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How Susie stopped sleep from controlling her life, regained trust in her natural ability to sleep, and learned to love her bedroom (#25)

Listen to the podcast episode (audio only)

Susie never had a great relationship with sleep — but dealing with her insomnia wasn’t something that was high on her list of priorities. That all changed, however, when Susie went overseas and her sleeping pills seemed to suddenly stop working. Quite understandably, Susie’s anxiety skyrocketed and she ended up cutting her vacation short and returning home.

It was at this point that Susie realized she had to do something to improve her sleep. In this episode, Susie talks about the changes she made to create significantly better conditions for sleep. She also discusses the challenges she faced as she implemented these changes, and describes the ups and downs she experienced along the way.

Susie used to feel anxious about going to bed and used to dislike even being in her bedroom. Today, Susie loves her bedroom, loves sleep, and is confident in her natural ability to sleep. This transformation was entirely down to her own efforts to address the thoughts and behaviors that perpetuate sleep disruption, her natural ability to sleep, and her refusal to give up!

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:
Hello Susie. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to come on to the podcast.

Susie Mason:
Hey Martin. I’m really happy to do this. And it’s good to see you.

Martin Reed:
Yes, it’s great to see you too. It’s always such a difference because so much of the communication I do with clients or visitors to my website is just by email, the written word, and sometimes I don’t actually get to see people. So it’s always nice to just put a face to the name and actually see the person that I’m communicating with.

Susie Mason:
Yeah, definitely. Same. It’s good to see you. And really, I’m really happy to be doing this too. I want to. It’d be really nice to give other people the knowledge that they can get through insomnia. The hellish thing, and I’d really like to enable somebody else to do that, because it’s made such a difference to my life. It’s really nice for you too because I’ve got so much from you.

Martin Reed:
Great. I appreciate that, and I know that everyone listening to this is going to get so much from you too. So without further ado, let’s start right at the beginning. So, when did your sleep problems begin, and do you have any idea what that initial trigger for your sleep issues was?

Susie Mason:
Yeah, definitely. I had a pretty traumatic childhood. I was terrified of going to bed. It started really early. I was scared to go to bed, and if I did go to sleep, I would wake up in the night and I’d be screaming. I’d be terrified. And I don’t know how that got dealt with really, and my parents were always arguing about me.

Susie Mason:
I was a source of contention between them, and that just started off, and my mother also had really bad anxiety, and she passed that onto me. So a lot of anxiety, a lot of trauma, a lot of awful things happened to me when I was young.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. So it sounds like you can identify that maybe this initial trauma is what started these issues with sleep and then maybe this progressed into, maybe once that was less of an issue, maybe it was more to do with just this residual anxiety or this worry or concern around sleep that was sticking around and keeping those sleep difficulties around. Would you say that’s true, or do you think that it was… Why do you think it stuck around for so long?

Susie Mason:
There was so much stuff in my life that was not good, that was going on, that you got to prioritize. I mean, I wasn’t consciously doing it, but the sleep was something that I just got… I didn’t really think through much about. It was horrible. I didn’t like it, but it was just sort down low on the priority list of what I was dealing with. And as I’ve worked on myself, as my life has become better and I’m much more in control of so much in my life, really it’s taken me this long to get to the sleep, if you know what I mean.

Susie Mason:
And so the most recent thing was I went to England a couple of years ago, and I was supposed to be doing a cruise, a tour around Italy about a month after I got there, and I had taken some sleeping pills to get me through that time, plus another few. And anyway, I got on the plane and I took a pill, didn’t go to sleep at all. I got to England and I was too scared to use the pills that I’d saved for the… I was meant to be using for Italy, because I thought, if I’ll be staying in a different place every night, I’m not going to be able to do this.

Susie Mason:
So it got to the stage where I thought, “My God, I’m going to have to go home. I can’t cope.” I was losing my mind, and I’d been to try and get to a doctor to try and get some pills, they wouldn’t give it to me and I was still holding onto these other ones. It doesn’t make sense now, but anyway, and then one morning at four o’clock I thought I can’t go on like this and I rang my insurance company, and they sent me to a hospital.

Susie Mason:
And I thought, “This has gone a bit far.” But my ex husband said something to me, because he was being really good, he was ringing me every day, and he said, “Susie, have you ever…” He said because I had 15 years of therapy in recent years, he said, “Did you ever talk to your therapist about this? Did you ever deal with your sleep issues?” And it was like, “Oh my God, no.” I was so used to this lack of sleep that I’d never ever, so I thought, “I’ve got to deal with this.”

