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How Sally improved her sleep after 60 years of insomnia and 10 years of sleeping pills (#19)

Listen to the podcast episode (audio only)

Sally had been living with insomnia for 60 years and had been taking sleeping pills for 10 years. She believed that she would never be able to sleep properly — but this all changed when she started to change the way she thought about sleep and began to implement new sleep-related behaviors that made it easier for her body to generate and sustain sleep.

Sally used to average around three hours of sleep each night. She now averages around seven hours of sleep each night and barely thinks about sleep.

In this episode, Sally shares what she did to improve her sleep after living with insomnia for 60 years. If Sally was able to improve her 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:
Hi, Sally. Thank you so much for coming onto the podcast today.

Sally Newman:
Thank you, Martin. It’s nice to meet you at last.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. We’ve been talking through email for quite some time. So, this is really the first time we’re meeting so to speak. So yeah, it’s good to see you too.

Sally Newman:
Yeah.

Martin Reed:
Let’s just start right at the beginning is what I like to do before all these podcast discussions. Can you tell us a little bit about when your sleep problems first began? And if you can think or if you have any recollection onto what that initial trigger was that led to sleep disruption.

Sally Newman:
I can’t actually think of a trigger, but I’ve had insomnia nearly all my life. I’m not sure what the trigger ever was because I’ve had it since I was a child. I must have been about eight years old when I was frantic about not getting enough sleep and worried that if I didn’t get enough sleep, I wouldn’t be able to get through the school day, and that was at a very young age. My parents were concerned enough to take me to a therapist at that time.

Sally Newman:
I don’t remember too much about the therapist, but I do remember him with a slide projector, and he was explaining to me that I shouldn’t worry about sleep, it wasn’t that important, and that a lot of people didn’t sleep wonderfully, it wasn’t the end of the world. I remember he showed me a slide of Winston Churchill. Very old, very old, way before your time, who only used to cat nap, and he was perfectly all right. He showed me various other people. I think it did help me. It did help me to talk with a therapist at that time.

Sally Newman:
I didn’t have a major problem with it but I was witness to insomnia because my parents were both addicted to sleeping tablets. I remember they were taking lorazepam. Every single night at nine o’clock, my father would make my mother a cup of tea and they would take their sleeping tablets. So, I witnessed that growing up all my life. It’s possibly something that I picked up at an early age that sleep can be a problem. There wasn’t any trauma that happened to me in school, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because I liked school.

Sally Newman:
As I went through my teens and 20s, my mother would occasionally give me a couple of tablets in case I had a bad night. It was always on my mind. I always had this thing about sleeping tablets. I was okay until in my 20s, we moved abroad, my husband and I. I think I was very unsettled because I’m not the kind of person who likes change so much. I had problems there. His cousin was a pharmacist and he used to get medicine for me. So I always had them, I tried not to take them regularly. So I always had them. So I’ve just had this ongoing relationship with sleeping tablets.

Sally Newman:
I was taking them intermittently. And then 10 years ago we moved from the UK to Spain. Half the year here and half the year in Spain, that’s how it was happening. I have been to the doctor with my sleep problems in London and he gave me like 14 tablets for ages. I could go back and get more but they were to last me really. So, I trusted, normally, I took over the counter tablets. I often had very bad nights. And then when I was desperate, I would count down to the days I could take one of my tablets.

Sally Newman:
When I came to Spain, I went to the doctor here because I’ve heard they were quite free with the tablets. So I went to the doctor and I said, “Dr., I’m having such bad sleeping problems.” And he said, “That’s terrible.” He said, “I’ll give you something.” So he gave me like a packet of 30 zopiclone. I already had some reserved from my doctors in London and neither knew what was going on. I had these zopiclone, and just knowing I had the drugs that I would eventually sleep, I thought, well, I don’t sleep for two or three nights, I’ve got a tablet. I tried to eke it out as long as possible. Then that’s how it was running.

