The Connection Between Perfectionism and SleepNov 20, 2023
I don’t know about you, but I love to read funny books. Something lighthearted and silly to make the world fade away for a while.
The interesting thing about truly funny stories is that they are often satirical with more than a grain of truth to them. We often see ourselves or some aspect of life reflected back at us. In other words, they are funny because they are true.
Recently I began reading a book called The Burn Out by Sophie Kinsella, one of my favorite authors. The story is about a woman who is over stressed in her job. In an over the top story line, she becomes so stressed that she has a breakdown and is given 3 weeks off to recover.
Cookie Cutter Solutions are Often Not a Solution at All
Because this woman has no idea of how to take care of herself and nourish her body and mind back to health, she ends up following her mother’s advice and doing this Better You in 20 days app where she comically tries to eat healthy, meditate, manifest, do yoga (basically turns herself inside out doing all the stuff!) because she wants to emulate the ideal woman image which is being promoted by the app creators.
The problem is, not only does this woman not know how to do things like meditate or manifest, she is also doing things she actively dislikes (like drinking kale smoothies) without taking the time to really understand what happiness or relaxation looks like to her.
Instead of exploring what she needs to nourish herself and recuperate or why this is important to her, she throws herself into doing what she “should” do to become the person she “should” be. Not unsurprisingly, this leads to secret junk food binges, more stress, shame, and frustration.
Pretending to Be Perfect Does Not Equal Perfection
How often have you seen someone do this, or experienced it yourself? The perfect yogi with road rage, the meditation teacher secretly battling depression, the narcissistic breathwork instructor? We are constantly being fed 2 dimensional, idealized images of what we “should be” and, when we fall short of these perfectionist goals or (heaven forbid) actually manage to balance everything we “should” do (perfect diet, perfect body, perfect meditation practice) and STILL don’t feel happy we end up feeling like a hopeless failure and yoyoing back the opposite way (into junk food and self-disgust).
This pattern plays out CONSTANTLY in the health and fitness community and I also see aspects of it playing out in sleep.
How Our Quest for Perfection Can Affect Our Sleep
Say you are someone who is super into health. You are constantly working to be fitter, more centered and have amazing energy. In this quest for perfection, you hear about the amazing benefits of sleep, and you think “Yes! This is exactly what I need to improve to reach this slimmer, happier, more perfect version of me!” So, you begin putting a lot of focus on sleep. Likely one of 2 things will happen.
If you are lucky, your sleep will actually improve and (after a short-lived sense of accomplishment) you will realize that your life is essentially the same. Maybe you do feel more rested and have more energy, but did it fix all your problems? Are you any happier? Or are you just a better rested version of you, still searching for that elusive thing which will make you and your life perfect?
If you are unlucky, the added pressure around sleep will actually cause your sleep to be worse. I can’t even tell you how many people I have met who have the perfect routine. They avoid blue light, sleep in a cool dark room, use aromatherapy, have warm baths, infrared saunas, meditate an hour a day, do yoga, balance their blood sugar levels, do breathwork, go to the gym and on and on and they STILL experience trouble sleeping.
Why We Can Not Control Sleep?
Why would this be? As I have already explained in many of my videos, sleep is an autonomic parasympathetic process. This is a fancy way of saying that, like blinking, swallowing and growing babies, the body handles sleep all on it’s own, without our interference, when it is relaxed.
When you try to control sleep and add stress around it, you are blocking the body from entering the relaxed, parasympathetic state it needs to be in for sleep to occur. Meditating or doing breathwork from a desperate place of “please let me sleep. I hope this works” is akin to trying to relax with a gun to your head. Very unlikely to work!
An example of this everyone is familiar with is pregnancy. We all know the story of the woman who tries and tries unsuccessfully to get pregnant. After years of trying, she gives up and adopts and then what happens?
Another common acceptance scenario is around dating. I remember being single and hearing “as soon as you stop trying you will find someone.” I am not ashamed to say that I “gave up” many times in the hopes of meeting mister right. It wasn’t until I really, truly said I can’t live like this and actually gave up that I met my boyfriend (a couple of years later).
How Trying Too Hard Can Hold Us Back
So you see, we all know on some level that the stress of over trying, over controlling and becoming frustrated with our progress (or lack thereof ) can actually hold us back from what we are trying to achieve (whether it’s getting pregnant, finding love or losing 10lbs) and that, while finally getting the thing we desire feels great short term, it does not necessarily lead to a magical life. Otherwise, anyone in a relationship, with a child or a successful career would be blissfully happy forever and ever….
When we strive for perfection, we put a lot of stress on ourselves while at the same time sending the message that we are not good enough. There is something which needs to be improved or fixed and THEN we can be happy.
Often these inadequacies aren’t even our own opinion. They are idealized images which are being fed to us by society (often marketing or media companies trying to sell something) or someone close to us who “just wants us to be happy” and has bought into the marketing hype.
In reality no one is happy all of the time and the attempt to fit an idealized image can actively be getting in the way of what truly matters.
Insomnia is Not a Disease
All of this is important because disturbed sleep and insomnia are symptoms, not diseases. They are signals from the body that something is out of balance or needs to be addressed. These signals are interpreted by looking closely at sleep in the context of your life.
You are experiencing sleep disturbances for a reason. Why? What truly matters to you and where are you out of alignment? How do you move forward in life without putting unnecessary stress and judgements on yourself?
These are the types of questions we explore in coaching and the answer is different for everyone. You are not yoga Barbie or an idealized image of a person. You are beautifully unique and perfectly flawed YOU and your answers will be as unique and beautiful as you are. This is what I will help you to discover if you let me.
Interested in Learning More?
If you would like to learn more or book an individual session, please visit the Memberships page.
In the meantime, I would like to leave you with this important message. You are not broken! You are whole, perfect, and healthy exactly as you are, and you CAN sleep!
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