Susie Mason:
Anyway, the situation did turn around in England. I just carried on taking my pills. And all went well in England, but I did cancel the Italy tour. But anyway, I got back here, carried on taking the pills, and it just got worse and worse. The pills stopped working and I couldn’t sleep and if I took one at all. I might get one or two hours, and I was just getting more and more anxious, so consequently two years down. And it was actually just after the pandemic started, I don’t think that made a difference, but I mean, it was obviously an interesting time for it to happen, and we’d just gone into lockdown, and somehow I found you, I found your program.

Susie Mason:
And what made me go with you, was I found the page where all the people are posting about their journeys, and when I read that, it was like, “I’ve got to do something.” I mean, I was using marijuana edibles to… I was in a mess. I was going nuts, if not any lack of sleep, lack of sleep, hardly at all, being really anxious, and I found your thing and your program and I found that page with all the people’s experiences on, and I thought, “This looks like it could offer me a way out.”

Susie Mason:
And I thought, “Okay, I’ve got to give it a go.” And I thought, “I know this is going to be hard.” It would never be easy, which is why I hadn’t done it a couple of years earlier, but I was desperate and I thought, “This looks like the only thing. I don’t want to be on medication anymore. This is making it ten times worse.” And so I thought, “I’ve got to totally commit to this 100%. No matter how hard it is, I’m going to do this bloody program.” And at that stage, I thought it was going to be eight weeks, but it wasn’t, it was much longer. And then I realized I’m breaking a lifetime pattern here.

Martin Reed:
That’s great. There’s so much good stuff in there, but there’s some of the key highlights that I got from it was, where you mentioned that your ex husband said, “All these, whenever you’ve been working through anxiety working with the therapists, et cetera, did you ever get to sleep specifically as a specific topic?” And the fact that you didn’t actually I don’t think is that unusual, because for many of us, we take this approach, “Well if I deal with my anxiety, or if I deal with my worries, or if I deal with my stress, then my sleep will just get better all by itself.”

Martin Reed:
And when we have short term sleep disruption, that normally is the case. If we get some bad news, for example, sleep is disrupted, completely normal. And then once we’ve adjusted, usually sleep gets back on track, but what can happen once we’ve had insomnia for a while is the way we think about sleep changes. We worry a lot more about it. We pay more attention to it. We think a lot more about it, and we can implement all these behaviors in a bid to improve our sleep, which can include things like experimenting with different medications, different supplements, maybe going to bed earlier, staying in bed later, taking naps during the day, canceling plans.

Martin Reed:
And all these things we do in a bid to improve our sleep can end up perpetuating the problems. So even though that initial trigger might no longer be relevant, it might have no place in our lives anymore because our relationship with sleep is changing, our behaviors around sleep have changed, our insomnia can stick around. So that’s when it can be really helpful to make sure that we’re also targeting all these perpetuating factors behind the insomnia itself, rather than what might have just originally triggered it, so I think that was a really big insight.

Susie Mason:
Well, just one thing about that though, I’ve had the insomnia for so long in varying degrees throughout my life, but it was almost like I didn’t see it as a problem. It was like, I had so many other issues that the sleep, it was like having, I don’t know, one arm or something. You’ve got one arm and nothing you can do about it, you got to deal with it. I’ve actually got a trunk full of journals, 30 years of journals that have been written at one, two, three, four o’clock in the morning. And the other thing is how I coped with my life with so little sleep. It amazes me.

Martin Reed:
It is quite amazing, and that’s another great insight, I think, is because so much of our concern about insomnia is how it’s going to impact our lives. As you just reflected upon, you definitely had some examples of how insomnia was having a negative impact on your life, but at the same time, you recognize how long you dealt with it and probably how much… all the different things that you were able to do, even while living with insomnia, is quite remarkable.

Martin Reed:
And sometimes, if we can just take a step back if we’re still dealing with sleep issues, if we can take a step back and remind ourselves of all these times we have been capable, we’ve had good moments, we’ve been productive, even with insomnia, that can really help take a lot of the worry and the pressure we might be putting on ourselves to sleep away.

Susie Mason:
And that’s what the program has done for me, because even though I knew I used to cope, I would worry about that… Well, and I need to speak about sleep hygiene. I did it all, everything. I don’t know what I didn’t try. All of that stuff, it didn’t make any bloody difference at all.

