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The 3 Things I Like About Insomnia (or, How It Can Be Good for You)

Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. If you want facts on the underlying causes, health risks, long-term effects, treatments and cures, you won’t find it here in insomniathis post. (There are many other blogs, plus books and sleep clinics, for that.)

But if you’re eager to learn about the benefits of restless, sleep-deprived nights, every now and then, read on.

In the interest of full disclosure: I’m a light sleeper. I don’t need a full eight hours to feel rested (five to six hours are usually enough).

And despite practicing tips for sound, healthy sleep, I am prone to nocturnal awakenings (especially now, as an expectant mother). Yet rarely does fatigue set in. When it does, I call in sick. Except for the occasional chai tea latte, I stay away from caffeine and other stimulants.

So, here are the three things I like about insomnia (or, here’s how it can be good for you):

1.  Insomnia can prepare you for a BIG EVENT or BIG PROJECT that will require loads of your time and force you to reduce your sleep hours or sleep in shifts.

I keep hearing that being a first-time parent is a big event. Just yesterday, my husband Michael and I attended a four-hour prenatal class that began at 8:30 am. I was alert for the whole thing, despite having slept for just three hours due to a bout with insomnia.

We learned that newborns have very small stomachs and need to be fed every one to three hours (8 to 12 times daily).  Having some sleepless nights now is firsthand training for what’s to come.

Similarly, reduced sleep hours or intermittent sleep might be necessary to complete big, crucial projects. Regardless of your organizational skills, there could come a time when you need to push through the night to get work done or respond to an emergency.  Experience with sleeplessness enables you to pull unavoidable all-nighters.

2. Insomnia can be a WAKE-UP CALL to take action on important stuff.

The question “what keeps you up at night?” often carries negative connotations and presumably involves deep-seated worries. But it can also be taken as a constructive inquiry into the direction and meaning of your life. Approach it with curiosity and openness.

Insomnia frequently stems from unconscious emotions and unexamined behavior. Pay attention to the thoughts and feelings surrounding your restlessness, fear, anxiety or general angst, instead of suppressing them. Without labeling them right or wrong, use them to create positive change.

Are you way off course? Is there some self-destructive behavior that you need to stop? Is there an action step that you must take, but have been delaying? Do you tolerate unhealthy situations that you’re better off without? Do you need to modify your lifestyle or change your habits?

Don’t automatically reach for sleep-aids, meds, or quick, unnatural fixes for insomnia at the expense of tackling the root cause. Take note of what keeps you up at night. Initiate a plan to resolve it or make peace with it.

3. Insomnia can lead to your BEST, CREATIVE WORK. 

The next time you’ve tried everything to fall asleep or stay asleep, but just can’t, get up out of bed. Welcome your wakefulness.

The middle of the night or wee hours of the morning provides quiet, space and solitude that you don’t otherwise get.  Take advantage of it to ponder the big questions, brainstorm ideas, and make uninterrupted progress on highly desired goals.

Rather than pace the floors, toss and turn, or stare at the ceiling because you can’t sleep, get a head start on your day – and do your best, creative work.

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At a time when many are asleep so they don’t struggle to wake up on Monday morning, I’m completing this blog post. (It’s now three minutes before midnight on Sunday.)

While I need rest and rejuvenation through sound sleep, I can appreciate episodic or short-term insomnia – and make good use of it – when all else fails. And so can you.

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Photo by: Benjamin Watson

Getting Unstuck

A friend of mine ruminated for months about setting up a website for her butake a stepsiness.

It’s an important project to her. But indecision, competing priorities, and mostly lack of motivation stalled her progress.

The last time we met, she mentioned she had been reading multiple self-motivation books to get unstuck and move on with it.

I suggested she put the books away, stop waiting for inspiration, and just begin taking action.

I gave her the contact information for a website developer (since she didn’t want to figure out the technical aspects herself) and a website designer (in case she needed help with the creative aspects).  I suggested she prepare and gather basic content that focuses on her target market’s needs and strategically positions her business.

A few days later, my friend sent me an email saying, “I’m getting my stuff together for my website – I’m taking action!” She had also contacted the website developer, who gave her some good options to get started. She was no longer delaying the process until she felt inspired to act.

Positive thinking and working through your feelings – although helpful – are not required to get things done.

Yes, you want to be confident in your sales pitch, relaxed during a job interview, or excited to work on a big project. But how do you respond when you think you fall short, or when you feel timid, anxious, or unmotivated?

Various psychological approaches to resolving life’s dilemmas – from eastern-based Morita Therapy to western-based Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – hold that you can still make progress, get things done, and live purposely in the face of fear, doubt and discomfort.

The next time you’re unable to psych yourself up or get in the mood to do what must be done, try the following instead:

1. Accept your adverse thoughts and painful feelings without judgment.

Efforts to fix your internal state might cause you to fuse more with it and keep you stuck. Self-help books and inspirational quotes don’t always work. And visualization and affirmations can backfire.

Fighting with troubling thoughts can increase their strength. Striving to wipe out discomfort can fuel avoidance and heighten stress.

Your thoughts and feelings are constantly fluctuating. They come and go. They are largely beyond your control. Don’t allow them to dictate whether you take purposeful action or lead a meaningful life.

Negative emotions aren’t necessarily bad for you; they often serve as useful signposts. By allowing your thoughts and feelings to just be, without attachment or aversion, you can co-exist with them in productive and healthy ways. Let them guide you, not rule you.

2. Take action that is aligned with your true purpose and deeply desired goals, regardless of your internal state.

Distinguish between what you think you should do and what you must do to cultivate your ideal life.

If something isn’t really important to you, drop it and forget about it. Focus your efforts on what’s truly important. Break it down into specific, incremental steps, and set a timeline for when you will complete each step.

Lack of motivation is not a genuine obstacle to taking action. When you move forward constructively, regardless of whether you feel like it, your internal barriers will usually start to dissolve and lose their power. Even if they don’t, you’re still working on purpose and living a meaningful existence.

And by taking action, you receive valuable feedback to improve your road map and refine your direction.

3. Keep track of your progress and the barriers ahead.

Note down the actions you took to get closer to where you want to be. Appreciate the small wins to build momentum for big accomplishments.

Pay attention to where you are now and the obstacles and difficulties you still need to overcome. Choose the right challenges and let go of non-starters.

4. Get honest about how you use your time.

Are you spending your time on busy work or seemingly constructive activities that are not really essential? Are you allowing side projects and minor tasks to distract you? If that’s the case, re-focus your efforts and channel your energy into what matters to you.

Although being in the right mood helps, it’s not necessary to get unstuck. Rather, determine what’s important to you and just get moving on it.

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Photo by: Jelle Druyts