Are you tired of hearing yourself say
I must do something about my sleep
but you never seem able to take the first step? You’re not alone. I’ve certainly said similar things to myself in the past. In my work I come across this a lot. In fact, once you become aware of this pattern
I could/should/ought to do something about X but …
you hear it all around you, in conversations with family, friends and colleagues.
For example, a good friend of mine suffers with poor health. He’s very dear to me and over the years I’ve done my best to support and encourage him to take some simple steps to bring better health. Although he knows he should do something however and he willingly comes up with steps he could take or would like to take, he never moves beyond that to take action.
This is a common human dilemma. It’s the basis for the Prochaska model of change. This model recognises that
there’s a huge gap between knowing you should do something and acting on that awareness.
It describes five specific stages that an individual needs to go through before they are ready to take action –
- Pre-contemplation – you’ve no intention to change. You’re maybe not even aware that there’s a problem
- Contemplation – you’re aware that there’s a problem and are seriously thinking about overcoming it but have not yet made a commitment to take action
- Preparation – you’ve made the decision to change and are preparing to take action for example by gathering information on the best steps to take
- Action – you’re implementing the changes
- Maintenance – you work to consolidate the gains and avoid relapses.
My friend remains stuck at the Contemplation stage. He knows he has a problem and thinks about making changes in his life but isn’t yet ready to commit to taking action.
In my work I meet many people who struggle to sleep well yet for whatever reason don’t ever get round to taking the first step. Despite suffering the daily consequences of poor sleep, they soldier on, adapting and coping as best they can.
As a sleep coach my job is to help people to understand why, up to now, they’ve decided consciously or not, to put up with their sleeping problem.
After all, sleep is not a nice-to-have. It’s the third pillar of wellbeing along with diet and exercise.
In my many conversations with sleep deprived people I’ve seen that one of the most common reasons people don’t take action is that they find it very hard to put themselves first. The idea of prioritising their health and wellbeing is not something that comes easily.
Approximately 10% of the population suffer with insomnia, affecting every aspect of a person’s life, from their work performance and their health to their relationships with their loved ones.
So if you’re one of the 10%, what’s holding you back from tackling your sleep problem?
Here are 5 barriers that I’ve identified that you need to overcome so that you can regain the refreshing sleep that will make your life so much more fulfilling, fun and productive –
I don’t have time or the energy to even think about my sleep
As a working mum or dad, your life is already very full. Managing tricky teenagers or caring for elderly parents places a great strain on your precious reserves.
Women in particular find it hard to prioritise their own needs. As natural carers, we can overdo it at times! Our culture also demands that we can’t just be a good enough parent anymore, we have to do everything in our power to maximise our kids’ chances of happiness and success.
You get out of the habit of looking after you. You’re too tired to consider doing things another way. Not getting enough sleep night after night just exhausts you even further.
The irony is that if you run yourself into the ground, at everyone else’s beck and call, you soon exhaust your ability to support others. You burnout and they end up supporting you – and that can be quite a burden.
Prioritising your own health and wellbeing is an investment not only in yourself but also in your family, your friendships and your work. The time and energy you put into regaining sound sleep will be repaid many times over.
And your loved ones will thank you for it.
2 I feel selfish if I put myself first.
This barrier often goes hand-in-hand with the first one. It’s built on confusing self-care with selfishness.
How often do you do something just for you? Can you remember the last time you chose to do something solely for your own enjoyment? Went for a walk on your own perhaps, took a long bath with a good book or went away for the weekend with an old school friend?
When you have responsibilities at work, at home and in your community, it’s easy to fall into a habit of thinking that it’s not right to put your needs first. As kids we’re often told not to be selfish and can grow up believing that others’ needs should always take priority.
This confuses self-care with selfishness. The two are very different. The Oxford Dictionary definition makes the distinction very clearly –
SELFISH adjective (of a person, action, or motive) – lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure
SELF CARE noun – the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress
I completely understand the temptation of putting others first. Others can be very demanding! If you are somebody who finds it hard to say “No” it can feel easier to give in. Opting “for an easier life” of course means that others’ lives are easier – but yours probably isn’t! In fact always putting others first is very likely in the end to be to your detriment.
Another reason we can be drawn into looking after others before ourselves is that it can feel easier to fix other people’s problems rather your own. I know this. My mum became seriously ill at a time when I was coming to terms with a painful divorce. Yet her illness provided a sad but somehow welcome distraction. I knew what to do to support her. My issues – well, they were far harder to resolve!
Protecting your own wellbeing and happiness is not a selfish act. It’s a great gift to your family. You’ll be providing a great role model and they’ll thrive on your new found energy and happiness!
