In this series of three posts, I’m exploring the 3 Fs of Sleep – Fear, Frustration and Failure.  This powerful trinity work together to disturb your nights and drive away sleep.

Let’s start with Fear

Fear triggers the flight-fight response, designed to power you up so you can deal with threats to your wellbeing.

Fear is the enemy of sleep. After all, you wouldn’t nod off in the presence of a sabre toothed tiger!

These days the flight-fight response is triggered to the same extent whether the threat to your wellbeing is an actual reality rather than a perceived threat. Your body responds in exactly the same way, whatever the trigger. So a challenging meeting with a client will power you up in the same way as if you suddenly had to swerve on the M6 to avoid a collision.

Consider your response to Sleep

Has bedtime become dread time? Do you become anxious as bedtime approaches? Do you start to worry about the night ahead, anticipating a broken night? Do you prefer to fall asleep on the sofa, finding that you can sleep there but the minute you get into bed, it’s as if you’ve powered up that computer again? Are you afraid of feeling alone and face-to-face with your thoughts without the opportunity for distraction?

If this is so, then Fear has got the upper hand and it will activate the fight-flight response. Fear and Sleep are not good bedfellows.

Restful sleep depends upon what psychologists call a positive association between your bed and sleep. In other words, as you get into bed, you feel calm and happy about being there. Your system is powered down.

Without this positive association, your anxiety levels rise as bedtime approaches and you start to anticipate a broken night. You have developed a negative association between bed and sleep.  

It’s no surprise then that the minute you get into bed, sleep escapes you!

What can you do to re-establish the positive association that you need for good sleep? There are a number of ways to do this, including the sleep conditioning techniques used in the treatment of insomnia.

You can also try this exercise yourself tonight:

  1. Notice your thoughts and feelings as the evening draws on. Write them down.

For example:

It’s 9.30pm. I really ought to be in bed by 10.00 so I have a chance of getting enough sleep so I feel OK for my 8.30 meeting. What if I don’t sleep at all tonight? I hope I don’t lose my thread mid-sentence. That’s so embarrassing!  Oh, I just wish I could go to bed knowing I was going to sleep well! Now I’m feeling anxious and a bit panicked…

  1.  Identify your specific Fears:

From the example above:

I’m afraid of not sleeping tonight and then being below par at work in the morning

  1.  How can you counter your Fears? How could you re-frame them in a way that is more supportive?

For example:

It’s true I don’t always sleep well, especially before a meeting. However, if I stay calm and accept that I may not sleep that well tonight, then I am likely to get some decent rest, and improve my chances of sleep.  Rest alone can be restorative too in its own right. I also know from many other occasions that, although lack of sleep makes me feel bad, other people don’t notice. At important meetings, I more often than not can hold it together.

Reassuring thoughts power down your system and create the conditions needed for sleep.

In Part 2, I’ll look at the role Frustration plays in insomnia – in particular frustration with self.

In the meantime, try  the exercise. I’d love your feedback so do comment below.

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