Susie Mason:
What the program has done for me is, I don’t worry about waking up in the night. If I wake up, I get up, I watch all sorts of interesting programs on TV in the middle of the night. I don’t write in a journal anymore. I just get up and watch all sorts of weird stuff. I watch TV and I don’t angst about it. And I also know now that if I have a couple of nights like that, I’m going to have a few really good nights, and, Oh God, I feel normal, like I’ve got no inclination to take a sleeping pill. But I’m not worried.

Martin Reed:
I hear that a lot, and it’s somewhere where I like to see clients get to, because as soon as you don’t worry about potentially waking up during the night, and as soon as you don’t worry about actually waking up during the night, you remove such a big source of worry and anxiety and performance anxiety, and all these things are unhelpful for sleep. And so when you take that it’s almost like an I don’t really care approach, it just tends to make sleep a lot easier.

Martin Reed:
And when you combine it with just some additional knowledge about how sleep works, for example, sleep, the fact that sleep drive, this pressure to sleep builds the longer that you remain awake for, you can also be reassured that, “Okay, if tonight or tomorrow night or the night after I do spend a lot of time awake during the night, that’s going to really build that sleep pressure. That sleep drive is going to be strong and sooner or later I’m going to sleep. Every difficult night of sleep increases the likelihood of better sleep on a subsequent night.” And bottom line is, if it gets really bad again, I go back and do the whole bloody program.

Martin Reed:
Well, that is the great thing about changing our behaviors and even changing our thought processes, is really, they’re a collection of skills. And because they’re skills-based, once we’ve learned them, once we’ve become familiar with them, confident with them, practice them, got results from them, they’re with us for life. In a way it makes us… we’re in a better position after insomnia than we were before insomnia, because now we’re more resilient. We know exactly what to do should insomnia ever become a problem again, we just implement all these skills. Again, just as they worked before they’ll work again.

Susie Mason:
I just want to talk a little bit, I suppose about what it was like going through the program, would that be useful?

Martin Reed:
Yeah, absolutely. I definitely did want to cover that, especially some of the behavioral changes that you made. I know that one of the first things you did when you started off was you started to spend less time in bed, you allotted less time for sleep and you just touched upon getting out of bed when being in bed didn’t feel good. So yeah, I would love to hear your experience with that and I’m sure everyone else listening to this would love to hear that too.

Susie Mason:
Yeah. That was really hard, having that sleep window of going to bed at night. At the beginning, I think I’d just go into bed at one o’clock. Anyway, it was incredibly hard and it was the winter. And getting up was okay, but that definitely wasn’t pleasant. Staying out of bed until really late and being so tired, even going into the program I was already tired.

Susie Mason:
So how did I stay awake? I would be pacing around the house, first of all. Then I thought that, I would have to sit down after a while and as soon as I sat down, I would start falling asleep, but it was like, “No, you can’t go to bed.” So what I started doing was, I would go to the swimming pool, and I would go and sit in the spa for a couple of hours, and I’d be there about half past eight and stay until about half past ten. That sort of filled in some time like it was going. I started going to the gym at nine o’clock at night for two hours.

Susie Mason:
It was hard, but the more I kept doing it very quickly, probably within a couple of weeks, I thought I could see the beginnings of change, I could see that this is going to work.

Martin Reed:
I think all of these techniques, when you read about them, they can sound pretty straightforward, but then when you actually implement them, they can definitely be challenging, especially in the short term, before you get the results. Some people get results quite quickly. Other people need to just stay as consistent as possible before those results come.

Martin Reed:
And it can be really hard, just as you described, you can experience this really intense sleepiness, just trying to keep yourself awake for that earliest possible bedtime. And then what can sometimes happen is you then go to bed and suddenly you feel wide awake. You lose that sleepiness.

Susie Mason:
Oh sure. Yeah. That’s what happened. Because at the beginning I couldn’t I was still fitting the old pattern obviously yeah. So that did happen.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. That’s actually quite common, we see it. The way I tend to explain that is before the start of our sleep window, we know that we’re not about to go to bed. So we’re not really worried about sleep. We’re not putting any pressure on ourselves to sleep. So we’re all, we’re just naturally a little bit more relaxed about it. And so as a result, those sleepiness cues are really obvious, they’re really clear, they’re really present.

