10 Features Of Superb Sleep
Published in The Huffington Post
Given all the concern about insomnia and sleep deprivation, it’s too easy to overlook the fact that there are exceptionally good sleepers among us. They tend not to get much media attention. In fact, I’ve found they are rather reticent to boast about their joyous relationship with sleep. Frequently, one of these great sleepers will approach me after I’ve done a presentation and actually whisper, “I love sleep.”
It’s too easy, even seductive to become preoccupied with the treatment of sleep problems — with sleep techniques and sleep aides and sleep paraphernalia. It’s not that these aren’t necessary; it’s just that they are rarely sufficient.
As a sleep specialist, I’ve learned as much about healing sleep from superb sleepers as I have from those struggling with sleep. Improving our sleep health is not just about avoiding dysfunctional sleep patterns and habits; it’s also about re-envisioning ourselves as superb sleepers. My observations have taught me that truly great sleepers share a number of important sleep enhancing attitudes and characteristics:
1. Superb sleepers welcome their dreams, even the challenging ones. Because they know that dreaming is natural, healthy, and supportive of their emotional well-being, they are open and receptive to the mystery of their dream lives. Most insomnia occurs during the latter part of sleep, a time when we do most of our REM sleep and dreaming. Being on good terms with our dreams can help us stay in the game throughout the entire night.
2. Superb sleepers typically awaken without an alarm.Because they know how much sleep they need, they get to bed in time to allow for that. And, they know when they will awaken naturally. Routinely awakening with an alarm clock snips off the end of our sleep. Would we ever consider setting an alarm to limit other natural and enjoyable activities like dinner or lovemaking? Does our sleep really need to be restricted or restrained in this way?
3. Superb sleepers have an intuitive regard for routines and rhythms. Rhythms are the infrastructure of sleep. And routines are our personal way of dancing to those rhythms — of balancing activity and rest. Unfortunately, modern life is dysrhythmic and staccato. We hear little about the “rat race” anymore, but this is because we are inured to its overarching presence in our lives. It’s fine to accelerate when necessary, but too many of us have lost our breaks.
4. Superb sleepers are accepting of periodic nighttime wakefulness. They know that waking up occasionally from sleep is not a sign of a sleep disorder and won’t affect the overall quality of their night. They don’t fret and get back to sleep easily. In fact, they might get up for a few minutes and enjoy the exquisite stillness of night. Historical evidence suggests that prior to the industrial revolution people commonly awakened for a stretch in the middle of the night. This is probably a more natural pattern of sleep that we now misconstrue as insomnia.
5. Superb sleepers have good “sleep self-efficacy,” that is, faith in their own ability to sleep. Because they hold it in high regard, they are on good terms with sleep and live with confidence that it is accessible whenever needed. This is not to suggest that someone with a history of poor sleep can just throw a switch and improve their sleep self-efficacy. But this can be achieved over time through sleep-hygiene practices.
6. Superb sleepers know how to truly let go. They are adept at forgiving the loose ends of the day and trust that things which remain unresolved today can be addressed even more effectively after a good night’s sleep. Letting go is not just a psychological maneuver; it’s also a deeply personal and rewarding spiritual practice.