Written by: Lana Walsh, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
There I was, in the biggest meeting of my life, just four seats from the Premier of Alberta, a part of a delegation of student association presidents bringing the student perspective on government cuts to post-secondary education. About 30 people were sitting around the table, mostly other student representatives, the Premier, Education Minister, and some other government aids.
I was struggling to pay attention and get involved in the conversation because I started nodding off. NODDING OFF! Each time my eyes popped open; someone was staring at me. OMG! How embarrassing! How do you recover from nodding off in a meeting with the Premier at 21 years old?
Obviously, I needed to get more sleep!
I spent more than 30 years half asleep. When I was in high school, my parents thought I was a typical teenager, staying up too late with a bad attitude. But at night, I tossed and turned and woke several times to what felt like a boa constrictor wrapped around my body. I would get out of bed and rearrange my nightgown so I could breathe again. Finally, one night, I just tore it off and threw it on the floor in the hopes that I would finally be able to sleep through the night. But the months of insomnia didn’t end. The alarm would ring in the morning, and when I couldn’t drag myself out of bed, I would tell my mom I was too sick to go to school.
When I read an article about restless leg syndrome (RLS), I knew right away that was my problem, although it would take another decade to have it formally diagnosed and treated. RLS is an uncontrollable urge to move your legs that gets worse with fatigue. When you try to stop the motion, you get a pain sensation that can only be relieved by more movement. People describe the pain differently – some call it a tingling or crawling sensation. My great-grandmother called it her “creepy legs.” For me, it’s a painful burning in the thighs.
In the middle of the night, this movement will keep me awake, tossing, turning, and praying for an end so I can sleep. Instead, I need to get up and do some squats, high knees, and kickbacks, all in the hopes that the energy will be “worked out” so I can relax long enough to go to sleep.
RLS kept me from getting good restful sleep, making it seem impossible for me to get out of bed when I needed. What I didn’t know was that the tossing and turning from RLS caused me to develop insomnia which is a learned behaviour. Over time, the subconscious brain learns that the bed is not for sleeping but for being active, stressed, anxious, creative, and all the other things you think or do during the night.
My insomnia would keep me awake for hours in the middle of the night and I found it hard to drag myself out of bed. I’d hit snooze at least half a dozen times before I could muster the energy to get up. Always calculating in my head, “If I snooze one more time, I won’t shave my legs.” “If I snooze one more time, I won’t wash my hair.” “If I snooze one more time, I can skip breakfast.” And on and on it went – sacrificing one more part of my morning routine.
I was late to work nearly every single day – so often that co-workers would comment when I arrived on time. I nodded off in the afternoons sitting at my desk, in meetings… anytime I sat still for more than 15 minutes. I spent many days reading through all the subscription emails and blogs that I set aside “to read” at another time because I didn’t have the energy to think about work or try to figure out what needed to be done. I called in sick more often than I should’ve because I was just too exhausted to get out of bed.
Every job I had always started great. I am intelligent, work quickly, and I’m not afraid to make decisions or admit to mistakes. New bosses loved me. But soon, my lateness, sick days, and unproductivity would have my employers questioning my abilities. I would start to feel tension every time I got into the office, late as usual. Maybe it wasn’t them, but my guilty feelings – like my exhaustion wasn’t a good enough reason to not be at work, or productive.
If you have a new baby, you get all kinds of sympathy for your exhaustion. But when you say, “I just can’t sleep,” you get crickets. I would tell my boss I had insomnia, and they would nod as if they understood. “I’ve had bad nights, too,” they’d say. But they didn’t understand. They couldn’t... If you’ve never had trouble sleeping 4, 5, or 6 days a week – for years or decades – you cannot understand the utter exhaustion a person with insomnia feels. Even when you’re lucky enough to get a decent night’s rest, you still feel drained.
I would start to worry about every little word that my boss uttered and evaluate it for hidden meaning. “Did that mean she was upset with me?” “Is she questioning my abilities?” These words swirled and ran rampant in my mind in the middle of the night, keeping me awake, and making my insomnia worse. Soon, I would be looking for a new job, to get away from the fear that was overpowering me. And I kept going, new job to new job, except once, I never stayed anywhere for more than 2 years.
Throughout the years I was prescribed different sleeping pills – the first at 23 that made me groggy for 2 days. Around 35 I tried Zopiclone, then a few months later switched to Trazodone. They didn’t work – I still had trouble sleeping 5 days a week. But I believed so strongly that without them, I wouldn’t get the 2 nights of sleep I was getting.
I read everything I could find about “how to sleep better.” Blackout blinds – check. Remove distractions – check. Right bed, cool temperature, melatonin, no caffeine – check, check, check, check. I tried every sleep hygiene hack I ever heard about including banana peel tea. Yep, I was that desperate.
Then 2020 and COVID put us into lockdown, and soon my job was no more. I put my stuff in storage, moved into my mom’s basement, and worried about finding another job – one that would pay as well, and be tolerant of my “poor working habits.”
I was open to trying anything, so when I received an invite to an online summit, I said yes and that completely changed my life. One speaker shared his inspiring story of using EFT (emotional freedom techniques, aka tapping), to overcome his fear of public speaking. After a short 5-minute demonstration, I noticed a significant shift in my anxiety, and I became obsessed with learning more about it.
A few weeks into using tapping on my worries and stresses, I started to notice a change – I wasn’t clenching my teeth or waking up with tension headaches and I was sleeping better. I thought, maybe I should try sleeping without using my sleeping pills – I mean, they didn’t even work every night anyway. And still, I slept.
I remember the first morning waking up in awe that I had slept through the night and right away I knew I needed to tell people about it. To help people sleep better with tapping.
This early success led me to research sleep in earnest and that’s where I learned about CBTi (cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia), the gold standard in treating insomnia. Once I started learning about sleep and using the techniques, and strategies, I went from sleeping “better” to curing my insomnia!
How come, after decades of seeing doctors, who continued to prescribe pills every 6-12 months, no one ever told me about this?
It turns out, that this is a relatively new process. Developed in the 1990s at Harvard University, it took more than a decade with additional clinical trials for it to be recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the Canadian Sleep Society, and many more medical and mental health associations.
It is recommended because it has had an astonishingly high success rate in clinical trials, about 75% of people cure their insomnia in just a couple of months.
Because it is quite new, most doctors, medical practitioners, and health professionals have not heard of it, and they fall back on their standard of practice. Prescribing drugs.
If you can relate to my story and are ready to kick insomnia to the curb, I would love to help. I know exactly what you are going through, and I know how great life can be on the other side. Book a complimentary sleep assessment with me to find out if your subconscious is sabotaging your ability to sleep through the night.
Lana Walsh, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Lana Walsh is a Sleep Coach who helps people overcome insomnia so that they wake up feeling rested and refreshed. After a decade of dealing with undiagnosed restless leg syndrome (RLS), Lana developed chronic insomnia. For 30 years, she struggled to find the answer to her sleep, trying “literally everything” without relief. When Lana was introduced to the stress-busting process of emotional freedom techniques (EFT, AKA tapping), she started sleeping better. Determined to continue this path, she began researching sleep where she finally found the answer to fixing her insomnia. She is passionate about sharing the secrets to overcoming insomnia and helping people get the same results that have transformed her life. Lana is a co-author of the Amazon Bestseller, "Creating Impact, The Ultimate Guide for Purpose-Driven Entrepreneurs," Founder of "Upgrade Your Sleep: A Powerful Method to Overcoming Sleeplessness," registered CBT-i coach, and Conscious EFT Level 1-2 practitioner.