Sally Newman:
And then a couple of years ago, I started getting addicted to them, the tablets, I couldn’t sleep without a tablet. So I’ve been actually, before I met you, I’ve been almost constantly on a tablet a night, and getting myself really freaked out because I would check the internet to see how bad they were for me, How damaging. And then I read terrible things about having zopiclone is terrible, I wish I’d never taken them, I couldn’t get off zopiclone. I was so worried about withdrawal symptoms, I was really getting quite neurotic about it, but I couldn’t do much about it. By the time I spoke to you, I’d lost faith in, I didn’t think I could ever sleep again. I never thought I could sleep naturally.

Sally Newman:
And the worst thing was with the tablets that they didn’t help me really because the next day, I felt terrible. I’d been living in a fog, now, I have been living in the fog for so long because they made me feel really groggy and not really 100% there, not focused. And also gave me some anxiety. And then I looked it up to see if you can get anxiety from sleeping tablets. Some people said you can, just terrible. Yeah, so that was it, really. And then I had to increase the dose, which was the worst thing because they weren’t working in the current dose. And that was the point I met you really.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. Yeah, well, that’s quite a journey you’ve been on there. I think the issue there can be with sleeping pills or even just supplements, whenever we take something in a bid to improve our sleep, it’s never really a long time solution because it doesn’t get to the actual problem itself, like the root of the problem, the issue that is making sleep difficult. Depending on what you take, the chemical formula, it can increase the likelihood of sleep, but they’ll never actually generate sleep itself because the only thing that generates sleep is your own body. So, what pills and supplements can do is help lower that initial barrier, that initial obstacle to sleep, which is often worry about sleep or worry about I’m not going to sleep, what if I don’t sleep.

Martin Reed:
And so, by kind of taking the edge off that anxiety, it makes it a bit easier to sleep. So you tend to sleep a little bit better. But the problem is you just associate all that sleep you then got with the pill or the supplement or with whatever you took, rather than recognizing that all that sleep was sleep that you generated, your body generated all by itself. And so, the reason why there, another reason why there are short term solution is because when you have that belief you can only sleep with a pill or with a supplement. As soon as you then stop taking it, if you’ve done nothing to address what the actual problem is, then more likely than not, all those big problems come from flooding back as soon as you stop taking or you reduce your dose or make any changes.

Sally Newman:
Yeah, exactly.

Martin Reed:
I think you touched upon something good as well that’s important. That grogginess, those side effects from pills or supplements. It’s really easy to also associate all those side effects with poor sleep or that there’s something wrong with your sleep. You can feel there’s definitely something wrong, I’m getting non-restorative sleep. I’m getting sleep but I don’t feel good in the morning. And it’s really easy to blame that on your sleep when it could be whatever that pill or supplement you’re taking is that’s leading to that. So it’s kind of this double-edged sword and it never usually leads to a long term resolution when you end up there.

Martin Reed:
So, what was a typical night like for you back in those days when you were kind of taking those pills and worrying about sleep? How would you describe a typical night?

Sally Newman:
I guess a bit worried. I didn’t look forward to going to bed. I wondered whether I would sleep and just focused on sleeping. And invariably, I didn’t, or I did fall into an exhaustive sleep. But then I thought, well, three more nights I can take a tablet. I was very anxious and worried and I was hot and sweaty. I scanned insomnia sites for tips. And I tell you, at the right time, in this interview, what I did, a lot of the things that I read online just didn’t work and I thought it must be me. Try it, they say it’s tried and tested, and every time you see an article about how to get sleep better, they give a list of things to do and I’ve tried everything. Some of them didn’t work. I mean, a lot of them are common sense. Have a cool room etc, or maybe have a warm bath before. Lot of the other things didn’t help me. And yeah, it was really, really bad. I just never thought that I would sleep properly or seek that help.

Martin Reed:
Did you tend to find that it was difficult falling asleep at the start of the night or was it more to do with waking during the night and then finding it hard to fall back asleep?

Sally Newman:
No, it’s actually getting to sleep.

Martin Reed:
Falling asleep, yeah.

Sally Newman:
Yeah, falling asleep.

Martin Reed:
And so, you mentioned you tried these different things. Sounds like based on sleep hygiene, these environmental things. And that is very common. I think it’s one of the first things that people who have insomnia try because that’s what all the information out there is. Well, most of the information out there is based on sleep hygiene. But the problem we have with sleep hygiene is it’s more of a preventative set of techniques that are more for people that are kind of burning a candle at both ends. Prioritizing sleep.

