If you have intermittent insomnia, it means that you have episodes of insomnia that come and go.
While it’s not a consistent pattern for you, it can still be disruptive. Your insomnia isn’t chronic, but you might find that your tendency to have sleepless nights causes you quite a bit of misery.
I had intermittent insomnia before it became chronic. In fact, I can go back to teenage years to trace my tendency to have insomnia, even though I had it infrequently. Of course eventually it turned into a full-blown chronic insomnia condition.
This is why you need to take intermittent insomnia seriously. Not only can it disrupt your life, but it can turn into chronic insomnia if you’re not aware of what causes your insomnia to begin with, or how to treat it.
The pattern begins…
The problem with intermittent insomnia is not the frequency. That’s usually nothing to worry about. Everyone experiences an occasional sleepless night now and then. It’s easy to make up for the lost sleep and the fatigue disappears with a couple of good nights. There are no serious health effects other than feeling tired the day after an episode.
No, the problem with intermittent insomnia goes much deeper than frequency. It’s the cause and correlation that you have to deal with. And what does that mean?
Well, if you have this condition, it’s quite likely that you can detect a definite pattern in it.
You might find, for example, that it’s associated with an event that gives you a lot of anxiety, such as an exam, starting a new job, starting school in the fall, attending a social event, getting a promotion at work, and so on.
The anxiety connection can be pretty strong in intermittent insomnia. I even heard about someone, a friend of a friend, who could not pass the bar exam because he could not sleep the night before.
The lack of sleep seriously affected this person’s cognitive ability. And as any lawyer knows, the bar exam is not a time when you can bluff your way through or “call it in,” so to speak. You have to be in good mental shape to pass.
Now, to me, this sounds like the perfect scenario for a sleeping pill. If the insomnia was so specifically related to a relatively rare event, why not just take medication and be done with it?
As it turned out, sleeping pills didn’t work, because while they did provide the sleep, they too caused mental sluggishness. No improvement.
When intermittent insomnia is caused by anxiety, it’s usually either anticipatory or performance anxiety.
Anticipatory anxiety means you fear an event because you are certain it won’t go well. This could be the case if you can’t sleep before a medical procedure or any event that holds importance for you or someone close to you.
A parent might not sleep well before their child starts school, for example, even though it’s the child who must face the ordeal.
Performance anxiety means you doubt your ability to pull off a good performance, whether work-related, school-related, family-related, friend-related, and so on.
So you won’t sleep the night before you must give a presentation or make an important sales call or start a new job or host an event you’ve organized.
As strong as the insomnia-anxiety connection is, there are still other causes of intermittent insomnia.
And not all of them are mental or emotional causes. They can also be physical and/or behavioral. Intermittent insomnia can be associated with drinking too much or eating the wrong foods, staying out too late or ignoring your need to sleep until you get your circadian rhythms out of whack.
And I think it’s also important to note that some mental or emotional causes might not necessarily be negative. You might find yourself becoming too excited or over-stimulated to sleep from events that happened during the day.
Even sheer happiness can cause occasional insomnia. Of course, we usually don’t mind that type. “Good” insomnia – that’s what I call not sleeping due to wonderful things happening in your life – is usually not anything to worry about… unless…
…it joins in with your pattern of intermittent insomnia and reinforces that pattern, and brings you more difficulty.
But I think it is getting clear by now that the most important thing is to find that pattern… which will then reveal the causes… so you can take steps now to treat your insomnia effectively and avoid more problems in the future.
And the pattern will reveal, in most cases of intermittent insomnia, your inability to “wind down” and “let go” of events, problems, worries, feelings, thoughts, and other realities of life at the appropriate time — at night or before you go to sleep.
My claim throughout this website is that you don’t need to “solve” all your life problems in order to sleep better.
- You don’t have to become a serene, calm, centered, happy person to sleep well.
- You don’t need to be worry-free, neurosis-free, anxiety-free, or problem-free in order to be insomnia-free!
- You simply have to learn the techniques and methods that good sleepers use, usually unconsciously, to feel that your day is finished, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet, and so you can let go, relax, and slip into blissful slumber.
As insomniacs, we have to apply those techniques deliberately and diligently, over a period of time, maintaining patience as we go along.
Luckily, it is not difficult to do this. There are just two steps: practice good sleep hygiene, and follow the self-help tutorial.