Resetting your dysregulated sleep program


I can still recall Siobhan telling me how her sleep had completely fallen apart:

I’ve lost any control I had over my sleep…

I was never a great sleeper, but now things are just unbearable.

Even when I am completely exhausted, I’ll wake up in the night. Sometimes just an hour after falling asleep, but mostly in the middle of the night.

And then I’m fully awake, fully switched on.

I’ve lost the ability to turn off my brain and fall asleep at night.” 

Everyone takes sleep for granted… it’s something we do without having to think about it, a bit like breathing.

Until something happens which turns everything on its head. And at that point, we start worrying about why we can’t sleep normally.

It could be because we have another health condition such as pain or menopause waking us up at night.

…or because we’re going through a difficult time at home or at work and we wake up worrying about life.

For Siobhan, it was none of these… it just happened, she couldn’t remember how or why.

But gradually things had gotten worse.

Until it was terrible.


Loosing control of sleep

The truth is, she hadn’t lost control of her sleep. Because we don’t “control” our sleep very much at all.

What was really happening is that, like millions, she was experiencing ongoing, long-term insomnia…

…And that meant there were several elements at play, together stopping her from getting normal sleep.

One element, in particular, was very powerful in ruining her sleep: her brain’s sleep program had become completely dysregulated.

With a healthy “sleep program,” your brain slowly switches off into sleep when you go to bed, and keeps you asleep until your alarm clock wakes you up in the morning…

Then, your brain switches on, and it’s all systems go for the day!


The brain’s “Sleep Program”

This happens through a complex process involving several signals and hormones. (I’ve simplified this as a program that basically switches on or off for ease.)

A bit like your heating timer at home… It’s programmed to switch your heating on at a certain time and off at certain other times.

But as you start waking up in the middle of the night, things can go off the rails. As your nightly wakes are repeated, the brain starts believing this is the new program you’re asking from it.

So it keeps you awake and wired.

Then, as you lie in bed awake, worrying whether it’s going to be another one of those nights again, you start involuntarily switching your brain on further!

As you worry, you activate stress hormones, which in turn accelerate your heartbeat and your temperature… signalling to your brain that you need to be awake and switched on!

So the brain obeys… Even though it’s not what you want!.

But that’s what it’s picked up!

And so, the brain repeats it… and night after night you have a terrible sleep.

Gradually, your brain becomes better at this pattern. A pattern you don’t want… but the brain believes the exact contrary.

Your brain’s sleep program is dysregulated… It is not the program you want.

A bit like your home heating timer becoming dysregulated and switching your heating on when you don’t want it on, or worse…,not switching the heating on when you really need it!

If your home heating timer was dysfunctional like this… You’d change it right?


Resetting your sleep program

Well, with a brain’s sleep program becoming dysregulated, you need to reprogram it. You need to reteach it when it has to sleep and when it has to be awake.

And this is what I started doing with Siobhan…Even though at first, she was refusing to accept that her sleep problem was a pattern her brain was repeating.

When she came back to see me the following week, she had had the realisation she needed to move forward with sleep retraining.

She recognised that those nightly wakes and staying awake (even though it was not at exactly the same time every single night) this was her brain repeating “the program.”

At that point, I knew she was ready to do everything that was needed to reprogram her sleep and that she would be progressing very quickly.

Looking at your own sleep struggles: can you see how your wakes stem from a dysregulated program?

Sometimes something wakes you up… it happens to all of us.

But a healthy sleep program would get you back to sleep.

A dysregulated sleep program sees it as a switch-on button that’s just been pressed, and it keeps you awake.

Being wired and having a racing brain comes from this brain switching on… and executing the program.

It’s the same with pain, or with menopause!

People who have those without the dysregulated program that comes with insomnia, just get themselves back to sleep.

Realizing your brain’s sleep program is dysregulated takes time.

Beliefs are hard to change.

But the moment you realize, you’ll have taken a massive step!

Today we help hundreds of people reset their sleep program every single month… and spotting the broken pattern is one of those magic milestones on their way to healthy sleep.

It’s not always obvious, but with a bit of time, you’ll recognise your dysregulated sleep program at play!

44 Responses

    1. Yes it’s such a common component of insomnia – but it doesn’t mean it can’t be undone. In fact, the very fact that it started and has engrained itself is proof that with time and the right routine and habits, you can undo this.

    1. Hi Lucy! Best way to find out is to head over to our main page and press ‘get started’. This takes you to some questions so we can find out if in your life with your experiences, we are a suitable match for you:)

  1. I really believe this is a fact. Despite keeping my sleep window strictly to five and a half hours over the last three months, there has been no change whatsoever. I go to bed about 11 30 but regularly awake between 3 30 and 4 00 a m, feeling ready to begin a new day. I am sure my brain is now programmed to behave in this way and I feel it’s nigh on impossible to change. (Not a good mindset, I know!!)