Martin Reed:
In a way, it’s a little bit like dental hygiene or brushing your teeth. So you brush your teeth to keep your teeth healthy, but once you’ve got that cavity, no amount of brushing is going to get rid of that cavity. And really, that’s what sleep hygiene is like. It’s good as a preventative technique, perhaps. But once you have insomnia and you’re struggling, you’re kind of past that, and these sleep hygiene techniques aren’t really going to do much. But what they can do, which you alluded to, is when you then try them, you can worry that there’s something unique about your insomnia, there’s something seriously wrong because everyone is telling you to do this sleep hygiene stuff and you’re doing it. Your sleep is not responding to it and it can just lead to more worry. I’m glad that you touched upon that because I think most people listening to this are probably familiar with sleep hygiene, maybe tried it and maybe that led to more worry, this thought that there’s something unique about their insomnia when it’s not.

Martin Reed:
When they do clinical studies, looking at people with insomnia and different interventions, they use sleep hygiene as the control group because in the scientific community, people that are familiar with insomnia, we know that sleep hygiene doesn’t do anything for people with chronic insomnia. Once you got chronic insomnia, sleep hygiene is just ineffective. We actually use that as a control group in studies because it’s known. So yeah, I think that’s helpful and I’m really glad you touched upon that because I think a lot of people will identify with your experience there.

Martin Reed:
So you mentioned the sleep hygiene. Was there any other things that you’d done or was there any kind of ways that maybe you were modifying your life in difficult nights or in a bid to try and improve your sleep?

Sally Newman:
Well, socially, it impacted our social life because if we made arrangements with friends, I want to go early, make it earlier rather than later, especially if we have the restaurant booking. And it’s not easy in Spain because in Spain, people don’t eat until about 9, 9:30. I would worry that if we had such a late night, then I wouldn’t have enough time to sleep, it was always on my mind. When I could get back to bed to try and sleep and sleep asleep but I can’t sleep. So it does impact my social life. Worried about going on holiday and to hotels, exactly the same reason. I’m wondering whether I had enough sleeping tablets at the hotel because I would definitely be taking one every night because it was unfamiliar. But it really impacted your life.

Sally Newman:
I have a list of things I wrote if you don’t mind me reading.

Martin Reed:
Go for it.

Sally Newman:
There were so many of them. Okay. I told you I searched insomnia sites. It was on my mind all the time, sleep. I’m jealous of good sleepers. My husband’s an amazing sleeper. I’m so jealous of him. Really, he can just fall asleep on the sofa or anywhere. I tried no technology for two hours before bed. I’ve got a special flickering blue light, which is, I don’t know, I don’t know where it is actually. I think you use it once or twice, it didn’t work. It’s a light that comes on and dims and you’re supposed to look at the light. But it never worked.

Sally Newman:
I tried herbal drugs, melatonin, L-theanine or something, Valerian acupuncture. I had acupuncture quite recently for insomnia. It didn’t help. I slept so badly the night after I had it. Meditation, I’ve tried so much meditation, but it just doesn’t work for me. White noise motivational notes. I freaked out once, it was about two years ago, well, maybe it was a bit longer than that. Leonard Cohen is one of my favorite singers and he was playing in Paris. We were with friends and he was going to be playing, it was a really late concert, he was starting at about 11 at night. I watched the first half and he was going to finish it at about four. It was very late, it was a night concert. I didn’t stay but the second half because I wanted to get back to bed. I didn’t sleep because we had to fly the next morning. And I was so worried about not being able to sleep whereas our friends just stayed and didn’t care if they got sleep or not. So I did try all that.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, that’s really common. I think a lot of people are going to identify with everything you’ve just said there. It’s completely natural that we’re going to want to try all these different experiments in a bid to improve our sleep, because as I say many times, pretty much everything in life responds positively to effort. When we struggle with sleep, our natural inclination is to put effort into it, to troubleshoot, to solve the problem. Often what happens is, we then, as soon as we put effort into sleep, we kind of imply that we can control sleep. And as soon as we go down that rabbit hole of trying to control sleep, sleep becomes close to impossible, it becomes really difficult. And so, when we engage in all these different experiments, they’re rarely helpful just because if nothing else, our brain has to stay alert to monitor for the results of those experiments.

