never a thought in my mind. You talked about talking to somebody who doesn’t have a problem sleeping and you ask them about it and they say, well, I never really think about it. All my life I’ve never really thought about it until it started to build and I would find myself all day long thinking in some degree or another about how the next night was going to go. I was just setting myself up. I was really, really getting nervous. And by the time it got to bed time, I was defeating myself. I just kept thinking, well, here we go again. It’s amazing how well the CBT-I techniques worked.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. Let’s talk about that. So you found my website, you found Insomnia Coach and you started to implement these cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, these CBT-I techniques that, as you know, I’m a big fan of and that’s what I talk about all the time. Was there a specific CBT-I technique that you found the most helpful? What was it about CBT-I that you felt helped you get your sleep back on track?

Rick McNally:
Well, the first thing that you would always say at the end of your podcast were you can sleep. It is possible that you don’t have to rely on other things to help you sleep. I thought, well, the first thing you talked about was the sleep restriction. And of course, the first thing that came to my mind was, well, wait a minute. I’m doing that pretty well on my own.

Rick McNally:
It didn’t make sense. Then when you mentioned keep in mind how much time you think you got sleep and let’s add an hour to that and don’t go below five and a half hours. I thought maybe I was getting between four and five hours sleep, which I times it might’ve been three but closer to four. I thought, well, I thought I’d started out at, I think it was about 11:00, 11:30. I think in the first week getting up at 5:00. Then I did that for about three days and I was really starting to worry because you had mentioned, well, if you fall asleep, which in those first three days I did fall asleep within an hour. But when I woke up I thought, okay, if I lay here long enough, I’m going to have to get out of bed again and I had a place to go sit and read.

Rick McNally:
I think that was the first sign because I maybe spent 20 minutes, 30 minutes reading. And then I went back to bed, fell tired, went back to bed and I did go back to sleep. When I woke up and got out of bed at 6:00, I know that anchor point I had set, I got out of bed and I thought, well, that was interesting. I actually did go back to sleep without any problem. And within, I would say the fourth or fifth night, I actually fell asleep within a half hour. And then when I woke up I had the same scenario. I got out of bed, sat down, read some more, went back to bed. Sure enough I fell asleep and I thought, wow, there really is something to this. By the second week, I was probably four nights and I had one bad night.

Rick McNally:
I remembered you saying, “Don’t dwell on the bad night. Just always think each night we’re going to start fresh. And to work on the technique alone and don’t worry, just work on the technique.” Gradually, week by week I found myself getting more and more sleep and I started to add 15 minutes to a half an hour. It progressively started getting better and better. Along with that, my confidence in realizing this was the longest period I had gone two weeks without taking a single sleeping pill or a supplement and I was actually sleeping. That alone gave me so much confidence that I think that’s what helped get the ball rolling. That just made things so much easier from that point on.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I really like how you said it, just gets the ball rolling, because it is a process. Building that sleep confidence back, it takes this… That’s why I think that sleep restriction is so helpful because quite quickly it helps build up a strong sense of sleepiness and starts to make it a little bit easier for you to fall asleep at night and to sleep through the night too. As you said, it gets the ball rolling. It doesn’t make you suddenly wake after that first night or that first week suddenly thinking, Oh, I’m cured. Magic. I’m all better.

Martin Reed:
It’s a process. It just gets things moving in the right direction. And every single time you get that little bit better night of sleep, as you suggested, it builds that confidence, chips away that worry and the anxiety and it turns what was before like this vicious cycle of worry about sleep generating poor asleep, which generated more worry. It turns it completely on its head and you start to get a little bit better sleep so you worry a little bit less. That in turn leads to a little bit better sleep. As you said, it just gets the ball rolling, almost like a snowball down a hill, it gets bigger and bigger. That sleep confidence just gets bigger and bigger and bigger as you repeatedly experience slightly better sleep.

