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Recovery from Chronic Insomnia

Discussion in 'Success Stories Subforum' started by Ellen, Aug 1, 2017.

  1. Ellen

    Ellen Beloved Grand Eagle

    Recovery from Chronic Insomnia

    I recovered from chronic TMS (The Mindbody Syndrome) pain (fibromyalgia and migraine) in 2014 after using TMS healing strategies for about a year. You can read my success story on this here. However, it took me about another 3 years to finally recover from chronic insomnia. This TMS equivalent was obviously much harder for me to address than chronic pain. I finally figured out why. Here is my story.


    I always had occasional and situational sleep onset type insomnia, even as a child. The night before an important event, like the first day at a new school, I would be unable to fall asleep. It usually didn't last more than a night or two throughout childhood. The frequency increased gradually in adulthood and the bouts would last longer, but usually once asleep, I could stay asleep until the alarm clock sounded. As the frequency of insomnia continued to increase, I began using sleep inducing supplements (e.g. L-tryptophan), then a sleep inducing anti-depressant (Trazodone), and when they weren't enough, I started using sleeping medication (many kinds, but not benzodiapines as they didn't agree with me.) Still, my need for sleep meds was occasional and situational, and the they took care of the problem when I needed it. But again, the frequency of insomnia increased and around 2010 or so, I began using some type of sleep medication almost every night. I knew this wasn't good, but felt I had no choice, as I had to get up and go to a responsible full-time job and complete all those other duties that we all have. Eventually, even though taking sleeping medication, I developed sleep maintenance type insomnia, where I woke up every night after about 3-4 hours of sleep. This pattern became chronic for about 6 months. I was suffering and in crisis. My doctor prescribed Gabapentin to add to the sleep medication, and this worked, giving me some relief for a while. Then I started having major side effects from the Gabapentin, and I had to stop taking it. I was back in crisis, and trying my best to apply all the TMS techniques I had successfully used to recover from chronic pain.

    Some other things I tried that over the years that didn't work: sleep hygiene, different pillows, etc., yoga, Qi Gong, meditation, deep breathing, supplements (e.g. melatonin), marijuana, CBD oil, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, cranial sacral therapy, massage, Somatic Experiencing therapy, EMDR therapy, aromatherapy, and a very expensive device called the Fisher-Wallace Stimulator. I'm sure there are more that I'm blocking out. I read many books and reviewed the research assiduously. I became an expert on insomnia.

    Before discovering TMS, I had undergone two sleep studies about 5 years apart. They weren't helpful. In my experience, sleep clinics are geared to treat sleep apnea and don't deal with insomnia very well. The sleep clinic staff seemed surprised when I said there was no way I could sleep hooked up to a bunch of wires with a camera pointed toward me unless I took a sleep medication. Even on medication my results showed a lack of restorative and deep sleep. My sleep apnea score was low, but because they had no other solutions to offer me, I went home with a CPAP machine, which was a tortuous experience. When I returned to the doctor who prescribed it, he said he didn't think it would help me, but thought it was worth a try.

    Discoveries from journaling, and finally—the missing piece

    Journaling didn't make the problem go away, but led me to discover the follow insights:

    • I knew my generalized anxiety disorder was a major factor in my insomnia, but now I realized how much my personality trait of perfectionism, as well as my very low esteem were contributing. The reason my sleep deprivation was upsetting me so much was I believed strongly that I could not be my best self unless I averaged around 7 hours of good sleep a night. If I'm not at my very best, then I'm not good enough to fill my valued roles—employee, family member, friend, etc. In reality, I knew my sleep-deprived self was good enough at doing what I needed to get done in all my roles. I did fine in my supervisory job, supporting and having fun with family and friends, doing my household chores, creating art, even driving, which had been my biggest fear, since my reflexes were slower. So what's really the problem? Because of my low self-esteem, I felt unless I could be at my best, I just couldn't be good enough. Sleep deprivation exaggerated my fear that I'm just not good enough.
    • I realized when looking at the sleep deprivation objectively, unemotionally, that there were some benefits. If I put the frustration of it aside, I found that my mood was actually better on less sleep. I found some research that states that sleep deprivation is sometimes used to treat depression. Sometimes, I actually seemed to have more energy than when I slept well, and could get more done than usual. This wasn't always the case, but perhaps has to do with the presence of stress hormones, which though not good in the long term, can get you through a crisis period.

    • During the worst and most prolonged sleep deprivation period, I found myself crying easily and often. Now I am normally someone who very seldom cries. It is hard for me to cry. At first I interpreted my crying spells as a negative--I thought I was falling apart and would soon end up in the psych ward. But I never cried in public (except once in yoga class, but they encourage it and see it as progress), and I came to view the crying as very cathartic and it actually felt good.

