Learn the surprising thing that you’re NOT doing that can help you overcome insomnia.
Anyone who has had a night or two of poor sleep knows the importance of protecting that habit. We know that when we don’t get good sleep we’re a little bit shorter in our reactions to people, everything seems a little bit more stressful, and typically our ability to problem solve and manage our stress is limited.
But how do we sleep better? Especially since it seems as though once we move into midlife, our body just naturally wakes up in the middle of the night over thinking of all the things that we’ve forgotten to do during the day.
If you google “How do I sleep better?” you’ll get a whole host of articles about sleep hygiene. And sleep hygiene is super important. But if you’ve struggled with sleep, you’ve probably already done all the things & are still frustrated.
Have no worry. Janet Whalen is a sleep coach & how she approaches insomnia & solves it is different than any other approach I’ve ever seen.
Tune in to Episode 59 to learn how to sleep better, but do it from a perspective that you’ve never thought of before.
Janet Whalen is a Sleep & Stress Management Coach for midlife moms. A former insomniac (40+ years!) turned great sleeper, Janet is passionate about helping women give themselves permission to sleep, rest and care for themselves after years of giving everything to family and others. Janet’s membership coaching program, “Permission To Sleep”, helps her members sleep better in 8 weeks or less without pills, potions, or needing anyone’s permission but their own. Janet is a Certified life coach with The Life Coach School and was formerly trained at CTI as a Co-Active coach. She is also trained in CBT-I (cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia).
Before she found her own sleep solution, she spent years as a marketer, family photographer, and mom to her two sons, who are now young adults. Now she’s empty-nesting in Southern Ontario with her husband of almost 25 years and can be found reading, kayaking, hiking, and working in her garden when she’s not talking about sleep.
The crazy thing about weight loss is that we focus a lot on what we need to DO to lose weight and have better health – which often translates to action that we can take surrounding eating and moving.
But what we don’t talk about is sleeping and stress. We know that neither stress nor sleep actively contribute to the calorie in vs calorie out equation, however there’s no doubt that when we don’t sleep well, we’re a bit more irritable, we make poor eating choices, and we don’t have the energy to move.
On our episode today, I have Janet Whalen who is a sleep coach & this episode is so good because she gives advice & techniques that I’ve never seen before on google. So you’re going to want to check out today’s episode.
You are listening to the done with dieting podcast. The podcast for women in midlife, who are done with dieting, but still want to lose weight and feel good in your clothes. You know that diets don’t work long term. But you feel like there’s this secret that everyone else knows that you just haven’t figured it out yet.
I am your host, Elizabeth Sherman. And I’ve helped hundreds of women get off the diet roller coaster change their relationship with food, exercise, and their bodies. Through this podcast, my goal is to help you too.
Welcome. Let’s get started.
Welcome to episode 59 of the done with dieting podcast. If you are someone who struggles with good sleep or calls herself an insomniac. Today’s podcast is a must listen. I have a special guest today and I learned so much from our interview.
Janet Whalen is a sleep coach who battled and overcame her own sleep issues. And now, she helps women in mid-life get better sleep. It’s perfect. Even if you don’t struggle with sleep, I want you to listen in so that you can make sure that you keep it that way. Because if there’s one thing that none of us want it’s to struggle with sleep.
This interview is so jam packed with information. And I don’t think that we left anything out. So, I hope you enjoy it and let’s get started.
Elizabeth: All right everyone, welcome Janet Whalen to the show. I am so excited to talk to you today, Janet. Because even though, I talk about sleep and how important it is in my own practice, and I’ve talked about it on the podcast as well, you are an expert. So, first of all, let’s introduce you, tell us who you are, who you help, and all of those great things.
Janet: Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here to chat with you about this. Yeah, I’m a sleep coach for a mid-life really moms, but I work with any midlife women. Mostly, because insomnia affects more women than men for various reasons. But also, because I just have a soft spot in my heart for moms. Because typically, we tend to, you know, we spend a lot of years focusing on everyone else other than ourselves.
And there’s a lot with sleep that is biological. But then, there’s a whole lot about it that is mental, and having to do with our nervous system, and how we manage our stress, and how we view our role in our families, and our lives, and what we give ourselves permission to do, right? As far as rest and sleep and everything else.
So, for women, I think there’s a whole piece even beyond just a sleep they’re getting or what’s causing their insomnia. That’s really helpful to work on. And I know we’re going to talk a little bit more about that later. But I was a terrible insomniac for probably over 40 years. And resolved my own sleep issues through a whole range of trial and error things in self-coaching.
And when I realized that I had fixed my own problem, I thought, wow! I wonder if this is something I can help someone else with. I thought I’d found the answer to you know, all the universe’s sleep problems. I didn’t know that this was already an existing area of study and that so many people were struggling just like I was and that I wasn’t actually a unicorn.
And so, I started looking into it even more and I got certified as a CVTI practitioner. CVTI is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia. So, I’m not a therapist. I am a life coach. So, I don’t diagnose, I don’t treat, I don’t help anyone with any medical problems related to their sleep.
But I do help women manage their stress as it relates to their sleep and learn how to relax their nervous system. So that sleeps comes more naturally, and they can learn to focus on the quality sleep instead of just focusing on the number of hours they get every night.
Elizabeth: Yeah. So, let’s talk a little bit about why sleep is so important. So, what are some of the results or what are some of I don’t want to say symptoms. Because we all know what the symptoms are. It’s being awake. It’s feeling sluggish. It’s not having enough energy. But what are some of the other things that pop up in our lives that we may not attribute to a lack of sleep.
Janet: Yeah. It’s interesting when you go through that list. Symptoms of chronic insomnia actually are more similar to well, they’re more like frustration, anger, feeling like your relationships are tougher to manage, feeling like you can’t get through your day, worry, anxiety, that kind of thing. Then, they are low energy or sleepiness.
So, if you are someone who finds yourself really sleepy during the day. And like you could go and take a nap at any moment and successfully go and do that. You might want to talk to your doctor about that. That might be actually beyond the realm of chronic insomnia. Chronic insomnia typically, shows up in these kinds of mental challenges.