Martin Reed:
But then, when it’s time to get into bed, because we’ve had so many repeatedly difficult nights in bed, our brain fires up almost like that fight or flight response to protect us from the perceived threat of being in bed. And so then all that sensation of sleepiness is lost as the body tries to wake us up, to protect us from the threat of being in bed. And of course that’s not helpful when our goal is to sleep, but it is something that does improve over time if we’re able to stay consistent.

Martin Reed:
And if we can relearn to associate the bed as being this nice place to be, associating the bed with relaxation and sleep rather than long periods of unpleasant wakefulness. And that’s one of the reasons why another good behavioral change is to just get out of bed whenever being in bed doesn’t feel good, because if we’re only in bed when being in bed feels good, that’s how we’re going to train our brain to once again, think of the bed as a nice place to be.

Susie Mason:
Yeah. As what you were saying here is, when you go through your day, but then, like it was winter. So as it began to get dark, I would begin to get anxious. And day time was a long way away. I have a long time to feel anxious about going to bed. And the other thing that had happened was I begun… I had began to not like going into my bedroom, even going in there, it was anxiety provoking.

Susie Mason:
That stuff is when I went through this awful period in England, I was like, I didn’t want to go in the room even. So just… so where you go you’ve got all that anxiety, not just about going to sleep, but that the actual place where you’d go to sleep was anxiety provoking. So that’s definitely changed. So, I remember halfway through, at some point I just thought, “Oh my God, I love my bedroom now because I come in here and go to sleep.”

Martin Reed:
How did you manage to keep on track and stay persistent? Especially with that intense sleepiness in the evening, combined with the heightened anxiety, because that’s such a hard technique to maintain, especially before you start to notice improvements, how did you manage to motivate yourself to keep going and to just follow through and stay consistent?

Susie Mason:
Well, as I said, I was desperate. I really was. Your program offered something that looked like it could work. And so I just totally committed to it. I thought I’m going to… I was definitely committed to the first eight weeks, and not knowing it was going to go on up, but of course by the time I got to the end of that eight weeks, I could see that it was working.

Susie Mason:
So I was just absolutely determined to just keep going. And so we just keep going. Well I’m proud of myself, I’m still proud myself for going there. I don’t think, people who have never had insomnia, people who don’t understand what it’s like having not got no clue like, Oh, have a sleep in the afternoon. It doesn’t work anyway. Yeah. I was absolutely in my worst and… I really was. Yeah.

Martin Reed:
I think, that’s an important point is, I decided to just commit to it, I like to think of this somewhat as set it and forget it approach. So you’ve got your sleep window, you know that you’re not going to go to bed before a certain time. You know that you’re always going to be out of bed by a certain time in the morning. You know that you’re going to get out of bed if being in bed doesn’t feel good. You know what you’re going to do if you get out of bed during the night, you’ve got it all planned out. You’ve got this clear plan in place.

Martin Reed:
And instead of the default thing that the mind wants to do is to overthink things, to evaluate, to monitor. When it comes to these techniques, sometimes it can just be helpful to just set it, have that plan and then forget about it. Don’t monitor it every day. Don’t evaluate it every day, to almost engaging that robot mind, imagining you’re just lines of programming and you just follow those lines and you just do them over and over again.

Martin Reed:
And that can really be a helpful way of just sustaining that new behavior, that new habit, that new skill that you’re practicing.

Susie Mason:
Yeah. Absolutely. I think I just… I started to think to myself, I will find a way to do this. I was looking at all kinds of ways to keep myself awake. Because that probably was the hardest thing I think, how to stay awake for me it was, but I would tell myself, “Hey, look, this is not the worst thing in the world.” Like you’re on your way to changing something and yeah, I very quickly realized I was changing a lifelong pattern.

Susie Mason:
I mean, I know everybody thinks that this won’t last long. It’s not much later than I thought, you’re trying to do something that has been there all your life. And it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be hard. Of course, it’s going to be hard. Changing a whole lot of different stuff here in your brain. So I just kept telling myself, “You can do this, you can do it. You’ve got to do it.” Yeah. And that’s probably how intense it had become for me.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think it’s natural that we want to get results quickly, it would be so much easier if we could just snap our fingers, click our fingers and then we’re suddenly sleeping great. But you just touched upon a really important point there that we’re making changes. Especially if we’ve had insomnia for a long time, it makes sense. It’s going to take some time to make changes, to develop.

