My Brain is a Liar . . . How My Brain Undermines Sleep

You likely think this a really strong statement considering that I was a lawyer for seven years and am currently an academic in addition to a coach.

You likely know that I value sleep above all for self-care.

If I don’t sleep, writing is a wreck.

I eat terribly

I don’t exercise.

I can’t focus.

I stay up far too late.

So I often can bring it under control, and then it spins out, and then I bring it under control, and on the cycle goes.

My coach points out to me that the business of sleep is a practice. It’s never perfect. It is one that has this cyclical turn.

And the last month has seen really challenging sleep patterns. I couldn’t figure out why. I was eating properly, exercising, meditating, praying, and using emotional freedom technique (EFT). What could possibly be wrong?

What were the challenging sleep patterns? Waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to go back to sleep (I mean 2 and 3 a.m.!). Waking up far too early (4:30 a.m.). Going to sleep too late (midnight). This means I would regularly get between 4 and 5 hours of sleep per night.

That is far too little sleep for optimal functioning.

So now what?

I went to see an acupuncturist. We looked at and tried to treat my hot flashes as the culprit (aging is hard). And that was a facet of the problem. I would have a hot flash, throw off my covers, cool down, and then would be wide awake.

But one night I really noticed what my brain was doing once I cooled down. 

My body, mind, and soul were exhausted. Ready to sleep.

My brain (lizard brain should I say) was fired up and rearing to go with a list of things to do longer than my legs (and I have long legs). Said lizard brain was calling the shots and keeping me awake. This is how anxiety manifests with me. The hot flashes provided a runway for intense anxiety.

Once I noticed this, what did I do? I (to myself) had to yell at my brain: “Shut the f*ck up and let me sleep!! It’s 2:30 a.m. and no one is going to work now.”

I fell back asleep.

Whaaaaaaaat? Yep. My mind, body, and soul got in the driver’s seat and shut the lizard brain down. The part of the brain that works overtime to keep you alive and thriving according to its narrow vision of how to do that.

It tried again at 4:30 a.m. I yelled at it again. I slept until 6 a.m.

The next time I went to my acupuncturist, she treated me for hot flashes and anxiety.

I’ve been sleeping well ever since!!!

Before I say ta dah, there’s the solution, I want to point out something.

Human beings are living under really extreme circumstances. We continue to remain physically separate (at least some of us . . . ) from other human beings. The political situation in many countries is, well, trying. We don’t know what to expect and nothing feels stable.

This is really stressful. This will create anxiety for all of us.

And we have to get really sharp about what symptoms of anxiety look like and sharp about how to manage them. Because the world keeps upping the ante and our anxiety, manifested by our lizard brain, will do the same.

Your therapist and a good coach can support you with this. I do ask that you really track what anxiety looks like for you.

Send me a note if you have any questions!

Here’s to good sleep!

Michelle Dionne Thompson is the founder of Michelle Dionne Thompson Coaching and Consulting, a boutique coaching firm that supports women in law and academia to build sustainable work habits for long-term professional success. She works with clients to marry their purpose with their knowledge and communities.