Are All Your Efforts Pushing Sleep Further Away?Aug 14, 2023
Don't Chase Sleep
We have all been there. You meet someone new, someone you really like. The first date is magic, and you can't wait to see them again, but for some reason they don't call.
You spend hours staring at your phone, willing it to ring until you finally give in and text them. You are just aiming for a breezy "hey what's up" but somehow you accidentally end up sending like 20 messages, each more desperate than the last, which pretty much guarantees that you will never hear from this person again.
We all know that you can’t force someone to be with you. When you over try you only come off as desperate and end up scaring them away.
Nothing kills a fledgling relationship as quickly as desperation. This is why we all coach each other to just play it cool and let prince (or princess) charming come to you.
Sleep Doesn't Respond to Desperation
Interestingly enough, the same principles apply to sleep. I often ask my clients, what do a cat, a dog and a good sleeper all have in common? None of them waste energy trying to sleep!
I mean, when was the last time your cat came to you complaining of insomnia? Ok. So obviously cats can’t talk, but if they could, how likely is it that you would have this conversation?
The same is true with “good” sleepers. Try asking someone without sleep issues what they do to sleep, and you’ll likely get an uninterested shrug.
What Happens When You Stop Trying
Sleep comes to these people easily because they don’t try. They just expect sleep to happen, and it does.
Just as our crap dates, the people who we have 0 interest in, tend to hang around like a bad smell, always hoping for an in, sleep favors the people who could not care less about it.
So, if you really want to sleep, should you just begin to ignore sleep too? In a word, yes.
Please don’t misunderstand me, there can be many reasons for disturbed sleep (life stress, trauma, hormones, lifestyle) all these things are a factor.
What is important to understand is that disturbed sleep and insomnia are not the same thing. There is also a difference between someone who chooses not to make the time for sleep and someone who can’t sleep.
Disturbed sleep is a short-term bout of short or troubled sleep and, if left alone, it will resolve in its own time as soon as the cause (life change, hormonal imbalances, etc) is resolved.
Insomnia occurs when we become emotionally triggered by disturbed sleep and decide to chase sleep as if it is our long-lost soulmate.
In life you can chase a dream, you can chase an education and you can chase that perfect job, striving for success is rewarded in our society.
Unfortunately, this strategy does not work for sleep. This is because sleep is a passive process that is coordinated by our autonomic nervous system.
Just as you cannot tell your cells how to divide or your bones how to remodel, you cannot micromanage sleep.
When you attempt to force sleep, your brain is essentially trying to override the body, and this pushes sleep further away.
So What Can You Do?
While it is helpful to have a set wake time (meaning get out of bed at the same time every day) its not recommended that people experiencing insomnia have a set bedtime.
This is because, if you go to bed when you are not tired and the body isn’t ready to sleep, you are more likely to end up lying there, waiting for sleep to happen. The longer you wait in bed the more anxious you are likely to become. This anxiety makes sleep less likely to occur.
So what to do while you wait to be sleepy?
It is important to enjoy your awake time, as this makes the experience of being awake at night less painful and traumatic. While I don’t recommend lots of bright light, action movies or loud, rave type music, I also don’t expect clients to just sit around being miserable.
Cooking, cleaning, reading, art, even watching tv (unlike other sleep coaches, I don’t believe everyone needs to avoid blue light) can all be enjoyable activities while you wait for sleep to come to you.
Play around and experiment with how you prefer to spend your time.
We are all different and only you can truly know what works for you.
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