This may seem a bit weird but we don't actually just go to sleep and then wake up in the morning! we do have moments of wakefulness normally throughout the night.
We actually sleep in cycles of about 1 to 1.5 hours long.
Why? Well we have this prehistoric part of our brain (the amygdala) that is wired to protect. Worry and checking is an important part of our brains function, it serves a good purpose - it keeps us out of danger. In sleep we've been programmed that every hour and half we wake to 'check for danger'. We don't need to check for danger now of course but in the prehistoric times waking regularly helped us not get eaten by predators! This sleep cycle, called the circadian rhythm is still wired into our brain.
So we shouldn't be striving for 6-8 hrs total sleep. It's completely NORMAL to wake up a few times throughout the night. Our brains are designed to do this, to 'check' and keep us out of danger. In these normal 'momentary gaps of wakefulness' (every hour and a half), we will usually change position and then get back into the next sleep cycle.
If you're really struggling with sleep, it may feel like a tug of war you're losing and sleep hygiene may not be enough on its own...
This is where ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) comes in.
ACT teaches people to lean towards the discomfort, be curious with the thoughts and feelings that arise, accept them and then let them go. To stop struggling.
You see, the thoughts and feelings aren't the problem; it's our relationship with them that is. When we struggle with our sleep, this causes distress and suffering. We try hard to get rid of the problem, fix it, our internal self-talk then kicks in, we start predicting, catastrophizing, "Oh no not again", "what if...?" and it becomes a vicious cycle. The distress increases and the sleep does not improve.
Your energy has been given into trying to stop what you don't want (the distressing effects of not sleeping) rather than what you do want (to sleep) and the more you struggle the bigger the hole seems to get. But you daren't "drop the rope".
If you ask a normal sleeper how they sleep they will probably answer "I don't do anything, I just go to sleep". There's no fight, no special techniques. They're not struggling!
"Dropping the rope" doesn't mean to give up, it means actively choosing to accept the distress, stop fighting it, stop 'trying' to sleep, go with it. That's tricky because sleep does cause distress... so you naturally want to pull on it, fight it! (But fighting it hasn't worked)
As you drop the struggle you can become more mindful with the distressing thoughts and feelings, observe and accept them without judging them, become playful with them rather than picking up the rope again.
This allows space for flexibility.... take a step back, let go of the struggle, accept you have difficulty sleeping right now and all that brings to you, calm your amygdala and start to plan...
That's just the beginning... But for more information www.thesleepschool.org is a great resource and its ACT based!