Will Your Sleep Get Worse Before It Gets Better? Only Maybe.

sleep worse before better - blog

Is your bad night of sleep a cause for gloom and doom, or is it a necessary stepping stone that will bring you closer to what you want?

You know the old saying, “It’ll get worse before it gets better?” There’s disagreement over who coined this phrase, but apparently there are also enough people saying, “It’ll get worse after it gets worse” that this variation showed up in my auto complete as I was writing. 😮

If you’ve been following my work as an adult sleep coach, you know I talk a lot about how mindset impacts sleep. Yet I am not a believer—nor do I practice—using overly positive affirmations.

My aim is always to arrive at the middle. Will it get worse before it gets better? Only maybe. Let’s get to where we believe there’s a 50/50 chance, either way.

A different view of “worse”

When it came to our recent master bathroom renovation, you could say it got worse before it got better. And that’s part of what demo is about. You must tear the 1/2” thick square yellow tiles away from the walls, then pull the walls apart to see what you’ve got. The matching 1940s turquoise tub, sink, and toilet must be removed. Then you have to pull up the floor, to see whether the joists are sound enough to support your vision for the new and improved space.

sleep worse before better - blog

You really have no idea what’s under there until you do it. And while you’re doing it, it’s not pretty. In fact, it’s pretty messy! But when you have a vision of where you’re going, having things in a state of (temporary) disarray can be OK; in fact, it’s to be expected. Is that “worse”? Or is it simply a necessary step on the path to better things?

sleep worse before better - blog

An example: changing sleep times

Sometimes when people attempt to change their sleep habits, for example, things appear to get worse. Here’s a common scenario:

Let’s say you can’t fall asleep as early as you’d like. But your vision is to wake up earlier and feel well-rested, so you can enjoy time with your partner and your kids before everyone runs off to start their day. Maybe you’d even like to get a quick walk in first, so you feel grounded enough to handle any possible morning chaos.

But you’re having trouble getting to bed earlier. When you wake up at the time you committed to, you feel awful. You’re more tired and crankier than usual; walking and being patient with your family in the morning doesn’t happen.

This is where it gets tricky. You’re not only not achieving your vision, but now you’re slogging through the rest of your day. “I should have just slept in,” your mind will want to convince you! It might even start promising you that tomorrow, that’s exactly what you’ll do, damnit.

The best natural sleep aid you could ask for

Unfortunately, if you take your mind up on that promise, your habits won’t change. Your vision won’t be reached, and your frustration will likely increase.
If instead you continue with your day, doing what you can with the energy that’s available to you, you will feel tired earlier. If, at that point, you recognize and honor the tired signals from your mind-body and go to bed, you will probably fall asleep and sleep well. (Many people find the “recognizing and honoring” parts of this process to be challenging.)

The moral of the story is this: a bad night can be a fabulous natural sleep aid!

There’s science around this: along with circadian rhythm, there’s a little thing called “sleep drive” that’s responsible for you crashing and sleeping when you need to. (If you’ve ever felt jet lagged after a long trip, you know it; you are so heavy you could lie down on the pavement in the middle of an Italian street and start dreaming.) Sleep drive naturally builds during the day as you move about, awake. It’s released when you sleep (hopefully primarily) at night.

Therefore, if you didn’t sleep well last night—you had trouble falling asleep, or you simply didn’t make your bedtime—it’s 100% OK. In an odd way, you’ve set yourself up for an even better night of sleep tonight.

sleep worse before better - blog

Two tricks for better sleep after a bad night

Consequently, the two big tricks here are to:

  1. Reframe how you think about that bad night. The next night, do you often think: “here comes another terrible night,” or “it’s going to get even worse”? Instead, can you trust that you’re tired and maybe even a little miserable because your sleep drive is building up? That this feeling means it’s equally—if not more—likely that you’ll have a great night’s sleep tonight?
  2. Find ways to support/encourage yourself in recognizing/honoring your mind-body’s signals that it’s time to get your ass to bed! I hate to tell you this, but you cannot expect to have refreshing sleep if you refuse to receive it.

Which of these do you need more help with?

P.S.: If you can’t picture your life after your sleep has improved, you’re missing a crucial piece of motivation for changing your sleep habits! If you need help creating a vision, I can help with that too. Let’s talk.

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