Martin Reed:
Anytime you try something, you get into bed and you’re thinking, okay, I tried this today. Let’s see if I can sleep. And as soon as you start there, it makes sleep more difficult. And we can also end up following this process, which you just hinted at, where we start to remove all these enjoyable moments and experiences and positive opportunities from our life because we’re worried how they might affect our sleep. And so, the end result there is we become more worried and more concerned about sleep, put more pressure on ourselves to sleep because we’re associating sleep with a negative outcome. So for example, I can’t finish watching this concert because it might impact my sleep. So you miss out on that, you still don’t sleep well anyway. But then, you’ve associated sleep with missing out on watching that concert that you really would have enjoyed and would have added enjoyment to your life.

Martin Reed:
All of these behaviors and thought processes and experiments are all completely understandable and justifiable. We shouldn’t feel bad that we went down that route because, as I said, everything else in life probably would have responded well, but sleep works differently. And as soon as we engage in these experiments and trying to modify our days or compensate for sleep, it can actually makes it more difficult because it implies that we can somehow control sleep.

Sally Newman:
Yeah, that’s true.

Martin Reed:
So leading on from that, this is why these cognitive and behavioral techniques I talk about are just so helpful because they address all these thoughts that we have, the behaviors that we often implement in response to poor sleep. And these end up perpetuating insomnia, making it more difficult for us to recover. Mainly because these thoughts, these behaviors, they can disrupt our sleep drive, just having natural propensity to sleep. They can disrupt our internal body clock, and probably the big one, which everyone will identify with is they can heightened arousal, just activate the mind, just fire up all those thought processes and that worry.

Martin Reed:
For that reason, when I work with people, that’s something that I really focus time and attention on. So, when you learned about that, the influence that our thoughts and our behaviors can have on sleep, I’m sure that you’re probably able to identify things you’ve done, which you just touched upon in a bid to improve your sleep and somehow cope with insomnia, that might have actually been making sleep more difficult.

Sally Newman:
Yeah. I didn’t realize.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. You just mentioned all those kind of experiments and canceling plans with friends and modifying the days. Do you notice other behaviors creeping in that are quite common among people with insomnia? I think common ones are things like spending more time in bed, spending a really long time in bed. Maybe going to bed earlier, setting your bed later. Maybe napping during the day, things like that. Were they familiar to you?

Sally Newman:
Yes, I did try to nap in the afternoon. I don’t know really. I was just miserable though. It made me very miserable and short-tempered and I wasn’t very easy to live with. I was spending a lot of time during the day on the internet in a bid to find out other things which might help me that I haven’t actually tried. I was pretty desperate, and my husband would, blessed is the ground you walk on. I said, “How long do you think I’ve had this, Ben?” He said, “You’ve had it all your life, all your married life,” as long as he’s known me. He’s really happy. Yeah.

Martin Reed:
I kind of touched upon this one, I asked you that question about this arousal and how this can really perpetuate sleep problems. Arousal isn’t always anxiety. I like to say there’s kind of three branches of arousal. So we have this cognitive arousal. This is kind of just worry, sleep-related worry, and it can often not be restricted to the night. We can find ourselves worrying about sleep throughout the day. And then we have this kind of physiological arousal, just like the physical symptoms of it. And you touched upon this earlier, you would get into bed and feel really hot for example. Just about the way our body responds to this heightened arousal. We can also have this conditioned arousal where we kind of just learn that bed or sleep is unpleasant. So we might actually feel sleepy during the day or that early evening when we know it’s not bedtime. But then as soon as we get into bed, it’s like we’re wide awake. It might not be that we’re worried but we just feel wide awake and we just have lost that sense of sleepiness.

Sally Newman:
Exactly, exactly.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. And so, all those kind of three branches of arousal, they again, they feed in and they perpetuate the problem. And so, this is why taking steps to address these thought processes and the behaviors that we implement to help set the stage for sleep and reduce the power of the arousal system can just be really helpful in terms of improving your sleep for the long term because they really get to the core problem that’s generating sleep difficulties.

