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Sleep Anxiety

My college son can't sleep because he is afraid he can't sleep.

(this is raw unedited text, computer transcribed directly from the audio, without voice inflection, pauses etc. Sometimes this results in the text implying the opposite of the intended meaning.)

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Lee, you're having some sleep anxiety?

Yes, actually, it's regarding my son. He is having some sleeping anxiety where he tries to. He's in college. And he's actually in a professional program. And he is he was fine all summer and here he is where he is. He's worried about not getting eight hours sleep, which I tried to tell him he doesn't really need eight hours sleep. But he is now feeling like he was falling asleep but then he'd wake up with this adrenaline rush. And he said he loves school he loves doing well and he he's fine during the day but he's worried about not sleeping and then he's the thought or just the thought of sleeping hasn't gives him anxiety.

Okay, so to him he's valuing getting that solid block of sleep, whether it's seven or eight hours, he feels he wants it he needs it. That's what recharges his batteries. Is that is that the situation?

Yeah, cuz he's a medical school actually.

Oh, he's a medical school. Oh, good luck.


Okay. And if he says to himself, oh, my God, what if I don't get my sleep?

Yeah, that's what he's doing.

Okay. i Oh, that's such a common phrase that I usually put that when I'm working with people who have any anxiety disorder, I put O M G for Oh, my God, w i What if and then align because you predict a negative future for yourself? Oh, my God, what if and then you put in some disastrous thing. What if in medical school I flunked the exam? Oh, what if I'm trying to work on a cadaver and I really screw up or what if I, I mean, you're working? You're they're learning life and death skills, aren't they?

Right, but he's doing fabulous and he loves it and everything's wonderful. So he said it's not related to school. It's related to he's worried about not sleeping.

Okay, so that's that's usually when you I would he does he share other thoughts with you? Like if it were you who are having the problem, I could ask you, what are you thinking? You're about to go off to sleep? No. First, I would ask you, when did you first experience this?

Oh, all his life he had trouble sleeping. He even as a kid, he would come into our room or he'd go into his brother's room or even into the office that interesting, closest to us. We had tremendous problems all his life as a kid, he wanted to be with us. He never wanted to be alone. And he even said that he goes, I hate being alone. And during four years of college, he said he slept fine. And he now he's in an apartment with two other guys. They all have their own rooms. But he said he's having trouble now because I'm he doesn't know why. But he does it all his life. He said I never took care of this problem that he's had all his life and he wants to get to the bottom of it.

Okay, so he he, if he's now in an if he didn't have this problem for four years throughout college, that is fascinating to me. Because then if he he's training himself to be a scientist, so you want to find out what happened at a certain point where he started to build rebuild up this anxiety. And I don't know whether it's a new anxiety, or whether he's opening old file drawers all file files, bringing back bad memories of not sleeping when I was a kid, and you not understanding that I can't sleep. So he wants is hit that now he's getting into a second. If I if he were in therapy with me, obviously, this isn't therapy. But if you were in therapy with me, I would say . . .

Hey, I gotta interrupt this because we've got to pay some bills. 30 seconds. That's it. A very quick break and then Ellen will be back.

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If you were in therapy with me, I would say he wants me as the let's say he wants mom to understand him. That sounds like it's key. Mom, if you said I'm understanding you're having a lot of difficulty. Obviously you are empathic and are trying to understand him because you're calling me Right, right. But he needs to see firsthand that if he continues to keep telling himself he can't sleep, how much energy if I know I cannot move. Let's say that I have a very heavy, let's say my house, I want to move it over in the yard a little bit. So it's oriented a little better. Can I move my house? No, no. So how much effort do I put into thinking about moving my house? None? None. So if he's telling himself that he can't sleep, then how much effort in focus will he put into figuring out strategies to sleep better?

Well, he asked the clinic for something and they gave him Lunesta. The first night, it worked great. The second night, he went to sleep fine. But he said he woke up with his heart racing like an adrenaline rush. And he said to himself, What am I nervous about?

Yeah, that's exactly what he needs to do. Whenever you get to an I don't know, I'm anxious. I don't know what it is. When you're in medical school, there's a heck of a lot to be anxious about. It could be about a girlfriend, it could be about the old fears that are coming back. You know about these old fears of not sleeping have but that fears of not sleeping? Will it's a vicious circle, because if you think you can't sleep, then you're going to say oh my god, what if you'll have a rush of adrenaline because that oh my god, what if triggers your autonomic nervous system, which he'll be learning about? I'm sure he already knows about it. It triggers the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. I'm only saying those words because he's in medical school. And that releases the cortisol it releases the adrenaline and that keeps her wrapped up. Right. So he's got to break that cycle. He can practice sleep hygiene, with sleep hygiene, you set you, you, you think different thoughts. You think I'm capable of sleeping? And if I wake up a little bit, it's not a big deal. I'll just sit up maybe read a boring book a medical book and then put let that put me off to sleep. And if I get an oh my god, what if thought I need methods to deal with that to take away that energy that that catastrophic thinking he has he needs skills to decode catastrophize so I would recommend to get a cognitive therapist, or if you go on my website, there think there may be a link to Academy of and try it out or Academy of CT for cognitive Listen, thank you so much. I'm sorry, we have to go so quickly. I'm Dr. Ellen Kenner, and you're listening to the rational basis of happiness.

And here's a little more from Dr. Kenner . . .

(Movie outtake)

(Sad Woman) When I was in seventh grade, I was the fat kid in my class. I was the one that all the pretty girls used to make fun of every day after school, I would come home and you know, I'd flip through the pages of my mom's Vogue in glamour, and I looked at these women these perfect, beautiful, just unbelievable skinny women. I couldn't understand why I didn't look like them. I just didn't get it. So I became bulimic.

(Dumb Man) You can read minds !!!

And that's from Zoo Lander and obviously bulimia does not mean you can read minds Bulimia is an eating disorder. Anorexia is one to where you will progressively starve yourself Bulimia is that bulimia, it's called bulimia nervosa, is when you just eat an amount that is totally out of proportion of what you should be eating, and you just binge you, you just go down the food, whether it's hot dogs and you're not in any hot dog eating contest, or whether it's just tons of snack foods or whatever you're eating, you sense that you're out of control. You're not out of control, obviously but that's what you're telling yourself and so you keep eating and then you feel real guilty later and you judge yourself based on your weight and you end up doing what well you use laxatives or you take Animas or you induce vomiting or you may start fasting or you may go crazy exercising and you if you do this, you if you have the vomiting involved the self induced vomiting are you using laxatives or diuretics or enemas, they call it the purging type. If you're just fasting or over exercising, but you're not vomiting, they call it the non purging type. But if you have that don't just live with get yourself some help because cognitive therapy can do wonders for you.

For more Dr. Kenner podcasts go to And please listen to this ad.

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