Martin Reed:
It’s a set of new habits. We don’t develop a new habit overnight. It takes repeated practice and it can take a long time. So although it’s understandable that we want quick results. If we get frustrated when quick results don’t occur, that’s not really constructive and on balance. It’s probably not that realistic to expect quick results either. It does take time. It does take commitment.

Susie Mason:
It’s probably a bit like losing weight, people go on diets all the time. They think they can do three months of eating a certain way and that their life’s going to change. No, it has to be a continued… yeah. I mean, basically I’ve got a different life pattern now. Because I have lost a lot of weight over the years and I kicked it off, and I realized that you do have… it’s not about doing a diet, you’ve got to make it part of your lifestyle.

Susie Mason:
And I think this program, that’s what it’s done. As I said before, if it gets a little bit out of control, I can go back to square one again.

Martin Reed:
I love that analogy about, that you use that example, it’s a little bit like losing weight, because I think I completely agree with you. What springs to my mind, the similarities there is, it’s a process. We don’t just lose weight overnight. It does require a lot of changes and there are going to be ups and downs on the way, the scale isn’t going to just every week point down and down and down and down. Sometimes it’ll stay the same, sometimes the weight might go a little bit up, but we’re really looking for long-term changes.

Martin Reed:
What happens from day to day or week to week doesn’t really matter. We’re in it for the long game here. So yeah, I think there’s lots of similarities to be drawn there. Recognizing that it’s not going to be a clear linear path and it is going to take time. And there’s going to be maybe some slip ups along the way, just like we might sneak a treat when we’re trying to lose weight from time to time, we might inadvertently sleep in, past the end of our sleep window one day accidentally. It’s not really going to be a big issue. We just have to get right back on track again.

Martin Reed:
Did you find that there was, just going back to, you were talking about this really strong sleepiness before going to bed and then feeling wide awake shortly before, or when you got into bed. How was that tackled, do you think? Was it like this gradually improved over time or was it like you stuck by, stuck by, stuck by, and then all of a sudden it felt better? How did that transition change from being really sleepy before bed and then not sleepy at bedtime, to just being able to maintain that sleepiness from being out of bed, to getting in bed?

Susie Mason:
I’d get out of bed. I was like, “okay, I haven’t gone to sleep. I’ve been laying here, for probably nearly half-an-hour. It’s not coming and I’ve only got another three or four hours to be here, but get out of bed, watch some TV, do something. Get out of bed, go into the lounge.” If I remember, I do actually remember not a few night when, I even, when the window was really short, I got out of bed several times, not get… but that actually helped me.

Susie Mason:
I was like, “okay, it’s not nice. It’s not that bad. It’s horrible. But I mean, I’m not in a bloody war zone, there’s no point of.” So yeah. I would just get out of bed, but that helped me break the… once upon a time, I wouldn’t have liked doing, before the program that wouldn’t have occurred to me really to keep getting out of bed, but that did break the spell. It’s not that bad. It’s not nice but it’s not that bad though.

Martin Reed:
So it sounds like it was just this gradual process of just chipping away those thought processes, that worry that was suppressing those sleepiness cues when you got into bed and you just did that by almost just retraining yourself. Look, the bed is a nice place to be, and I’m going to prove that to myself. By only being in bed when being in bed feels good. So therefore I’m out of bed whenever it doesn’t feel good.

Susie Mason:
And that was when I started to love my bedroom. I was like, “God, I can’t wait to get in there and love again.” And yeah, I mean, I really did get to that stuff. I just, and that broke the spell of the bedroom being a horrible place. I just couldn’t wait to be in there. So, I mean, I wish now, and I didn’t know, and I kept thinking about it at the time I should have dealt with what was going on.

Susie Mason:
I did a little bit, especially when I was communicating with you about times, but, yeah, I mean, it was definitely a backwards and forwards thing. Two steps forward and one step back or maybe, one step forward two steps back sometimes. But yeah, it’s definitely made a huge difference to my life. I mean, yeah. I tell myself, well, “you’re probably never going to be like your ex husband.” This is pretty damn good to what I’ve ever had in my life before, ever, Martin.

Susie Mason:
It’s like I’ve taken control of that. Taking control of something instead of it controlling me, it’s a really nice feeling.

