Ep 5. Tools for Insomnia: Medicine or Poison?

Aug 31, 2023

Today we’re diving into the world of sleep tools, from meditations to breathing exercises to hypnosis. With so many options available, how do you know which one to use?

But there is an even bigger question to ponder…

Do these tools genuinely help improve sleep, or are we inadvertently trying to control something that should just come effortlessly?

This episode provides a whole new perspective on sleep tools and their impact.

And you know what?... There’s something even more profound than the tool itself.

I’ll guide you away from some of the common traps associated with these tools, so they bring you transformative benefits (rather than reinforced habits).

Stay tuned… because at the end, I’ll share the most important tool of all.

And it might surprise you.

Join me for this short episode where we dive into the world of sleep tools and how you can best use them!

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About Beth Kendall MA, FNTP:

For decades, Beth struggled with the relentless grip of insomnia. After finally understanding insomnia from a mind-body perspective, she changed her relationship with sleep, and completely recovered. Liberated from the constant worry of not sleeping, she’s on a mission to help others recover as well. Her transformative program Mind. Body. Sleep.™ has been a beacon of light for hundreds of others seeking solace from sleepless nights.

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Tools for Insomnia: Medicine or Poison? 

Hello everyone…

We are continuing our heat wave in MN in fact I am preparing to go to a cabin this weekend because that’s what you do in MN in the summer and even tho I’ve never been a big part of the cabin culture, I am really starting to appreciate hanging out at a cabin, especially when I don’t have to do all of the work that comes with owning a cabin.

Self-Regulation Tools for Insomnia

So, today, I am talking about the use of tools for insomnia and how they can be helpful or they can be not so helpful.  And by tools, I’m referring to what I call self-regulation tools, so this would be things like meditations, breathing exercises, tapping, maybe journaling, things like that.  

And the whole reason this came up is that someone asked me recently why I don’t use more tools in my approach. 

First, I want to say right away that I have nothing against tools. I’ve used a lot of tools in my own life and my clients tend to be very well-versed on many of the amazing modalities out there. And I do incorporate tools into my program, but I don’t do it right away and I don’t really dive too deeply into them. 

And there are a couple of reasons for that which is exactly what I’m going to share with you today. 

Intention Matters Most

The main reason I don’t put too much emphasis on tools, is that in my opinion, the tool doesn’t matter nearly as much as the underlying intention with which you use it. So, I work more from the intention standpoint. What is the underlying motivation or belief driving the tool? Because that’s ultimately what’s going to shape the expression or outcome of that tool. 

So, let me break this down a bit…

I see insomnia as a surface manifestation of fear. A conditioned arousal response based on a fear of not sleeping. 

Let’s look at an example… If you’re using a tool or technique like breathing or meditation or hypnosis to help you sleep because it’s something you truly enjoy, that’s great, no problem. But if the singular intent of the tool is to induce sleep, then it becomes more of a sleep effort or control strategy.

Because remember sleep is PASSIVE right? It’s an effortless process. 

Now, the perspective that I teach, and what I’d like to offer in terms of using tools is to consider using them as a way to meet whatever is getting in the WAY of sleep, versus sleep itself. So, this would be the thoughts, beliefs, and emotions we have around sleep. 

And even beyond that, it’s really about creating an awareness of what’s driving the use of the tool in the first place, because that’s the most important thing in my opinion.

Medicine or Poison

I heard this great analogy from someone somewhere along the way, and if I could remember who said it I’d give them credit but basically what can happen with these tools is the medicine can become the poison. 

Meaning, when we use a tool with the intention of meeting whatever is coming up from a place of kindness and self-compassion, we’re building more capacity within for that experience and we’re showing the brain that, hey we’re okay.

Because remember the mind and brain work like a bidirectional highway, we’re showing the brain through our responses how to interpret whatever is happening in any given moment. 

Now, a lot of times what can happen when we use tools for something like insomnia or any sort of anxiety or difficult emotion is it becomes a means of escape or avoidance — a form of resistance to what’s happening. And that's when it can become LESS helpful.

Thoughts and emotions are just energy in motion, they want to keep moving and they’re designed to keep moving. When we use a tool as a means of stopping something or making it go away, which usually stems from some sort of judgment that we shouldn’t be having whatever thought or emotion is presenting itself, we’re sending a message back to the mind there’s a problem. Whatever is showing up is bad enough that we need to escape it. And this can keep us locked in fix it mode, unintentionally reinforcing whatever it is we’re trying to improve. 

So I’m all about creating an awareness of the underlying intention FIRST.  

We Can't Control the Passive Process of Sleep

Another thing that comes to mind, particularly in the case of insomnia, is putting too much weight on a tool can be sort of like saying, well, there IS a way that we can actively control this process of sleep, if we just find the right tool, right? Then that’s going be the thing that makes you sleep and then we get stuck in the loop of trying more and more things to sleep without ever really addressing the root cause of insomnia which is your relationship with sleep, it’s the thoughts, beliefs and emotions you have about it. 

Okay, so how can we create more awareness around these tools?

Meet the Fear vs. Feed the Fear

So, let’s consider fear, since a lot of times the emotion behind insomnia is fear. I think the best way to use self-regulation tools is to MEET the fear versus FEED the fear. 

If you’re using tools like breathing or journaling or whatever tool you’re using, use it as a means of working WITH the fear, meeting the fear that is coming up— versus feeding the fear and saying, “I’m using this to get away from this feeling.” I’m using it because I don’t want to experience this. I’m using it because this is bad, and I want to distract myself from these sensations. 

Because that’s just feeding the fear! 

And definitely don’t beat yourself up if you’re doing this because we’re sold everywhere that we need to do a bunch of things to NOT feel or meet these very difficult human emotions. 

When a lot of times it’s actually meeting the emotion that frees the emotion. 

So just to sort of wrap this up into another analogy…

It's Always Your Own Body that Creates Sleep

I think of sleep tools almost like I would antibiotics for the body. When we take antibiotics, they’re not healing the body directly, they’re assisting the body’s natural ability to heal itself. But you wouldn’t want to keep taking them all the time, because we want to empower our bodies to do most of the heavy lifting all on its own. Sleep tools are kind of the same way. They can be a helpful way to move things through and bring some safety into the nervous system. 

But we don’t want to lose sight of the fact that it’s always your own body that creates sleep. 

Alright, I hope that provides some clarity on my view of using sleep tools for insomnia, I have absolutely nothing against using any kind of self-regulation tool, I think they have a valuable place in processing emotions. In fact, I’d like to build a tapping course someday because a lot of what I teach today I learned during my tapping certifications. 

But it’s really your underlying intention that matters the most.

Grabbing a tool to be with whatever is coming up so it can move through is going to have a much different impact than using it as a way to escape what you are feeling.  

The Most Powerful Tool of All

But you know, there is an even bigger reason I don’t put tools front and center. And that’s because in my opinion, YOU are the tool. 

You are the most powerful tool you will ever have in your life. 

And while I think tools can be an entryway into working with some of the hard stuff that we go through in life, ultimately you get to a point where you realize that none of these tools hold the answer. Because you are the answer. You are your medicine. Cultivating a knowingness and trust within yourself is where true safety lies. 

That internal awareness of your own ability to heal and sleep just inherently as your birthright is going to be far more valuable and sustainable than any tool you could possibly come up with. .

Alright, I know that got a little deep there at the end, but thanks for being here. 

I’m Beth Kendall and you’ve been listening to the Mind. Body. Sleep podcast. I’ll see you next time. 

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