Many insomniacs experience a strange phenomenon when they start sleeping better. It goes sort of like this: you are finally getting more hours, falling asleep earlier and staying asleep longer, waking up less, and so on. You are even approaching what used to be your “normal” sleep schedule before insomnia ruined your life.
This what you’ve been waiting for all these days and weeks! Just a short time ago sleeping well was just a fantasy and now it’s happened! You should be feeling great with lots of newfound energy or at least a break from all that heavy fatigue, but guess what… you’re not feeling so hot.
To begin with, the fatigue has not gone away. You’re still feeling tired… in some cases maybe even more than you were before. You’re not exactly a bundle of joyfulness either. A little mentally sluggish, maybe some noticeable brain fog. Not much enthusiasm and maybe even a little depression. This isn’t what you were expecting.
Nothing is wrong. You are simply going through the typical recovery process, which strangely enough, can keep you feeling a bit under the weather even after your sleep has improved. It’s entirely normal and very common to have this reaction and it can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, but it will eventually go away. You could call it the finally-sleeping-better-after-months-of-insomnia hangover. Well, maybe that’s a bit long.
Sometimes this hangover also affects the quality of your sleep. It seems lighter, more restless, and not as refreshing as it used to be. This too, while disappointing, is normal and very common. The quality of your sleep will improve over time.
The Body Is Adjusting
Most insomniacs don’t realize that during a bout with insomnia, their bodies have made adjustments to cope with and compensate for the lack of sleep and the physical and emotional fallout from it. So it makes sense that when you’re getting back to a more normal amount of sleep, your body has to make another adjustment.
Now of course I’m not a sleep expert and know next to nothing about physiology. But I do know that insomnia is both influenced by and influences, various systems of the body, especially the endocrine system which produces the hormones that manage all the other systems. I know, very scientific, right? It’s all I’ve got, but it’s enough to make the point.
We don’t need to understand the intricate functions of our adrenal glands, for example, to understand that they influence how we’re feeling at any given moment. If we’re dealing with a stressful situation, certain hormones like cortisol are being released to help us gather the physical and mental energy we need to get through it. After the situation is resolved, different hormones are released to help us recover, and some of those may have the side effects of sluggishness, sleepiness and even mild depression.
Our bodies are constantly making adjustments to stay as healthy as it can, and most of the time they can do it fairly quickly. But sometimes not quite so quickly. And that is where patience and reassuring self-talk come in.
Talk Back to Your Annoying Pal, the Anxious Voice
It’s very easy to go down the anxiety path, especially when we are in a vulnerable recovery stage from something as disrupting (not to mention annoying and frustrating) as chronic or long-term insomnia. Every little problem or obstacle during the recovery period can get us a little off-balance, a little out-of-whack. And of course, relapse seems to be always lurking around the corner.
This is why it’s so important to keep up your CBT dialogues even after you’re sleeping better. You still need to address those lurking worries and anxieties about sleep, such as—
Why aren’t I feeling more rested? Why am I still so tired? Why can’t I feel more cheerful? How can I stop worrying about sleep so much even after I’m sleeping better?
And your reassuring rational voice needs to say things like…
This is normal. I’ll feel better soon, but I have to get through an adjustment period first. I will try to be more patient with myself and more encouraging. I have made progress but I will make even more when I finally stop worrying about sleep so much. This is a physical reaction to the change in my sleeping patterns and I will just take care of myself a little more until things settle down. And so on.
There is no quick cure to the post-insomnia hangover. Just keep giving yourself a lot of understanding and encouragement and time to recover, and if necessary, the gift of a helpful CBT dialogue.