Martin Reed:
So anyway, moving on, I remember when you first started submitting those sleep logs, you were spending about eight hours in bed at night, but you really weren’t getting even close to eight hours of sleep. I think it was about closer to about three hours of sleep that first week. And that’s common, again, among people with insomnia, we’ll often allot the amount of time for sleep that we want to be spending asleep rather than how much sleep we’re getting. And this usually just means more time awake during the night, which is unpleasant and it increases arousal, more time to worry about sleep, doesn’t feel goo. We’re reinforcing that negative association between the bed and being awake instead of asleep.

Martin Reed:
And so, we have this technique known as sleep restriction, probably better phrase is bedtime restriction because we’re not restricting the amount of sleep you get, we’re just trying to restrict the amount of time you spend in bed to get a little bit closer to the amount of time that you actually spend asleep on an average night. And that reduces the amount of time you spend awake, helps build sleep drive during the day. So, when you first learned about this technique, the sleep restriction technique, what were your thoughts on that? Did it feel appealing to you or did spending less time in bed not feel very appealing or attractive?

Sally Newman:
No, I’d heard about it, sleep restriction. It’s something I hadn’t actually tried. It was easier to do it when you know that you have someone who understands, who is leading it basically. So they’re telling you what to do, and you were there basically, Martin. The most difficult thing with sleep restriction was also, it was I was doing the sleep restriction and I was also giving up the sleeping tablets. So that wasn’t very easy to begin with. I got over that surprisingly quickly, a couple of days of not sleeping very well. I remember one night, the first few nights of sleeping two or three hours, and then there was a completely sleepless night. But then I’d also stopped, I prepared myself for a miserable week. I stopped the sleeping tablets as well.

Sally Newman:
But it was quite amazing, by the end of that first week, really very quickly, I was feeling a lot better, I wasn’t taking a tablet, and it was actually working on me. And one thing I have realized since I do that, the sleep restriction, is that I was going to bed too early. And now my bedtime has kind of set itself into a mean time, which is much later than I normally would have gone to bed. And so, actually, I’m getting a longer evening because I’m not obsessing about sleeping and I’m enjoying my evenings.

Sally Newman:
I can feel my eyes closing within about half an hour and I’m really sleeping so well. It’s April now and I started this I think in November. November, December, I started with it. It took a while but I can honestly say that it’s so good.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, that’s great. You did get really noticeable improvements really quickly from bedtime restriction, from allotting less time for sleep. Not everyone gets results that quickly. Just want to recognize that some people, takes a few weeks to recognize a sense of sleepiness, to start spending less time awake during the night. But I think it was, I think once you get, you notice those improvements, it can just be so reassuring, to recognize that that sleep drive is there. And when you can recognize it, that you do have the ability to sleep. If you spend enough time awake, you will always sleep no matter how intense your anxiety or your arousal is, most sleep always happens in the end. And you touch upon getting that sensation of sleepiness back.

Sally Newman:
Amazing.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, exactly. Because I think the primary symptom associated with insomnia is fatigue. So we just feel worn out and run down. And it’s really easy to confuse fatigue with sleepiness and go to bed because we recognize fatigue thinking that we’re sleepy. And when we don’t fall asleep because we’re not sleepy enough for sleep, we then worry that we’re not going to fall asleep. And it starts that whole chain reaction of this hyper-arousal, active mind, which makes sleep more difficult. So, it’s really good that you touched upon how satisfying and how good it felt to feel that sense of sleepiness again.

Martin Reed:
You mentioned that week was difficult, that first week.

Sally Newman:
Maybe the first couple of weeks actually.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. Were there any nights where you just didn’t get any sleep or you just got really little sleep? How do you get through that, how do you get through that? It’s one thing to kind of have faith or belief in these techniques, but when you’re so concerned about sleep, when you’ve had insomnia for such a long period of time, you start implementing these new techniques. When you get that night of no sleep, it’s so easy to believe that the technique’s not going to work or you’re beyond help or there’s something unique. How do you keep looking forward and stay consistent? How do you do that?

