Today I am going to introduce you to a new concept that can bring you closer to the insomnia-free life. I’m talking about the cheat days.
As we embark upon the journey to overcome insomnia we inevitably will create certain rules on how to think and act if we want to get better. Those who are familiar with CBTi and ACT might learn that it is good to get up at the same time, avoid naps, do something fun during the day, etc etc. It doesn’t matter what one might practice, this blog post isn’t about the recovery approaches.
The strive for consistency and dedication is admirable, and if someone benefits from a solid structure – that’s great. There are some people, however, who eventually become the prisoners of those approaches and that might hold them back from moving on. I was among them too once.
I’m going to illustrate the situation with an example.
🙋♀️ Nora promised herself that she is not going to sleep in and will get up every day at 6 am – every day including weekends and holidays. But as the weekend comes she feels a strong resistance to getting up – it’s just too cozy to lie in bed. So she decides to give in to this pleasure. A couple of hours later, she realizes that she broke her promise, now her routine is broken. “Now I sabotaged this, I won’t get better ever!” – she thinks.
Guilt and the gloomy thoughts about her future with sleep makes her feel terrible throughout the day which makes her break another promise she gave herself: “I’m not going to let a night ruin my day. I’m going to enjoy my life no matter how much I sleep.” Now Nora feels completely trapped. Not only did she oversleep, which “according to the rules” she wasn’t supposed to do, she also allowed negative thinking to impact her day. She tries to patch it up with some positive thinking but deep inside there is an enormous amount of guilt and pressure.
But what would have happened if Nora would just let that one innocent hiccup slip away? She probably wouldn’t concentrate on sleep itself and would have more emotional capacity to enjoy the day.
I’m going to tell you a secret. Guilt can do more harm to our recovery journey than any ‘error’. Because the path to effortless sleep is not about the rules or even consistency. Heck, I was probably the most chaotic and inconsistent person on the journey, yet it didn’t prevent me from leaving insomnia behind. The path is about removing the resistance on the way.
When we begin to feel resistance to even the best rule ever, this rule can start working against us.
A journey to effortless sleep isn’t like a diet or regular exercise where the correct technique and regularity are the most important for the result. Insomnia is riddled with paradoxes, it thrives on sleep efforts, and this is why we need to move delicately there. This is where I find the concept of cheat days so helpful.
A cheat day
Having a cheat day removes the pressure and the guilt from all sorts of hiccups that might happen on the way – and they do happen! In fact a cheat day can help us feel more relieved and encouraged to keep moving on the journey.
Check this out:
👉 Nora accidentally (or not) sleeps in in the morning and instead of blaming herself, she decides that today is the cheat day! She feels liberated, because she knows that skipping a day of her routine will not undermine her progress – it is never about the actions anyway.
👉 Nora feels terrible after a night of no sleep. She knows that it is good to have some fun and pleasant activity, but deep inside she doesn’t have energy to have fun. Nora decides to take a cheat day and allow herself to not try to force fun, but rather spend that day in a way that would feel less pressuring.
👉 Nora nodes off the whole afternoon and normally she would stay away from napping (because, let’s say, CBTi says to avoid it) but the idea to just lie down in a horizontal position is so enticing that she decides to have a cheat day without feeling bad for giving in to the pleasure.