Rick McNally:
Yeah, definitely. Yeah.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. So I think just for those who are listening that aren’t familiar with sleep restriction, all we’re doing is a terrible phrase. And you alluded to this as soon as you heard me say sleep restriction and you thought, well, I’m doing a great job of that by myself. All we’re really doing is just restricting the amount of time that you’re allotting for sleep. The amount of time you’re spending in bed. Because what we will typically do when we want to get more sleep is spend more time in bed. But all that does when we’re struggling with sleep is leads to more time in bed awake. And the more time in bed we spend awake, the more time we’re worrying about sleep, we’re frustrated about sleep, we’re tossing and turning, feeling anxious, and this makes sleep more difficult. So what I-

Rick McNally:
It actually gets the ball rolling the other way.

Martin Reed:
Exactly. Yeah, exactly right. And it makes it really hard for you to improve your sleep because you’re just perpetuating sleep difficulty. What I typically suggest is, you look at your average nightly sleep duration. So you mix in the better nights with the worst nights over maybe a week or two so you can get a picture of what an average night is like and then add on like half an hour or an hour onto that. So you’re not reducing, you’re not going to be cutting into your average nightly sleep duration. You’re just reducing the amount of time that you’re currently allotting for wakefulness during the night so that you fill that sleep window with sleep. You’re also just building more sleep drive during the day, because sleep drive builds with every minute of wakefulness. So the more time you’re spending awake not actually trying to sleep, the more you’re building sleep drive and making sleep more likely to happen. That’s ultimately all sleep restriction is. We’re not restricting sleep, we’re restricting the amount of time you’re allotting for sleep. That really just helps you build that sleepiness.

Rick McNally:
Yeah. A lot less time, I was going to say a lot less time tossing and turning hours and hours worrying and worrying. Yeah, you’re not allotting for that. Like you said, you start to associate the bed and a more comfortable atmosphere and it’s not something you’re walking towards dreading what’s going to happen. You’re thinking, Oh, here goes another night. I’m going to toss and turn. It just, it eliminates a lot of that and allows you to start really actually thinking of the bed as, Oh, this is comfortable, I’m going to go to sleep.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. That’s quite common too. A lot of people will tell me that because you’re so used to going, when you have chronic insomnia, you’re so used to thinking of the bed as a place of struggle. You start to dread going to bed. But when you start implementing this regular and appropriate sleep window, you’re building up so much sleep drive, you’re looking at the clock thinking, when can I go to bed? I really just want to go to bed. And it completely changes that mindset where you just want to go to bed, you want to go to bed rather than trying to avoid it or thinking of it as a place of dread.

Rick McNally:
Yeah. Actually having the anchor of the point of getting up, there were a few times I thought, well, I feel so comfortable. I’d like to sleep in another hour and I thought, no, no, no, no. Not yet. And I stuck to that. I was very, very regimented in making sure that the minute that I have a clock that I can hear from downstairs that has a chime to it and I didn’t even, I’ve turned my clock around so I don’t bother looking at it and I would hear the chime and I would get out of bed and I think, Oh, I’d like to stay in bed, but no, I’m sticking to the plan.

Rick McNally:
Lately, now I’m probably sometimes I’ll sleep and wake up in it’s 20 after six, 6:30. I’m like, Oh, wow. I slept right through the time. I get up anyway. I’m fascinated. I’m amazed by how well it works. I know that over time my insomnia just didn’t kick in, boom, within two or three days. I realized that you said that the techniques aren’t going to overnight do it for you. It’s going to take some time the same as it took time for the insomnia to build up.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. I think it is really important. I’m really glad that you emphasized the importance of that morning anchor because sometimes it can be so tempting, especially if you’ve been awake for most of the night and you feel like you’re just drifting off to sleep an hour or two before that hour of bedtime. And the temptation can just be so overwhelming when the alarm goes off to just think, no, I can sleep, so I want to get this sleeping. The problem is it feels great at the time, but it sets you up for a night of struggle the next night because you’re going to be getting out of bed later and your sleep drive isn’t going to be sufficiently strong enough to maybe help you fall asleep the next night.