Like, Yeah, just like I said, you might be a little more snappy with your kids, or your partner, or your coworkers, or whatever. And you probably have a sense that you know, something’s not working, there’s something wrong with you. You’re not going to make it through your day. It’s going to affect your cognitive abilities and your ability to perform. Right? And perform at work is what I’m really referring to there.
Those are some of the typical worries that insomniacs have. How it shows up as far as our health is a totally different discussion. And there’s a lot of study on this that shows that the health impacts of lack of sleep are probably more caused by the stress that insomnia brings on than they are by the lack of sleep itself.
So, all of this push to get eight to 10 hours of sleep that we hear in the media all the time is actually causing chronic insomnia in people who are otherwise good sleepers. Because they’re so worried that they’re going to get cancer and die because they don’t sleep well enough that they actually bring on insomnia itself.
And then, it’s the stress of that, that causes high blood pressure and all kinds of other stuff that’s related to stress, right? The symptoms of stress and the symptoms of insomnia can be similar.
Elizabeth: Oh, yeah. So, I just actually did a podcast a few weeks ago. And the relationship between sleep and stress are so intertwined, right? Like when you have poor sleep, then it causes an increased stress level. And when you have higher stress, then you don’t sleep well. And it’s just a vicious cycle. Exactly. Yeah. Okay, okay, good. So, we’ll come back to that because I know that people are like, well, how do I get out of it? Right?
Janet: That’s the key.
Elizabeth: But first, let’s talk a little bit about the causes. Because I know that as a young woman, I honestly could sleep anywhere. Like I remember traveling, and being in different hotel rooms every single night, and having no problem with that. I could always fall asleep at the drop of a hat and then sleep the entire night.
But then, as I got older, not only did my bladder wake me up. Right? But it also seems like we, as we get older with menopause and perimenopause that there’s other stuff going on that’s causing us to not have a restful sleep. So, what are the causes around that?
Janet: Yes. There’s a lot to that question at all. I’ll tackle the perimenopause and menopause first because it’s totally true. And it’s probably a big reason why insomnia affects more women than men, because we do have very large hormonal changes as we hit those phases of our life.
And some of the hormones that are affected are related to our ability to relax. Like progesterone and GABA are very related. And GABA is I believe it’s a neurotransmitter, but it’s highly associated with helping us relax. And so, when our progesterone is low, same with GABA.
And then, the other thing is that they think there’s a link between estrogen and melatonin. So that women in menopause might actually be a little bit melatonin deficient. And melatonin isn’t actually a sleep aid and the way that people use it or the way that we think about it. It’s a circadian rhythm balancer or like it works for people who have jet lag.
It works for people who are elderly and have lower melatonin than other people. And their circadian rhythm is shifts to earlier in the night and they’re not it so they might get tired earlier. Because their body temperature drops and then they’re going to wake up earlier because they’ve had their sleep. Right? And they think something’s wrong, but really, they’ve just had enough sleep. It’s just that their sleep cycle has shifted earlier a couple of hours.
So, mentally, getting behind the idea that, that could be okay. Right? It’s that how do you feel? Do you feel rested? Do you feel good? So, that’s what’s happening physically. But what’s happening mentally, when we’re woken up in the night is we start to think that something’s gone wrong. Right? Because we think we should be asleep for eight straight hours.
But that’s not necessarily even how the human body works. In fact, we go through five or six cycles of sleep, like through all of the sleep phases per night. They take an hour to 90 minutes each and we probably wake up every single time we pass through one of those cycles. We just don’t remember it.
So, even when you’re describing, when you were in your twenties, and you slept great. You were probably waking up and just don’t remember it. And you weren’t making it mean anything if you did, so it didn’t create a memory for you.
Whereas now we wake up and maybe we have a hot flash. We have to go to the bathroom. We have like whatever the reason is, we feel a little uncomfortable. And then we get mad, cause we’re like, what? Why does this keep happening? I just want to sleep? Can’t I just have one night, like we plead with ourselves like this, right?
Well, that creates a stress response. And our cortisol goes up, cortisol and melatonin work a teeter-totter. So, when cortisol is high, melatonin’s low. And it’s just challenging to get out of that cycle of stress. Unless you know how to calm your nervous system down on purpose. Unless you have some relaxation practices. Unless you understand the process between our thoughts and our feelings and how our thoughts can create stress for us. Right?
So, when we make it a problem that we’re awake in the night, we create insomnia for ourselves. So, that’s really the bigger factor. It’s not so much that you’re being woken up. It’s how you’re feeling and thinking about being woken up in the first place. Because there are lots of menopausal women who get woken up and they don’t have insomnia.
Elizabeth: Yeah. And it’s so interesting when I talk to clients and prospects about what is happening in their lives. And yeah, the sleep is sometimes an issue, but what’s the genetic component to that? Because some folks are like, well, my mom wasn’t a great sleeper, my dad wasn’t a great sleeper. Is there a genetic component to the amount of sleep that we need?
Janet: So, that’s not something I can specifically speak to, except for the fact that the learned behavior of being an insomniac, a lot of people learn that from their parents, right? They learn the idea of how big a problem is it? How do I react to having a bad sleep? Do I wake up in the morning and like, I don’t know about you and your partner. But a lot of people wake up and the first thing they say to their loved ones is, Hey, how’d you sleep last night? That’s like one of our morning greetings. It’s high on our list of priorities.
But we don’t really ever pay attention to how do we fix it, if it’s not great. We just go ahead and complain about how awful it was. And because everyone has an understanding of what it’s like when you have a poor sleep, you get a lot of good feedback and helpful like commiseration and empathy when you’re kind of like, oh, that’s such a bad sleep. And the other person will go, oh, I know, isn’t that awful? Like oh, I wish I could just. And then you just devolve into this. Right, it is, it’s like a bonding experience.
But we’re not finding the same bonding experiences around resolving our insomnia. Which is why I like to talk about it a lot because it is possible. My client, I did it for myself. My clients get past their insomnia, and they say things like, you know, I wish I had known. How come we don’t know this?
