When you have initial insomnia, it means you get into bed, and then lie there for who knows how long — an hour, two hours, five hours — before you fall asleep – if you ever do, that is.
It’s a miserable form of insomnia, but having suffered from initial insomnia myself for months and years, I can confirm that it may have one small benefit:
If you do fall asleep far into the night or early morning, at least you have gotten your bit of shut-eye closer to your wake-up time. This tends to make you feel a little less tired than you would feel if you had middle insomnia or terminal insomnia (where you fall asleep earlier but wake up in the wee hours and can’t return to sleep).
On the other hand, if you have serious sleep anxiety, the longer you stay awake, the harder it is to fall asleep because the worry cycle kicks in.
I have had all three types of insomnia, and none is pleasant, of course. Eventually you just feel tired no matter what.
Initial Insomnia means being turned away at the gates of Slumber Town
Most people who have initial insomnia tend to have some sort of interference that keeps them from relaxing enough to get into the second sleep stage. They might manage to get to Sleep Stage 1 OK — feeling drowsy, as if they could fall asleep.
But it doesn’t work out. Even if they get to that drowsy stage, where their thoughts become vague and the mind gets quieter, something happens to get them wide awake again.
This “something” could be mental… such as a thought, worry, or feeling that pops up right at this moment of relaxation.
It could be physical… such as a tickle in the throat, a pain, an itch, or some other discomfort.
It could be environmental… such as a noise, a movement of the bed from your partner or a pet, a light coming on, or a change in room temperature.
Whatever the cause, it’s supremely frustrating. Sometimes it seems like the world is conspiring against us to make sure we don’t fall asleep at the moment when we think we just might, if all conditions were perfect. Rationally, we know that’s not the case, at least if we have managed to stay fairly sane through all this. But it just SEEMS that way sometimes.
Hyperarousal at work…
While some people with initial insomnia get to Stage 1 of the sleep cycle, others never even get that far. They just stay mentally alert, wide awake and restless from the moment they lie down until sleep finally overtakes them hours later… if they’re lucky, that is.
Both of these scenarios-the one where you feel sleepy and then get wide awake, and the one where you never get sleepy at all-are classic symptoms of hyperarousal of the nervous system.
Stress, worry and initial insomnia
If you have primary insomnia, that is, insomnia not directly caused by a specific physical condition, and your type is initial insomnia, it is very likely that…
…You have either stressful or stimulating thoughts that pop into your mind as soon as you’re lying flat in your bed in a quiet, dark room.
The reason you have these thoughts come up is because you’ve mostly ignored them during the day. So you have “unfinished business” that your unconscious mind figures you want to resolve at the first opportunity. Unfortunately, for most busy people, that first opportunity comes at the same time you need to get some sleep.
This is why it is so important to set up your “thinking appointments” – a system of shifting your nighttime thoughts to certain limited time periods during the day. You can find more information about this in this article about sleep and stress and also in the cure-for-worry article.
It is essential to have the feeling that your day is “done” when you get into bed at night if you want a restful, peaceful night’s sleep.
It works for “night-owls” as well as for worriers.
If you are a “night owl” with initial insomnia, you aren’t necessarily a worrier. In fact you might feel pretty happy while you’re awake all night, working on your projects or creative ideas. And this is fine, as long as you’re happy during the day as well. If your schedule is working out for you, no reason to change, right?
On the other hand, you might have good reasons to change it, and the same appointment-system works as well for you as it does for people who can’t sleep because of stress, worry or other negative emotions. Read more about the night-owl syndrome here…
How to help yourself if you have initial insomnia
The best place to start is the insomnia self-help tutorial. Follow all the steps, paying close attention to the ones that help you relieve stress and feel that your day is “finished.”
And if you are a caffeine-addict, it’s a no-brainer. Cut out the coffee, colas, chocolate and energy drinks, even if you think you’re not affected by them. You have no idea…