This is the fourth and final post from Doug S. of Build Better Sleep, our January Featured Blogger (so sad!). In this last post, Doug examines how we beat ourselves up over a bad night of sleep, what that's not cool, and what you can do the next time you're having a less than stellar night.
One of the biggest hurdles we have to overcome when talking about our sleep is the self-fulfilling background “chatter” we have in our own minds. We have to change that chatter to reinforce positive thoughts about our own sleep. The self-fulfilling tends to work both ways!
A Single Night Is Not That Important
One overwhelming preconception most of us have is that proper sleep is important. And on the whole it is.
But one or two nights in a row of very poor sleep (or in my case, no sleep) is just not that important in the grand scheme of things.
It’s the constant worry that “I have to get some sleep tonight” that turns, counter-intuitively, into the very thing that will keep you awake.
Why You're Training Yourself to Not Sleep
How many times can you catch yourself saying the following:
- I’ve been lying here forever – If I can just get to sleep in the next half hour I can still manage through tomorrow.
- If I don’t get enough sleep tonight, I’ll be a wreck in the morning.
- This insomnia is relentless – and I know it’s hurting my health.
- I dread bedtime – just another night of staring at the ceiling.
- I’ve got to get more sleep.
- There’s no way I’ll get any more sleep tonight.
Every time you say this, you're teaching yourself that you're not sleeping. Done repeatedly, this can turn into an endless cycle, with each negative thought turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because you keep telling yourself over and over that "You're not sleeping" or that "You'll be off your game tomorrow", you then start to live up to those expectations.
Instead, what you need to do is turn these negative statements into positive ones:
- No matter how much I sleep tonight, tomorrow will be just fine.
- Just rest is important, so if I rest tonight, regardless of how much I sleep, that’s good for my body.
- I can improve the quality of my sleep with some basic sleep hygiene – and I’m going to do it!
- I’m looking forward to going to bed – even if all it means is quiet and relaxation.
- I got enough sleep to function just fine today.
- It’s 3am, and I’ve already got some sleep!
- I’ll go to bed at my regular time, and I’ll sleep well tonight.
There’s a big difference between negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement. Remember that what you tell yourself will become your reality. So if you’re feeding yourself negative thoughts about sleep, chances are good that you will have lousy sleep.
Conversely, if you can turn those negative thoughts around into positive ones, they will start to reinforce positive thoughts and positive changes.
Some Interesting Objective Feedback
Here’s a good example. I’ve had three of the worst night’s sleep in a long time the last three in a row:
Sleep This Week So Far – Two Of The Best, and Three of The Worst
The last three nights followed two nights of the best ZQ (Zeo) scores I’ve had to date. 87, 79, and then 0, 44 and 37 (the 0 didn’t even register on the upload to Zeo’s site, but I could see on my Smartphone that I had 46 minutes of REM and 13 minutes of sleep on Tuesday night).
Something strange has happened with me, though.
Instead of lamenting about the poor quality of sleep over the last few nights, I’m thinking instead “what have I done differently the last three nights to affect these scores so much“. I think that the positive thinking is paying off.
My hypotheses are:
- I have a cold and haven’t been outside exercising the last week or so. This causes me to think that skipping a day of exercise might not affect your sleep (especially if it’s as precarious as mine), but skipping more than a couple of days might just have an effect.
- I’ve been a bit lax over the Christmas Holidays in watching TV till late. Especially some intense programming like Dexter and Homeland.
- Where normally I would read in another room until bedtime, I’ve caught myself reading the Kindle in bed for about a half hour before sleep.
- I have started taking a 1.25mg Melatonin over the last 11 nights, but I don’t see how that would affect ZQ. But maybe I’m missing something here.
I tried to find some correlation between the things I measure in my sleep log and my ZQ – and there may be something there to support hypotheses #1 if there’s a lag between exercise and poorer sleep (note my highest days ever were days of no exercise):
ZQ versus Exercise
Admittedly, I haven’t been diligent enough to log the actual TV time and program intensity close to bedtime, nor have been measuring the Kindle reading.
I have to think that much of this was all part of the Holiday Season disruption. I really was in a pretty good routine before the holidays, and the ZQ scores were rising.
The Hard Part
I find that the most challenging part of having access to all this data is choosing when to use it. When the Zeo monitor tells me that I’ve had a very good night, it reinforces a good feeling inside regardless of how I feel the next morning. Again, positive reinforcement.
If the Zeo reports I’ve had an awful night, then it’s really hard to push that data aside and say to myself “I actually don’t feel that bad, though”. I try my hardest not to make it negative reinforcement.
Time Awake at Night
The truth is that regardless of what the data says, I feel just about the same every morning. I feel just as awake, just as focused, and just as energetic. Even this morning, with a ZQ of 37 last night, I feel fine. I went out for a long bike ride, just to get back into that routine. I’ve promised myself that I’ll turn off the TV a couple of hours before bed, and read in my office until it’s time to go to sleep.
My next challenge is to figure out this damned fractured sleep! If I could figure this out, my ZQ would soar!
Awakenings Per Night
Do you blog about sleep? If so, we want you as our next Zeo Featured Blogger! Tell us your story today!