Sally Newman:
Well, I accept that sometimes I don’t believe that everybody, even the best sleeper, sleeps well every single night. There are bad nights. Sometimes, my husband, for instance, will have a sleepless night, and he’s a good sleeper normally. So I don’t think it’s a given that you’re going to sleep well for the rest of your life, but it’s more of the acceptance that you won’t sleep well. And if you know they’ll have a bad night, I was keeping my diary, and I know now that if I have 0 hours a night, which doesn’t happen very often, but has happened a few times, just don’t worry about it and I’ll sleep well the next night. And if not then then, by night three definitely. It’s never happened really, two sleepless nights in a row, but it’s quite amazing how with no sleep you can sleep. Doctors do it all the time, and many people who don’t get great amounts of sleep and they have to be focused. I just don’t worry about it. I don’t have a worry of insomnia now, so, it’s not a problem.

Martin Reed:
I think that can be really helpful, just recognizing that no one has perfect sleep every single night. Even people that don’t even think about sleep, they’re going to have difficult nights from time to time. Sometimes there’s an obvious explanation for it, sometimes there’s not. But the fact is the body always compensates for this by itself. And so, we can have remarkably good days or feel remarkably full of energy after very little sleep or even no sleep.

Martin Reed:
But it’s when we try and get involved in the process, when we start to troubleshoot or try and conserve energy during the day, remove enjoyable activities from our day, that can perpetuate the issue. When you get to that point where you can just recognize that the body will take care of this by itself. And during this time, I might have nights of less sleep than I want to get. I might even have nights of no sleep whatsoever. But as long as I try and remove myself from the process of trying to sleep as much as possible, the body will take care of it and sleep will almost always get back on track all by itself.

Sally Newman:
In the past, I would give myself a limit, like if I’m not asleep by 2AM, then I’m going to take a tablet. So, kind of just give me this limit. Never seeing it through, never allowing myself to see it through. whether I slept or not. Not giving myself a chance to do that. This course was the push I needed to test myself really.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. That is one of the issues when we take pills or supplements contingently. So if we have this plan that I’ll only take it if I’m up at 2AM or if I’m really struggling, because then what happens is you miss that opportunity to credit any sleep you get with your own natural ability to sleep, especially if you reach for that pill or that supplement after a really difficult night or during a really difficult night or after a really difficult stretch. Because at that point, sleep drive is really strong, so your natural propensity to sleep, your natural urge to sleep is going to be really intense anyway. So the chances are you’re going to sleep because you’ve just been awake for so long.

Martin Reed:
But what happens is you reach for that X, whatever it is, you reach for that pill, that supplement. And then when you do sleep, you believe that you only slept because of that pill or that supplement. So all that kind of sleep drive you’ve built, that opportunity for you to get that reassurance that your sleep drive is there, it’s working for you, you can sleep, is continually eroded when we just reach for things on a contingent basis.

Martin Reed:
You said that you started to go to bed a little bit later in the night, you started to get that sense of sleepiness, felt really good. Another aspect of this bedtime restriction is getting out of bed by this consistent out of bed time in the morning. How did you deal with that? Was this something that you did anyway, got out of bed at the same time every day?

Sally Newman:
No because I’m retired, so I didn’t really have to, that was one good thing that I’m retired, at least I thought, if I sort of sleep till really late, then I can lie in and that sort of thing. So, yeah, it was quite hard in the beginning. Yes, I set my alarm for nine o’clock in the morning. But it was good because no matter how I slept, I planned my day, I didn’t let myself lay or go back to sleep or try to sleep. It was really good.

Sally Newman:
I felt better because I was actually doing something about it and I wasn’t doing on my own. I could have tried it on my own and I don’t think it would have worked. But the fact that I had to report to you and actually start a diary and make a note of the hours. I needed the support. Basically, what I realized is I needed the right support with my sleep, with my insomnia, and up to date, I’ve never found it.

Martin Reed:
Trying to stick to that consistent out of bed time can just be so helpful just because it gives our, first of all, it just gives our body clock this consistent morning anchor. So it’s better able to be aware of when it’s time to be awake and when it’s time to be asleep. And if you get out of bed by the same time every day, don’t go to bed before a certain time every day, you’re making sure that there’s enough time during the day for sleep drive to build to a strong enough level to help you sleep at night. So, it can feel really good on those nights when your alarm goes off, and it feels like you just fell asleep, an hour ago, you just fell asleep, and you’re capable of getting another four hours.