Rick McNally:
Yeah, definitely.

Martin Reed:
One way I like to look at this is, let’s say that right now if someone’s listening to this, they’re getting roughly five hours of sleep each night. Let’s see that as you are currently capable of generating five hours of sleep each night. That means to get that five hours, you need 19 hours of wakefulness, so 24 hours in a day, take off the five hours of sleep you get, that leaves you with 19 hours. That means that you need to have that strong consistent morning anchor. You need to get out of bed at the same time to have that 19 hours of prior wakefulness to build enough sleep drive for you to consistently get that five hours of sleep. Then as your sleep becomes more consistent, then you can start, like you alluded to earlier, you can start extending the sleep window by 15 minutes, half an hour and seeing how you do and gradually expand out from there as your sleep improves.

Rick McNally:
Yes. And then just the fact that as each day went on, I started to return to the way I used to always think. Throughout the day I would be thinking about other things instead of worrying about sleep.

Martin Reed:
Do you have any tips for people that are listening. You sound as though you are really good at getting out of bed at that consistent out morning, the time in the morning. You’re already good at getting out of bed at the same time every day, but it can be hard. So do you have any tips for people that are listening to this that are maybe struggling with that or they’ve tried it in the past and really found it hard to get out of bed at the same time every day?

Rick McNally:
Boy, that’s a good question. I think, well, the one thing that you made a point of, it came across as though I had to really make sure that anchor point stuck. When you said just implementing the techniques and not worrying about the outcome, just concentrate on the technique and you were very, well, what would the word be? Very definite about that anchor point. I stuck to that and I knew that the minute I started to see results, that I started believing in all of it and really took it to heart. That if I’m going to add time, I’m going to add it at the beginning of my sleep window, but stick to that anchor point and a couple of months, three months, four months down the road, I can start to experiment a little.

Rick McNally:
Over this time I had noticed that, okay, I kept a sleep diary for eight weeks and I’m now starting into my nights week and I’ve noticed a few times where I did sleep over that 20 minutes after to 6:30. And there was no ill effects from that. I would still go to bed at, I’ve got it down to 10:30 when I go to bed and I still was getting the same amount of sleep I needed. That was the other thing. I’m always assuming that we all needed eight hours and I’m finding that I seem to do pretty well on six and a half to seven hours sleep and I feel great. But I’m sticking with that, that anchor point of getting up. For me being retired, it’s a lot easier for me to stick to that. I don’t have a place to be at a certain time. But I can’t say enough about, like you said, the technique, you really have to perfect that technique and stick with it and results will come.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think it’s actually harder to stick to this sleep window when you’re retired or maybe if you’re not working, if you quit your job or you call in sick because you don’t have that obligation to have to be out of there by a certain time. So I think it takes even more self-discipline to make sure that you’re always out of bed by that consistent time in the morning

Rick McNally:
That is a good point because there were times when I thought, yeah, I don’t have to be anywhere. Now that I’m starting to get the sleep, I was just so attempted to just let it go and try and sleep until 7:00 or 7:30. And I felt, well no, no, no, no, no. I have to stick to that anchor point. I think if I had varied from that, if I had gone off track, I probably would have been working a lot harder at it and not sticking with the technique.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think though, one reason why we do see a lot of at least short-term sleep disruption when people retire is because that schedule, that obligation to be out of bed by a certain time is no longer present. So we can stay in bed for longer and our body clocks drift and we’re building up less sleep drive during the day. So as soon as there’s that trigger that maybe leaves a with couple of bad nights, it’s so much easier for these perpetuating factors to creep in and make that initial sleep disruption a longer term problem.

Rick McNally:
Yeah.

Martin Reed:
And that’s one reason why I really encourage people not to call in sick or take sabbatical from work or even quit their job in response to insomnia because often once you do that, once you remove that schedule, that scheduling obligation from your day, it just becomes so much easier to do all the things that make sleep more difficult. Like spending more time in bed, staying indoors all day and not being very active, conserving energy, napping during the day. When you’ve got that, when you’ve got a clear schedule to follow during the day or you’ve got a clear plan laid out for the day ahead, it can really help you stay consistent with your daytime routine. And in effect that has the knock on effect of obligating you to keep a consistent nighttime routine as well.

