One of the questions I ask a client when I first start coaching them how to improve their sleep is:
How would you like your sleep to be when we have finished working together?
They often reply along the lines of:
Well, I’d like to sleep right through and not keep waking up
(As a bit of an aside, they are often surprised and a little bemused by the question. They’ve been putting up with poor sleep for so long, they’ve completely forgotten what it might be like to even hope for sound sleep!)
Before I assess the exact nature of my client’s sleeping problem and identify the best strategies to address these, it’s important that we set a realistic sleep goal.
I wonder if you can see why the sleep goal above is not fully realistic?
It’s because waking up during the night is completely normal and to be expected, especially as you get older.
The architecture of sleep changes with age.
A 12 year old wakes once a night, at most. By the age of 35, that’s risen to 3 times a night for men and about twice for women. Roll forward to our sixties however, and men will typically be waking up 6 times and women about 4 or 5.
These periods of wakefulness can be very brief so that you might not notice them. However people with poor sleep tend to pay attention to their awake times. Instead of rolling over and going quickly back to deep sleep, they behave differently. They start filling their minds with thoughts.
These thoughts fall into two main categories
Being awake can trigger anxious thoughts about not being able to sleep:
Oh no! I’m awake (again) I’ll never get back to sleep! Why can’t I sleep? I need to be at my best tomorrow and at this rate my brain’s going to be in a complete fog…
Being awake creates a space which can be quickly occupied by other worries, big and small. Family, finances, work, to do lists, are all great topics to get your brain in a spin and keep you awake!
2. Active thoughts
These can be thoughts about pleasant topics such as planning your next holiday, or having a creative idea for your business. All the same, they stimulate the brain and drive sleep away.
I hope you can see now how the sleep goal needs to be re-phrased from –
Well, I’d like to sleep right through and not keep waking up to –
I’d like to be able to get quickly back to sleep when I wake up
The mind loves to think and it needs to be managed! Being able to get quickly back to sleep improves both sleep quality and quantity. I teach a number of simple strategies to help you do this.
If you are not fully satisfied with your sleep, then do check out my FREE mini course The 7 Day Better Sleep Challenge. You’ll receive an email a day for 7 days, each with a practical step to help you get your sleep back on track. It includes strategies for clearing your mind of busy thoughts.