I’m an overachiever, a perfectionist. I like to do things well and I like things done well. I have a hard time accepting less than awesome. When my life is at its best I’m looking to learn how to make it even better. In fact, one of the most useful sayings I’ve come across and one that I use almost daily is, “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing wrong.” Yes you read that correctly. I know the traditional version says that it’s worth doing right but that one doesn’t work for me. If I do something “right” it will never get done and I’ll find myself forever spinning my wheels trying to make it perfect. In fact, if you notice some typos or the grammar isn’t just right in my blog posts or my book, it’s because I decided to “do it wrong.” Otherwise you wouldn’t get to read it for another 10 years.
This applies to my work, my life, and my health. I want things to be the best they can be. Like all of us, I’m not always successful and there are always areas of my life I want to be different. But I’m always working to create the absolute best life possible for my family, myself, and everyone I come in contact with. I want to do this by taking as much action as possible. I don’t just want things to be awesome or think about them being awesome. I want to make them awesome. That’s just who I am. I’m also an ex-insomniac.
Insomniac and Night Owl
If you ask my mother, she’ll tell you about the endless nights spent awake with her baby boy who never wanted to sleep. I don’t remember this so I don’t think it bothered me nearly as much as it bothered her. As I grew older, my refusal to sleep turned into an inability to sleep. I was a night owl. I just wasn’t sleepy when bed time came around and couldn’t fall asleep no matter how hard I tried (This is when I fell in love with original Star Trek reruns). Other nights, I would wake up in the middle of the night and lie in bed thinking, worrying, or just wide awake for no reason. Moving to another room to sleep on the couch worked for a while. I learned to worry about my sleep in the evenings and count the hours of sleep I was losing as the night wore on. I learned of the frustration and loneliness of lying awake when everyone else was sleeping. I learned how hard it is to be the person you want to be when lack of sleep makes you so terribly tired, unmotivated, and uninterested in family, friends, work, and fun. You can imagine how well the combination of perfectionist and insomniac go together.
Perfectionist and Insomniac
I graduated high school and “celebrated” my 18th birthday in basic training for the United States Air Force. As you can guess, I fell in love, got married, and we had a beautiful baby girl the day after my 22nd birthday. I enjoyed my time in the Air Force but after almost seven years I decided to leave the Air Force and pursue my training in psychology. I completed a bachelor’s degree and went straight into graduate school and began to follow the path to become a psychologist. Insomnia was a constant companion.
I wanted my life to be awesome. I wanted to be an awesome father, husband, soldier, student, etc… I did my best to push through and pretend everything was fine. But, like I said, it’s hard to be the person you want to be when lack of sleep makes you so terribly tired, unmotivated, and uninterested. I was unhappy, even miserable. I was not happy with myself (nowhere near living up to my perfect expectations). I was not happy with my family or my work because I was so tired and moody.
I didn’t want to think about sleep. I just wanted to focus on living my best life, but it wasn’t that easy. It was impossible live the life I wanted to live without worrying about sleep. So, over the years I tried everything I could find. Relaxation tapes, counseling, sleeping pills, alcohol, different bedtime routines, and avoiding caffeine. I’m also an anxious kind of guy (goes along with the perfectionist type) so I even tried medications for that. Nothing worked all that well.
What I realize now is that all my efforts and the efforts of my doctors and counselors to restore healthy sleep were lacking a fundamental understanding of natural sleep and how it goes awry. What’s also clear is that I did the best I could with the knowledge and tools I had available. For that matter, my healthcare providers also did their best. All their recommendations and prescriptions were appropriate and represented the standard of care at the time. However, none of this led me out of insomnia.
Discovery: Personal Sleep Transformation
Then I made a discovery that has shaped my life ever since. In the spring of 2003 I was in the middle of my doctoral training. A class on abnormal psychology and another research paper. The assignment? Pick a category of mental disorders, write a paper on it and make a presentation to the class. When I saw sleep disorders on the list I jumped at the chance to learn more. There was no other aspect of “abnormal psychology” more relevant to me personally. I ultimately wrote several papers on sleep and insomnia throughout graduate school.
Although the papers I wrote were clinical and “scientificy” my experiences around what I learned were deeply personal. I took what I learned about cognitive-behavioral treatments for insomnia (what I now call sleep transformation training) and began to follow them intensely in full perfectionist mode. I changed my sleep schedules. I changed the way I responded when I couldn’t sleep. I began to understand my circadian rhythm and how to manipulate my internal clock. This mysterious problem called insomnia now made sense. What’s more amazing, I began to experience a powerful sense of confidence and control around my sleep.
As I write this, it’s been more than 10 years since I stumbled on this insomnia cure and experienced my own sleep transformation. Much of what I learned and used to overcome my own insomnia is in this book. I still struggle from time to time (believe it or not, some insomnia is normal) but my sleep and my life have been better ever since.
But I wasn’t satisfied with my own radical sleep transformation…
Insomniac to Insomnia Expert
Why had I gone through the first 30 years of my life spinning my wheels, wrestling with insomnia, and trying to pretend like everything was okay when there was a solution hiding in the cold dark basement of science since the 1970’s? For that matter, why was it hidden? Why weren’t doctors and nurses and therapists shouting it from the rooftops?
The answer, as I saw it at the time, was that there was no good answer. I was a young, ambitious and zealous grad student who had just reclaimed his vigor from the jaws of insomnia. I had found my mission and I was off to save the world from insomnia and our broken healthcare system’s failure to make the cure available.
From that point forward my training was focused on two goals:
· Becoming a psychologist and behavioral sleep specialist
· Getting healthcare providers to share these methods of treating insomnia without pills
I did everything I could to learn about insomnia. What causes it? What makes it better? How does it interact with health and illness? I did everything I could to learn about sleeping pills. How do they work? How are they used by insomniacs? How are they viewed and experienced by insomniacs? I also did everything I could to learn how doctors think about and interact with insomnia and sleep medication. I wanted to understand these things as deeply as possible.
I looked at thousands of scientific studies. I attended training after training and conference after conference. I wrote a dissertation on how to screen for sleep disorders in primary care; I gave presentations to anyone who would listen. I continued this after graduation and after becoming licensed as a psychologist. I started my own original research and published in sleep medicine, family medicine, and neurology journals. I started treating 100s of insomniacs per year.
When I started this process I was optimistic and ambitious. On the heels of my personal sleep transformation, I was energized to become a world-class expert in the field of insomnia and sleep disorders. I’ve done that and it continues to be immensely gratifying to lead others through their own Guided Sleep Discovery™ and Radical Sleep Transformation™. I am energized to help even more people discover their own transformation with the launch of The Insomnia Clinic early in 2015.
Unfortunately progress toward the second goal, the one about getting healthcare providers to share these methods of fixing insomnia without pills, led straight to frustration and disillusionment.
Read more about my experience in the post: Frustration and Disillusionment: Why Your Doctor Won’t Offer You Sleep Transformation