• Has insomnia become like a bad boss? Here’s how to take your life back.

    People who work for a hyper-demanding boss often find that they’ve organized their lives around trying to satisfy that boss. They wonder if they’ll ever get their life back.

    People with chronic insomnia get into a similar predicament. They become preoccupied with sleep 24/7, relating to their insomnia like a demanding boss. The irony is, the more they do, the worse it gets.

    Signs that insomnia has become the “Demanding Boss Syndrome” include:

    Cancelling social plans. One client started refusing invitations because she felt too tired. Her world shrunk down to her bedroom. Of course, she was desperately unhappy, lonely and still not sleeping.

    Cutting back on exercise. Another client started staying in bed in the morning, desperate to catch “a few minutes more sleep,” instead of getting up for his morning workout. This choice threw his circadian clock off for the whole day, leaving him feeling sluggish and still struggling with sleep at night.

    Enforcing elaborate rituals. This client created ever-expanding rituals, such that she’d start by late afternoon. Baths, essential oils, forced meditation and relaxation, eliminating screen time, eye masks, ear plugs… Her rituals reinforced the belief that she had to make sleep happen, and put her out of touch with her body’s natural sleep systems.

    Here’s how to remedy Insomnia Demanding Boss Syndrome:

    Organize your life around what makes you feel good, not the insomnia.

    Stop trying to please the insomnia boss; start pleasing yourself again. Engage with everything else in your life that reminds you that you’re much more than a person with insomnia.

    When you don’t revolve your life around “getting enough sleep”, you will actually sleep better. Keep your social plans and your exercise routines. In doing so, you activate the reward circuits in your brain and create the emotional atmosphere in your body that welcomes sleep.

    Accentuate the positive

    Another way you can activate your brain’s reward system is a practice of “savoring the good.” We humans evolved with a “negative cognitive bias;” that is, we tend to focus on the negative events and ignore the positive. We have to intentionally focus on the good stuff in our lives, just to neutralize the negative bias. When you have a good experience: pause, notice that you’re having it, observe what feeling good feels like, and savor it. In this way, you rewire your brain for balance.

    Stop trying

    Don’t reinforce a belief that you have to make sleep happen. When we get our negative thoughts about insomnia out of the way, sleep is naturally effortless. Instead of worrying about trying to sleep, focus on creating conditions that foster sleep – getting sunlight, movement, activity, engaging with your friends, going to the social engagements. These are the things that truly build strong sleep drive that will give you effortless sleep.

    Emily is a seasoned psychotherapist who specializes in treating insomnia and anxiety. She’s a complete sleep geek, and loves to help people find their sleep sweet spot. Contact Emily if sleep is a problem for you – she will help.