Why Did My Insomnia Start?
How did it start?
In the same way that some of us are at a higher risk of developing heart disease or diabetes, some of us are at a higher risk of developing insomnia. However, even if you are part of that high-risk group, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll become an insomniac, just as being obese doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be diabetic. It just means that you will be more susceptible to it when triggers come along.
Any kind of stressful event can be a trigger; from work stress to relationship worries to noisy neighbours. For some, such a trigger may cause the odd night of poor sleep, but the sleep problems will disappear when the stressor does.
But for many, the battle with sleeplessness remains stubbornly persistent. This is because the initial trigger sows the seed of doubt in your ability to sleep, an activity which previously required no effort or thought, and the worry of not sleeping keeps fueling your insomnia even further.
Why did it not stop?
A common question asked by many insomniacs is ‘why do I experience a racing mind, a pounding heart and feelings of anxiety when I am about to go to bed?’
The answer lies in the way our brain has evolved to protect you by learning from negative experiences. To give you an example, let’s imagine that you are about to bite into a big red apple, but just as you do, you see a maggot appear from a small hole in the skin. As a result of this experience, it’s likely that you might suddenly feel sick and choose not to continue eating. It might even affect your long term love of apples due to the now ongoing association with maggots.
This is the result of an ingrained survival system where our brains' threat detector, called the amygdala, is constantly on the lookout for ‘danger’. When you come across a threatening or unpleasant situation like a maggot emerging from an apple, the amygdala learns from this experience and processes it in a way that creates a negative relationship with similar situations going forward.
For insomniacs, the night time is the apple and insomnia is the maggot. The countless nights of stressful tossing and turning in bed causes the brain to associate the night time and your bed with wakefulness and worry. This explains why many go from blissfully dozing off on the sofa in front of the TV to completely alert and wired as they move to the bedroom. The scientific term for this is called conditioned bedtime or nighttime arousal and it refers to your brain’s relationship with sleep and why insomniacs are often referred to as being tired but wired.
Understanding how your brain reacts to unpleasant situations will not only help you understand how your insomnia developed; more importantly, it can give you some insight into how you’re going to overcome it. Unfortunately, the natural response to any stressful event is to fight it. For troubled sleep, this could be in the form of intense wind-down routines, counting sheep, or trying hard to think of blank space. All this effort, however, will only wake you up more, further fuel your insomnia and encourage the unpleasantness to occur night after night as your are inadvertently training your brain to expect the worst when it comes to sleep.
Therefore, what may have started as a few nights of poor sleep may start to feel like an endless road of continuous tossing and turning in bed which could be the start of what may seem like a lifetime of nightly struggles.
The Sleep School can teach you how to respond to your insomnia in a more effective way, whereby you can change your brain’s relationship with the night time and sleep well once again. Click here to read more on our 5-step revolutionary approach to help you recover from insomnia.
Is your Insomnia is caused by another disorder?
It is not uncommon for insomnia to be triggered by other mental or physical health disorders such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain, cancer, heart failure or even another sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea. In the past, this was called secondary insomnia because of it occurring secondary to another condition. The general assumption was that if you treated the primary condition i.e. anxiety, sleeping patterns would normalise. However, this was not always the case and in many instances, insomnia would outlive the trigger.
If you know that your insomnia is being triggered by another condition then we firmly suggest that you treat both conditions individually by following our 5-step revolutionary course for insomnia but also seeking out professional help for the other disorder.
If you are unsure as to whether you may have another disorder then we would suggest you visit your doctor for further help and a checkup. For example, having a quick blood test can rule out whether your insomnia is the result of altered thyroid hormones, iron levels, vitamin deficiencies or allergies.
If you need help overcoming insomnia , we recommend our Sleep School for Insomnia App. It contains proven tools to help you fall asleep quicker, stay asleep and wake up feeling refreshed.