Martin Reed:
Yeah. I think it’s really helpful that you emphasize that there, you did experience ups and downs because everyone does, and it does take time. If nothing else, I think when you’ve had insomnia for a long period of time, it takes time for you to get sleep confidence back. And at first, when you start to get results, you’re happy that you’re getting results, but the confidence is still shaky.

Martin Reed:
And so a couple of difficult nights can throw you off again and bring back all those worries. But if you just stay consistent every single time you get back on track again, you’re building up that sleep confidence, you’re building it up and it does take time, just like we don’t become proficient in any skill, just as we don’t build confidence in anything overnight, it’s a process and it does, it can take time.

Martin Reed:
And I know that, when we were emailing back and forth, it, I think you were around about the six month mark before you actually thought to yourself, all right, I’m actually in a place now where I’m feeling pretty confident about my progress, confident about my sleep.

Susie Mason:
And it’s such a different way of thinking, to how I’ve ever… But yeah, it’s just different than how I’d ever thought before. And yeah, is a wonderful thing. Yeah. I mean, it’s still not nice when I have a night, but it’s not that bad anymore. It really isn’t.

Martin Reed:
I think the thing is that it, we have to have some realistic expectations. Nobody has the perfect night of sleep every single night, even people that have never had insomnia don’t have the perfect night’s sleep every night. It’s human. It’s part of the human experience to have some difficult nights of sleep from time to time. But when you get to that point, when you can recognize that difficult night or a couple of difficult nights, don’t throw you off and don’t make it feel as though your world is crumbling around you. That’s a real reflection of the progress that you’ve made.

Susie Mason:
Yeah. I mean, thinking about this today, I hit a bit of a dodgy sleep last night and that’s what I’m really interested in now, is looking back, what is it that affects my sleep?

Martin Reed:
Yeah, well, I think that temporary sleep disruption is triggered by probably the same number of reasons as there are a number of people in the world, there’s, you’re never be able to pin them all down because there’s so many things that can influence temporary sleep disruption. But what we can do is keep temporary sleep disruption temporary. And really we do that by reacting as minimally as possible.

Martin Reed:
And when we’ve had insomnia for a long time, often the way we react is just become so entrenched. Like spending a lot, way more time in bed, maybe trying to nap during the day, doing all these different experiments, modifying our days according to how we sleep, just letting sleep control our lives, all these things.

Martin Reed:
They’re really the behaviors that perpetuate sleep disruption. And they’re the reason why expected normal, temporary sleep disruption tends to become a longer term problem. So as long as we can resist those behaviors, those thought processes, those changes, then sleep disruption really cannot be an ongoing long-term problem anymore.

Susie Mason:
Right. Just being aware that, “okay, this is happening in my life at the moment, might have a little bit of dodgy sleep, but it’s okay.” In relation to that. And, but I’d also… I mean, just be… it’s a control thing. I am in control rather than it controls me. And that… yeah. Ultimately that’s a really good thing because that means before, I didn’t have any control over it, I didn’t know what to do. I know what to do now.

Martin Reed:
I think that’s the key difference as well when you emerge from it is because now you’ve got those skills, you know exactly how to react to difficult nights. And on that issue of control, you know this often comes down to controlling our reaction, to difficulty sleeping, controlling what we do during the day when we can, for example, do good things during the day, even after difficult nights of sleep, that makes the difficult night of sleep, not seem quite as bad as it might otherwise have done, if we’d have canceled, all of our plans, sat at home, not doing anything instead.

Martin Reed:
So we are armed with all these new techniques, and it’s almost like having this backup plan in place, should sleep issues ever return. I can just pull out this little book out of my back pocket and I know exactly what to do.

Susie Mason:
Yeah. Actually, I’ve been awake for a long time that even when I had barely any sleep at all, I still was able to function okay. And I was like, “wow, that’s really interesting.” But when I heard you say that, but it was like, “Oh, okay.” So because I thought it was just me because I don’t know anybody else that has it, had insomnia as bad as I did. But when I heard you say that, “We can not get hardly any sleep and still have an okay day, the next day.”

Susie Mason:
I was like, “Yeah, I hadn’t ever heard anybody say that before.” But most people that they want about six to nine odd hours they’re, “Ooh” like moaning about it. You have no idea how lucky you are, but hearing you say that it was like, “that’s right. I can survive on very little sleep. And it looks like it’s possible to do that.” Because you already heard all this stuff out there about, if you don’t get this much sleep, you’re at risk of this, this and this. And all that is so anxiety provoking. Like I’ve heard you say, it makes it worse for the insomniac, way worse because you take all that stuff on board. Oh yeah, I did.