Never occurred to me that this is why I couldn’t sleep and proving to themselves that they can after months. And sometimes, even years of struggling it’s like one of those things that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Right? You can’t imagine it’s possible, but once it is, it’s so obvious to you. It’s probably like how you feel about weight loss. Right?
A lot of people struggle and think it’s impossible for them for the rest of their lives. They’re just not a person that can keep a weight that they desire. It’s the same kind of thinking. I used to think sleep is for chumps was the saying the thought that kind of was my overriding, it’s okay, that I’m an insomniac because sleep was for champs, right?
Like it’s for people who don’t realize that they don’t have to waste a third of their life in bed. That’s how I convinced myself that I was just different from everyone else. And it was okay. This was somehow like a superpower. It’s wild.
Elizabeth: Well, it’s so interesting that you say that because I think that there is some sort of bragging effect, right? Like, oh, I only got three hours of sleep. Well, it goes back to like college, right? When we’re like, oh, I pulled an all-nighter and here I am. Right?
Janet: Yeah. I’m so tough. Look at me, I can get through like, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. These kinds of things that we say, right? I’m such a hard worker. I get so much done. I am like, I’m special. And this is how we convince ourselves that we’re okay with feeling like garbage. Because we’re getting all this other stuff, oh my gosh, I’m so productive because I don’t sleep.
And this is one of the big things that comes up when women do start sleeping better. And they actually find they have more time for productivity than they did before. Because they were spending so much mental time on their sleep issue. Right? And they didn’t even realize how much time this took up in their day.
Suddenly, they have available to them, some extra time and they don’t know what to do with it. And they feel like they have to pack all this productivity back in. And then, that stresses them out more. So, it’s like this kind of peeling of an onion, right? That happens through the weeks of sleep coaching, that I do with clients is the thoughts that you’re having about sleep and the thoughts that you have about your insomnia.
Sometimes aren’t even related to your sleep. Like insomnia is often not about sleep at all. It’s about all the other stuff that’s going on in your life and all of the ways that you think about yourself and what your role is, what you accept for yourself, what you give permission to yourself to accept, to receive, all of that comes into it.
And often, women are shocked by what they uncover through the coaching and unpeeling that onion. Right? So, we find thoughts about it’s often perfectionist overachieving women who I ended up working with. There’s a lot of productivity focus, they have a hard time just being. They feel they have to do all the time and people-pleasing certainly, that’s another area that comes up a lot.
So, feeling like you have to do for everybody else before yourself. And so, you’re the lowest item on your priority list. And so, you usually don’t give yourself any kind of attention at all. The shows up and feeling like you can’t go to bed until your kitchen is clean. Because I can’t wait possibly wake up to a messy kitchen. And no one else does it in the house. So of course, it falls on me. And so, I have to be the one that’s doing that at 10:30 at night. Well, there’s a lot of dramatic thinking in that, right.
But we believe because of what we believe our societal rules are, and our role within our family, and what we’ve accepted and allowed over the years, we believe that it’s just true. Like we’re just telling somebody the news.
Elizabeth: Yeah. Well, and I would imagine that the other way that that shows up is also waking up at three o’clock in the morning. And I don’t know if you have this experience, but I know that sometimes my brain just likes to entertain itself. And like either seeing baby shark or whatever. But oftentimes, I’ll go back in the recesses of memories and start beating myself up about something that I said to someone, five years ago.
Janet: Like, in high school. Yeah.
Elizabeth: Exactly. Yeah.
Janet: That’s really common.
Elizabeth: And so, I can imagine that like the people pleasing and perfectionist tendencies go there as well. Not just in, I have to do all of this stuff for other people. But then, oh, why did I do that? And the inner critic that shows up afterwards.
Janet: A hundred percent. And so, that’s most insomniacs will tell you, I can’t get to sleep because my brain won’t shut off. Or my mind races, as soon as I lie down. Right? And this is what happens. So, as soon as there’s nothing else distracting us, as soon as we’re not buffering or numbing ourselves with other activities, all of the things that we’ve been thinking and feeling all day that we’ve been avoiding come up.
And our brain goes to work on all the ways we feel about ourselves. Like maybe, I was such a terrible friend to that person. And why didn’t I do this differently? Or I can’t believe she said that to me. Why didn’t I come back with these five lines instead of the dumb way that I did, right? We all do this.
And so, we need to learn to replace that kind of stressful cyclical automatic thinking with some intentional thoughts, because we are not our thoughts. Right? We don’t have to believe everything our brain presents us. As true, which I know, you know too. And it’s a process of just reminding ourselves, okay, brain. Like, I see you, I see what you’re doing there. I know it’s nighttime and I’m not entertained right now. So, you’re just going to throw out all this stuff that you think I need to work on. But I don’t really need to, that’s not important.
What I really need to do right now is calm my nervous system. I need to lower my heart rate. I need to do the processes that we learn in sleep coaching. To allow myself to fall asleep again. And it’s taking the pressure off that cycle of thinking and pressure off the idea that you really should be asleep instead of awake.
There’s a whole lot to it but essentially it comes down to your believing your brain too much. You’re believing you should be asleep. You’re believing you shouldn’t be thinking the things you’re thinking. And none of it might be true. Right? What if it’s just okay, that you’re just awake? What if it’s okay, that you have a brain that just likes to dig into old relationship garbage that should have been resolved 20 years ago? What if we don’t have to make that a problem?
Elizabeth: I can hear people’s brains exploding right now. What do you mean, Janet? This doesn’t make any sense. Can’t I do that at another time of day? Like, how about two o’clock in the afternoon instead of two o’clock in the morning.
Janet: So interestingly, that is one of the things that we do is we try to focus our brains back to doing that work in the day. Like, one of the tips that I’ll give your listeners right now is to schedule some worry time for yourself during the day. Right?
