Why Your Definition of Healthy Sleep Makes a DifferenceNov 06, 2023
Often clients come to me because they want to “sleep better” “sleep well” or “sleep like they used to”. While on the surface, these expectations sound logical, when we examine them further, we often uncover potential problems which can complicate the client’s recovery process.
What Does Healthy Sleep Mean to You?
Formal coach training is all about asking questions. Most of which are variations on how you feel about, what do you think about or what does that mean for you.
Initially I felt self-conscious asking these types of questions. The answer often seemed so obvious that I felt stupid asking. The client wants to sleep well, let’s stop wasting time and move onto treatment, right?
As I soon learned, working with clients is more nuanced than that.
Say, for example, you have 3 different clients. 1 client might be sleeping 6 hours a night and her idea of sleeping well is to get up to 7 hours and awake refreshed. Another client might be waking up 3x a night and define sleeping well as not waking at all and yet a third might expect to fall asleep as soon as they lay down (like pushing a button).
It is important to know what someone’s definition of their goal is. You must make the goal concrete and well defined (without grey areas) so that you can assess if the goal is reasonable and achievable.
How We "Should" Sleep is Different For Everyone
Sometimes I encounter clients who were sleeping completely fine and then they heard they SHOULD be sleeping like X (insert annoying advice here). If this paradigm of perfect sleep which is being presented differs from the client’s current experience and the client is told they risk awful health consequences from NOT sleeping this way, the client may develop unrealistic expectations of sleep. These unrealistic expectations set the client up to fail and inevitably end up feeding the insomnia stress cycle.
I remember when I was at the height of my insomnia journey. Everyone on social media + all the books and Drs were saying you must sleep 7 hours MINIMUM or else! As someone who really cares about her health, I took this to heart.
I was already sleeping poorly due to life changes and stress, then I added this 7 hours or die pressure on myself and it became SO much worse! I remember I would often get nights of 6 hours and 45 minutes of sleep, considering other nights I was averaging 4 hours, 6 hours and 45 min was great but (instead of celebrating the win) I used it as further proof that I was broken (because it was still less than 7 hours).
I vividly remember telling my acupuncturist (and anyone else who would listen) that I couldn’t get more than 6 hours and 45 min of sleep no matter what I did so there must be something wrong with me! Trying to achieve that last 15 minutes was wrecking my head! As ridiculous as it sounds, this was a huge stress point for me because (given my definition at the time) nothing under 7 hours could be counted as good sleep. So, the lost 15 minutes was (in my mind) do or die!
Is Your Sleep Really Broken or Is It Your Definition Causing the Problem?
Had my definition of what constituted healthy sleep not been so narrow, I would have been able to relax, accept the sleep I was getting, and this lack of pressure would have allowed the body to make up for any lack of sleep on its own.
As soon as I became informed enough to realize that 6 hours and 45 min was completely normal (check out my video about tribal culture sleep studies) and not something to get upset about, my sleep began to improve.
This improvement did not happen overnight. Luckily, I did not put any expectations on my recovery time, if I had then my broken sleep would likely have continued for much longer than it did.
Your Insomnia Recovery Is As Unique As Your Sleep
Just as everyone’s experience of sleep differs, so does their recovery process. I have seen some clients bounce back quickly, only to hit a speed bump and end up back in insomnia land, while others take months to finally see results.
As with sleep, it is important to be accepting of your experience (whatever it happens to be) instead of becoming frustrated by unrealistic expectations of how quickly you “should” recover.
We talk about acceptance a lot in my clinic, and it is important to remember that acceptance and resignation are not the same thing. You are not giving up, rather you are releasing control and your expectations of what “should” be which allows your body the space it needs to heal, in its own time and in its own way.
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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