Rick McNally:
Yeah. And again, when you had said not to change things, go out, see your friends. If one night you want to go out and have dinner and be with your friends at a party, to live your life, to do that. I found as I started the techniques, I thought, well, during football season, I had friends that were asking me to come over for Monday night football and things like that. And I’m like, Oh boy, I don’t know. I don’t know. And I thought, no, no, you said to stick with it. Just be social, try and keep your daily life as normal as possible and don’t start defeating yourself by canceling things and stuff.

Rick McNally:
Then I also started that, I was like, I would get up and my wife would ask me, “How are you doing?” And I said, “Well, I think I did okay last night. It’s getting a little better.” And she says, “Well, what about tonight?” And I said, “Tonight is on, we are going to go out and socialize.” I think that also kept my mind off of just sitting somewhere and dwelling about what was going to happen. I was living my life and thinking about other things.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, that’s really important. When we struggle with sleep for a long period of time, it’s so easy for us to allow sleep to just rule our lives and to really put sleep up on a pedestal and there’s no doubt about it. Sleep is important, but it’s not as important as we think it is when we’re struggling with insomnia. We have far more control over our quality of life than sleep alone. We have more control on a conscious level, so we get to decide if we’re going to cancel that plan with friends or we get to decide if we’re going to go do that activity we know we’re really going to enjoy. And if we don’t, if we decide to cancel things and not do something because we had a bad night of sleep, we’re guaranteeing that insomnia has a negative impact on our lives.

Martin Reed:
But if we push through and just try to stay as consistent as possible to try and fill our days with activity, it’s less time for rumination and dwelling and thinking about sleep. But it’s also opportunity to recognize that we can have, if not a great day or a good day, at least some okay moments or some positive moments during the day, even after a bad night of sleep. That can take a little bit of the fear and the worry and the anxiety that we have about sleep away. And as you said before, it gets the ball rolling.

Rick McNally:
Well, you also mentioned that when I would start to think negative about Oh, this is going to ruin my day and I would realize that, well now let’s think about this as if my mind was thinking, maybe this isn’t true because I did go out the other night. I did have fun. So the negative thoughts I was having weren’t as a true to what I was believing, I would dissect my thought and think, well, no, I didn’t completely ruin my day yesterday. I did get out and get some work done. I did socialize and see people, so it’s not as bad as my mind is telling me. Everything you said, you were always a step ahead. You knew exactly what I was experiencing and where I was going. That also gave me a lot of confidence.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. Those thoughts that we have can just seem so accurate at the time. And the common one is, if I don’t sleep tonight, tomorrow is going to be ruined or how am I going to get through the day tomorrow? I’m going to make mistakes. Tomorrow is going to be awful. And when we have that thought just by default, it can seem 100% accurate. But if we take a step back and think, okay, what’s the evidence to support this? I’m sure that you’ve got lots of evidence to support times when you have had a hard day after a bad night of sleep, but then you can maybe look for evidence that suggests you can have a good day or an okay day after a bad night of sleep.

Martin Reed:
Have there ever been any times when you’ve had a really hard night, but done surprisingly well during the day or had fun or notice some positive moments? And when you turn to take a step back and just evaluate those thoughts, you can see that they’re not actually as accurate as they often first feel. That in itself can just take all the worry and anxiety they’re generating and just ratchet it down a few notches.

Rick McNally:
Yeah, exactly.

Martin Reed:
You mentioned too this other technique that you are trying, which is when you’re struggling to fall asleep or fall back to sleep, you would get out of bed. We call this, this is another technique known as stimulus control. How do you feel that helped you? Did you feel that that was really key to improving your sleep as well?