So, I actually have a worksheet for this, and you can get it at janetwhalen.com/sleep by the way, if you’re interested. But basically, it’s taking all the things that are worrying you and dealing with them while you’re awake, dealing with them during the day. And it can take only five or 10 minutes. It’s really not a long process, but once you’ve given your brain, the job to go and manage them, it will relax about it. Right?
And then, it won’t come up with those things at bedtime. Some people do this two in the afternoon. Some people do it about an hour before bed because they’re worried the stuff is going to come up at bedtime and they don’t want it to. I don’t recommend doing it right before your head hits the pillow, because then you’re working on it. Right? And you don’t want that stuff happening in your bed.
But if you can assign your brain, the job of managing that when you’re awake, it’s less likely to happen at night.
Elizabeth: Yeah. Cause I know that for so many of us, when you wake up at three o’clock in the morning and you have this problem, it’s the biggest problem in the world. Like it is the biggest problem that if you don’t resolve it at three o’clock in the morning, you’re going to die under a bridge in a van down by the river. Right?
Janet: But then, you wake up in the morning and you can’t believe you were so worried about it.
Elizabeth: Yeah. Exactly.
Janet: Cause it really wasn’t a big deal.
Elizabeth: Yeah. So, that’s a really great tip. Okay. Now, I want to go back to something that you keep saying, and that is insomniac. And so, how do you define an insomniac? How does someone know if they have insomnia or not? Because I think it’s a word that we throw around. And so, how does someone know if that’s actually a problem or not?
Janet: Yeah, such a good question. So, there is actually a standard definition for this out in the sleep science world. So, someone is suffering from chronic insomnia, which is the problematic I can’t stop this insomnia. If they have trouble sleeping, at least three nights a week or more. They’re awake for 30 minutes or more at bedtime. They wake up in the middle of the night for more than 30 minutes or they wake up more than 30 minutes before their alarm. Okay.
So, that’s all happening at least three times a week. And this is the most important factor. It’s disturbing that it’s impacting their life, right? So, there are people who take a little longer to fall asleep, but they don’t care, so they don’t technically have insomnia because it’s not a problem for them.
You really do have to have that additional; this is driving me crazy; I can’t manage like this, I can’t keep going, it’s impacting my day, I don’t feel myself at work, I’m arguing with my husband, whatever it is. There’s also acute insomnia that happens after like a stressful life event. Right?
So, let’s say, lose a job, or you’re getting divorced, or some major issue, a health issue, maybe you got COVID. It’s totally normal to have acute insomnia for a little while. It usually resolves itself. And so, when I say acute, I mean like it’s going on for much less than three months. It’s not necessarily three plus nights a week. It’s bothering you, but not to the extent that you’re worried it’ll never go away. It’s there and you can attribute it to your stress, and it resolves itself.
So, we all suffer even really great sleepers have nights of acute insomnia here and there because we all have stressful lives at some point. It’s learning so the people that develop chronic insomnia typically don’t learn how to manage that the stress of those external circumstances. And then, it becomes a long-term problem. So, I hope that answers the question.
Elizabeth: Yeah. No, I think it does.
Janet: It doesn’t mean just trouble sleeping once in a while. Let’s put it that way.
Elizabeth: Right. Yeah. And what I heard you say is yes, there are specific metrics of being awake X number of times per week, was it three times per week.
Janet: Three or more for 30 minutes or longer at those three times of night, right? Like if you have trouble falling asleep at night, it’s called, sleep onset insomnia. If you have trouble cause you wake up in the middle of the night and you can’t go back to sleep, it’s just sleep maintenance insomnia. Those are the two types of issues people mostly have and some people have both.
Elizabeth: Okay. Yeah. Yeah. And sometimes it was interesting to hear you say, waking up before your alarm because I wake up or my alarm goes off at 5:45 and sometimes I’ll wake up like much earlier than my alarm. And first of all, I removed all clocks in my house so that I wouldn’t look at them. Or not in my house but in my bed sleeping area. And I never knew that that was one of the definitions of insomnia. But I don’t really have a problem with it. So, therefore I don’t.
Janet: Yeah. If it’s not bothering you, it’s really not a big deal. Right? It’s just your body saying, I’ve had enough sleep now. And you maybe have, right? Like you maybe go to bed a lot earlier than other people. And so, it’s totally fine that you get up then.
And the idea of getting rid of your clocks, especially in your bedroom is one of the best tips for your listeners. I have a rule with my clients that we don’t do math in bed. So, part of that is turning your clock around, getting rid of it entirely. Some people need it or like for me, I have boys who are in university, who don’t always live here. Right? So, I like to know that they can reach me on my phone at any hour that they might need something.
So, my phone is on my bedside table, but it’s turned upside down. I can’t see the clock. It’s not in my face all the time and I don’t pick it up just to check, what time it is. Because then you send yourself down a path of well, certain times of the night or if I wake up at two o’clock or earlier it’s okay, because then I still have four or five hours to sleep. And that feels good to me.
But if it’s three o’clock or later I start stressing about, well, now there’s only two hours left and what if I can’t fall asleep? And what if it takes me an hour of those two hours? Is it even worth it to get that other hour? And maybe I should just get up. We start playing tricks with ourselves. Right? So, that math is not helpful.
Elizabeth: Yeah. That’s exactly why I got rid of my clock. Yeah. Because I was like, I don’t want to know because I don’t want to have to do math and figure it out and stress out about it.
Janet: That’s what will wake you up. That’s exactly what wakes you up. Right? So, for a lot of people, I’ve given people this tip and that’s all they need. And I’m like, you know what? Fantastic, good for you, I’m so glad that that’s all good for you. Often, it’s a lot more work than that.
But yeah, that’s a big one. Causes a lot of stress for a lot of people. It’s a symptom of like, this is how we make it a problem that we’re awake. Right? Instead of learning to embrace wakefulness as a part of being a human, we think because it’s dark, that sleep is the only right answer. But what if that’s not true? What if being awake is okay. It’s not hurting us.
Elizabeth: So, let me ask you this. I’ve heard that at some point in the past, maybe before the industrialized revolution. That people used to go to sleep for three or four hours, wake up in the middle of the night, eat, do stuff, and then go back to sleep again. Is there a truth to that?