    • Also, when I viewed my symptoms of sleep deprivation non-judgmentally, just as sensations, I realized they were not that awful. Yes, my eyes are puffy, dry, a little blood-shot, my stomach is queasy, there's some tightness in my neck and shoulders, my mind and body are moving slower, I'm not able to focus as well, my memory isn't as good. I've felt many worse symptoms, with both TMS and purely structural medical problems and illnesses.

    • So when looked at non-judgmentally sleep deprivation was really not all that bad. I had been catastrophizing about it. I felt like a victim and disempowered. I had tried everything and still couldn't make myself sleep. I was a failure. I had a strong belief that if I didn't sleep enough, I would begin to fail at everything. I would not be good enough. This fear put so much pressure on me that it was no wonder I couldn't sleep. It was like I was addicted to the idea of sleep. Take it away from me and I will suffer. This was when I realized the missing piece in my recovery efforts—I had not been able to cultivate a state of outcome independence with regard to sleep.
    Insomnia and outcome independence

    I am no expert on outcome independence, but I did figure out how to apply the concept to my chronic pain, and I believe it was the most fundamental part of my recovery. Why couldn't I get there with insomnia? To apply the concept to insomnia, I needed to believe that whether or not I was able to sleep the night before, I could still have a good day. I could be good enough. I already had enough evidence that this was true. I remember experiencing long periods of the day while sleep deprived where I actually forgot all about it. I was absorbed in what I was doing, and yes, actually having fun. It was possible!

    Outcome independence is a very nuanced concept, so it can be difficult to fully understand and embrace. It is like trying to thread a needle without your reading glasses. For me, it is not about achieving a state of denial about the difficulty of insomnia. It's not positive thinking. I'm not trying to convince myself that insomnia is a good thing. I articulated some positive things about it and how benign some of the symptoms associated with it are (at least in the short term), as this helped lessen my fear about it, stopped my catastrophizing about it, and led to me being able to embrace what Alan Gordon describes as "authentic indifference." Whether I slept or not, I now believed I could perform well enough to get done what needed to get done, and I could even have fun and enjoy the day. This took away the pressure and fear that was feeding it.

    Some quotes that helped me:

    "What you fight strengthens, what you resist persists." Eckhart Tolle

    "When I argue with what is, I lose, but only 100% of the time." Byron Katie

    "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." Buddha

    "My definition of health: coming to terms with things as they are." Jon-Kabat

    What I did
    • I stopped trying to sleep, which is a contradiction in terms. Sleep is about letting go—a not doing. We can't make it happen.

    • In line with the above, I stopped all sleep hygiene techniques (a couple of exceptions below), supplements, anything special designed to help me sleep (e.g. aromatherapy), reading and researching about insomnia.

    • I gradually weaned myself off sleeping medication.

    • I tried to return to common sense about sleep. I went to bed only when I felt sleepy (e.g. yawning, eyes droopy), rather than when feeling tired, which didn't always mean I was sleepy.

    • I washed my face, brushed my teeth, etc. early in the evening so that when I did feel sleepy, I could go right to bed and not risk waking myself up by throwing water on my face.

    • When I went to bed I told myself these words "Whether I sleep or not, I'll be fine either way."

    • I didn't stay in bed if not sleeping for more than about 30 minutes. This is to address conditioning. The bed should be where you sleep, not fret, worry, etc. When I first lie down to sleep, I put on a non-fiction audio book at low volume with the sleep timer set for 30 minutes. If I'm still awake when it shuts off, then I get out of bed. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I do the same thing.

    • When I get out of bed in the middle of the night I stay busy listening to podcasts, audio books, watching videos, watching the sunrise, making a big breakfast..........in other words, live life. I tried to make the best of the extra free time I had.

    • When I get up after what feels like too little sleep, I say these statements "This is how I sleep now. It's OK. This is how I feel now. It's OK. I'm fine. I'm safe." I say this throughout the day if I start to worry about lack of sleep. It cultivates a stance of acceptance.

    • I didn't mention my sleep deprivation to anyone. I feel it would just reinforce the narrative that there is something wrong with me.

    • I didn't use my sleep deprivation as an excuse to not do something, within common sense limits. And if I truly didn't feel like I could do something, I didn't beat myself up over it.

    • I tried not to clock watch (add up hours I had slept) or calendar watch (add up days with or without sleep)

    • Since insomnia is a result of anxiety, healthy strategies to lower anxiety will likely be helpful in the long term (e.g. yoga, 4-7-8 Breathing, meditation, somatic tracking, etc. )


    I don't remember exactly how long it took for me to get to a point where I was sleeping 6-8 hours a night on a regular basis. I truly was trying not to calendar watch. I know that it was very gradual, maybe a month or two . First I found I could sometimes fall back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night. Then I slowly and gradually began sleeper for longer times before waking up. Falling asleep took less time. I remember the joy and gratitude I felt when I had my first uninterrupted night of 7 hours of sleep with no medications. Success!

