As with the five stages of grief, an insomniac who’s already been through denial (I’ll be asleep soon) and anger (Why am I not asleep yet?) will eventually turn, inevitably, to bargaining: If I fall asleep in the next 20 minutes, you tell yourself, I’ll get five hours, I’ll only be a little bit dead tomorrow. And then: Okay, if I fall asleep right now, I’ll get four. And so on, as the clock ticks on in front of your bleary, miserable eyes.
But that scorekeeping may actually be working against you in your quest for a few uninterrupted hours of slumber. In the New York Times yesterday, writer Roni Caryn Rabin described her own battle with insomnia, as well as the cognitive-behavioral therapy she used to try and get rid of it. (As Science of Us has written before, research supports CBT’s effectiveness in fighting insomnia). Rabin’s treatment was a multi-step process, one that involved a sleep log and a professionally designed sleep plan, but there’s one key component that’s pretty easy for you to try on your own: positive thinking.
“The key element of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is cognitive restructuring, which challenges you to reframe negative ways of thinking that can become their own self-fulfilling prophecies,” Rabin explained. “So if you’re lying awake thinking about what a basket case you’ll be tomorrow because you’re not asleep, well, that thought alone will keep you awake.”
On the flip side, if you’re lying awake but still staying pretty chill about the whole thing, you might be ridding yourself of some of the anxiety that keeps you up in the first place. “Even though my sleep is often interrupted, the C.B.T. process asks me to reframe this information,” she wrote. “The reality, Dr. Jacobs told me, is that I am getting six total hours of sleep a night, and should use this as ‘a positive sleep thought.’” (Other positive sleep thoughts, she noted, include “I’ll fall asleep eventually,” “I can handle this if it only happens a few nights a week,” and “I usually function pretty well even when I don’t sleep.”) It’s like the last stage of grief: acceptance. And in this case, the sooner you accept your sleepless fate, the sooner you may be able to change it.