Rick McNally:
Oh yeah. Probably that was the one I worried about the most because there were times that I would go to bed and I couldn’t turn my mind off and I would finally get to sleep. When I always slept well, when I woke up during the night and got up to go to the bathroom or whatever, just woke up and I would go right back to sleep. It was never an issue. Going to bed had an issue here and there, but I always attributed to trying to turn my mind off in what I was going to be doing the next day or looking forward to something. I was excited and anxious and couldn’t get to sleep. Getting out of bed, the minute I started to feel uncomfortable and tossing and turning seemed to be a lot more intense after waking up then starting out at night going to bed.

Rick McNally:
When that started to happen and I thought, okay, I’ve got to get out of bed, and I walk over and sit down and start to read a book and I would just start to feel myself getting tired and sure enough going back in and getting into bed and boom, right back to sleep. And it was like, wow, that was a very spot moment for me. It was like, wow, that really worked. It was fantastic.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think it can just be, if nothing else, it works. There’s almost this mental reset switch, it just helps lift you out of that point where you’re in bed tossing and turning, your mind is going a mile a minute, you’re feeling anxious, worried, frustrated, maybe thinking about a million other things. Well, if you stay in that situation, I think it’s always going to take longer for the mind to be able to calm itself. Whereas if you just get out of bed and just do anything else, anything that you find relaxing and enjoyable, such as reading, it does help. It flicks something in your brain. I think it just makes it easier and quicker for you to get to that point where you’re feeling calm and relaxed again and in a better state for sleep to happen.

Rick McNally:
Yeah.

Martin Reed:
I think one thing is also important to know is that the process of getting out of bed is really a longer term strategy. The intention is to help you relearn to see the bed as a place for relaxation and sleep. We do that by making sure that when you’re in bed, you’re either relaxed or asleep and whenever you’re not, you get out of bed. Sometimes it can turn you into this human yo-yo in the short term where you’re just getting in and out of bed. But the whole time you’re doing that, you’re reinforcing this idea that the bed is a place for sleep and you’re also building sleep drive. So when you’re combining that with the sleep window, every time you do it, you’re increasing the likelihood that you’re going to sleep during the sleep window and when you sleep, it’s going to be in bed. And this really is the key to building up that long-term association between your bed and sleep and making the bed a trigger for sleep just as it always was in the past before you had insomnia.

Rick McNally:
Yeah, because the tossing and turning and just being frustrated with, am I going to get back to sleep? The minute you hop out of bed, you put an end to that process, so to speak. Just sitting down to read the book, all of a sudden I would find myself a little bit more relaxed. And then when I got back into bed, I did go back to sleep. I would say the first week of sleep restriction was a struggle, but I don’t think there was any surprise to it because of the things that you said in your podcast and that it’s probably one of the hardest parts of the whole process. But if you can just get through part of that and stick with it, the whole idea of being a coach, it’s fantastic. You coached me through it and I knew what to expect and I knew that those things were going to happen, which also gave me more confidence. And then the minute I saw the results, it was like, again, that you’ve got that ball rolling and it’s fantastic.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think that just that process of getting out of bed and doing something else is so helpful because it distracts the mind if nothing else, it just is a distraction. Reading a book is a distraction from the rumination and maybe the catastrophizing and all those thoughts that are just whirling through your head. Also, I think it’s just a more appealing, a more pleasant alternative. Getting out of bed and doing something you enjoy is a more appealing alternative to staying in bed and just struggling with no end in sight.

Rick McNally:
Yeah, exactly.

Martin Reed:
All right. So we’ve talked a lot about what your sleep was like before, all these techniques you’ve implemented. So what’s your sleep like now? What is a typical night like for you now?

Rick McNally:
Probably, I would say about 9:30, I have what you call that buffer, that one hour of get away from the TV, stay away from the computer, all the devices, get away from that and go through a period of just relaxing. I like how you put just relaxing, it’s not relaxing to put you to sleep. It’s just an hour of relaxation just to calm yourself down, slow everything down. I’ll spend about an hour reading. I’ve probably done more reading than I ever have, which actually I’m really enjoying. Like you said, it’s very pleasant, it’s very calming. And after about an hour, I’ll say goodnight to my wife and she’ll shut off the TV and I’ll climb back into bed and I go right to sleep.

