Updated: Jan 11, 2022
(Whether you like it or not. So why not find a way to like it?)
I talk regularly with my clients, friends and family about sleep. It’s exceedingly rare to find someone who can say confidently that they’re sleeping deeply and consistently and for enough hours at a time.
How can this be? Our bodies are regulated by a biological supercomputer that has been evolving for a million years to ensure our survival and safety. We automatically run a pump in our chests that changes speed based on internal needs and external conditions. We naturally breathe in air and filter it into our blood at the right chemical balance for that pump to carry much needed oxygen throughout our bodies. Our cells reproduce on their own, repairing damage and renewing our bodies without any permission or interruption.
Why then, when we feel tired after a long day and we absolutely need to sleep, do we find ourselves staring at the ceiling unable to find rest? Why do we stay up much later than we truly desire attempting to cram productivity into our waking life? Why do we startle awake in the morning to an alarm clock with little energy or excitement to meet the coming day?
The answer is complex and different for each individual. It’s why people hire therapists and life coaches to help them maneuver deliberate changes to their habits and cycles. Obviously, I recommend doing so. But to say only that would be a copout. Let’s actually dive into this a little bit.
Our ability to go without sleep is rooted in our natural survival and adaptation responses. If your sleep was as absolute as your heartbeat, you would drop to the ground mid-stride when your body required it, whether or not you had found warmth and safety. We would all be walking past sleeping people on every street and in every workplace, constantly. Your prehistoric self wouldn’t have heard a predator sneaking into your dwelling to threaten your food or family members. You would sleep right through a fire in your apartment. Being a light sleeper is an evolutionary advantage.
Being able to postpone sleep also has incredible benefits to the evolving human. It means that you can travel farther. You can focus longer on important tasks. You can push through the night to outwork and outwit your foes and obstacles. But it also means that when your cat knocks something off of a table, or your phone lights up on the nightstand, or your neighbor’s car alarm goes off in the middle of the night, you wake up. If you’re harboring a preoccupation, like ‘important’ work that still needs done or a communication that hasn't been processed fully, your brain interprets this as a necessary task to be completed before rest can occur. Your mind is convinced you’re building a wall to protect your tribe from an imminent threat or that you’re up late treating water so that it’s safe for everyone to drink, so you can’t sleep yet.
The amount of superfluous stimulus our brains receive from the senses now is much greater than it used to be. Our onboard supercomputers evolved to weed out unimportant pieces of data and keep only that which we may find useful later. We actually have different types of memory, some of it is much closer to the surface and easier to recall than the rest. Our minds are positive about what to do with the visual memory of wind blowing through grass in the sunlight, a fish swimming through a shallow stream or dark clouds forming on the horizon. However, we’re still brand new to the hours of images of cats photoshopped dancing to electronic music that we’re now taking into our mental diet.
We’re dealing with a storage issue. We have no library built to hold every season of The Office, every Stevie Wonder song, all of the Marvel movies, our cousin’s weird Tik Tok account and a podcast about the history of history podcasts. So it’s being filtered into and processed with the memories of our actual lives. We’re spending our restful hours processing the knowledge that in just 10 easy steps, you too can be a boat-owning millionaire through multi-level-marketing. There’s one weird trick the banks don’t want you to know. The earth might be flat. Machine Gun Kelly and Miley Cyrus are the king and queen of rock n’ roll in 2020. There’s a raging global pandemic. Water and electricity shortages. Disease and famine. War. Metaverse. Mars.
We just were not built for this.
It might all be easier to handle, too, if we could just get one good night’s sleep. But this is the very thing we lose when we internalize all of this information. The more you really care about your life, community, family or future, the more likely you are to be having a really hard time sleeping right now. Because your reality exists within vast quantities of fiction and unconnected fact. Your storage is unorganized, and full. You’re spending all night with a spinning wheel. Loading.
Do I have any good news? Can we work through this? Yes. Your brain is the most advanced supercomputer when it comes to adaptation. It can re-write its programming on-the-fly. Through thought, exercise, habit-tracking, diet and breath-work, you can reclaim vast quantities of your much needed sleep. You’ll experience your dreams coming back, both unconsciously and in the waking world. You can teach your mind how to store the information you’re uploading. It takes practice, guidance and accountability. All things that myself and mental-health support professionals everywhere are working tirelessly (haha) to provide for you, when you’re ready.
To talk more about sleeping deeply, regularly and other important personal development goals, schedule a meeting with me. I can’t wait to support you.