Sleep Anxiety and Insomnia: A Success Story

Sleep anxiety and insomnia are big topics in the community surrounding this podcast.  My friend Ande Lyons struggled with sleep and tons of anxiety around sleep for many many years.  She was gracious enough to stop by the podcast this week to talk about how learning to let go of the ritualization and distorted beliefs about her sleep changed everything.

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The Highlights

  • Ande struggled with sleep anxiety and insomnia for over 40 years of her life.  She tried every possible approach to find sleep and get “more and better” sleep including EMDR therapy, addressing childhood trauma, medication, and the entire litany of usual sleep hygiene advice, all to no avail.
  • In the end, Ande discovered that her primary issue was irrational fear and belief focused on sleep and sleeping. “If I don’t sleep enough, I will be too tired to function so I must adjust my life accordingly.”  Sound familiar?  This had an impact on ever aspect of her life, including her relationships.  Even her husband was impacted by Ande’s somewhat contentious view of and relationship with sleep over the years.
  • Ande was fortunate enough to get a referral to Dr. Eric Zhaou (he’s a psychologist) that works out of Dana Farber in Massachusetts. Dr. Zhou taught Ande to take a new approach to her sleep anxiety and insomnia.
  • You might think that Ande implemented lots of special techniques for analyzing and engineering her sleep patterns, but the opposite is true!  Dr. Zhou simply taught Ande to go to bed only when tired, only use her bed for sleep (and a few other intimate activities), and to fully accept that sometimes she’ll sleep more, but sometimes she’ll sleep less. Learning to drop the demand to get a specific amount of sleep was a big part of this for Ande.
  • Not every human is going to get eight or more hours of sleep every night.  That might be an average, but many people do quite well on less than that.  As it turns out Ande is one of them.  She just couldn’t accept that this was true and spent decades ritualizing sleep and trying to force the magic “eight plus hours” so she would be OK the next day.
  • Ande had to learn to set a specific bedtime, do her best to follow it every night, and to set her alarm to wake up at the same time every morning.  How much sleep she got between those two times became unimportant for the most part.  When she was unable to sleep, she was taught to get up and do something else until tired. If she was tired the next day, she was taught how to handle that because it was simply not the emergency she thought it was for so long.
  • Dr. Zhou helped Ande to train her brain to accept sleep again.  She had to drop the belief that sleep had to be “coma-like” to be effective.  She  also had to drop the fear that she was harboring about the “well known” negative impacts of too little sleep.  She had to learn to accept her sleep in whatever form it came.
  • In the end, it became clear that Ande’s sleep anxiety and insomnia was not about her trauma, but about her patterns and her irrational beliefs, fears, and demands around sleep.  It wasn’t the sleep at all.  It was the story she had built around it.  Where have you heard that before?
  • Ande is now 6-7 months into her new “sleep life” and doing great!  She still wonders almost every day if this is really working – which is a testament to the power of irrational and distorted fear – but she continues to do as she learned and things are still smooth for her when it comes to sleep.

Thanks so much to Ande for coming by to share her story!

Find Ande and her Startup Live! show on the web at andelyons.com



Here are some other episodes of The Anxious Truth that might be helpful:

Episode 225 – Sleep Related Anxiety: Three Common Fears


These Editions Of The Anxious Morning Newsletter Talk About This Topic:

Edition 101 : Anxiety Dreams

Edition 92 : Less Active, But More Tired


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Founder and host of The Anxious Truth Podcast. Former anxiety disorder sufferer. Now fully recovered and dedicated to providing no-nonsense, straight-forward, actionable advice on how to overcome anxiety problems.