THE BLOG
10/13/2014 07:56 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Insomniac Club: What To Tell Yourself When You Can't Sleep

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It's 3 a.m. Are you up? Welcome to Club Insomnia.

I'm a member as well - and we're in good company. Other insomniacs include George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Madonna, Simon Cowell, even Napoleon Bonaparte!

Good news: If they can function well in spite of lack of sleep, so can we. Bad news: We're still alone and sleepless in Somewheresville. Plus, we don't have makeup artists and lighting engineers in our entourage. But it's still comforting to know that even superstars can't get enough sleep.

In a recent blog, I gave you advice on what to do when you're terrified by nightmares -- what to do before you go to sleep, when you wake up, and what to do the next day.

Today, I'm focusing on one critical issue when worries (not nightmares) keep you awake.

Anxiety is the big gun in regularly occurring insomnia. What do you think or say when you're jolted awake? Monitoring the messages we give ourselves may be the trick we need to get back into la-la land.

We all know that the busier and more stressful life becomes, the harder it gets to avoid that 3 a.m. wake-up call. Click here for simple techniques. We worry about everything -- financial woes, relationships, work messes, unmet deadlines, insecurity, illness, fear of death. You name it, and we obsess over it.

Then, we dive right into the "oh no's."

Oh, No: If I don't get enough sleep, I'll blow the presentation.
Oh, No: If I don't get enough sleep, my illness will get worse.
Oh, No: If I don't get enough sleep, I'll never be creative enough to make the money I need to live comfortably for the rest of my life.

You know the drill.

Here's the truth: Train your brain! Your brain believes everything you tell it.

Your brain believes everything you tell it: the good news as well as the bad. It will head in the direction you allow it to go.

For instance, if you were in New York City with a plan to go to D.C. and your car started driving you to Boston, you would correct course immediately.

Same with your brain. You must give it a course to follow. That by itself is not a guarantee you will fall asleep immediately. But it will help you toward dissipating your anxiety and letting you relax.

Tip: write your 3 a.m. messages to your brain on a piece of paper and keep it next to your bed. When you're too sleepy to remember what you're supposed to tell yourself, reach over and grab your cheat sheet before your brain has a chance to get the bad movies going in your head.

Top five messages I tell my brain at 3 a.m.

  1. Brain, I'm not going to think about that now. I know you want to go there, but I can't let you. Instead, we're thinking about this: (fill in a pleasing subject you have decided upon before you go to bed).
  2. My mother always told me that it's the rest that's important, not the sleep (not necessarily true, of course, but comforting). She also said everything seems worse at night. So true.
  3. I can take a vacation from that concern because I can't do a darn thing about it until morning, anyway. So, if I were on vacation, how would I feel right now?
  4. Repeat a phrase that's comforting over and over. I've used the words "I'm safe and peaceful." Sometimes I say it loudly to drown out my brain's attempt to scare me. Some of my clients have used real mantras, such as a prayer, or the name of a deity. If you're interested in knowing more, here's a great book about that from the guru Eknath Easwaran
  5. If all else fails, I allow myself the luxury of "better living through chemistry." I don't condemn myself for it. Instead, I tell my brain that I'm going to give us something to help keep positive and fall back to sleep. Please note: this is occasional use only. I'm not suggesting reliance on sleeping pills every night.

A caveat: as a therapist who has worked with neurologists and brain specialists, I know there are instances where sleep deprivation stems from much more than mere anxiety. Please see a medical specialist if this is your situation.

The 3 a.m. Insomnia Club is one where we'd like to discontinue membership! Start with monitoring your self-messages, and have positive messages at the ready. You can do this!

Contact me personally if you need coaching concerning your own personal challenges that are keeping you awake at www.katherineforsythe.com/contact.

To wipe out the effects of not sleeping well, start your day with a morning inspiration to get you energized. Visit www.katherineforsythe.com/inspiration/ for my 30-day audio download of inspirational (and often funny) messages to kick start your day for 30 days.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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Improving Your Sleep