You've been there. It's 2 AM and you've woken up in a panic worrying about the many unknowns of the divorce that are weighing heavy on your mind. You're desperately tired. This is fourth night in a row where you've done this and each night it got harder and harder to fall back asleep. You sick and tired of being, well, tired and groggy the next day. You just want to get some sleep.
Many of us going through divorce struggle with divorce insomnia. We can't turn off the circular thoughts full of worry and anxiety and our nervous system is completely activated making it virtually impossible to fall back asleep and get a good night's rest when we need it most.
I'm going to teach you why this is happening and give you four solutions (plus a quick bonus solution at the end) to help you overcome your divorce insomnia. And these aren't your typical sleep tips that you hear on every other podcast, like drink some tea and make sure your room is dark. These are real solutions that focus directly on your mind and body working together to calm the nervous system when it gets activated to be able to help you fall asleep.
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Full Episode Transcript:
I’m Karin Nelson and you’re listening to Becoming You Again podcast episode number 64.
Welcome back to Becoming You Again. I’m your host Karin Nelson. I’m a certified divorce confidence coach and this is the podcast where I teach you how to reconnect with yourself, create emotional resiliency and live a truly independent life, so you can have an even better life than when you were married.
Welcome back my lovelies. I am so glad that you are here. So I have been having kind of some fun things going on with the podcast. It is growing so much and I love every second of it. Thank you to every single person who has listened to the episodes. Who has gotten back to me and told me how much these episodes mean to you, how they are affecting your life, how they are helping. I have gotten messages. People have been sharing. It has been growing like wildfire and I am so excited first of all that it is reaching so many people. So thank you very much for all of the shares, all of comments. All of the likes. What I would love most is if you would please just take a quick minute on whatever podcasting app that you listen to the podcast on and give it a quick rating. We have had a few and I am so thankful to the people who have been willing to take 10 seconds out of their listening time and give it a rating but I want this podcast to continue to grow, to continue to help women who are going through divorce just like you who are struggling and who haven’t heard of the podcast yet because the more ratings the podcast can get the more the algorithm picks up on whatever podcasting app the algorithm is reading it on and says oh people are responding to this podcast, we better share it in more places. Been better make some suggestions to more people that this might be a podcast that they would want to listen to. So do me a favor, right now, while you are on your phone, just open it up as you are listening right now and find where you rate. If it is an Apple podcast you scroll to the very bottom and hit the five star rating or whatever stars you want to get and if it is on Spotify I think it is just right there right when you open up the podcast, it is just right there on the main page. I don’t think you have to scroll to anything and you can just give it whatever rating you want. Five would be amazing but it is up to you. You guys are awesome. Thank you for taking that 10 seconds to just give it a quick rating and help get the word out about this podcast because I truly am so excited to be able to help so many women and men who are going through their divorce you are struggling with the mental and emotional toll that we all know happens as we go through a divorce. So thank you again. I appreciate it. I love you. You are amazing. Now let us jump into this podcast episode because today I am talking about divorce insomnia.
Now listen, we’ve all been there, it’s 2 am and you’re wide awake. Right. 20 minutes ago you were asleep and then you woke up out of a dead, deep sleep with the most anxiety ridden panic attack. Your heart was racing. There is questions about the future and they seem so pressing and they seem very important in this moment. Right. What’s going to happen if he doesn’t pay child support? What am I supposed to do if I have to move out of the house? How will I be able to find health insurance for myself when I do not even have a job? Why did he have to leave me? Why could not make him happy? How is this going to affect me and the kids? This is ruining my life. What if I never find anyone to be with again? What if the kids decide they don’t want to come back after they spend a weekend at dads house? Right. Does any of this sound familiar? These are the types of questions like mentor head in the middle of the night and our brain thinks that they are very important and they are very pressing and we must find the answer to them right now or at least think about them lots and lots and lots. Right. I know every single one of you are probably the majority of you can relate to what I am saying here. And the middle of the night is the time when our mind is at its most vulnerable and unmanaged. Because our nervous system is on high alert because here is what happens when our nervous system kicks into gear. Our nervous system cannot tell the difference between what the real story and what is pretend unless we make that differentiation for it. And to our nervous system and our primitive brain real physical danger and emotional danger are of equal threat and so the response is the same. It is not panic mode that we go into.
