Are you having trouble sleeping at night? If so you’re not alone. According to SleepMed Inc, “About 20-40% of all adults have insomnia in the course of any year.” To help understand what causes insomnia and you can overcome insomnia, I have interviewed Dr. Terry Tempinski.
Tell me a little bit about yourself?
“I have a PhD in clinical psychology and am fully licensed in Michigan. I have a solo private practice in Farmington Hills, MI and have been practicing about 30 years. I work exclusively with adults and enjoy my work very much. One thing I am quite excited about these days is the opportunity provided by the internet. It used to be that when a client had to leave town, their treatment had to be put on hold. With the increasingly common use of webcams, however, clients now have the option of continuing their meetings. Skype is great! Moreover, I used to get emails from out-of-towners wanting treatment, and now I can accommodate them.”
What causes insomnia?
“Insomnia can be associated with physical and/or psychological factors. Medically, I believe there are conditions such as hormonal imbalances that are frequently known to be associated with insomnia (e.g, low estrogen and/or testosterone), although medical causes are not my area of expertise. I think it is fair to say that the majority of insomnia cases are attributable to psychological factors.”
“The best way to begin to understand insomnia is to recognize that sleep is ordinarily a very natural process that is crucial to our health and feeling of well-being. Therefore, when a person is unable to sleep, the implication is that there are significant interferences, deemed by our unconscious mind, to be more important than sleep. In other words, at that particular moment in time, one’s unconscious is unsettled for some reason and decides that is more important that you allow yourself time to resolve whatever is causing the state of turmoil than to sleep.”
“Consciously, we would typically prefer to postpone focusing on whatever is causing us unrest, so that we can get a good night’s sleep. With sleep, however, as with many other matters, the unconscious mind rules.”
“Most people have had some experience with insomnia. In all cases of insomnia that are determined by psychological factors, the person’s unconscious is in turmoil for some reason. Typically insomnia is intermittent and correlates with stress. In these cases, the insomniac is often aware, or conscious, of the reasons for their insomnia. For example, if a person has an argument with their spouse or suddenly loses their job and then cannot sleep for a period of time, this makes sense. Their unconscious mind, in effect, says: This friction in my marriage, or this job loss, whatever the case may be, is not acceptable and something must be done about it; the insomnia functions to “help” the individual find more time to contemplate the options by sacrificing sleeping time.”
“Alternatively, insomnia can become a chronic problem, and in these cases the individual is often unaware of the factors, which are contributing to their sleeplessness. This is typified by the individual who lies awake for hours, unaware of why they cannot sleep.”
“In order to understand the latter type of insomnia, a word is in order about our defense systems. When things are rough for us emotionally, our defenses unwittingly kick in. As a result, troubling feelings can get pushed into the unconscious mind, causing a state of unconscious unrest. When we try to sleep, unbeknownst to us, these feelings continue to gnaw at us. The troublesome emotions, however, typically remain unconscious, hence the experience of unrest without awareness of the emotional upset.”
What type of impact does insomnia have on a person’s overall life?
“We all know how much better we feel when we get a good night’s rest. We feel happier, more energetic, and the world just looks a heck of lot more desirable when we are rested. Recent research even shows that lack of sleep is associated with weight gain. Our bodies have only two ways to get energy: sleep and calories. So, without sleep, we unwittingly try to compensate with excess calories. People who are sleep deprived are often mildly depressed, irritable, cannot focus well, and physically feel poorly. If the insomnia becomes chronic, these symptoms can give rise to difficulties in all aspects of our lives: work, love and play. This is not rocket science; if we are exhausted, we don’t do our best at work, we are not as thoughtful or patient with others, and we’re probably either avoiding play or at least not fully enjoying ourselves.”
How can someone overcome insomnia?
“The intermittent types of insomnia, which are linked to stress in our lives, are much easier to overcome. Since in these cases we are often aware of why we cannot sleep, it is helpful to allow ourselves time alone with our feelings. Meditating does wonders to foster feelings of inner peace. There is no right way to meditate; one simply needs to sit quietly, close one’s eyes and breathe, trying to clear one’s mind of thoughts. People who meditate regularly are often able to get some distance on their feelings and realize that, regardless of what is happening, they can make peace with it.”
“The more chronic, tenacious cases of insomnia are obviously more difficult to overcome and can require the assistance of a professional. Unfortunately, sleeping pills are often too easy to get and, as most people know, are addictive. Since becoming addicted to sleeping pills only creates a second problem, it is much better to go after the cause of the insomnia than to try to suppress the symptom; forcing oneself to sleep with pills will not resolve what is causing the insomnia.”
What type of professional help is available for someone who has insomnia?
“For someone who have been troubled by insomnia for several months, particularly if they are unaware of the reasons for their insomnia, a visit with their internist or family doctor is a good place to start. If their doctor finds no physical reasons for their insomnia, an evaluation by a mental health professional is a good idea.”
“Our minds are so complex, that it is helpful to get an opinion from someone who understands the complex ways in which the unconscious mind works. A good psychologist, for example, can help a person identify areas that may be causing them emotional unrest. Once these factors are identified, the person then is in a better position to get their hands around them, so to speak, so that they can be mastered or resolved. The process of psychotherapy helps shift the balance so that instead of being haunted by factors that prevent us, for example, from sleeping, we are proactively seeking out these factors, talking about them, appreciating their origins and hopefully resolving them. A notion we work with in psychotherapy is that feelings are never right or wrong, they are simply true and also that there are always reasons for our feelings.”
Thank you Dr. Tempinski for doing the interview on how to overcome insomnia. For more information about Dr. Tempinski or her work check out her website on www.DrTempinski.com.
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