Janet: Yeah. So, there was an article, I think it was on the CNN website recently about this. There’s some historical evidence of people talking about their first and second sleeps. And we don’t know specifically, like when this started or when it ended. But yeah, the industrial revolution is probably a good marker because what that did was create a workday for us, right?
That created our kind of 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. This is when we work, and this is when we sleep. So, we set aside hours for sleep and then beat ourselves up when we can’t sleep during those hours. When in the past and you can still see this in certain cultures around the world that RCS deck cultures, right?
Where they might take a nap at mid-day or maybe it’s hot. And so, it’s unbearable to be outside then. And so, they decide, well, I’m just going to take this time and rest until it’s more comfortable to go back and do my work. The one thing that is reflected in a lot of research is that there’s this idea that as long as you get about five and a half hours of sleep, you’ve probably gotten your core sleep. And that means in a 24 hour period.
So, you shouldn’t really worry about being sleep deprived, if you’re getting at least five and a half hours. And they did studies on emergency room doctors and sailboat racers like cross Atlantic, right? So, it’s taking days and nights to get across. And they can’t necessarily take long seven or eight hour sleeps at a time. They’re woken up regularly just for their own safety or because it’s their job.
And what they found is that as long as these people had this five and a half hours across a 24 hour period, even if it wasn’t all jammed up together, even if it was in sort of catnaps of one or two hours here and there. That they were still able to perform at their normal high standards. So, just knowing that is really helps people like lower their shoulders and be like, oh, really? Like, wow, that’s amazing to know! Why don’t we know this? That makes me feel so much better about my five and a half hours sleep that I had last night.
And I’ll tell you, I normally sleep seven and a half fish, sometimes eight. Last night, I did only sleep five and a half hours. And I woke up this morning and noticed, so I’m asleep coach and a former insomniac, I call myself a great sleeper now. We can talk about the identity work there if you want.
But I notice in the morning, my brain start to say, oh, you really had a terrible sleep last night. That was awful. Why is this starting to happen again? Blah, blah, blah. And I thought, no, like, remind myself, this happens now and then. I’m a human. Guess what? I actually got five and a half hours. I’m going to be totally fine. I’m going to get through this day. And actually, it’s probably going to help me sleep better tomorrow night or tonight, sorry.
And I’m able to just let it go. I don’t make it mean anything about me. I don’t say things like I’m having a backslide or it’s like if you’re on a healthier eating plan, right? And you’re tracking your meals or you’re deciding ahead of time, what you’re going to eat and then you don’t. And then, you’re tempted to want to beat yourself up for that. And think I have to start again or whatever it no, you don’t, you just get a new chance tomorrow. We have a whole new 24 hours. Right. And I get a new chance tonight to sleep again.
So, it’s learning to notice those ways that our brain wants to talk to us and wants to make it a problem. And then go, hang on a second, I don’t need to believe that. Just cause my brain thought it doesn’t make it true. I know better. I know what it is too. Like, I know that when I sleep less, I feel a little more emotional. I feel a little less kind of attached to my goals or my intentional behavior. I just need to pay a little more attention to it when that happens. Because my tendency will be to react instead of responding.
Elizabeth: Yeah. Well, and it’s interesting as you talking about that you know, I have a Fitbit and I don’t use my Fitbit any more for tracking steps, or my food, or anything like that. The only thing that I’d use it for is actually my sleep. I find it really interesting. And I don’t know if it’s actually accurate or not because every single night it tells me that I was awake for an hour and 15 minutes or something like that. But what you just said that I could be awake and just not remember it. I’m like, oh, okay, maybe there’s some truth there. But every single morning, that’s the first thing I do is I synchronize my watch to my phone so I can see how many hours did I get.
Janet: Yeah. And so, the question I would have for you is how do you feel normally? Do you ever check in with that? If I, were you, before I even looked at my watch data, I would say, okay, how did I feel last night? Do I feel like I’m rested? Do I feel like I got a good sleep? And I suggest that you do this about half an hour after you wake up. Because people have this idea that they should feel fantastic and rested like right away, as soon as they open their eyes. And that’s not the case for a lot of people.
So, give yourself a half hour to wake up and then say to yourself, do I feel good? How was that? And if it’s good, great. You don’t have to think about it anymore. And you maybe don’t even have to look at your watch data. Fitbits and those types of devices tend to use your movement in the night as an indicator. You could be in a very light sleep stage and still be technically asleep. But your Fitbit’s going to tell you, you’re awake.
The other thing with that kind of data is some people can get really obsessed with it and think that it becomes a competition, right? They need to check it all the time. It’s like counting your steps. Well, first of all, Fitbit decided 10,000 steps was ideal, we don’t know that that’s an ideal number.
And then, we also don’t for sure who know what an ideal number of hours of all of those sleep stages is. We have a pretty good idea. But I know people who have competitions with each other to see who can get the most REM sleep. Well, you can’t really control that. And it’s just a phase of your sleep, but you’re not meant to have REM sleep all night long.
So, where are we getting all this? Where are these competitions coming from? That kind of pressure on yourself can be the thing that creates insomnia. So, one of my other rules is that we don’t use sleep data from a device while we’re working on sleep coaching. We do track like on a paper or a computer. It’s a spreadsheet that has several different things, what are you eating and when? Are you drinking alcohol? Are you taking any medications?
There’s all kinds of factors that we track every night. But the most important thing for everyone to learn is to learn how you feel after you see this data and that’s great. But how do you feel about it? And one of the things that a lot of clients find after they’ve been doing it for a couple of weeks, they give every night a quality rating, 1 to 5.
And they start noticing, well, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the number of hours because here I slept seven and I gave it a three. And here I slept five and I gave it a four. Like, why did I do that? And they start to understand that those things can be disconnected. We can actually, feel better if we start paying attention to how does our body feel, right?
