Contrary to popular belief, people don't usually suffer from insomnia because of insufficient sleepiness. Given our poor sleep patterns, most of us are probably excessively sleepy much of the time, and we still suffer from insomnia. In fact, the etiology of insomnia is commonly associated with generalized biological and psychological hyperarousal—a kind of excessive wakefulness.
Christina's days were filled with the extraordinary demands of ordinary life. Like most insomniacs, she'd become habituated to an accelerated pace of life, which left her with virtually no time for herself; no time to rest. She routinely carried waking-world activity—work-related reading, household finances, and other chores—into her nights. She didn't even begin to try to rest until she got into bed—a bit like not hitting the brakes until the car is already in the garage.
I believe that rest and sleep occur on a continuum—we must learn to rest before we can sleep well. But true rest is a rare experience in modern life. For many, rest is about watching a movie, going hiking, playing tennis, or socializing. Although obviously worthwhile activities, these are examples of recreation, not rest. For others, the notion of rest conjures up thoughts of a martini, a joint, or a stupefyingly oversized meal.
Christina quickly realized that she was confusing rest with recreation. Sensitizing clients to such distinctions is essential. We then examined her rest-impeding beliefs, such as her anxious conviction that she absolutely needed to complete certain tasks before she could rest. The tension in her face eased as she considered letting go of this dysfunctional attitude. We continued with a discussion of formal rest practices, particularly the 4-7-8 breath (see sidebar page 37). Implicit throughout our discussion was my offer of permission and encouragement for her to rest.
The intentional introduction of rest practices into one's life helps reinstate our lost sense of rhythmicity. Even brief rest practices by day—gazing out the window aimlessly, sitting quietly or meditating, taking a stroll—modulate the incessant buzz of common waking consciousness and help us diminish excessive wakefulness, to slow down and truly relax as a transition to healthy sleep.