Heather Finley, PhD, helps patients overcome insomnia at the University of Vermont Medical Center’s Sleep Program. She is the only psychologist in Vermont who is Certified in Behavioral Sleep Medicine by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult for you to overcome insomnia? What we know about insomnia is that it is pervasive. Ten to twenty percent of people in the United States have chronic insomnia, and there are similar estimates worldwide.

Of the millions of people who struggle with sleepless nights, some experience unique challenges. Despite their efforts to improve sleep, these people experience what I call “stubborn insomnia.”

People with stubborn insomnia may fall into one of the following types:

  • The Skeptic, who believes that insomnia is something they must endure because all efforts to improve sleep to date have been ineffective or short-lived.
  • The Worry-Wart, who has a tendency to worry about life as well as the effect insomnia is having on his or her life.
  • The Thinker, who has the brain that won’t slow down.
  • The High Achiever, who is following all the recommendations, but still has difficulty sleeping.

This article provides three “Ninja strategies” for The Skeptic. I call them Ninja strategies because they strategically target hidden challenges. Like Ninjas who move with stealth, agility, and efficiency, these tips may illuminate a more efficient path for “The Skeptic” to experience improved sleep.


Patients who have had insomnia for years or even decades often become skeptical about the possibility of getting better sleep. They may continue to use medication, despite limited effectiveness. At various points throughout the course of insomnia, they may have tried some basic sleep hygiene tactics to meditate, reduce screen time at least an hour before bedtime, maintain a consistent schedule, or avoid napping during the daytime…to no avail.

Often, their past attempts to make changes are short-lived, inconsistent, or not powerful enough to overcome other behaviors and beliefs that perpetuate the cycle of insomnia. Lasting improvements in sleep are usually obtained by a combination of changes in behaviors and thoughts that are consistently maintained over the course of weeks or months.

3 Ninja strategies for The Skeptic: 

  1. Review your patterns.It’s natural to become skeptical after many efforts have been made to improve your sleep. The first ninja strategy is to honestly look at your current patterns. Keep a daily sleep log that tracks your exercise, alcohol, caffeine, evening screen time, medication, naps, and your sleep-wake schedule. Sometimes, the most obvious changes you need to make become evident when you review your log. Click here to download a sleep log for your own use.
  2. Make obvious changes for at least a week.Review sleep hygiene principles (click here for 13 sleep hygiene recommendations) and sustain a change for at least a week in an area that you know you could improve upon. Even better, make a change in the area that you most resist. For example, if you have gotten into the habit of watching your favorite show or catching up with Facebook in the hour before you want to fall asleep, or anytime during the night, then that would be an obvious change with which to begin.
  3. Adopt an attitude of curiosity and openness.Avoid the trap of predicting that because past efforts didn’t make a difference, they won’t improve your sleep now. That tendency can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Using the log, you can approach basic recommendations from an attitude of curiosity. Much like a scientist, simply make the changes, observe the results, look for patterns, and form your conclusions from there.

Now that you’ve learned a few Ninja strategies, it’s time to speak the language of Ninja by taking action. Start with one strategy the first week, and build upon it. Seek support from your loved ones as you make some of these behavior and attitude changes.

That’s all for now…Sleep Well!

Where To Find More Ninja Strategies: If you don’t relate to The Skeptic or if you just want to learn more about how to overcome stubborn insomnia, check out this blog for upcoming articles about Ninja strategies for The Worry Wart, The Thinker, The High Achiever, and more.

Heather Finley, PhD, has been helping patients overcome insomnia at the University of Vermont Medical Center’s Sleep Program for over nine years. She is the only psychologist in Vermont who is Certified in Behavioral Sleep Medicine by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and has espoused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy principles for her twenty-five years of clinical practice. To subscribe to her blog and get the latest information, resources, and more ninja strategies to overcome stubborn insomnia, click here.

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