Revealed: The Thoughts That Are Harming Your Sleep (and What to Do About Them)

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

The mind has a huge influence on the quality of our sleep. For some of us, it begins racing as soon as we get into bed at night. Thoughts can vary from the mundane (I must remember to buy cereal tomorrow) to the more serious (if I don't fall asleep soon, I don't know how I'll function tomorrow).

Many insomnia sufferers have a number of misconceptions about sleep. For example, many of us think we need eight hours of sleep. This is not true.

Furthermore, we're terrible judges of how much sleep we're really getting. The fact is, you're probably getting more sleep than you think you are. But those who have anxiety and negative thoughts about sleep have poorer sleep quality than those who do not have such thoughts.

A cross-sectional study of 93 insomniacs concluded that anxiety symptoms and how individuals respond to stress may distinguish insomnia sufferers from good sleepers.

Researchers assessed insomniacs based on the severity of their insomnia and their scores on surveys including the Ford Insomnia Response to Stress Test (FIRST), Dysfunctional Beliefs about Sleep scale (DBAS), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and the Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale (SAS).

They found that FIRST and SAS scores determined insomnia sufferers versus good sleepers, and that those with dysfunctional beliefs about sleep were more likely to experience stressful thoughts that harm sleep.

Furthermore, those who have unhelpful sleep-related beliefs were more likely to find it difficult to fall asleep.

The most common dysfunctional beliefs about sleep include:

  • Needing eight hours of sleep

  • Needing to catch up on sleep loss

  • Worries about losing control of sleep

  • More time in bed results in more sleep

  • One poor night disturbs the whole week

  • Being unable to function without a good night of sleep

The fact of the matter is, as soon as we try to sleep, we make sleep more difficult. Sleep isn't something we can consciously invoke; it's a natural process that comes from a state of relaxation.

How to eliminate negative thoughts about sleep

Even though it may seem as though you have no control over the thoughts that are harming your sleep, you actually do.

You are the master of your mind. It's important that you work on replacing negative sleep thoughts with positive sleep thoughts.

Understanding normal sleep can also help; when you realize that it's perfectly normal to wake during the night, you can help reduce the anxiety and worry that you may associate with those nighttime awakenings.

One of the reasons that cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is so effective is that it addresses incorrect thoughts and behaviors toward sleep.

If you struggle with sleep due to any of the issues raised in this article, you may want to speak with your doctorto see if you can get a referral to a CBT-i specialist.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.