    I would love to say my progress went forward in a steady, linear manner. It didn't. I still had occasional sleepless nights and bad days when I couldn't reach that attitude of "authentic indifference". I just accepted it and started again. It wasn't starting over. My previous success didn't go away and was still there to build on. I eventually reached my goal. I recovered.

    But just as with my other forms of TMS, I have an occasional relapse. This especially occurs when I travel, and I believe this is conditioning, as I always had trouble sleeping when away from home. So I need to continue to work on this. With each relapse, I just go back to the steps outlined above. They work quicker and easier now. I am no longer burdened by this form of TMS. If I can do this, so can you!

    Namaste and pleasant dreams.....
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2017
  2. AC45

    AC45 Well known member

    Hello @Ellen,

    Thank you so very much for this post. Insomnia has been very hard on me over the last 15 months. I really appreciate your insights.

    Thank you!
    Ellen likes this.
  3. Ewok

    Ewok Peer Supporter

    Hi @Ellen !

    I'm so happy for you! That is fantastic! I love that you explain what worked, and didn't work for you in so much detail.

    I love reading your posts, they are full of amazing advice. If I may ask a question while I am here: In your previous success post about your recovery from other issues, you mentioned it was important for you to teach yourself to accept that all emotions were ok. I understand this in terms of fear and anger etc. but I find myself confused with other emotions like jealousy, that I feel I should not be generating if I am practicing TMS correctly. Would you advise to just accept that these undesirable/petty emotions are normal and just feel them or is better to work to try and change my thinking so I don't generate them? I hope that wasn't too unclear.

    Thank you
  4. Ellen

    Ellen Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi Ewok,

    I think it's important to accept without judgement all emotions and thoughts that arise. Labeling some as undesirable or unacceptable is what leads to repression. Acknowledging that I am a multi-faceted, imperfect being has been an important part of my recovery. Having the thoughts and emotions (like jealousy) arise, doesn't mean that we express them. The key is to be aware of our thoughts and emotions, so that we then have the space to choose our response, rather than speaking and acting on auto-pilot. That awareness, that space for choice, then allows me to choose to see the situation in a more compassionate and loving way. Then my words and actions follow. But I never beat myself up for first having a petty or unkind thought, or for those times when I act before I have the awareness to change my response. I forgive myself and try to learn from the experience. This has been something that has taken a lot of practice, and I still falter at times. A work in progress, but then, what else is life for than to try to become more loving and compassionate to all, including ourselves.

    I hope this answers your question.
  5. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

    Ellen, this is such a beautiful post. You have elevated the humble success story to a mindful and incisive blueprint for any soul searching for where to begin and how to do it.

    I really love the detail and honesty with which you write. It's so approachable and compassionate. I especially appreciate your thoughts on self-esteem as I see similar-but-different tendencies in myself which I am tackling in a friendly manner (And the odd histrionic meltdown :happy:).

    Bless your kind heart.
    MWsunin12 and Ellen like this.
  6. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

    In addition to Ellen's gorgeous response I say let yourself be human. Emotions like jealousy serve a purpose. It may help us evolve through and beyond patterns that no longer serve us, it may guide us towards friendships and relationships that honour us more, it may help us learn about boundaries (ours and theirs), or it may be that we have known one too many ratbags in our lovely lives.

    Don't be shy about exploring the thoughts and feelings around emotions, and as Ellen says certainly don't judge yourself for it. Only robots feel nothing and given the wealth and breadth of emotions we can experience it seems a shame not to quaff from the glass with relish.
    Julie-Ellen, Ewok and Ellen like this.
  7. Ines

    Ines Well known member

    Very nicely expressed. I bet this will help a lot of people. I'm so happy you are sleeping better and thank you for sharing. I like all the detail on the how's and why's.
    Ellen likes this.
  8. Ewok

    Ewok Peer Supporter

    That helps a lot, thank you xx
  9. Khris

    Khris Newcomer

    Ellen thank you so much for the history and your recovery from Insomnia.
    I’ve developed a dependency on sleep medication due to my husbands snoring. This began 13 years ago.
    I will refer back to your post often, as you have described the precise treatment I’ve followed, but most importantly my thought patterns as well!
    Feeling grateful today. wavea

    Last edited: Feb 2, 2018
    JuliaJulia, Sha and Ellen like this.
  10. BorisBritva