Often what is happening inside of us is during the day is we have distractions, and we have kids, and jobs, and errands, and things to focus our attention on and so it is much easier to kind of avoid these worries and insecurities and keep our nervous system more under control, like more in check. But then when we lay down to sleep or fall asleep or when we wake up in the panic it’s because our brain realizes oh now I have got her full attention, let us worry about all of these things that we should have been worrying about earlier today. And so we have worries about the past and then we make up all of the stories about this unknown future and these show up loud and strong and hard in our brain and in our nervous system. And our brain is really sneaky in this way because it thinks that worry is actually useful. It’s like it’s saying well since we don’t know what the future is going to look like especially now that we are going through divorce, I’m just going to worry about it and I am going to spin in the circular thinking thoughts to try and prevent anything bad from happening in the future and it is flawed really in thinking this. Because what it thinks is if I can just worry enough about something now maybe I can prevent something bad from happening in the future. And when we think about this logically of course that makes no sense. Right. Worrying about something now is not going to prevent something from happening in the future. All it is doing is making us feel anxious, feel panicked right now and if something were to happen in the future would also feel panicked and anxious in that moment as well. Worry is a liar and it especially likes to lie to us in the middle of the night.
But the problem is when we are tired and when we are desperate to fall back asleep logical thinking is the last thing that is on her mind. And so I am going to teach you some tips on what you can do, and you don’t have to go all the way to logical thinking but these tips are going to help you be able to calm your nervous system and get your brain in check so that you can hopefully either fall asleep at night or fall back asleep if you find yourself in this divorce insomnia mode.
I’m going to give you four tips and I really think that these are going to help you. I am excited to share them with you. And I want to remind you the key here is to try a couple of these because we don’t really know which ones are going to stick. Some things work for some people, other things work for other people. Maybe you need a combination of a couple or maybe just one but try them out and see how they work. Be open to hearing what they are and trying them and don’t decide right now, oh that’s not going to work for me because if you decide before you even try it of course it is not going to work for you. Right. So just be open to these possibilities. These might be things that you have not heard before or tried before and I promise you it’s not going to be a lot of like drink some tea before bed or make sure your room is dark. I think those things can definitely help but those are not the tips that I am going to be giving you today. All right?
So the first thing that is really going to help is to empty out your worry some thoughts before you go to bed. So what I mean by this is like keep a journal or a notebook by your bed and every night before you go to sleep take five minutes or a couple of minutes, however long, and just write out the thoughts that you’ve been a little worried or you’ve kind of been anxious about or just anything that is on your mind before you go to bed. And write it all out on paper. And then I want you to tell yourself that you can take as much time as you need tomorrow during the day to figure out any kind of solutions for these problems but right now it is sleep time and we are not going to worry about it or think about it right now. It’s kind of like you’re giving your brain reassurance that, yep these things are important and these things need to be figured out but the middle of the night is not the time to do it. Right. So you’re kind of like letting your brain go yeah I hear you, I know we have these worries. It is fine but we are not going to think about them right now. Right now we are going to sleep and tomorrow we can think about them and figure out solutions. And this may be exactly what your brain needs to just let go of figuring out all the things it believes are pressing even if it’s just pushing it off until the next morning.
The second thing that you can do is if you wake up in the middle of the night with all of these circular spinning thoughts about what if’s and oh no’s and what will happen thoughts is to widen the scope of your lens. And what I mean by that is instead of focusing on trying to tell yourself to stop thinking all of these individual thoughts, I want you to instead recognize that what’s really going on is you’re having intrusive thoughts. This is something that I teach when it comes to just your everyday worry and anxious thoughts but this can also be very useful in the middle of the night when you wake up in a panic. Right.
Because the tendency when we notice our mind spinning in thoughts is to tell ourselves, stop thinking about this thing. Stop thinking about this. I need to go back to sleep. And we kind of get mad at ourselves that we are thinking these things but what happens when we tell ourselves not think about something. We think about it more. Right. We can’t just say, don’t think about that big yellow bus. What did you immediately do? You thought about a big yellow bus. Right. And so when we can widen our lens and focus on thinking as something that we’re generally doing, rather than getting really, really specific about exactly what it is we’re thinking about, your brain will find it boring because you are just going to be like yep I’m thinking some intrusive thoughts instead of really focusing on the actual individual thoughts. We are just going to keep that lens really wide. Your brain is going to get bored and it is not going to think that these things are as important as it did five minutes ago and it is going to have a much easier time letting go of the need to protect you emotionally as your nervous system was triggered. Right. And you will be able to fall back asleep much easier. So when you notice this happening just remind yourself I am having intrusive thoughts. There goes those intrusive thoughts again. These are intrusive thoughts and your body will have a chance to feel more calm and peaceful as your nervous system re-regulates and you can fall back asleep.
