If you’ve been on the path to peaceful sleep for a while – particularly, the path I am talking about in my content – then you probably feel how nuanced everything is.
There are no black and white answers, just as there is no universal step-by-step plan that will work for everyone. Each person is here to discover their path to freedom from insomnia, governed by general “laws” of sleep.
Sometimes people ask me what I think about positive thinking and affirmations to overcome insomnia, and I usually go like, “oh boy, where do I start…” So I decided to write a blog post where I give my extended answer – hope you will find it helpful!
When positive thinking and affirmations are helpful during insomnia recovery
Insomnia is tightly connected with the stories we tell ourselves about our experiences. These stories are the overlay that adds color and drama to experiences such as being awake or experiencing a certain emotion.
A person can have a wakeful night, but their interpretation might sound like, “I’m a failure. I am broken. I can’t do this.” Or they might feel tired, interpreting it as, “My day is going to be ruined because of this. If I don’t get this under control, I will lose my job and my family, and I will end up alone and miserable.“
You may notice that events such as wakefulness, physical tiredness, or even emotions are relatively neutral experiences and not exclusive to insomnia. The suffering comes from how we choose to interpret them.
Examining these stories and interpretations is key on this journey. To be free from fear, we must investigate and challenge the stories we tell ourselves.
This is where reframing our experiences becomes immensely helpful.
It’s understandable that when we face setbacks, it feels overwhelming, and we tell ourselves, “This is terrible. I can’t stand this. I don’t know how long I can endure.” But these are subjective interpretations of a (more or less) neutral event. It’s not that these feelings aren’t valid – they absolutely are. However, dwelling on them for extended periods keeps us from understanding and getting in touch with what we label as “terrible” – and that’s where the opportunity lies!
So what’s hiding behind the “terrible” label?
Is it wakefulness, tiredness, frustration? These things alone are not a problem and are perfectly normal for this journey, but thinking of them as a problem is what creates a problem.
- Can we be with wakefulness without labeling it as a horror and instead find a meaningful and gentle way to spend our time awake?
- Can we be with tiredness without interpreting it as a personal failure and instead choose to attend to our needs on that day?
- Can we be with frustration without thinking it’s wrong to feel it and actually allow ourselves to experience frustration?
This is where positive thinking and affirmations can be transformative. Not in a dismissive, but in a self-compassionate way.
😤 “This is terrible. I had another all-nighter after doing so much better. What’s wrong with me?“
❤️🩹 “Yeah, last night was wakeful, and I’m not particularly happy about it, but it’s okay to feel the way I feel now. It’s a good opportunity to be kind to myself during the day.“
❤️🩹 “Yeah, I had an all-nighter but I’m not alone in this. Any person can experience it for any reason.“
❤️🩹 “I didn’t sleep all night and I feel sad. It’s really okay for me to feel sad. Who wouldn’t feel some amount of discomfort after a sleepless night? What do I need to make this day more comfortable for myself?“
When positive thinking and affirmations are useless for insomnia recovery
However, there are limits to positive thinking and affirmations. We want to be open to new interpretations, but we also want to be authentic.
Unfortunately, most positive affirmations result in us repeating mantras that don’t even feel natural.
I loved the book “The Effortless Sleep Method” by Sasha Stephens and I’m so grateful for her work, but the only thing that didn’t sit right with me was her positive thinking advice. It felt very forceful.
When I struggled with so much fear and wakefulness, saying to myself things like “I am a great sleeper. Sleep comes so effortlessly” felt like a lie. I didn’t feel like a good sleeper and definitely sleeping wasn’t effortless. In fact, trying to persuade myself of the opposite was making me more frustrated and angry. When I ditched that rule, I felt so much relief!
Often, people use positive affirmations as a way to “appease” insomnia or negotiate with it.
🙏 “Maybe, if I think this thought, it will leave me alone?“
🙏 “Maybe I can brainwash myself into peaceful sleep?”
Positive affirmations can easily conceal sleep efforts. They can hide behind the “feel-good” vibe and enable us to keep avoiding the “negativity,” thus reinforcing our fear of it.
As you can see, there are pros and cons to positive thinking and affirmations. The answer to whether it will help one in overcoming insomnia is very nuanced.
To find the right path, it’s key to understand the nature of sleep and the intricate mechanisms that drive insomnia, such us sleep efforts and problem-solving. Armed with this knowledge, we can determine which tools serve us best at different points in our insomnia recovery process.
The guiding principle here is to identify the purpose of a positive affirmation.
Is it to challenge the stories we tell ourselves? Is it to be with reality, as uncomfortable as it can be, and see that we do have capacity to handle it? Does it give us the support and encouragement to face any possible future challenges?
Does it feel like covering our ears and yelling “la la la, I don’t hear anything. Insomnia, go away”? Is it to deny our current emotions and reality? Is it to push away anything that feels “negative”?