💭 Mindful Minute: reframe, reframe, reframe

The funny thing about sleep treatment is, we have to get you to concentrate on your sleep. Ideally it is in a way where you trust the process and just get on with your day, but inevitably it is difficult not to over analyse from night to night what is going on. Especially when you may have had a very long time before treatment doing just this, feeling out of control and at your wits end.

You may have noticed by now some significant changes in your sleep. You have physical evidence that it doesn’t always have to be the way you think it will be. It takes time to change your mindset over sleep but it is just as important as physically altering what happens to you at night.

You see, it’s totally normal to have sleep problems. Yes, the ratio for you was not quite right before, but moving forward into you future if you fear every time sleep is not right, that long term problems are always the consequence.

Then anxiety will start rearing its ugly head again and you know what anxiety does don’t you? It stops you partaking in the behaviours that you know WILL help (all the stuff you have learnt on this program), and it quietly sabotages you into behaviours that will lead to chronic problems. The mere act of worrying about sleep will not make insomnia – remember if worry makes you not sleep for a night, but you don’t change your behaviour to compensate by napping, going to bed early and avoiding life activities…. your brain has no opportunity to recover other than at your next night’s sleep, where it can actually use that mild debt to boost the quality!

Maybe it will take 2-3 nights even, but the science is still the same, eventually your worries and anxieties will not win. UNLESS of course, you let the anxiety and fear take over and find yourself hiding away again, spending more time in your bedroom in the mere hope that you can force the sleep to come.

So how can we break this cycle? In my experience over the years, it really just comes down to time. Time is the only constant. What a weird thing to say! It’s true though – we always move forward whether we like it or not. You will go through life events and alterations that will affect your sleep, so you are going to be exposed to what you fear the most whether you like it or not.

But guess what?

The more your exposed to what you fear (a bad night’s sleep) and proving your beliefs wrong – that not every time sleep goes off track does it lead to terrible things, that you do have control, that even if you do go off track for a while and anxiety takes over…. you’re now the sleep
expert! You have the power to bring yourself back! – the more you will indeed get to what I call the ‘good sleeper’ vibe.

The good sleeper

Meet Sally. Most of the time Sally feels refreshed and her sleep opportunity (the part of her day she allocates for sleeping) is fairly regular, but she doesn’t let this stop her having a night out or late dinner or cheeky drinks with friends if she wants to, because that makes her happy. Sally does have the odd poor night’s sleep, and she will admit sometimes this can leave her feeling less refreshed than usual, but she doesn’t worry about why or what will happen and carries on with her day. These effects don’t last long.

Every now and again Sally’s sleep needs change slightly, whether it be different seasons throughout the year to life events and physical ailments that can happen every now and again, but Sally’s sleep soon falls back on track. To Sally, her sleep quality feels fine most of the time…

Sally has a healthy relationship with her sleep.

Let go of perfect

Notice how Sally is not perfect. That’s because…. you can’t control sleep. Or at least, you can’t control sleep to the level that we seem to want to.

A good sleeper will never sleep well each night, and it would be impossible to sleep the exact same number of hours each night, and nor does your body want to do that. That’s because part
of your sleep is trying to react to all the other variables in your life – too many to worry about, but enough to remain flexible when it comes to your sleep.

Sometimes, you are just not going to be tired. That’s fine. Sometimes you are going to be extra sleepy. We have to build up sleepiness in order to sleep and the only way to do that is to be awake for longer. Therefore, if your days are not the same each day, your sleep probably won’t be either.

This is oversimplified of course, but just highlights an important issue – you can’t control everything. Of course, there are ways to maintain healthy sleep – that’s what you have learnt on this program. But we do need to get rid of all these bizarre ideologies and notions that we feel exist around our sleep.

Perfect is the enemy of the good!

Perfect doesn’t exist in sleep, but the more you strive for it the more anxious and stressed we become which yup you guessed it, causes the anxiety gremlins to come out, usually when you’re trying to get to sleep only to keep you up for longer! This is where you are well within your rights to say ‘stuff it’ I’m giving myself permission to not give a stuff about my sleep right now. I’m going to do something else that I enjoy because I have extra wake time in my life and if there is anything that social media keeps forcing down our throats it’s to seize the day and not waste time.

Nobody sleeps perfectly all the time

I do not sleep well all the time. There I said it. I have been working as a Sleep Physiologist for 15 years diagnosing and treating and researching sleep disorders and the so – called ‘good’ sleepers and I have done my fair bit of qualifications and textbook and paper reading. I have had access to all the different types of insomniacs, and they have been kind enough to let me in and share their experiences with me, and I have successfully treated them using evidence-based techniques and adapting them to actual people rather than reading from a script/textbook.

BUT I do not have the formula to sleep to perfection each night. Because it doesn’t exist. And don’t let anyone tell you differently.

Your sleep across the life span is not some sort of linear process. It changes. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes your down, accept it, it’s normal. It’s the best thing you could ever do.

Liberate yourself from the fear of not doing something perfectly every day. I mean think about it, that’s a lot of pressure to put on one bodily function.

YES, if every bodily function was perfect, we would be healthier, fitter, and more resistant to disease. We just wouldn’t die! Brilliant!

Think about this differently for a second – look at how good we are at sleeping compared to our ancestors who before the industrial revolution would sleep in all sorts of patterns (yes it is possible) and how different we are health-wise now (yes there are more illnesses out there, thanks to being able to stay alive longer to notice them – and we can attribute some of that to the way we do allocate part of our days to one consolidated-ish sleep).

That’s not to say we can’t improve sleep – it’s just the obsessive and ritualistic not to
mention ‘anecdotal’ advice out there is doing us a bit more harm than good right now and needs to be replaced with the good stuff (that you now know!).

A good comparison

Think about the food industry. Yes, it’s true, if you eat very healthy well balanced meals every single day of your life completely perfectly blended according to your needs that very day…. you physically will be marvellous, probably live much longer and have less health problems.

But look at the people who strive to do that in our culture and society right now which isn’t built for this kind of thing…. they tend to get mental health problems…. because it’s super hard and stressful to stay that focused on one bodily function all the time, let alone not get completely neurotic about the others! Imagine always saying no to anything fun like a nice dessert or a delicious meal at a wedding. Imagine taking your own food everywhere. I’ve met these people… either they have a hell of a lot of money and resources to maintain this lifestyle well, or they break mentally and its awful seeing what has happened to their self-worth.

It is the same with sleep. Balance is key…restriction is something our human brains do not do well with.