It is a common experience that we feel distressed when we cannot sleep at night. Now why do we feel distressed? Occasionally we close our eyes and want to sleep but cannot. We feel frustrated and impatient; the night is too long without a proper sleep. People label themselves as suffering from insomnia when they do not have a good sleep for one or two nights.
Sleep is a learned activity. Learning involves a lot of reward and punishment or approval and disapproval from people we respect, such as parents and teachers. Somehow we incorporate these values of judgement into the depth of our mind while we are learning. We feel distressed when we do not perform to the expectation of parents and teachers. Gradually these expectations of parents and teachers become our own expectations. Hence, in later life, even in the absence of parents and teachers, we still feel bad if we do not perform to our expectation. We are expected to sleep at night and, if we fail, we feel distressed.
The strange thing is that the more we feel bad about not sleeping and the more we want to sleep, the more we cannot. This is the law of reverse effect. The more you concentrate on the word ‘sleep’, the more you cannot go to sleep. The law of reverse effect applies to other activities also. Say to yourself now, ‘My nose is not itchy, and I do not need to scratch my nose. My nose is fine, there is no reason to feel so itchy, and I do not want to scratch my nose at all’. Repeating this a few times to yourself, the majority of you will have to scratch your nose to relieve the itch. The more you think of the word ‘itch’, the more you want to scratch your nose. Words that have a lot of emotion and feeling attached will always carry much more weight in your mind than other words. For those who do not fall asleep easily, the word sleep carries a lot of emotion and worry. The mere mention of the word sleep will arouse them and prevent sleep onset.
Another reason for feeling distress when not sleeping at night is the worry that, if you do not have a good sleep, the next day you will not be functioning well. This usually adds anxiety, and anxiety is one of the main causes of insomnia. For those who have a problem sleeping, you have to relearn how to sleep. This is because facts and knowledge about sleep are important to allay fear, myth, misunderstanding, and misconception about sleep. Confronting such questions as how much sleep do you need, can you die from not sleeping, are dreams reflecting good sleep or bad sleep, and so on will help you to take the myth and the fear away from not sleeping. Some poor sleepers, after acquiring this correct information about sleep, sleep much better.


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