Now the third thing that is going to help minimize the divorce insomnia is to get out of the past and get out of the future, which is where worry and anxiety love to live, right, and instead I really want you to focus on the present. This is a technique that I teach when if we are triggered and we’re having a freeze trauma response. What often happens when we go into freeze mode is we will ruminate in our head and we will ruminate in these spinning thoughts, again it’s our brains way of trying to figure out solutions to trying to fix or change the past or try to solve a problem in the future that hasn’t happened yet but it thinks that it is important.
So what I teach is to instead I want you to step into compassion for yourself and your body in these moments by bringing everything back to the present. And you can do this even in the middle of the night. I promise you, you can do this while you are laying in your bed. And you do this by focusing on your five senses. Okay. I just want you take each one at a time and notice them. What do you hear? Focus on it and direct your thoughts to only that sense, one at a time. After you’ve figured out what you hear, then move on to sight. Open your eyes and what can you make out in the dark? Figure these things out. Focus on it.
Next move on to taste. Are there any lingering tastes in your mouth from dinner or from when you brushed your teeth? Or maybe you had a drink of water. Next move on to smell. Is there a scent you notice in your room. If not, you can always bring your hands to your nose and maybe you can smell a scent of the lotion that you put on before bed or maybe the hand soap that you used. And last you would move on to touch. What can you feel around you as you lay on your bed? What is the texture of your sheets and pajamas? Can you notice the pressure of your body against your bed, against your mattress without moving to actually feel it and no that it is there? By redirecting your focus away from the past and away from the future and instead really focusing on what is present right in front of you right now, your mind will stop racing and that emotional response that you are having when your nervous system kicks in will become grounded and calm and it will allow you to fall asleep or return to sleep. Because these are things you can do even when you are getting into bed and you have not fallen asleep yet. Right.
And then the last thing that you can do is decide that maybe it’s just not a problem if you don’t get “enough sleep” and putting quotes around “enough sleep” because first of all what does that even mean? Right. Maybe it’s just even a problem. And this is my favorite one because this is the one that I have used to help with my own sleep story. But again I think it might be a combination of a couple of these. Try them out and see what works best for you. Now I teach this all the time but what we think often manifests herself in our lives and if we are continually thinking and complaining and talking about how we are not getting a good night sleep or we are not getting enough sleep or we just don’t think that we are good sleepers than we are going to continue to prove that to be true.
And for me personally for a really long time I have had this story that I’m just not a good sleeper. I wake up a lot. I sleep very light. I have to go to the bathroom at least once. And so I would wake up and I would feel groggy and tired and sluggish throughout my day because I was constantly telling myself I just didn’t sleep good. I’m not a good sleeper. I never get a good night’s sleep. I had this story. And here’s what’s really fascinating about this. Who gets to decide if you’ve gotten enough sleep or if it was a good sleep or if you are a good sleeper? You get to decide. There is no set definition that says what ‘good’ sleep even means. Good is a very subjective term and if you want to decide for yourself that you are going to get enough sleep, that you are a good sleeper, that you sleep well or that you get exactly the right amount of sleep that you need you can totally tell yourself that story.
Now of course there are societal norms that we can use as guidelines to decide for ourselves if we’re getting ‘enough’ sleep but those are just guidelines. You can decide for yourself anything you that want and here’s what’s really interesting. If you continue to tell yourself that you’re not a good sleeper or you’re not getting enough sleep and if you wake up in the middle of the night and you worry about it and you kind of are looking at the clock like oh if I go back to sleep right now I might get five hours of sleep if I’m lucky. Or maybe I’ll be able to fall asleep faster. Why can’t I fall asleep? And you’re constantly spinning in this story that it is taking you forever to fall back asleep, then your brain will latch onto that story and make it mean that something has gone wrong and this not being able to sleep is a big problem. And your brain will see it as a big problem.
