The Case: Kristy is exhausted because she can’t sleep and it’s stressing her out. She has meticulous sleep hygiene and takes every supplement to support her sleep. She tried everything she read or heard about but still couldn’t get enough sleep. The Investigation When I met Kristy and got to know her a bit, I knew that while biochemistry was part of it, there was something else going on additionally and we needed to figure out which came first and what was driving things to her health mystery.
Navigating all of the Sleep Advice When it comes to sleep, there is so much information out there. The internet is packed with tips and ideas because so many people struggle with sleep (and it’s so essential to good health). That’s why I wanted to speak to a true sleep expert while investigating Kristy’s case.
Devin Burke is an international and TEDx speaker, the bestselling author of “The Sleep Advantage,” the founder of Sleep Science Academy, and one of the top health and sleep coaches in the world. His books, keynotes, programs and videos have inspired thousands of people to improve their sleep, energy, and life. I was thrilled to have him on this episode of Healthy Mysteries Solved.
The #1 Cause of Sleep Issues Devin didn’t hesitate to respond when I asked him why most people have issues with their sleep. The answer is stress. However, stress can present itself in many different ways. He points to mental stress, emotional stress, physical stress, environmental stress, and even the stress caused by using our digital devices like tablets, computers, smart phones – anything with a screen can be a form of stress.
Common Sleep Solutions and Why they May Not Work for Insomnia Devin says there’s plenty of good advice on the internet about good sleep hygiene (like making the room cool and dark and avoiding screen time before (or in) bed) as well as supplements like magnesium and melatonin that can help with sleep quality but they are not necessarily going to help with insomnia.
There are two types of insomnia - onset (trouble falling asleep) and maintenance (trouble staying asleep). Devin says that these are generally caused by mental, emotional or psychological issues so these other solutions don’t get to the root cause of the problem.
Identifying Your Sleep Story Devin says that the first place to start in conquering the root cause of insomnia is to look at the story you tell yourself about your sleep. This can also lead to a common response which is to try to force or control your sleep. The problem with this is that it creates an underlying tension which shifts the body into a stress response (into a sympathetic state). Devin explains that it can be very subtle and that many of his patients are unaware that they are doing this.
He looks for the three P’s which are:
Perfectionism - you strive to be a perfect sleeper Pedestal - you put sleep on a pedestal Problem - sleep is a problem you have to solve
People who identify with one of these are likely to be making up stories about sleep or their abilities to sleep which can lead to limiting beliefs.
The Fear of Insomnia Paradox One of the challenges Devin finds with people who have created meaning or a story around their sleep abilities is that they slip into fear. The fear is usually around what will happen if they don’t get enough sleep. They might worry about the next day and how it will impact their performance, or they might concern themselves with long-term health issues that a chronic lack of sleep will cause. These fears drive the stress response up and make it harder to get to sleep or to get back to sleep.
Creating elaborate routines or rituals around getting to sleep or falling back asleep can also backfire because the person may have expectations that their efforts are going to work and if they don’t then they slip back into that stressed state again that keeps them awake. It can also backfire if they are unable