We spend a third of our lives sleeping. That’s nearly 26 years! But while most of us try to make our waking lives as fulfilling as possible, few of us give thought to making our sleeping lives as enjoyable. Rather than viewing sleep as the positive, rejuvenating, pleasurable activity that it should be, sleep is usually perceived as a mundane maintenance activity.
For those who have trouble sleeping, the perspective can become even more negative. Sleep becomes a stressful, anxiety-ridden, even tortuous activity. Just the thought of sleep or the anticipation of it can bring anxiety and dread.
But while a great majority of us will experience sleep trouble over the course of our lives—from the occasional poor night’s sleep to severe or chronic insomnia—one vital aspect ultimately determines how we will experience sleep forever. And that is: how we think about sleep.
Framing is a term used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a well-researched form of psychotherapy that looks at how our thinking affects our emotions, behavior, and bodily sensations. How we frame things, like sleep, means how we think about them. And how we think about something, no matter what it is, will profoundly affect our experience of it.
For instance, let’s say you have to give a speech in front of a large group. One way to think about it is: “What if I mess up? What if I go blank and embarrass myself? They’ll all think I’m an idiot and I’ll look like a fool.” These thoughts will make you extremely anxious, dread the speech, and result in physical sensations like sweating, rapid heart rate, difficulty focusing and muscle tension. Most likely you won’t perform well.
Or you could think: “I’m well prepared. The audience is excited to hear me speak and even if I make mistakes they will understand and not care. They are on my side and I will just do my best and enjoy it.” These thoughts will make you feel more relaxed, comfortable, excited and optimistic and you will likely perform better.
You might also picture things in your mind. We think in images as well as in words. You might see yourself standing on the podium relaxed, speaking with ease and confidence, the audience interested. Or, you might see yourself frozen, panicking and the audience laughing at you.
The situation (giving a speech) is the same in both scenarios, but how we frame it creates a radically different experience mentally, emotionally and physically.
Sleep is no different. Sleep does not cause any particular reactions in us: It’s how we perceive sleep that creates the reaction.
You might say: “But my perception of sleep is based on my terrible experience of it. How can I think positively about sleep if I’ve had so many horrible nights of it?”
It is understandable to feel this way, and it is the core of this blog to address this question. In future posts, you’ll learn how to positively frame your sleep and change not only your perception, but also your entire sleep approach—no matter how negative your experience of it has been up to now.