    My insomnia has deteriorated from bad to worse over a number of years. Having tried absolutely everything, I am on the brink of starting a course of antidepressants. Even though I am not in favour and have struggled against taking such a powerful medication, I am at a point where I’m more concerned about the long term impact of insomnia as against the possible side effects of mirtazapine.

    Phil (Philippa )

    1. Hi Phil, Thanks for your message. Re training sleep can be tough, but change can happen with the right strategies, and if you feel you need to speak to your GP then please do so. There is a lot to unpick here, and it makes sense the way you are feeling – but it doesn’t mean it won’t change. We can help to do this as we have care coaches and sleep experts able to help you understand where you are at, why it’s not working, and how to change it for results.

  2. I waken up several times every night..I am exhausted…
    Another problem I have financially cannot afford to pay for help.

    1. I understand your frustration. Sometimes sleep is not our main goal because we have other priorities to consider. It is always a cost benefit situation.

    1. Come and join us Tracey – we can help with this. It won’t work over night, but we can help you see a change in just a matter of weeks!).

  3. This exactly describes my sleep………I think it’s now a habit as I am through the menopause and not particularly stressed or worried…..I’d love to know how to fix it please!

    1. Hi Victoria, chronic insomnia (whether caused by menopause or not) has only one evidence based treatment that can rid you of it – the official textbook name of this is CBTI (cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia). You can get some free versions of the textbook CBTI approach online or even at some GP surgeries. Stephanie created re:sleep to address the issues with these versions – very scientific but not very user friendly or sustainable, and therefore it’s difficult to replicate the results from the research studies in real life. We have the same science in our program, but Stephanie has adapted this over her career to tailor it more for humans and the messy up and down lives we live! We have lots of support on our program to coach you through as well.

  4. I have roblems sleeping for about 10years now Has been worse over last 2years I hope you can help me
    Kind Regards

    1. Hi Anne, yes we have people on our program who have had this for decades – some their whole lives. We most certainly can help, and we have users who have already done our program and changed their sleep completely, and are on hand to answer questions too in our communities which is really nice because sometimes when you are going though a particularly bad night, it can be difficult to see through it, as well as our sleep experts who are on hand to help.

  5. Hi
    I’ve had insomnia for many years.
    I just don’t no how to fall asleep?
    I can be exhausted all day until about 10 at night then ping I’m fully awake, but my body is screaming for sleep.

    1. Hi Paula, yes it’s like the body has switched everything around. We need to start re training your brain back the other way!

  6. Hi, I also have deregulated sleep. I fall asleep fairly easily in about 15 to 2o minutes, after 11 but then wake up at 4. I tend to be on and off for the next 2 and half hour.

    1. HI Sunil, yes this is one of the most common types of insomnia that we see. Sometimes even though the ability to sleep is there at the beginning, its so weak now that it can’t get us through the night. We need to build that drive so its more stable and strong and stops these limbo like sleeps and gaps through out the night.

    1. Hi Darius, our users often tell us at the beginning of their re:sleep journey that it causes such a horrid ‘wake’ tired, where all they want is to sleep but that is lost so they are just left with this wakeful exhaustion and the ability to sleep feels so lost. But – another way to look at it is to remember that this dysregulated pattern is built over time – so just as its possible to go from a healthy sleep pattern to a dyregulated one, you can also switch it back over time.

    1. Hi Sue, we have heard variations of this story from lots of our users for a long time, and then Siobhan puts it so eloquently here. That’s why Stephanie created this program – she kets hearing this from people that were supposedly getting treatment…which means the treatment was not getting to the root of the problem. She spent a long time investigating all the different components of insomnia, and started to understand more about how you fix them in real life, which life constantly changing! That’s what makes re:sleep so different from everything else, we don’t ask you to adapt to a one side fits all approach, we created a support community and team and tailored program so that we actually adapt around you. After all, even though this might sound like you, you have unique parts of your insomnia too that also need to be addressed.

  7. That sounds like me, I’ve tryed everything,for a while they work! But now it’s worse than ever! Sadly I reverted to tablets which I know was fatal, now I have to ween myself off them ,even though they only worked for an hour or so.Any help would be good.

    1. Hi Jane, yes, I think a lot of people will resonate with what you are saying. Unfortunately a lot of the sleep industry sells coping strategies and quick short term fixes, rather than the actual solution. This is a problem as you end up in a bit of a vicious cycle and anxiety creeps in and makes you believe without the coping mechanisms things would be worse… when in reality they have just created a new component of your insomnia on top of your dysregulated sleep pattern… they have increased sleep anxiety… which is powerful. We help lots of people on our program in similar positions to you. You don’t have to be off the pills, but hopefully we can give you the confidence to eventually come off of them slowly and safely, because you learn how to sleep naturally without their use. Some people for other health reasons, cant come off the pills at all, and this is OK too. We can still improve sleep significantly!