Rick McNally:
But I’m still sticking to the six o’clock, even though sometimes I’ll get up at 6:30. But I was very aware of the fact that if it started to wept my sleep in any way or I started to notice it diminishing, I would go right back to the six o’clock. But it seems like now I’m still sticking with going to bed about 10:30 and I’ll get up about 6:00, 6:30 in the morning. I think once in a while I’ll have a night that isn’t quite on par with the rest. I keep remembering what you said, just don’t let that set you back because everybody has a bad night once in a while.

Martin Reed:
Exactly.

Rick McNally:
Just saying that remembering that is not comparing myself to anybody else or anything like that, but just knowing that everybody can have a bad night. I knew when I slept well that I would have a bad night, but I didn’t think about it. It wasn’t ever anything I thought about, but when I have one now I know that it’s nothing to worry about and I tell myself that and it really helps build my confidence.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. That’s really important to recognize that you’re still going to have bad nights every now and again because everyone has bad nights every now and again. Sometimes there’s an obvious cause even if we, let’s say we have an argument with our spouse or we receive bad news or we change jobs, we lose our jobs, we have a health scare, all those things, it would be unusual if our sleep wasn’t disrupted. So sometimes just taking a few seconds to think, did something happen last night? But not to spend time on it because sometimes we have a bad night for no obvious reason. It just happens.

Martin Reed:
As long as we just don’t try and compensate for that bad night, as long as we just trust that our body knows what it’s doing, our body has obviously decided we only needed that amount of sleep last night and we just need to accept it and just have trust in our bodies. Then almost certainly, the next night you’ll just be back to sleeping well again. It’s ultimately down to our reaction to those bad nights, which are always normal and always to be expected, those one off bad nights.

Rick McNally:
Yeah.

Martin Reed:
I think you touched upon this earlier, but are you still taking any medication or supplements specifically for sleep?

Rick McNally:
Nope, not one.

Martin Reed:
Wow, that’s awesome.

Rick McNally:
Which amazes me. I don’t know, I was trying to think when I started taking them that it became every day. It was like in my mind I wasn’t going to be able to sleep without them. Since I implemented the techniques, I am now in my ninth week without touching a supplement or a pill. That alone, that too just increases my confidence that I can sleep. I can do it on my own.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. You took the words out of my mouth. It’s so important because nothing generates sleep apart from our own biological sleep drive. Pills or supplements, sometimes they can help remove that initial barrier to sleep or lower that initial obstacle, which is often worry and anxiety about sleep. But they can never generate sleep. So once you start to sleep better without the pills, without the supplements, you start to build that confidence. You start to recognize that yes, I can sleep without this or that. I can sleep naturally without needing any kind of external crutch or any sleep aid. Since our ultimate goal-

Rick McNally:
Yeah. And it seems like a much better quality of sleep too. The pills, I’ve felt drowsy and sometimes I felt like a zombie the next day. Getting the quality of sleep, I’ve noticed now that I will sleep for probably four hours straight without ever waking up. I can’t remember before I started the techniques when I was really able to do that for quite some time. That first four hours, a few times every now and then I’ll sleep six hours and I can’t remember when I last did that. Yeah, it is definitely a better quality of sleep when your body does it on its own.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. And that feeds into the sleep confidence because our ultimate goal is always just to get you to that point where you have confidence in your sleep. You’re not really thinking about sleep anymore. When you’ve always got that kind of crutch, that pill of the supplement, I think it’s hard to really regain that sleep confidence when you still are reaching for something external to generate sleep. And just like you said, there are side effects and they can lead to that morning grogginess. That’s another problem in itself too because then we can often blame our poor sleep for feeling fatigued and groggy in the morning when it might just be down to whatever pill or supplement that we’re taking.

