Do you ever wake up in the night with all of your senses on a knife edge? The sound of your partners breathing echoing loudly in your ears. The flash of lights from passing cars blinding you through the curtains. The temperature of the room unbearably hot. It’s as if your senses are dialled up to 11. How could you possibly sleep in these conditions?

But why aren’t others as impacted by these seemingly huge distractions in the environment? You look at your partner sleeping soundly and wonder what the difference is between the two of you.

The answer lies with hyper-arousal (or hypersensitivity), a very common component in long-term insomnia.

What is hyper-arousal?

Hyper-arousal occurs when your nervous system is in a constant state of alertness, making it difficult for your brain to transition from wakefulness to sleep. When you are hyper-aroused, your senses become exceptionally keen. The smallest noise or movement can jolt you awake, and even minor changes in temperature or light can disturb your sleep. This means it not only makes falling asleep challenging but also leads to frequent awakenings in the night. The result is fragmented, non-restorative sleep, leaving you feeling exhausted and irritable during the day.

Why does this happen? 

Hyper-arousal is essentially your body’s fight-or-flight response gone awry. When you are stressed or anxious, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol, which prepare you to react to perceived threats. In a state of hyper-arousal, these hormones remain elevated, keeping your brain alert and your senses on edge. Over time, this becomes a learned pattern, where your brain begins to associate bedtime with being alert and awake rather than relaxed and sleepy.

Unfortunately, the cycle of poor sleep and hyperarousal also feeds into itself. The less you sleep, the more anxious you become about sleeping, which in turn keeps your nervous system on high alert. It’s a vicious cycle that can be incredibly hard to break.

But break it you can. The key lies in retraining your brain and body to relax and recognize sleep as a safe, restful state. This is where sleep retraining, like what we do here at re:sleep, comes in. Re:sleep uses techniques from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I), the front-line treatment for insomnia, to help you retrain your sleep pattern. With techniques to rebuild your sleep drive to increase the quality and depth of your sleep, and cognitive restructuring to manage anxiety and associate the bed with sleep, we can reduce hyper-arousal completely.

By following a structured sleep retraining program, you can turn down the volume on the world around you. The hum of the refrigerator will become just that—a background noise you can easily ignore. Your bedroom will feel less like an unbearable space that traps in a world of noise, and more like a cosy, safe space to reliably get a good night’s sleep. With time and commitment, you can overcome hyperarousal and enjoy the deep, restorative sleep you deserve. 

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