Sleepless in Newport, Part II

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During a performance of a Mozart piece at the symphony recently, I became aware of a rhythmic noise that was out of synch with the orchestra.

Turned out that a fellow in the row behind us had fallen asleep and was snoring, an unwitting contribution to the percussion section. It made me smile – who hasn’t nodded off in such a setting? Depending on the pace of the day or size of the meal we eat beforehand, any movie or concert can be a sleep aid.

Remember the horror in high school when your in-class nap ended abruptly with your head bobbing forward?

Everyone who has been a parent knows about the weeks and months of sleeplessness. For the new mom or dad, insomnia is distant woe they would gladly take on if only they could lie in bed for a few uninterrupted hours.

The mind is not docile – an instruction to stay awake becomes an urge to sleep. On the other hand, a worry about NOT sleeping, sends the Land of Nod farther and farther out of reach.

There are a variety of sleep disorders, and the insomnias come under that heading. Many patients’ sleep difficulties have to be treated via a trip to the sleep clinic, and turn out to have medical causes, including sleep apnea and chronic sinus problems. I want to talk just about the garden variety of sleep problems, and some remedies you can put to use if you don’t get the slumber you need when you’re supposed to.

Research from hundreds of studies makes it clear that CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective treatment for acute and chronic insomnia. You’ll need a spiral notebook and pen next to your bed, plus determination to use the tools for a period of time without giving up.

Good sleepers let go of the day at sleep time. Insomniacs tend to go over everything that happened, often feeling anxiety over something they think didn’t go as it should have. An hour before bedtime, write down everything that happened during the day – make as complete a list as possible. Next, go over the list and put a check next to items which cause concern or worry. On another sheet of paper, make a conscious “appointment” with yourself to think about those “worry” items. When making the appointment, be very specific, and actually pencil in and commit to a time of day and day of the week when you’ll sit down and address the items.

Good sleepers live the next day when it arrives, while insomniacs rehearse scenarios that they think may occur and attempt to ensure that encounters and projects of the next day will go as well as possible. Same idea here: in your sleep notebook, note every item you have planned for the next day. Make a complete list of your intentions about an hour before sleep and again make a check next to items which cause worry or concern. Underline items you identify has being wholly out of your control, and then make a line through that item. Make an appointment for a specific time when the items of concern can be addressed the following day, allowing yourself to note the exact time you will set yourself to the task of handling the issues you have concern about.

Sleep anxiety is a habit we get really good at, and can only be broken by replacing it with a new habit. We lie in bed and create an obsessive loop of thoughts that focus on how important it is we fall asleep in order to be successful tomorrow, sometimes weaving the previous night’s low number of sleep hours into the worry tapestry – only to discover that there is no better way to stay awake all night.

Using a similar technique, write the obsessive worries in a notebook (I’ll fail the test if I don’t fall asleep right now), look them over and ask whether they are rational, and then use a sentence to correct or change the statement into one which is soothing and more fact-based. Read the soothing sentence the next day several times over.

Because of the way our brains are wired, when we write something down and read it back to ourselves, the content changes. The term “herding cats” comes to mind when I consider the difficulty involved in mentally going over all of the worries of the day. They become larger, multiply, and run in all different directions as the clock on the bedside table ticks away into the night. Changing the state of the perceived problem from whirling thoughts to concrete sentences in a notebook has the effect of changing the way our neural pathways are laid out.

Go to for a free step-by-step guide to using CBT for sleeplessness. Get the sleep you need at night, try not to nap, use your bed only for sleep and intimacy, and then start paying attention to your dreams, they have lots to tell.

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