    BorisBritva Newcomer

    Don't know should i advise it for everybody, but i'll share my experience - started with audio hypnosis (https://sleephypnopill.com/have_sweet_dreams/ (Have sweet dreams hypnosis for healthy sleep)), then switched to meds but they twisted my mind, so i drop them. But finally i've got through insomnia only when i've found a decent person to sleep in one bad ( talking not about sex at all).
    All people are different, but we might be looking for the same things.
  11. Shakermaker

    Shakermaker Peer Supporter

    Thanks for this post @Ellen this is exactly what I needed to read! I've always had the odd problem with sleeping, also usually when I had something important the next day, but the problem has grown a lot this year due to stress. I could quite easily go a week or even a month sleeping max 4 hours a night before leveling off again. I've book marked your post and will try to internalise it as much as I can :)
  12. Andy Bayliss

    Andy Bayliss TMS Coach & Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi Ellen,

    Just read this post, as someone else posted the link in another thread.

    I sure appreciate the detailed account of both your root understanding of what perpetuated the insomnia (fear of not being up to your standards, of being enough) and the step-by-step approach to apply and learn "outcome independence." I think your guide in this regard can be used by many others with very different symptoms.

    Andy B
    Ellen likes this.
  13. TG957

    TG957 Beloved Grand Eagle

    What a great success story and how-to manual to heal from any form of TMS! My severe insomnia is long gone, but I read your story as great concise refresher course, since I do have occasional flare-ups. Thank you for sharing it, Ellen!
    Ellen likes this.
  14. elchessboy

    elchessboy New Member

    NEW To this but occasionally get on it to see whats up... I HAD EVERYTHING ELLEN had.. had 3 mental break downs.. Going to sound weird but i would plan my day when i couldnt sleep..tried meds, tried many many things and everyday tired no sleep and depressed..
    Honestly to make the long story short..you just have to NOT GIVE A FUKKK anymore.. sorry for the language but sometimes it helps to get hit in the head for some to understand..like i did.

    PLEASE do NOT give a FUKKK if u sleep or not! WHO CARES!!?!?!? When i was younger i would miss a day or 2 and everything was perfect...once i hit my 30's and i missed a day...then when it started the anxiety and whirlwind and once it gets u..it gets u! but theres always a way out!

    I was too nervous and tried to much to get sleep.. i would check the time every hour .. nada..

    tried many things...imagine taking pills and u still cant sleep??

    cried,...nerves rattles...told friends and fmaily..went to docs...nothing helped..

    Eventually what lead to my cure was not to care anymore if i get sleep or not. and of course DROP everything i was doing with pills books etc.

    Fast forward to now..I can fall asleep even while drinkin coffee coca cola..whatver..when im tired i go to my bed and knock out.

    sleep like a baby. It took me bout 3 weeks to recover but PLEASE dont count the days or hours..please dont do that.. you will be happy and more conifdent once u start seeing u can get at least 2 hours of sleep like me.

    Why i got this..who knows.. and who cares.. as long as YOU know u can do this without meds doctors yoga diet plan etc.

    I thought i was never gon sleep again..major fear. that all changed when i accepted that fear and said u know what..IM NOT GOING TO SLEEP TODAY...and guedss what? i slept .

    Do not give up folks..once u got this under control STOP reading about it or being around the subject. hopefully u dont get another symptom lol but if u do treat it like insomnia. i dont care if its pain in your head or in your balls or whatver.. or even if its something bad WORRY and FEAR wont do anything but make things WORSE!

    take care
  15. Leona

    Leona Newcomer

    Once again. I feel like I can relate to your story so deeply. I do practice many of your sleep strategies already, and you have given me some more to try. Thank you!!
    Ellen likes this.
  16. mugwump

    mugwump Well known member

    What an inspiring story of yours. Thanks for the courage and encouragement. Everything is worth trying.
    Ellen likes this.
  17. Balsa11

    Balsa11 Well known member

    Sometimes all it takes is total darkness- going completely under the covers including your face, and making sure it doesn't get too hot when you do with AC, etc.
  18. fridaynotes

    fridaynotes Well known member

    i really loved reading this post~ there are many great strategies and insights contained within. I wonder~ how are you doing these days?
  19. Ellen

    Ellen Beloved Grand Eagle

    I wish I could report that insomnia was completely eliminated for me. Achieving outcome independence with regard to sleep is very hard for me, and it's easy to fall back into old habits when I'm under stress. Like all relapses, the key is to be willing to apply past learning and keep at it. I find I need to re-read my own success stories from time to time, which is another good reason to write one.
    Shakermaker, Balsa11 and Mr Hip Guy like this.
  20. Balsa11

    Balsa11 Well known member

    Things like light from a phone or blue light from a power strip are factors, as are eating too late, background noise, and worries. Try to go back to the sleep schedule that works on the next night or two, and that starts a good sleep cycle.

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