And not only that but learning to get back in touch with your drowsiness signals. A lot of us are really disconnected from that. We go to bed when our partner goes to bed, or when the news is over, or the show that we like, or when the kitchen’s clean, or when our kids are home, and they turn their lights out. A lot of women think they need to stay up until everyone else has gone to bed.
Well, if you really think about that, is that true? It might be true, if your kids are young, maybe that is true for you. But as your kids become teenagers and older, maybe it’s not really that true anymore. So, what can you do about that? Right? And then, start to get back in touch with, what does it feel like to be drowsy? A lot of us go to bed when we’re not even drowsy and we have this big expectation that we should be able to fall asleep. But if we’re not tired, it’s not going to happen. And then, we just toss and turn and get frustrated and wonder what went wrong.
Elizabeth: Yeah. Okay. So, talk a little bit about I don’t know if it’s bio rhythms. I guess it’s circadian rhythms. So, when some people identify as night owls and other people identify as early birds. I definitely, identify as an early bird. So, I go to bed early and then wake up early. Is that natural? Is that a natural part of who we are? Or can we change that?
Janet: It’s probably a little bit of both. It is a natural part of who you are. But you can change it. It’s like when we experienced the time change twice a year, our body will adjust. Right? And I know it’s only an hour. But if you do the same kind of work let’s say, you are someone who is a bit of a night owl, but it really doesn’t work with your job to do that. You can train yourself to go to bed a little bit earlier and wake up a little bit earlier. It just takes a couple of weeks for your body to adjust.
But we know this is true because we travel many times zones when we go on a vacation, and eventually, we catch up to the new time zone. Right? So, it is possible. That doesn’t mean it’s easy and it doesn’t mean that you’re always going to feel great about it. So, to say that someone who is a night owl can become an early bird and be perfectly happy with that, might not necessarily be true. But you can train yourself to make it manageable.
I mean, this is the same as people who work shifts, right? Who have to go against their body’s biological clock, and sleep when the sun’s up, and work when it’s dark. That’s totally, counter to our biology. It’s really challenging. I’m not going to lie, that’s tough for people. But we do it. Lots of people do it. We don’t know for sure what all the health outcomes of that are down the road, but it doesn’t appear that people are dying from shift work.
Elizabeth: Okay. As you were talking, I was thinking that maybe we could go back to that identity shift cause I suspect that identifying yourself as a night owl, or as an early bird, or as a good sleeper, or as a bad sleeper completely impacts your experience with sleep. Yeah?
Janet: Totally. Yeah, absolutely. So, if you think about, I don’t know if you’ve read atomic habits or any of those sort of habit books, right? But the idea that our habits are a reflection of our identity or ourselves. The way we believe about ourselves, this is totally the case. And I lead into that a little bit with my experience about my sleep last night, right?
So, I identify as a great sleeper now. So, that means my habits are to not one of them is to not make a big deal out of having a poor sleep one night here or there. Another one is I get up at the same time every single day, seven days a week. I never sleep in anymore. I’m not a person who sleeps in.
That is bizarre to me that I say that out loud and believe it because I used to sleep in every week. And particularly, when my kids were little, it was like my little gift to myself, and my husband would get up because he isn’t a morning person. And it just worked that that was our schedule. But I didn’t realize how much insomnia I was creating for myself. That I was making it harder for myself to sleep on Sunday nights, because I slept so much into the day on Saturday and Sunday.
So, those are things that my behavior matches my identity. There are things that I just say, I don’t have a clock on my bedside table. I get light in my eyes early in the day, every day. Things that I just do, because I know they supported my identity as a good sleeper. I don’t complain about my sleep. I don’t commiserate with other people about theirs, things like that. And that just helps cement that I’m a great sleeper. I believe it. And then it’s true.
Elizabeth: So then, one of your recommendations then is again, to go to bed at the same time, and wake up at the same time, regardless of the day of the week.
Janet: Yeah. Going to bed at the same time as a little less important, it’s more important that you go to bed when you’re sleepy. Right? Because we can’t force sleep. So, if you’re not tired, if you’re not drowsy, if your eyes aren’t heavy, and you feel like you could go to sleep, you’re just going to struggle. You’re going to go lie down in there and wonder what went wrong.
So, that’s less important, but waking up at the same time every day. Yeah. Really important.
Elizabeth: Yeah. So, Okay. Then, that kind of goes to my philosophy, which is logging tools. Like my fitness pal can’t tell you how many calories you should be eating in a day because some days you may need more because you had a more strenuous exercise. And other days, maybe you didn’t work out and so you would need less.
And so, to think that you would need 1500 calories, or 2000 calories, whatever it is every day, just doesn’t make a lot of sense. And putting that on yourself of oh, I went over budget. Even though, you didn’t need the budget. So, it’s the same kind of thing with, well, you have this number of hours of sleep, and you have to fill that sleep budget with sleep, right?
Janet: Yeah. Or sometimes it’s rest. Like sometimes you maybe don’t need that much sort of unconscious time. Right? But you do need to just rest your body, or you need to rest your brain. And not work into the night, the way that some people do. Some people bring their laptops, and their phones, and stuff into their bed, and they’re doing emails, and whatever. And sometimes it’s just takes a little bit of extra time even outside of the hours that you’ve assigned for sleep and allow your brain to rest. It’s really important to.
Elizabeth: Cool. So, you said something earlier and I want to go back to it and you mentioned, eating. So, let’s talk about your diet as it relates to sleep. What do you see being the correlation there?
Janet: So, I don’t talk about specific foods. I’m not a nutritionist or a dietician. But typically, the idea that we go with is that if you eat within at two hours, really of going to bed, that you might struggle a little bit, right? Because your body’s working on digesting then, it’s not working on resting.
And so, that just makes logical sense to most of us. There are certain foods that like things that are high protein that you might not want to have right before bed. Because again, it’s harder to digest that, then it might be something that’s a little simpler. High sugar things can make people wired. You don’t want to have caffeine, certainly.