  8. I have had two concussions- summer 2021 – one a surfboard hitting the back of my skull above my neck, the following year a car crash. Now I have had intractable migraines that last for months and I can’t sleep anymore just when I most need it. I recently listened to a headache specialist and she couldn’t help with long term pain sleep issues…. So what would you recommend for someone regularly in migraine pain to sleep… I have throbbing head, nose, pressure in the head and I was already struggling with insomnia before the post concussion migraines….I can’t even get to sleep, let alone stay asleep. And I wonder if any sleep specialist can help someone sleep who is in pain?

    1. Hi Rosie, thanks for your message.You have been through a lot. Chronic pain and sleep problems come hand in hand…if you get chronic pain you end up with two conditions, the pain and then the broken sleep. The interesting thing about sleep is even if the pain suddenly went away, because i’m assuming you have had the broken sleep for longer than 3 months, the underlying sleep strength is now gone… yes originally because of the pain….but now the dyregulated sleep pattern is built into the brain regardless of the pain. What we do is almost like reverse engineering. Of course we can’t get rid of the pain, but what if we could build sleep strength underneath it so that your sleep became your ally and despite some pain triggers, was mostly able to regulate itself and even if you do wake up, puts you back to sleep quicker and the quality of the sleep much better? Thats what we do at re:sleep…and it’s not magic its just simple sleep science, built into certain habits and routines over time that slowly re-train your brain to sleep. Once you’re on the program, we can help you through the tougher times too. You will most certainly get your usual migraines whilst on the program, so we can tailor the approach so that sometimes you move a little slower through the program, but still making progress, and sometimes we can speed you up when you are feeling good. We work with chronic pain and chronic illness sufferers a lot, because as you can imagine, its so common to get insomnia from these original triggers.

  9. Really useful and reassuring, thank you. When you have been stuck in this cycle for a while you just believe that you cannot get out of it, you really have lost the ability to sleep. That wonderful thing that other people seem to do naturally just seems to be lost because the brain is on high alert. I am sure that this can be changed but I’m not sure if I am capable

    1. Hi Claire, thanks for sharing. We know your capable because of how long you have managed with your insomnia – that is the very hardest thing to do. However, I completely understand what you mean – this way of thinking might be partly because unfortunately at the moment, the sleep medicine field is full or quick tricks and sleep hack solutions, often costing money…and when they dont’t work for you time and time again, it makes you lose faith in your own abilities…but what if it wasn’t you? What if it was them? You see most of the industry is made up of solutions for people who are already good sleepers trying to get that extra 1% gain…not very broken sleepers desperate to get rid of an actual sleep disorder. If your sleep is ruining your life, you are 100% ready for the scientific approach which works, because nothing is as challenging as having to out up with insomnia.

  10. Can you please advise what is needed to remedy this? What was this lady advised to do as I am having exactly same issue?

    1. Siobhan was one of our users. This is how she described her sleep to us before she started re:sleep. It’s built with the gold standard highly evidenced based CBTI approach, but a more fine tuned and tailoured approach as Stephanie found along the years that the habits and routines this type of treatment requires of you can be difficult in real, messy life. Our program is a hybrid model adapted to actual humans (rather than the textbook approach which is very one size fits all). Specifically looking at the dysregulated sleep program, we start by getting you to do little habits which remind your brain when to feel sleepy and when to feel awake (often this is very wonky in most users to start with). Once this is done, we then have to build a strong sleep pressure, to help fill in the gaps at night (the dysregulated pattern). Of course, there is more to it as there are other components of insomnia we have to address (the sleep anxiety for example, and many more) and just like with the dysregulated sleep pattern we give you tangible routines over time which are doable in real life. We have lots of support on our program, so if what we are asking doesn’t fit or isn’t compatible with the way you live, then we have adaptations. There is no way to not move forward, and we have the most wonderful community who move with you through the program!

    1. Yes, unfortunately it resonates with so many. Tt’s one of the most common components of insomnia we see most regularly in our users at the beginning of the program.

  11. My sleep is mostly in the morning & early afternoon at present, completely round the wrong way. I am way past Menopause (age 65 now) & take Zopiclone/Zimovane 3.75mg x3 at “night” before bed.
    I have also had Bi-Polar disorder for most of my adult life & take Sodium Valproate & Lamotrigine for this.
    My sleep pattern is at its worst ever, please help.

    1. Hi Teresa, thanks for reaching out. I am so sorry you are going through this. As you have some other conditions which can affect the insomnia, I would suggest contacting Stephanie’s clinical team direct for one to one support at [email protected]. Another option is discuss with your GP if you are in the UK, just in case there are any other services that are available to you.

  12. Good morning. I am interested in the program. Unfortunately I am not interested in doing this on line. I have ADHD and would like to se
    Someone in person. Could you please advise me on how his . Many thanks Mel

  13. I have known for a long time that my problem is dysregulated sleep pattern , makes total sense
    Just like an alarm going of every night between 3/4 and I’m wide awake!

    1. It’s so true – and it makes sense, your brain sees this as normal now. But, just like your sleep slowly changed to this ‘dysregulated’ sleep pattern, it can be changed again which is reassuring – it doesn’t have to be this way!

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