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Drink the kool-aid, stop staring at the clock

Updated: Sep 4


We Americans live in a driven, productivity-inspired world. As I started writing this post I googled "productivity books" and in less than a second Google found About 271,000,000 references.

We're always looking to do more, but faster. Healthcare bonuses are tied to that, with productivity goals and bonuses that compel physicians to double- or triple-book. I myself can't recall a time since my teens when I've never not worn a watch, and I proudly show clients the prominent location of my timer on my Apple watchface as an example of good time-management aided by technology. As a triathlete, I loved my Garmins too, checking my pace, tracking my stats, and comparing data-tracking apps with my training buddies.

sleep tracking devices
Sleep tracking devices

So, it shouldn't be a surprise that sleep-tracking technology has become increasingly popular. We can wear it on our wrists or fingers, park devices on the nightstand, or even buy a smart mattress and obsess over a whole new range of stats in the morning.

I love seeing all the attention paid to sleep. It is so underappreciated, so taken for granted, yet so incredibly important for optimal physical and mental health. I spend my days trying to convince people of that, and that just because they can get away with insufficient or fragmented sleep it doesn't mean that they should, or that they should not prioritize better sleep. Sleepless clock-watching certainly doesn't help either.

It's estimated that 1/3 of all American adults don't get sufficient sleep and that 1/3 of those experience Insomnia - difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or waking up too early. Despite the heavy marketing on social media of all kinds of apps, devices, medications, and "natural" cures, the hands-down most effective treatment is Cognitive-Behavior Therapy for Insomnia, or CBT-i. I love doing this work clinically. It is truly a partnership with my client, combining the best of my evaluative and diagnostic, teaching, motivational, and coaching-related skills to understand the unique factors contributing to each client's challenges, teaching them what I know about the biology and psychology of sleep, and helping them to gradually change their sleep-related habits.

Change, however, is hard! And, we are definitely creatures of habit. For those who have fought insomnia and tried hard to sleep despite it, the buffet of sleep-tracking apps has provided new weapons in that fight that many are loathe to release. After all, isn't that what productive people do? They track, they manage, they plan. Not knowing the time - especially for those who've been tied to that clock - can be uncomfortable, if not disorienting.

Yet, that's the point. One of the hardest parts for many adults is allowing themselves to let go and to start to listen to - and to trust - their bodies again. Research has demonstrated that clock-watching is associated with pre-sleep worry. That kind of hypervigilance is the polar opposite of the relaxation that is the best transition to sleep, and can fuel anxiety during nighttime awakenings too. Invariably those who feel the need to look at the clock think they need that external trigger for what they think they're supposed to think, or feel when awake during the night. Yet sleep shouldn't be that cognitive! Either you can sleep at that point, or you can't. If you can't, you get up, go back to your pre-bedtime relaxing activity and either stay up until the alarm goes off, or you're truly sleepy enough to resume sleep. It's all based on how the body feels vs. what the mind thinks. That in and of itself is quite a change for many, and especially the most driven among us.

jumping off a cliff and letting go
Letting go is hard

From the go-go-go of the corporate work lifestyle to the suck-it-up-and-play culture of sports, we've worked hard to ignore our bodies and allowed our external schedules and clocks to substitute for physiological needs. One important component of CBTi is reversing that, and learning to again listen to and trust our bodies. It is definitely not easy, and it's a process, but it absolutely works if you let it.

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