Rick McNally:
Yeah, exactly.

Martin Reed:
Finally, the other thing I just wanted to touch upon from what you said is that it’s completely normal to wake during the night. Waking during the night is just a normal part of sleep and everyone wakes during the night. Even the best sleepers in the world wake during the night. But the difference is they don’t pay any attention to those awakenings. So they tend to be very short. Most of the time people don’t even remember them. But when we’re struggling with sleep, of course, as soon as we wake up, we become really activated. We worry about it and that’s what makes it more difficult to fall asleep and makes it our problem.

Rick McNally:
Definitely.

Martin Reed:
So how has the way that you think about insomnia or just sleep in general, how has that changed since you went through this whole process and this whole transformation?

Rick McNally:
It made me realize how I conceived sleep. I had a totally different idea of what sleep was. I figured it had to be eight or nine hours of sleep. Until I learned more from you about it and when I did sleep well, it wasn’t something I ever thought about. Then I’m 64 now and I’ve heard that as you get older it gets a little harder. I probably will never spend nine or 10 hours in bed anymore, but I don’t really have to. I know now that when I really feel tired and I’m near the sleep window, I am lengthening it. I’m at eight hours in bed and it all seems to work quite well for me now and I’m getting to the point where I just don’t think about it.

Martin Reed:
How are your days now? I think you touched upon this just then. You’re just not really spending much time thinking about it. At the start of our call you were telling me how when you are really struggling, you just found your day was almost full of just thinking and worrying about sleep. Have you got to that point now where it’s just really not something you think about anymore?

Rick McNally:
Just about, yeah. The only time I really think about it is if somebody says something about going somewhere or taking a trip or something and I’ll just tell my wife that well, I need to stick to the sleep window to some point here, but that’s probably about it. I don’t look at it like, Oh boy, if I don’t stick to this, it’s all going to fall apart. I just have in my mind that I need to just stay within the parameters of getting my… I know what helps me to get a good night’s sleep and it isn’t really a struggle anymore and throughout the day I just go about my business and doing things around the place and it really isn’t on my mind anymore.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. That’s so good to hear. I think it’s important to recognize that life does sometimes get in the way and it should. Living life, living an enriching life is more important than feeling you have to stick to that sleep window. So if you’re going to have friends over or go out one night and it might mean you going to bed later than normal, then that should be what you do. Because that’s far more important than being in bed by the start of your sleep window and going to bed later is always far less of an issue than going to bed earlier. Because when you go to bed later, you’re still building sleep drive.

Rick McNally:
Yeah. That was the one thing all of a sudden I thought about was, Oh, well, my sleep window’s pretty late, so if I stay up later, that’s really not going to affect me that much. I think as the months go on, it’s just going to become just a normal habit for me to do this without really thinking about it because I do think less and less about it and I wait until I’m tired and just go to sleep. Again, it’s all slowly going back to the point where I used to sleep fine and never thought about it. As time goes on, I’m finding myself getting closer and closer to that and being normal again.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And it’s a process just to keep building that sleep confidence back. As you alluded to earlier, just as it took time for insomnia to develop, it takes time to pick it apart. When we put it into perspective, you were struggling for two years, roughly two years, correct me if I’m wrong, and then just over the past two months, you’ve just undergone this quite impressive transformation.

Rick McNally:
Yeah. The fact that you said that this didn’t happen over night, it progressed over time and it would take time to progress out of it. When you said it’ll be tough at first, I was a little tough. But trying to quit smoking cigarettes 20 years ago was really tough, but I knew that when you first initially start, Oh boy, it’s a little tough. But you know that when you start to see those results, it’s like, wow, I’m just going to keep on going with this.

Martin Reed:
I really like how you use that association with it’s like trying to quit smoking because like with smoking, I think it often takes people a few tries as well. They might not be successful the first time they try, maybe not even the second, but just that persistence, the willingness to keep on trying. I think a lot of people might try some of these techniques and then maybe not try after, maybe quit after a week or two if they’re not getting results as quickly as they want. But hopefully just seeing that association between quitting smoking and implementing these techniques, recognizing that it might take a few tries, but if you are consistent, you’ll get there. Just talking to you about this I think, will help people recognize that too.