3. I need to ask my husband/wife before I can spend time/money on myself
I agree. It doesn’t make for harmonious relations if you book yourself a long spa weekend without consulting your spouse first! But there are two ways of having this conversation –
One, from a place of being clear that you need to invest in your own wellbeing
Two, feeling ambivalent about whether it’s a good thing or not.
The two conversations will go very differently depending on your approach.
For example I love the sea yet I live in Derbyshire, about as far from the coast as you can get. One of my hobbies is sea kayaking. One Sunday afternoon I was on the beach packing up my kit after yet another amazing day and I noticed that I was reluctant to leave. We’d just come out of the first lockdown and I really appreciated how a couple of days away from home had refreshed me.
I love my family dearly but I also know that I need times away to recharge. I decided to book a cottage for the coming September right on the beach where I could sea kayak every day if I wanted. I would invite my partner, friends, and family for some of the time – leaving me plenty of time alone!
On my return I put the idea to my other half. As you can imagine, he was a bit surprised and confused. Why did I need to do this? Was anything wrong? I calmly explained my rationale.Being the generous man that he is however, he understood. I went ahead and made that booking. And I’m so excited at the prospect!
If I’d gone into this conversation feeling ambivalent then he would have easily demolished both my rationale and my determination. I would have given up something important, leaving a hole in my self-care bucket which would of course be to his and my detriment.
So before you consult your family, first have the conversation with yourself. Decide what you want and why. If you’re not convinced, then neither will others be! In which case you need to read on…
4. You can’t see the benefits in taking action
Maybe you can’t see the benefits or maybe you’ve forgotten what they are? Perhaps it’s been so long since you woke up refreshed that you’ve forgotten how it felt to have energy and motivation for the day ahead?
Or maybe you avoid thinking about how much easier your life could be if only you fixed your sleep – because that would make it even harder to carry on, coping and getting by?
As a recent client said in our initial consultation –
The hardest thing is to allow myself to have hope that I could ever sleep well again
She’d suffered years of severe insomnia, forced to cut back her work to two days a week. She was permanently fatigued to the extent that she found it hard to enjoy time off and holidays.
You may have had poor sleep for years. You’ve got used to pushing on. Feeling below par. It’s just crept up on you.
I had an astounding example of how easily we can adapt to poor health when I was going through the menopause. I had incredibly heavy periods – I mean so bad I couldn’t leave the house. Luckily I worked from home, but it went on for months. One day I had a phone appointment with the nurse at my GP practice. I remember clearly saying to her
Is it normal to feel dizzy all the time, even when I’m sitting down?
Her response was a sharp wake-up call. I immediately made an appointment to see my doctor. These days I can’t understand how I ever thought that was normal! And yet I’d become accustomed over many months to feeling tired and weak.
And so it is with sleep. You carry on believing that you’re able to work normally, that the exhaustion, irritability, brain fog and anxiety you feel is all somehow normal.
In my case I needed a medical professional to remind me that I needed to stop being so accommodating to my health condition. I’d completely forgotten what it felt like to have normal energy levels.
5. I’ve tried to fix my sleep before and it hasn’t worked
My key motivation for developing my Sleep Well programmes is to provide people with support that they can trust. Before consulting me most of my clients tried to fix their own sleep. They’d searched the net and experimented with a few things. Now I know from my own internet searches that some of the sleep advice you’ll find is good advice. But some of it really isn’t. And the good advice doesn’t go far enough. It covers the basics – reduce caffeine, avoid social media before bed, keep your bedroom cool – but if you have a chronic sleep problem you need more than that. That’s why I base my programmes on clinically researched methods that address every aspect of good sleep.
And then there’s the problem of actually implementing the strategies you read about. When you’re learning how to reset your sleep habits, you need to target the specific areas that will make the biggest difference and then apply the changes consistently.
When you’re exhausted it can be very hard to do this. So you try something for a few days. It doesn’t work and then you either become cynical or despondent or both.
As one of a my clients, a very successful lawyer said
A lot of sleep therapy articles/programmes are pretty are pretty flimsy once you dig below the surface. There’s no substitute for sitting down with someone who knows their subject and is focussing on your unique situation.
Take a moment to reflect – which of these 5 barriers is preventing you from enjoying healthy, refreshing sleep?
If you’re putting up with lack of sleep, night after night and you know deep down that it’s affecting your ability to lead a happy, productive and fulfilling life then maybe it’s time to talk. I can help you to overcome your personal barriers to good sleep whatever they may be.
I’d love to guide you to get your sleep – and maybe also your life – back on track.