Then, in my mid-30s, I began having enough trouble sleeping that I started worrying about it. I wondered what was happening. I didn’t understand why I was up in the night and was frustrated by not being in control. At one point, I stopped drinking coffee — and that seemed to solve the problem. For about 10 years.
In my late 40s I began having more problems sleeping. As is common for many persons with learned or conditioned insomnia, I unwittingly fell into a self-reinforcing pattern of bad sleep habits.
Rather than trying to quiet myself down when awakened, I would get up and out of bed in the middle of the night to work in my home office. Sometimes the work was stressful. This pattern began to feel normal to me, and it created problems. After going back to bed, I found I needed more time in bed to feel refreshed when I woke up. Instead of around 8 hours of sleep, I needed more like 10, with a 2 hour awakened period in the middle of the night.
This for me was not an efficient use of time. I wanted to sleep soundly through the night, like I used to, and to also sleep efficiently – meaning make the best use of my time in bed.
But I didn’t know what to do or how to do it.
In the meantime, things went from bad to worse. I began to dread the thought of going to bed, thinking “oh no, here we go again – another bad night ahead.” I would toss and turn, frustrated at my lack of control, and frequently checking the clock next to my bed. I awoke feeling grouchy and irritable with the preconceived idea that I would have yet another bad day because I didn’t get a good night’s sleep.
Today, looking back, I realize now I was setting myself up for a powerfully negative self-fulfilling prophecy. I slept poorly because I expected to. I felt grouchy because I thought I would.
Does my experience sound a bit like yours? Many insomniacs follow a similar pattern.
Frankly, I should have known better.
For years I studied and taught human performance training and principles of self-improvement. I am well versed in negative reinforcing cycles and the profound effect of self-fulfilling expectations on performance. But in my own case, there was a blind spot. I just did not make the connection between my sleeping difficulties and my own self-talk, attitudes, and behaviors.