Martin Reed:
Yeah, exactly. And it is really unhelpful, because all these kinds of sleep duration recommendations, they’re aimed at people that don’t have insomnia. So they’re aimed at people who are deliberately not giving themselves enough opportunity for sleep, whether that’s because of their career or their social life. And so the messaging is, “Make time for sleep, get this amount of sleep. It’s good for you.”

Martin Reed:
But the problem is the only people really reading those messages are people with insomnia who are already giving themselves plenty of time for sleep to happen. But reading these messages just increases that worry about sleep. You put more pressure on yourself to sleep. And the fact of the matter is all these sleep duration numbers. They’re only ever averages. There are happy, healthy people that live outside of averages just as there are people that are happy and healthy, that aren’t an average weight, that aren’t an average height.

Martin Reed:
Trying to change the amount of sleep we get is just completely futile because we can’t control sleep in that way. We can’t make ourselves get X amount of sleep. The body takes care of that by itself. As soon as we try to get a certain amount of sleep, it becomes really hard to get much sleep at all. So-

Susie Mason:
So you’re catching a plane at six o’clock in the morning and Oh God, so you’re setting an alarm. No point of me setting an alarm. If I got to catch a plane at six, because I just laid there all night waiting for it to go off in case I need it. Yeah-

Martin Reed:
I think we can all come up with examples of that. As soon as we put pressure on ourselves to sleep, it becomes almost impossible. So if we have a flight to catch the next day, we’re like, “I must sleep now.” You’re trying to sleep. Nope! You’ve got a big meeting or big work meeting the next day, I’ve got to sleep, then you can’t sleep. I’ve got an interview. I have to sleep. I can’t sleep. So I think we can all recognize from experience that it’s not helpful to put effort into sleep, but when we’ve had insomnia we really, really want sleep to happen.

Martin Reed:
It’s understandable why we will put pressure on ourselves to sleep, but there is an alternative place we can put those efforts and that is into other behaviors that can help create good conditions for sleep. And that’s exactly what you did and why you’ve got results. So how much sleep would you say you get on an average night? Do you even pay attention to sleep duration anymore?

Susie Mason:
No, probably no, because I’m thinking about it. No, I’m not.

Martin Reed:
I think there’s a… I think it’s a really interesting insight that, you know now, if I ask you something like how much sleep would you say you get on an average night, you’re like, “I don’t even know.” It’s something I don’t really pay attention to. I don’t really care that much about it. And that’s just such a big transformation from when we’re in the grips of insomnia, we really hyper-focused on the amount of sleep we’re getting, or we’re not getting all the amount of sleep we want to get.

Martin Reed:
And I always think it’s a real gauge, a real yardstick, a real measure of success. When you get to that point, where if someone asks you how much sleep do you think you got last night? You’re like, “I don’t really know. I don’t really think about it.”

Susie Mason:
No, I know. I am thinking on a good night, probably eight to nine hours. Yeah. That’s amazing. Yeah. It’s beautiful. I love sleep.

Martin Reed:
Well. That’s great. I know that I’ve taken up a lot of your time, Susie, so I’m going to bring us to a close now, but there is one question that I do want to ask. And it’s a question that I always ask at the end of podcasts, these podcast discussions. So I want to ask you the question too. If someone with chronic insomnia is listening and feels as though they’ve tried everything that they’re beyond help and they just can’t do anything to improve their sleep, what would you tell them?

Susie Mason:
Well, to go do this. I do. I already do. I did guide people towards you. A therapist actually emailed me a couple of days ago and said what was that sleep program you did, it’s for a client. So, and now I will be driving them to this podcast. Go and have a listen to that!

Martin Reed:
That’s great. Well, I think that’s a great note to end on Susie. So thank you so much for coming on. I know that people are going to really enjoy listening to this story, get a lot of value from it. I always say, if anyone listening to this can recognize their experience with insomnia, even to any extent really in your own story. And since you’re in a such better place now, there is no reason to believe that the person listening to this who can identify with you and your story can not get to that better place too.

Martin Reed:
So thank you. I just know your story is going to inspire and motivate a lot of people. So thank you so much for agreeing to come on and share your story.

Susie Mason:
Thank you, Martin. You know I like to seriously thank you. 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.

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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