Shut up about insomnia.

Shut up about insomnia.

If you have insomnia, it cannot be overemphasised how negative an effect talking about your problem can have. This certainly does not mean that you should sit on your problems, keep them hidden, and never speak about the fact that you are having difficulty sleeping. If it is really relevant to the conversation at the time, and you think that it might help your problem to mention it to a particular person, then do so. But when it becomes a real habit so that it becomes a topic of light conversation, something to mention as small talk or to someone you have just met at a party, something needs to change.

Perhaps you never talk to others about your problem. You may be one of those who ‘bottles it up’. But be warned, all of the following points may still apply to you. It may just be that the only one you speak to about your problem is yourself. Monitor your inner monologue and look at the stories you tell yourself: how do you refer to yourself, what language do you use? Do the following points still apply, but only to your internal narrative?

Talking about your problem manifests in different ways in different people, but the following are particularly problematic.

Calling yourself an insomniac

Talking about your problem is particularly harmful if you are using your insomnia as a way of describing yourself — ‘letting someone know a bit more about yourself’.

“I’m an insomniac.”

Can you see how destructive and negative and harmful this little phrase is? Labelling yourself with this term creates an identity, categorising you as one who is unable to sleep. By repeating this phrase you are describing yourself, your very being, in terms of a problem and so your insomnia becomes a fundamental part of who you are. People you know begin to ask “how’s your insomnia?” when they see you, reinforcing this identity. A negative feedback loop is thus created, with the message coming both from yourself, and from others, that you are ill, broken; that you are, essentially, an insomniac.

Simply giving a name to the problem goes a long way towards ‘creating the monster’. By slapping a label on what is nothing more than a set of behaviours or events, we reify, or make real, a separate entity — insomnia. This term ‘insomnia’ implicitly suggests that an insomniac is suffering with a clearly defined medical condition, a disease one ‘comes down with’, one which requires medical attention, which must be ‘cured’ by the application of an external pill or remedy. It is none of these things.

Boasting

It’s irritating, isn’t it? Sometimes when you tell someone about your problem they claim, unjustifiably, also to be an insomniac when their problem is nothing like as bad as your own! ‘Sometimes I lie awake for an hour!’ they complain. An hour? What do they know? They know nothing about real insomnia! They don’t know what it is to have it rule your life, to go days, months, without proper sleep! You are going to tell them exactly what severe, chronic, long-term insomnia is like! After all, if anyone knows, you do!

Be really, really honest now: if someone tells you they have a sleeping problem, do you feel compelled to boast about how much worse yours is? I don’t consider this to be boasting. I do tell people how bad the problem is, but it’s only because I want people to know how serious the problem is. It is a large part of my life, a disability almost, and it is dishonest if I don’t tell them the full extent of the problem.

Of course it doesn’t feel like boasting. But exactly why is it so important to you that people know just how bad your problem is? Are you absolutely sure there is no satisfaction to be gained from seeing their horrified reactions, gaining their sympathy, and (you need to be really honest with yourself to admit to this one) showing their problem to be insignificant compared with yours?

Exaggerating

Have you ever exaggerated your problem when telling others about it? Before claiming that you are not guilty, take the time to look within and be very honest with yourself. When you tell people your story, do you tend to embellish it even a little when you tell them of the way it rules your life, or just how your problem is different?

Or do you exaggerate to yourself? Do your thoughts focus on those few really bad nights, playing them up in your mind, while ignoring the number of good nights of sleep you may have had? It’s not that you have any intention of lying, or misleading anyone, it’s just that a little exaggeration and boasting can be a very good way of making the seriousness of the situation apparent. The hitch here is that the boast eventually becomes reality, as the problem slowly begins to fit the exaggeration! At which point, a new bigger boast is needed — perhaps you now once went a fortnight without sleep. So be careful with exaggeration. Every time you exaggerate about how bad your sleeping is, you create a new possibility for yourself. You give yourself something to live up to — a new goal to achieve, a new level of insomnia to work towards!

Some people reading this page may only have had a problem for a few weeks, yet you may already be going around calling yourself ‘an insomniac’, and talking about your problem at every opportunity. The important message for all who have a problem sleeping is:

The more you talk about, boast about, exaggerate, and identify with your problem, the worse it will become.

No wonder sleep problems remain persistent. How are you ever going to change your beliefs about sleep if you are continually describing yourself as an insomniac and boasting in great detail about just how bad your problem is?

Some people will have been suffering for decades and neither boast nor exaggerate. Indeed, many suffer in total silence and never talk to others about their secret problem. If this applies to you, do not be disheartened. If you don’t do any of these things, great. Be happy that you have one fewer negative behaviour to change. But keep an eye and ear out for this tendency in yourself. It can be very insidious, and you may need to be very vigilant to spot it, particularly if the one to whom you exaggerate is yourself. In short…

The story you tell about your sleep will come true.