The Power of Sleep


This morning the most forwarded NY Times article was about meditation and sleep problems. It seems that people are catching on—SLEEP IS IMPORTANT!!! For anyone who has suffered from sleep problems, you know just how horrible it is. Inadequate sleep:

  • Makes us more prone to rumination and worry
  • Leaves us emotional fragile
  • Seriously alters one’s perspective and outlook
  • Makes weight loss more difficult
  • Limits our ability to access our functional resources for problem solving and emotional regulation
  • Increases irritability and irrationality

Sometimes clients come to me with some other presenting problem and when I explore the person’s disrupted sleep patterns, we wind up starting there knowing that all the other work will be far easier to tackle when sleep is regulated. Getting help with sleep regulation is not only wise, but sometimes really necessary. People don’t realize that what they do to make up for sleep problems sometimes makes the problem worse. Sleeping in and long naps can wind up exacerbating nighttime sleep issues, and lying in bed awake isn’t “helpful resting” like some of us would like to believe.

A few thoughts to get you moving towards better sleep:

  • Don’t lie in bed awake more than about 20-30 minutes. Get up, read a bit, and try again in a half hour. Lying in bed awake trains you to lie in bed awake.
  • Wake up at approximately the same time every day no matter how disrupted your sleep was the night before. You may be tired for a day, but you will be more likely to sleep at night after that.
  • Watch for anxiety about whether you are sleeping. Nothing makes sleep harder than stressing about whether you are sleeping. Get up and do something else if you find yourself in that state of mind. Try to sleep again when you feel tired and are no longer anxious.
  • Racing thoughts in bed can be a sign of a larger anxiety problem that may merit treatment.
  • When you wake at night, remember that the parts of your brain don’t wake up at the same rate. The fear center of the brain wakes up faster than your capacity to reason. So, the middle of the night is rarely a good time to do any productive processing about your life. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent in existential angst in the middle of the night only to wake up and wonder what my fretting was all about.
  • Research is showing that rigorous daily exercise and meditation/contemplative prayer practices are helpful. Check out the NY Times article I mentioned earlier.

Let’s make March “Better Sleep Month” and start really working on getting better (and more) sleep!


  1. Thanks Janice! Quick question: When one is in a season of peaked angst, do you have a thought about when/if medication is helpful?

    1. Yes, medication can be very helpful for seasons of stress and/or just to help people get regulated. There are more options than you may realize. Ambien and Lunesta aren’t the only choices. Sometimes an SSRI or an benzodiazepine may be helpful. These are things you can talk over with your doctor to see what makes the most sense with your particular sleep struggle.

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