Accepting the Paradox of Trying to Fall Sleep in order to Go to Sleep

From an early age, we are taught that we will be judged by our successes and failures. We are encouraged to study hard, make good friends, be polite, and take care of our health. All of these counsels are designed with one goal in mind: our success in life. When we fail, it is quite often assumed that failure occurred because we didn’t try hard enough or study diligently enough. We are made to believe that there is a one-to-one causal relationship between our effort and our success. However, we soon find out that life is much more complicated than that. Sometimes, there are paradoxical factors … [Read more...]

Insomnia and Talking to Oneself

Whenever we encounter difficulties in life or whenever some unexpected suffering comes our way, our natural instinct is to find an immediate escape from that difficulty or suffering. When such an escape is not readily available or manifest to us, we may become despondent or begin to think the worst, which in psychological terms is known as catastrophizing. We can tell we’re doing this by the nature of our interior dialogue that we have with ourselves. That private conversation can aggravate an existent problem and generate new ones. In his dissertation, “Treating Insomnia-A Cognitive … [Read more...]

Identifying and Resolving Dysfunctional Cognitions

The maxim “our thoughts determine our lives” is central to our self-understanding as well as our ability to understand the choices we make each day. Thoughts are the interpretive tool through which we understand ourselves, others, and the circumstances of daily life. When these thoughts are good and wholesome, we are able to make critical decisions in the workplace, assist family members, and order our life according to the values by which we have consciously chosen to live. However, when these cognitions are harmful, our perceptions of self, others, and our environment become distorted which … [Read more...]

The Power of Activity After a Sleepless Night

In the proverbs of Solomon, it is written, “as the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful upon his bed” (24:16). Those with insomnia, however, are not necessarily slothful. And in fact, many of those struggling with this nightly affliction will get out of their beds and do something profitable when they can’t sleep, rather than turning like a door on its hinges, thus demonstrating not sloth, but vigor and vigilance while others sleep. And yet after a sleep-deprived night, when we feel tired and find ourselves nodding off, doesn’t it make sense to go to take it easy and not over … [Read more...]

The Scientific and Monastic Practice of Sleep Restriction

According to Saint John Chrysostom, “animals recognize sufficiency as a limit with respect to food and water and will not go beyond what they need even if innumerable persons try to force them on to excess” (Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 58 on Matthew). He likewise remarks that “nothing is so conducive to enjoyment and health as to be hungry and thirsty when one sits down to eat, and to identify being full with the simple necessity for food, never overstepping the limits of this, nor imposing an overwhelming load on the body (Saint John Chrysostom, No one can harm the person who does not harm … [Read more...]

Sleep and the Senses

Saint Augustine once wrote, “Suggestion takes place either by means of memory, or by means of the bodily senses, when we see, or hear, or smell, or taste, or touch anything” (Sermon on the Mount, 1, 12). In other words, as sentient beings, we are affected by the external stimuli we encounter in daily life. Our five senses are continually provided an array of stimuli that call for a response and make suggestions for action. At the time for sleep, it is important to regulate and reduce such stimuli for the sake of the bodily inactivity that characterizes sleep. Some such stimuli like television … [Read more...]

The Value of Discipline: Some Behavioral Suggestions for Insomnia

The behavioral treatment options available to those suffering from insomnia are quite practical and stunningly simple. Yet, very often many of life’s solutions are practical and simple. We need to do something(s) different. What complicates matters for us are our own predilections, preferences, and idiosyncracies. We have a divided will that makes it difficult to choose certain courses of action that may restrict us, but can perhaps resolve an even more troubling situation. The notion of cutting off the will for the sake of an ultimate goal, familiar in the monastic milieu, has its place in … [Read more...]

Insomnia, Sleep Deprivation, and Maintaining Realistic Thoughts

When we experience a certain difficult period in our lives, we have a tendency to focus all of our energy on the problem and its consequences. This is true with the issue of insomnia as well. Even when we convince ourselves that we are instead focusing on a solution, it is always in the context of perceiving it as an obstacle or a problem. This negative focus may lead us to exaggerate our plight, turning a difficult situation into a daily catastrophe that leaves us paralyzed and even further weakened. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is not only unhelpful for coping in daily life, but even … [Read more...]

Preparing for Sleep: Sleep Hygiene and Spiritual Hygiene

For the fathers, health could be defined as a “regularity (εὐστάθεια) in the discharge of natural functions” (Saint Basil the Great, Hexameron, 9) that reflected the good stability throughout the cosmos in which night follows day and sleep follows wakefulness. And that state of health certainly included regular and restful sleep. After all, Saint Ambrose is said to have written a poem to that effect, which Saint Augustine quotes in his Confessions(Book 9, chapter 12) and happens to be rendered in verse by one 17th century translation as follows: “O God, the world’s great Architect, Who dost … [Read more...]

Insomnia and the Power of the Written Word

In treating insomnia, many cognitive behavioral therapists will suggest to people suffering with this condition that they begin keeping a diary concerning their daily sleep patterns, food-and-drink intake, exercise routines, as well as concerning how many sleep interruptions they encounter.  Often, this written record provides both clinician and sufferer with helpful information and new insights in terms of corrective measures that may be taken in order to alleviate sleeplessness. Alfonso Marino notes, “A clinician can at a glance gain an understanding of the nature, frequency, and intensity … [Read more...]