When we believe that something is a problem our nervous system gets activated and goes into panic mode and what have I just explained with all of the other three situations? When you go into panic mode and your brain believes that there is a problem, like not being able to fall asleep or looking at the clock and thinking oh no, I’m only going to get 5 hours and now I’m going to be super tired tomorrow, then it’s going to be almost impossible for your nervous system to calm down and deregulate so that you can fall asleep. So it is like this cycle. You believe that you are not a good sleeper and that you have not been sleeping well and that this is a problem. Your brain latches onto this idea that it is a problem which then excites your nervous system into panic mode which then reinforces to your brain that yet this is a problem just like I thought and you prove to yourself over and over again that you are not getting enough sleep. That you can’t sleep and that you are not good sleeper. It’s it fascinating how we do this ourselves? I find a passing.
But it we decide that it’s really not a problem if we wake up in the night, and it’s really not a problem if we get 5 hours of sleep or that we’ll always get the right amount that we need to do the things that we need to do the next day, then our brain doesn’t see this lack of sleep as a problem and it will keep you more calm at night when you wake up which will help you be able to fall back asleep more easily, more quickly.
And this is truly what I have had to do with my own sleep story. It’s something that I’m still working on. I am still trying to get better at this but I started to kind of shift this idea because I realized that my story was keeping me awake in the middle of the night. I was activating my nervous system because I thought that it was a problem that I wasn’t a good sleeper and then I couldn’t fall back asleep. Now I am learning to go off of a new story that I’m totally capable of functioning at the level that I need to with the amount of sleep that I am able to get at night. Do you see how I shifted that story? And now my brain doesn’t think it is a problem if I wake up the middle of the night. And it’s so much easier for me to fall back asleep if this happens.
So this is how you can get to a new story about your sleep if you want. Often this is just going to start with asking lots of questions, and the question why is like this magical question that you can ask yourself at any time to really help you dig deeper and deeper and deeper. So this is what questioning why or questioning your story can kind of look like to help you figure out what a better story will be.
You always want to start with the main story that you’ve got going on. So I’m going to give you two examples here. So for example, if I don’t fall back asleep now I won’t be able to get everything done that I need to tomorrow. Why is that a problem if you don’t get everything done on your list? Because then I’ll have things piling up for the next day and the next and it will become never ending? Why do you need to accomplish all of these tasks? So I can feel accomplished and fulfilled? Why do you need to feel accomplished and fulfilled? So that I can believe that I’m worthy and valuable.
In the next example is, I’ve only gotten four hours of sleep and now I’m going to be tired all day tomorrow. Why is it a problem if you’re tired? Because then I’ll be short tempered with my kids. Why is it a problem if you’re short tempered with your kids? Because then I’m not going to be a good mom to my kids. Why is it a problem if you’re not a good mom? Because if I’m a good mom then I can love myself and if I’m a bad mom then I can’t.
So it’s interesting, right. I’ve given you these two scenarios where we are digging into the main story and figuring out what the underlying belief is if you don’t get a good night’s sleep and when you really dig in and question and asked why this is a problem so much of this ends up being about giving ourselves permission to see our work and our value and to love ourselves and if the ultimate goal is to believe that you have inherent worth and value then getting one step closer means letting go of the story that it is a problem if you don’t have enough sleep or if you don’t get a certain amount or if you wake up in the middle of the night.
Work on your story. What does it mean, why is it a problem for you if you don’t get the amount of sleep that you think that you have to get or why is it a problem for you if you wake up? What are you making that mean about you? And really dig in and figure out the underlying meaning and then decide for yourself what is a better story that I can tell myself instead which is what I have been doing as well. You can decide that this is truly just not a problem any longer.
And lastly, as a bonus I want to mention that if you’ve done all of these things and you’re still kind of struggling with being able to sleep at night or we can happen not being able to go back to sleep, go see your doctor. There is no shame that needs to be associated with asking for help through maybe a medication, a prescription, maybe CBD or some other way that your doctor might advise for you. Just go see your doctor. It’s totally fine for you to get the help that you need as you are going through something like a divorce. There are going to be struggles and if you can employ whatever means necessary to help you move through this in the most effective way then I say go for it. I am all in on all of the ways right.
Alright my lovelies. Use much for being here. That is what I have for you today. I love you all. And I will talk to you next week.
If you like what you heard on today’s podcast and you want to know more about working 1:1 with me, you can go to www.karinnelsoncoaching.com and schedule your free consult to find out more. That’s www dot Karin nelson coaching dot com.
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