Martin Reed:
So there’s that temptation to just turn the alarm off, get those four hours of sleep. But the problem is, it feels great at the time, but you’re almost setting yourself up for sleep disruption the following night because there’s going to be that amount less time for you to build that sleep drive to help you sleep for the following night. So it really is this, you kind of have to make this deal with yourself. There might be a little bit of short term pain, you might miss out on a little bit of that morning sleep. But in return, you’re going to enjoy long term improvements, more consistent sleep and better sleep really for the rest of your life. So sometimes when you put it in that perspective, it’s worth the trade off.

Sally Newman:
Yes. Yeah.

Martin Reed:
Do you have any tips for people in terms of sticking to that consistent out of bed time because especially when you first try to stick to that consistent bedtime, it can just be so hard, especially if you think that you’re capable of getting a bit more sleep. How do you stay consistent with that? Do you have any tips for people? What did you do? How did you manage to keep that really strong morning anchor time?

Sally Newman:
Well, I set myself, I tried to fill my diary, and I wasn’t busy, to really have structure to the day. I know that it may not be easy in the beginning, it can be very hard. I would imagine maybe some people give up, I really don’t know. Honestly, it’s so worth sticking to it, it really is worth sticking to it because it really, really does work. And I have heard before that it works. I’ve read about it but I’ve never actually had the opportunity to try it myself. I think that you have to believe in it and it really does work to reset your sleep clock. Yeah, just have faith. Have faith basically.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, I think you touched upon a really important point. If you can add some kind of structure or some kind of routine to your life because the temptation is to conserve energy and remove activity from your life because of that intense fatigue. This just leads to less structuring your day. So there’s more of that temptation to stay in bed for longer. And if nothing else, there’s more time during the day when your mind has nothing else to do apart from think and worry about sleep. So, I actually see people, I talk to people all the time that have been struggling with sleep and they have retirement coming up. And they think that once I retire, everything will be great. But then they find that sleep gets worse upon retirement because there’s no longer that structure in the day. There’s not that obligation to get out of bed, to go to work.

Martin Reed:
And so, you tend to spend more time in bed. You spend more time without those daytime distractions, you’re thinking about sleep more and worrying about sleep more. So it can be really helpful to make sure that you are still filling your day or engaging in positive activities during the day. It doesn’t all have to be really intense physical activity. Being physically active is obviously good anyway, but you don’t have to be kind of training for a marathon or anything. But just adding these moments and activities to your day that make you feel good, that give you a sense of enjoyment, a sense of enrichment, of reward.

Martin Reed:
And not only does this help you feel better, it means there’s less time for your mind to think and worry about sleep, and especially, if you make the effort to pursue these kind of things after a bad night of sleep, it can help you recognize, the quality of your sleep doesn’t 100% dictate the quality of your day that you can have at difficult night but a good day because ultimately, we are the ones in control of what we do during the day. And if we do things that make us feel good, we’re going to feel good and we can then recognize that sleep is maybe not quite as important in our lives as we’ve always thought it would be.

Sally Newman:
Yeah, it’s true. I have a dog. So he’s inspiration for me to get up anyway, he’s really enjoying his early morning walks. One thing I find that has helped me a lot, a bit or a lot really with mindfulness is I’m very mindful now. Now I’m feeling so much better. I tried to be mindful and I had insomnia but I think my brain was so clouded by the drugs all the time. Now, I’m so much more alert. There’s so many beautiful things around us outside. And it’s just lovely.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I completely agree. Mindfulness or any relaxation technique is a skill. I think it’s important to recognize that it does take practice, regardless of what your preferred method of relaxation is. It’s actually a skill. It’s like riding a bike. The first few times you try it, it’s not going to do much for you. And the goal of any relaxation technique should always just be relaxation, not sleep, because we can’t control sleep in any way. But yeah, this idea of mindfulness, just being present, it can just be so helpful because when we can recognize that so much of our worries and our anxiety in life is to do with what hasn’t happened yet or what might happen in the future, it can really help us recognize that a lot of the thoughts that we have and a lot of the worries we have are based on things that haven’t even happened yet or might not even ever happen.

