Insomnia explained to a 10-year old

I truly get emails from people from all walks of life, all around the globe, and all ages. Often folks in their 80s and 90s. But I don’t often feel as sad as I did when I received a desperate letter from a young man named Sydney, 10 years of age.

He was feeling so powerless and confused about why he was struggling so much… And I wasn’t able to help him directly. I don’t know if I managed to be useful to him somehow (I never heard from him after that initial email), but here is what I wrote — maybe it can useful to you too, so I reprint it here:

NOTE: the program is to be used by people aged 18 and over, for legal reasons. And in this letter, I didn’t mention various potential triggers of insomnia because they didn’t seem relevant in that particular case. Please don’t conclude that I think insomnia can always be explained this way.

“Dear Sydney,

I’m really saddened by what you tell me, and I wish I could help you directly. Unfortunately I can’t, due to your age. Using the SleepTracks program would not be a good solution for you.

Here’s what my experience can allow me to tell you, though: 

First, your ability to sleep normally is STILL INTACT, even if you don’t sleep well right now. Even if it feels like it’s been like that forever.

There is NOTHING WRONG with you. Nothing has been “broken” or anything like that. Your body will ALWAYS know how to get the sleep it needs.

You don’t need to do anything in particular — in fact, it’s when you try to force sleep to come that things start to get messed up. It doesn’t work. It’s like, for example, if someone tells you to be happy and cheerful when you feel angry — does it work? No it doesn’t, it can even make you more angry.

So forcing doesn’t work.

If you understand that forcing doesn’t work, and that nothing is broken within you, then you can stop trying to find ways to make yourself sleep. And stop being afraid of not sleeping.

Instead, you can gently put your attention (during the day, not at night!) on what is going on within yourself that might be causing you to have a hard time sleeping.

What am I talking about here?

I’m talking about emotions… Some anger, maybe, or fear, or sadness, or guilt…

It can be related to something that happened in your family, or with your friends, or at school… It can be related to something that happened last month, or a long time ago…

When we go through difficult moments in our life, sometimes we live it fully in the moment, and then it’s over — like if you’re very angry at your best friend and one hour later it’s over and you’re best friends again.

Or like if you get scared by some strange sound in the house, and later you realize what it was and the fear just drops away.

Those experiences don’t pose problem. We live them and then it’s over.

But there are other moments when the anger, or grief, or fear, or whatever, stays with us. Because it was too strong for us and we were not able to live it fully in that moment.

So it stays within us, and it hides in our body.

We forget about it, but it’s still there, and it keeps being active.

It can give us belly ache, or make us want to stay alone — or it can make us not sleep.

Right now you may wonder what I’m talking about, because you may have no memory or inkling of anything special within you. You may think “well, I have no fear, no pain about anything in particular, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

And that’s what often happens with those emotions that are still within us and that we haven’t experienced fully. They hide very well.

Oftentimes the only way we can “see” them is because we notice that, all of a sudden, we don’t sleep, or we have belly ache, or some nausea every time we go to school, or anything else where we don’t feel ok in our body.

These are like cues to a detective.

That detective can be you. But being a good detective for oneself takes some time, it takes a little practice, and it would be a good idea to get someone to help you at first.

A good person for that is a psychologist, and I would encourage you to ask your parents to find you one you’ll like and feel comfortable with.

You’ll need someone you can talk to about all that, not just someone who can send you an email like me.

This idea might be frightening or intimidating, I understand that. But it’s actually a great experience, in which you’ll get started on the path of learning to grow into a powerful and happy person. Someone that sleeps well!

It’s when we encounter difficulties in our life that we have the opportunity to learn the most about ourself and get the biggest breakthroughs.

And after that life can be cool again, only just even better than it was. Take heart.

Wishing you the best,


p.s. For those of you adults who read this right now, know that you can get on the phone with me for in-depth detective work and coaching. I can do powerful and deep work when working with someone directly, either on the phone or on Skype. I have very limited availability though, and I’m not cheap to work with. Contact me if you want to get past what blocks you now and we’ll schedule some time to talk.

And if you haven’t started with the program, start with that.

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