A Good Days Waking: Sleep Disturbance and Insomnia Turned Upside Down

..."our very attitude towards sleep can all affect our waking time. Here are some of the latest stats on sleep from the national sleep foundation." - Cara DeVries

A Good Days Waking
by Cara DeVries, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist 

Ever wonder what constitutes a good day? I’m guessing its as individual as we are and yet, for many it begins with sleep; how much, the quality, dreamtime, even our very attitude towards sleep can all affect our waking time. Here are some of the latest stats on sleep from the national sleep foundation:

• Some 70 million people in the United States have a sleep problem. About 40 million adults suffer from a chronic sleep disorder; an additional 20 - 30 million have intermittent sleep-related problems. 
• Effects of sleep loss on work performance may be costing U.S. employers some $18 billion in lost productivity. 
• America’s adults average 6.9 hours of sleep each night, slightly less than the range of seven to nine hours recommended by many sleep experts. 
• Three-quarters of America’s adults, (75%), said they frequently experience at least one symptom of a sleep problem in the past year. 
• One-quarter of America’s adults say their sleep problems have some impact on their daily lives.
• Insomnia is the most common sleep problem for America’s adults, according to NSF polls. More than one-half of adults in America (54%) said they experienced at least one symptom of insomnia a few nights a week; one-third (33%) reported having a symptom every night or almost every night in the past year.

With numbers this staggering; the topic of sleep has become a hot one. At my local bookstore I counted fully some 35+ books on how to improve sleep. Everything from behavior modification to what you eat, how much screen time, alcohol, the temperature of your room, even the direction your bed is facing can effect the quality and how much we sleep, according to some.

As a trauma therapist, sleep disruption is the number one complaint I hear from folks that come in my office. But one does not need to have experienced trauma to know the utter frustration that comes from one of those long, miserable nights. Regardless of why, lack of sleep can leave us feeling raw and disoriented. I often hear even a sense of shame or embarrassment, “what’s wrong with me? Why can I not sleep like a normal person?” Or the ever present panic and worry about not sleeping, “how can I be expected to function? I have a big day at work tomorrow” etc. This cycle of worry about getting enough sleep is often, ironically, the very thing that steals our sleep. 

Dr. Naiman, sleep expert and all around amazing guy was recently asked during a radio interview,”doc, what’s the secret to a good nights sleep?” His internal response was one of frustration. Like so many issues we face, there is no magic bullet answer. The process requires time, thoughtfulness and the spirit of a sleuth to first uncover the roots and maybe then, lay out a plan. In other words, there is no one way, no standard, no new and fabulous idea or concept. It is individual. In the end he gave the interviewer the sound bite he was after, Dr. Naiman said this, 

“the secret to a good nights sleep is a good days waking.” 

That line hit me to the core. To my ears it was more than a snappy response. It was a call for a lifestyle change. One that might create the peaceful night everyone loves to have but often can be so elusive. I thought, “right! Of course! How can we be expected to run the amount of energy it takes to do our lives all day and then at our designated bedtime, flip a switch and off to dreamland?” 

The whole concept, it seemed to me, was a call to having a mindful waking life. One that calls in the night much earlier, to let in the dusk, turn down the lights and all the energy that light brings. Not always easy when your boss is unreasonably asking you to work late or your kids are needing help, the family needing attention, home, partner, friends… even our moods and challenges with being in the world all pull us away from that level of awareness. So I made my own waking awareness checklist:

• How was I starting my day? Like many, it might look like missing the alarm, quick cup’o’something caffeinated, rush to get ready and out the door. All this before even getting to work, school or whatever the commitments. 
• As the day hums along, what am I noticing? Where is my energy and mood. What am I spending my energy thinking about?  
• Did I take breaks? Even when I would allow 5 minutes with my eyes shut and noticing my breath I felt immediately more at ease. 
• How was I ending my day? When evening comes its often tempting to get lots of things done i.e. the gym, emailing, laundry, and play. Some of it important and fun right? Admittedly however, I found I leaned towards tasks that were stimulating like the computer screen and other screens.

Sounds familiar? So I began with a couple of simple and profound changes: 

First, I simply brought more awareness to my waking experience. It’s amazing what happens when we stop and listen, look and sense.  Then, as the sun begins to set and dusk descends, I turn everything down; computer (most have a dimmer right?) adding candlelight (who doesn’t love that?) essentially, I began to ease myself into the night. I use this little formula with my clients and no surprise; it’s a big hit. It takes some doing to get it in place but the rewards will pay in kind with a healthy, restful nights sleep.

Nite nite!

Cara is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with offices in San Francisco and Marin. For over 20 years, she has worked with children and their families in hospitals and is currently piloting a program to help those families find the tools for self-regulation in the aftermath of hospital trauma. She works with individuals and parents specializing in Post Traumatic Stress. You can learn more by visiting her website. www.caradevries.com

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