Martin Reed:
So, I don’t know, like an example, if you’re going to speak at a conference, let’s say you’ve got a conference in a month’s time and you’re going to be giving a speech, and you find in that conference you’re speaking for 15 minutes. So, really, 15 minutes of pressure. But the problem is, you’re thinking and worrying about the upcoming conference for an hour or two every day for like two months leading up to it. So when you can recognize this idea of mindfulness or why am I worrying about that now, that’s two months down the line. How about I just try and be focused on the now? Like right this second. And when you can kind of think about that some more, you do recognize how much mental energy on worry is used thinking about things that haven’t happened or might not even ever happen. It’s pretty incredible.

Sally Newman:
Yeah, it’s true. Yeah.

Martin Reed:
How did you get into mindfulness by the way? Were there any kind of books that you read?

Sally Newman:
I read quite a lot of mindfulness mindful books, because when I had anxiety, it was recommended to me by my therapist. And also I read on the insomnia sites it can help you with insomnia. The acupuncturist who I went to for insomnia, she told me about a podcast, I can’t remember the name of it, but a series, it was an app, and it was really good, it was really good. Just for the mindfulness bit, not from the insomnia point of view. I did kind of practice is quite a lot. I don’t know if I do it but I tend to, I walk a lot. I’m in Spain at the moment. There’s so many beautiful things to look at. I do find it slows me down and it really just keep me calm. Headspace, it’s called Headspace.

Martin Reed:
Headspace, yeah.

Sally Newman:
Yeah, yeah.

Martin Reed:
I think it can just be really helpful. Often it’s that worry about a difficult night of sleep that is more challenging than the actual difficult night of sleep itself. You can find that you spend hours during the day thinking and worrying about what’s going to happen tonight, whereas what you could be doing perhaps instead is adding positive moments to your day, enjoyable activities to your day because tonight is tonight, tonight hasn’t happened yet, it’s in the future. And we can’t predict the future anyway. You might have a bad night, absolutely, but you might not have a bad night. But if you’re spending the whole day worrying about the bad night, that can often be the biggest challenge, perhaps even more than any potential difficult night itself.

Sally Newman:
Yeah, absolutely.

Martin Reed:
All right, so, I really appreciate the time that you’ve spared for this discussion. I think a lot of people are going to find it really helpful. So, thank you for that. I do like to always end these podcasts with the same kind of question. So I’m going to pose it to you as well. If someone with chronic insomnia is listening and feels as though they’ve tried everything, that they’re beyond help, they can’t do anything to improve their sleep, what would you tell them?

Sally Newman:
Well, I’m 69 years old and I’ve had insomnia nearly all my life, over 60 years. I never ever believed that I would be able to sleep properly. I did put my faith in Martin, and having his support and the program itself is absolutely excellent. I would never have believe that it worked as well as it did, I still can’t believe it. So really, you should give a go at this. I’m pretty sure that he’d be able to help you as well.

Martin Reed:
That’s really kind of you, Sally.

Sally Newman:
You’re welcome.

Martin Reed:
Ultimately, all I act as is the guide. I can give people information and support them in terms of making the behavioral changes that can be really helpful. So, I think it’s important for you to make sure you give yourself credit because you’re the one that did all the work, put all the effort into improving your sleep in a constructive way.

Martin Reed:
And now, because all these techniques are really skill based, it’s like you said yourself, you now have this toolbox at your disposal. So any time sleep disruption might return for a prolonged period of time because we know that a bad night of sleep every now and then is normal, but if your sleep isn’t getting back on track by itself, now you know exactly what to do because you’ve got this toolbox of techniques that you can just re-implement to get your sleep back on track. They worked for you in the past, and you know they can work for you again. And that in itself can just be really reassuring.

Sally Newman:
Yeah, thank you very much.

Martin Reed:
Thank you, again. Thank you so much for giving up your time today. I know a lot of people listening to this are going to relate to your story. And because you’re successful, then that means that they can be successful too. So thank you.

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:

Headspace

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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