Rick McNally:
Yeah, it took me three tries to quit smoking, so I knew it took time. Just sticking with it and saying that I am going to implement this for eight weeks and if I continue on with it, it’s just only going to improve. Like you said, if somewhere down the road of a sudden I fall off the wagon and I start to go through some nights, I can always fall back on what I’ve learned and I have that in the back of my mind. I can just start implementing the techniques again and boom, I know I’ll be right back on track again.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, exactly. That’s the reason why I’m just such a big fan of these cognitive and behavioral techniques because once you’ve learned them, once you recognize from experience that they’re effective, that they’ve worked for you, they’re with you for life. So anytime in the future, if you go through this period of sleep disruption that you’re finding it hard to shake off, you know that you can just implement these techniques again and they’ll get your sleep back on track just as they have done in the past.

Rick McNally:
Yeah, exactly.

Martin Reed:
Okay, Rick, so I have one last question for you. I really appreciate the time that you’ve set aside for us today. One last question is, if someone with chronic insomnia is listening and feels as though they’ve tried everything, that they’re beyond help, that they cannot do anything to improve their sleep, what would you tell them?

Rick McNally:
I would tell them about these techniques and the fact that, again, using the analogy of smoking, it’s one of the hardest things to do. And CBT-I techniques, I don’t think they were as hard as smoking, but trying to quit smoking. But in the beginning it can be difficult, but you just have to have the willpower to stick with it, to try and go through the eight week program and not try to step back and say, that just isn’t working. Because, again, I’ve just remembered you saying that the insomnia didn’t happen overnight and it took time to progress and it’s going to take time to progress out of it. So you can’t expect miracles overnight or a few days. It’s going to take some time and willpower. I guess that’s the way I could say it.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s an important message. I think the techniques when you read about them, they’re relatively straightforward, but when it comes to implementation, they can definitely be challenging. The key really is to just try and be committed and consistent and as long as you are, you’re almost 100% certain to get results and notice improvements in your sleep.

Rick McNally:
Exactly. Yes.

Martin Reed:
All right, Rick. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak to me. I think the people that are listening are going to find it really helpful. I think they’re going to really notice a lot of their own experience in your story and hopefully the fact that you went through that transformation and you’re sleeping so much better now will be that motivation and inspiration for people to implement these evidence-based cognitive and behavioral techniques and really commit to them and improve their sleep too. Because if you are able to improve your sleep, there no reason to think that anybody else going through insomnia can’t do the same.

Rick McNally:
Yeah, any anybody can do it. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. What you’re putting out there, it’s fantastic. I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done.

Martin Reed:
I really appreciate that, Rick. Just remember that you’re the one that put all the effort in. You’re the one that has all the skills and so you’re the one that is getting the results because of your efforts. That’s very important.

Rick McNally:
Yeah. Well, it took a good coach.

Martin Reed:
Thanks, Rick. I appreciate that. Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us today.

Rick McNally:
Okay. You bet.

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

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

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

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

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2 thoughts on “How Rick’s retirement triggered a two-year struggle with insomnia and what he did to get his sleep back on track (#18)”

  1. The content of this podcast is excellent. As a retired person myself who has struggled with sleep for 11 years now, I can totally identify with what’s said in the interview. Both Rick and you Martin are very articulate in the way you present the material – I’ve enjoyed thinking about how I might now implement the various techniques outlined in the podcast. I hope like Rick, I might see some progress in overcoming insomnia in the coming weeks. Thanks for taking the time to post this on this website. All the best for the future.

    Reply
    • I’m so happy to hear you found this episode helpful, Nigel! If you can identify with Rick’s experience then you might also recognize that you can improve your sleep just as Rick did! You’ve got this, Nigel!

      Reply

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