So, we look for that, right? What time of day did you last have caffeine? What time of day did you stop eating for the day? It was it within a couple of hours and it’s the same with exercise. Most people struggle if they exercise within an hour or two of bed because their heart rate is up, and they’ve got all those endorphins happening and they’re too warm. We need our body temperature to drop quite drastically in order to feel sleepy.
And so, if you’ve just exercised, your body temperature is too high. So, things like that, that we look for that you just might not be paying attention to that might be a little quick fix. But for most people, it’s not that simple. Right? It’s about all the other things that we’re thinking.
So, if you’re someone who’s exercising at 10 o’clock at night, because you believe that’s the only time you have to yourself. Well, then I want to look into why do you think that’s the only time you have for yourself, right? Do you not have another time during the day when it’s not going to impact your sleep that we could do this. Maybe it’s early in the morning and that kind of stuff. How can we move around your habits to better support your sleep?
Elizabeth: Okay. So, yeah. You started talking a little bit about that you want to have a low body temperature and I’m sure you want to have room darkening shades and things like that. What are some of the other environmental things that you see that folks do that aren’t helping? Like having clutter in the bedroom and workout equipment and stuff like that.
Janet: Yeah. Okay. So, this is all what we refer to as sleep hygiene, right? And you’ve probably seen this in a Google search if you’re someone who’s interested in learning how to sleep better. This is what mostly comes up, if you type in Google, like how can I sleep better? Or why can’t I sleep or something. You’ll get a list of sleep hygiene tools.
And some of them are room darkening shades, keep your bedroom temperature low. And typically, that’s about 65 Fahrenheit for most people. There is having a comfy bed, wearing comfy pajamas that wick away sweat. What else can we say, not having your work in your bedroom, not having anything that’s stressful in there creating an environment that is really cozy and calming to you. That feels just really good and inviting that you want to go towards at night.
Because most people who develop chronic insomnia start to have anxiety about their bed in their bedrooms. We want to take all the anxiety out of there. Clutter is another one, especially for women and there’s research done on this that affects women much more than men. Because lot of us believe it’s our job to manage that.
And so, when we see a lot of clutter, we see a lot of things that are undone. All it does is get our mind racing about why didn’t we do it and why don’t I have help? And how is this so such a problem for me, et cetera. And then, you’re not going to sleep.
Elizabeth: Something that folks have been really talking about lately is the weighted blanket. What’s your experience with that?
Janet: So, there’s evidence that they can help people with anxiety to feel calmer. So, anything that I’m talking about here around sleep hygiene, and blue light glasses, weighted blankets, all of this stuff can help. But they’re all external answers, right?
So, in my program, we do focus on sleep hygiene, but not until the end, not until you’re already sleeping well. Sleep hygiene helps good sleepers sleep better. It doesn’t resolve chronic insomnia. So, this is why people search on the internet, find these answers, and then go nothing works. I’ve tried all the things, none of it works.
Well, that’s because you’re focusing on everything that’s outside of you to fix it. We have to fix what’s happening in our brain, first. And then, we can add those things on to support the good sleep that we already have going on.
So, I don’t tell people like, get rid of your weighted blanket, or your blue light glasses, or any of that stuff. But don’t allow it to be the answer. And it’s the same thing with most supplements and even some prescription medications.
If you allow your brain to create the thought, that’s how I sleep, I can’t sleep without that. Then, when that thing goes away, your brain will tell you this is a disaster and what am I going to do now? But we take our brains with us everywhere we go. Right? So, if our brain caused the problem, the good news is our brain can create the answer.
And then, when we go somewhere and we don’t have our weighted blanket, or our blue light glasses, and everything else, we don’t have to panic because we know that we can create the good sleep between our ears.
And the blue light glasses thing is an interesting one. I think a lot of the marketing and there’s some evidence that it’s helpful, right? Because the UV light from a lot of our devices does block a melatonin production. However, people think well, I’m wearing my blue light glasses. Now, I can just doom scroll on Twitter, and it won’t be a problem.
But the vast majority of the problem is coming from the doom scrolling, right? It’s coming from the stress of everything that you’re reading, of the addictive nature of the device that you’re on. That’s telling you, you need another dopamine hit, so I’m going to give you another button to press, and I’m going to force another article on you. And I’m going to tell you another thing that you need to be doing with your life to be an ultimate human.
So, all of this causes just so much stress that we can’t manage it. And then, we think that we should be able to just lie there and go to sleep peacefully. And those things don’t work. So, I don’t agree with the blue light glasses, I just think you have to know that there are only a part of the picture.
Elizabeth: Yeah. When the pandemic started, I was really starting to get in touch with my feelings and getting in touch with my body. And as I was scrolling, I don’t use Twitter, but I use Facebook and Instagram. And when I would scroll, Facebook, I would start to notice the anxiety like creeping up in my body.
And so, I started noticing like whose posts were actually creating that. And I just hit them for 30 days and I was like, I don’t need to see this.
Janet: I have a whole program called the 30 day digital diet. Which is literally, it’s created just for this. And it’s adding a new tiny habit every day for a month to try and help you manage this and to notice things like that. Right? Like, who do I intentionally follow? How do I feel when I read this kind of stuff? Do I want to keep doing that? Right? How would I rather feel? So, yeah. It’s really, really important.
And because that habit is so ingrained in so many of us, and it’s a buffering tool that it’s like you said at the beginning, as soon as you lie down, your brain goes to work on all the garbage thoughts that it’s had. And when we feel bad about that and we notice a feeling come up that makes us uncomfortable, that we don’t want to deal with, we just grab our phone.
Well, I’ll just distract myself with this. But then we get a whole bunch of terrible feelings from that. So, yeah, it’s just a cyclical mess that we get ourselves in when we allow that. I’m finding right now where I live there’s a very large problem because of this omicron variant. And so, everything in the news is about this, and the healthcare system, and how many ICU beds are available, and everything else. And it’s very stressful, right? But there’s nothing I can do to control that except my own behavior.
So, I have to focus on that, not pay as much attention, not focus, like not go looking for that kind of stressful stuff that I know is going to crank me up and get me worried at night. And decide not to look at it after a certain time of day. Right? Like, I can look at it in the morning and by the end of the day, I’ll have not forgotten it but feel a little better about it. But it’s just like a no-go at night cause it’s just too concerning.
