I recently experienced a completely sleepless night. For decades, this was a normal thing in my life, but it's been a few years since it's happened. I have no idea what caused it.
Even though it was a sleepless night, it was a pleasant reminder that I have completely recovered from insomnia.
Here’s how I know:
A sleepless night used to send me into a state of total fear. If I was to have any chance at all of avoiding a full-blown spiral into insomnia, I had to figure out the trigger and FAST. My brain would go on high-alert.
As I continue to learn about the nervous system and all things neuroplasticity, I've come to a fundamental understanding of the mind that’s helped me shift out of the relentless need to figure things out.
Maybe it will resonate with you, too.
A trigger is a reminder of the past typically associated with trauma. If you've been through insomnia, you've probably experienced some trauma. But any kind of trauma can express in the moment once triggered, and often it creates some sleep disruption.
Sometimes the trigger for sleeplessness is obvious like a major life change, an illness, or a medication. But usually we have no idea what the trigger is or why it's causing disrupted sleep.
Our triggers, (while sometimes predictable), are mostly unconscious.
So, what does that mean and why does it matter?
Your unconscious mind holds the database for everything you've ever experienced throughout your entire life. It's like an information processing machine. When something comes onto the brain's radar that represents a threat to your wellbeing, the mind instantly scans through the database, pulls up the applicable file, and creates the corresponding default response.
Here's the rub...
Most of the files in the database were created at a very young age. Some even theorize that we carry the files of our ancestors. The unconscious mind is an almost limitless computer that exceeds anything we can ever consciously comprehend.
Trying to figure out every file from the database is a losing game. There is simply no way we can understand all the reasons the unconscious does what it does! Attempting to do so only keeps us stuck in the problem.
When we can see our triggers for what they are – unconscious reactions to perceived threats based on (likely unknown) events from the past, we can respond in helpful ways.
I love an A-HA moment. Nothing better than feeling the magic and validation that comes from connecting the dots of our own human experience.
But for me, figuring it out can also become an unintentional obsession; a primal need to understand every reason for everything so I can stay ahead of threats and feel safe in the world.
It is very natural when you’re going through insomnia to want to problem-solve, analyze, and figure it out — this is completely understandable!
But these are the very things that keep hyperarousal alive.
The need to figure out insomnia creates more insomnia
So, how do we respond to a mystery trigger with an understanding of the unconscious mind?
By not trying to figure it out! The unconscious takes note of our actions and responses.
It's lovely when we can understand what is happening and why, but it's not necessary to move forward. You can update whatever outdated information the unconscious is holding simply by changing your response.
So, in the case of a random sleepless night, no action is the action.
When the brain sees that you have given up trying to solve the problem of sleeplessness, it perceives sleeplessness as less of a threat. The file gets updated and the mind interprets future events differently.
It's like looking at the giant security sign at the airport and watching the level drop from "high" alert to "low" alert. The brain does the same thing based on our response. So, the next time the mystery file comes into your awareness, it's not viewed as a threat anymore. The default reaction essentially changes.
Which means less hyperarousal, more peaceful sleep, and no spirals into long periods of insomnia!
Here’s the thing about the mind… there’s a lot we don’t know about it. A lot we may never know. Sometimes we must accept that we will never fully understand why the brain does what it does, and that’s okay! It’s what makes life interesting 🧡
Beth Kendall MA, FNTP
Holistic Sleep Coach
DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical doctor and this is not medical advice. My goal is to empower you with information. Please make all health decisions yourself, consulting sources you trust, including a caring health care professional.
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