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Fixing insomnia

Can you lose the ability to sleep?

I think one of the saddest things to hear as a sleep clinician is when people come to me and tell me that they feel they are forgetting how to sleep.

That they don’t get sleepy, they’ve forgotten how it feels… and that’s quite a scary feeling. It’s an horrible fear to have, and actually it’s not true.

Your sleepiness may have gotten a bit lost, and it is true that you need a sleep drive and to feel sleepy in order to actually fall asleep – but we can regain it again. We’ve just got to stop confusing the brain with lots of different weird and wonderful patterns and behaviours and do the right ones. 

To build sleep drive what do we need to do? It’s simple, we just need to be awake for longer. But that’s exactly what most of us are fearing…

When we have a sleep problem, we fear spending more time awake. Actually, spending more time awake means you’ve got a bigger chance of feeling sleepy.

Part of what I do in treatment is to help people feel that sleep drive again. We sort of manipulate the idea of being awake. Obviously, we don’t keep them awake for days, but we control how much time they are awake each day.

For instance, by regulating their wake time – making sure it is the same every day. And then they start to notice that they feel sleepy. They often feel wonderful when they get the sleepiness back because they realise there’s nothing wrong with them.

When they realize that they do have that power again they feel liberated and empowered. This will allow us to treat that person completely, and to finish all the other bits and pieces to make sure they don’t get the sleep problem ever again.