Elizabeth: Yeah. And something we talked about a few weeks ago, we were talking about using your phone in the middle of the night. Right? And you’re like, no, don’t do that.
Janet: Absolutely not. Yeah. You can watch TV, you can read a book, you can even do like a light hobby, or craft, or something if you’re awake and you just can’t go back to sleep. But please don’t use your phone or like any of those. It’s really the apps. Right? It’s your work stuff. Don’t be doing that and don’t be using any of those apps that serve you information that you’re not in control of.
Because they just take you down a rabbit hole that A is meant to be addictive that you can’t control or stop and makes you feel bad about that. Right? You start having thoughts about, well, I’m addicted to this, I’m stuck here. Why do I keep seeing all this stuff that’s making me stressed. Yeah. So, it’s just a really good habit to not do that at all.
Elizabeth: Awesome. So, thank you so much for being here today. Is there anything else that you need to tell us that we haven’t talked about already? Cause I feel like we’ve talked about a ton of stuff.
Janet: We have talked that a lot. The interesting thing is like, this is all stuff that you could find out if you really wanted to do an in-depth search on the internet. Right? Most people don’t and they’re not aware of the thoughts piece. But the way that my program works is we spend way more time on that than we do on all this other stuff.
Because if we knew how to handle this with the tips, and tools, and sleep hygiene, we would have all done it by now. So, get yourself into a place where you feel like maybe a lot of people go, well, I don’t think I am stressed, I don’t think that’s my problem. I’m pretty sure that when you start peeling away the layers, you’ll find that there’s something there.
If you’re suffering from chronic insomnia, it’s very unlikely that it’s just that you don’t have room darkening shades. Right? Although again, that can help. So, in my program and this is I really encourage people to check into it if they’re struggling. Because in my program, we don’t struggle alone, we find help together. And not only learn the skills of noticing your own thoughts, but you get the objective viewpoint of me helping you see them. Right?
We’re often very unable to notice them ourselves. And like I said before, a lot of the thoughts aren’t even about your sleep anyway. They’re about your family, or your job, or your societal role, or who knows what? And you’re not going to be able to notice that, and then assign that to your sleep, and then work on it. And find out how you can sleep better on your own.
It really does take someone else who’s objective and can see what’s going on to be able to teach you to do that, so that then you can walk away and do it for yourself. But it is a challenging, I made it sound easy and like, oh, I just created this identity for myself and now my habits match.
No! It’s like a weight loss program, right? You do have to spend some time learning it and really figuring out how to question your thoughts and how to really understand the idea that we don’t have to believe everything our brain offers us. So, when you’re ready to do that, I have a membership that helps you.
Elizabeth: It’s so interesting that you said that because oftentimes, when I work with my clients, I’m like, okay, so how does the person think that’s on the other side of like weight loss. Right? And I think that it’s so difficult to think, well, I don’t know how that person thinks. And so, to imagine, how does a good sleeper think? Like, I don’t know because I’m not that person yet.
Janet: And when people ask a good sleeper, what do you do? Like, what’s your secret? They can’t tell you. Right? Because the whole point is they don’t know, they don’t think about it. They’re not obsessing about it. Right? They’re not spending two and three hours a day worrying about this, which is causing their insomnia. So, there are a lot of similarities between weight like, what really helps with lasting weight loss and what helps with chronic insomnia.
It’s the same kind of learning about yourself, learning to witness your thoughts, to know that they’re not necessarily true, and that we can solve this between our two ears for the most part. There are absolutely medical disorders that cause insomnia. And I don’t talk about any of like, if somebody has something like that going on, I send them right back to their doctor because I am not a doctor. I don’t diagnose or treat any medical issues and there are some that are very serious and require medical attention and even medication.
So, I’m really just talking to the women who really know there’s nothing medical going on but know that it’s the sort of symptoms we talked about earlier when I lie down my brain, won’t shut up. I feel out of control of this, I feel like it’s harming my relationships. I don’t like how I show up during the day when I feel like this. This is ideal for that.
Elizabeth: Yeah. It’s so awesome that you have this program that allows people to work on that stuff. Because I don’t think that most, I don’t know that I really realized before our conversation how important the mental work is. Yeah.
Janet: Yeah. It really is. I call it permission to sleep. And the reason I call it that is just because it is so mental, right? It is so focused on what we’re allowing for ourselves. It’s like, well, do I even give myself permission to fix this? Right? I can’t give it to you, you can give it to yourself, but this is how I help you. This is how I give you the permission that I can give, and the rest is up to you. Right?
Elizabeth: Yeah. So, cool. So, thank you for being here. We are obviously going to have all of your links on the website but tell everyone where they can find you.
Janet: Oh, thank you. Awesome. Well, I mentioned one of them, which is the worksheet to help calm your anxious mind and work through that sort of scheduled worry time. And that’s at janetwhalen.com/sleep, and Whalen is W H A L E N. And if you’re interested in learning more about permission to sleep in the program, really the best places to go to janetwhalen.com and right at the top and where my picture is, there’s a place that you can click to get on the wait list to find out when the next time it opens.
And in the meantime, you get all kinds of information by email about what you can look forward to. I give you tips, and tricks, and stuff in the meantime. So, yeah, those are the two best places.
Elizabeth: Well, thank you for being here.
Janet: Thank you so much for inviting me. This was great.
Oh my God, that was so good. Now, something that’s super important is knowing what to do is useful. Yes. But only if you actually do it. So, I’m going to suggest that you make the decision right now to do just one thing from this interview to help improve your sleep. So, make that commitment to yourself right now. All right? Have an amazing week everyone and I will talk to you next time. Bye. Bye.
Hey, thanks for listening.
If you’re done with dieting and would like to work with me as your coach, I’d like to invite you to reach out to myself and my team to ask about programs and pricing. Go to elizabethsherman.com/contact to get started today. I can’t wait to hear from you.
See you next week.