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Jeff is 46 years old and married with two children — his daughter is five years old and his son is two years old. He works remotely for a real estate investment company and in his spare time he enjoys trail running, exercising, golf, and socializing with friends.
Jeff often found it hard to fall asleep — especially when he was under a lot of stress. When he gained additional job responsibilities and became a parent, those difficult nights became more common and this led to a lot of sleep-related fear, worry, and anxiety.
After trying to implement cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) techniques with the help of a book, Jeff continued to struggle — until he started implementing CBT-I techniques with the ongoing support and guidance of a sleep coach (me!).
Within eight weeks of implementing CBT-I techniques, Jeff went from taking a sleeping pill every three to five days and managing to get around five-and-a-half hours of sleep to averaging six-and-a-half hours of sleep each night without any sleeping pills.
Ten months after we stopped working together, Jeff is still sleeping well and feels far more confident about his ability to sleep. Furthermore, he now has all the skills he needs to get his sleep back on track should he ever struggle with sleep again in the future.
In this episode, Jeff shares the specific CBT-I techniques he found most helpful and why working with a coach proved to be the most effective way to recover sleep confidence, get rid of sleep-related worry and anxiety, and enjoy better sleep.
Click here for a full transcript of this episode.
Martin Reed: Okay. So thank you so much for being with us today, Jeff.
Jeff Shetterly: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Martin Reed: Can we get started by going back to the beginning? When did your sleep problems begin and can you remember what the initial trigger was to your sleep disruption?
Jeff Shetterly: I was thinking about this question, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when my sleep troubles started, but I feel like, for most of my life, I’ve really had some struggles falling asleep. Sometimes, that means it can take an hour to 45 minutes, I think, when things were sort of normal for me. That got a lot worse when I was under stress. That feels like it was with me ever since. That was probably in my 20s or teens up until now, I’m 46.
Jeff Shetterly: I was thinking back to one of the first triggers that caught my attention, which was I had started working in a job that I really enjoyed and I was getting a little bit more responsibility in it, and was putting a lot of pressure on myself. I remember working toward one particular deadline and just being so anxious that I had to get this thing done. I had one of those literal sleepless nights where I got no sleep, and that had never happened. I mean, I had nights when I had gotten three or four hours of sleep, but this was a night where my anxiety just built, and built, and built every hour. I was watching the clock and getting more anxious. You know the story with all this.
Jeff Shetterly: I think about 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, I just decided, well, I’m up for the day so I’m just going to go into work. I went into work and just started working about 6:00 in the morning and my boss was real nice about it. I told him what had happened, and he told me to leave about 12:00 or 1:00 later that day. He was real sympathetic.
Jeff Shetterly: I was really hard on myself and I said, “What’s going on here that this has happened? This feels like a problem.” And then, fast forward years later, I hadn’t had a night like that for a long time and I’ve probably had six of those sleepless nights when I literally have had no minutes of sleep, no hours. No wonder people say, “I had sleepless nights,” but it was literally this half a dozen sleepless nights that began to get my attention. I think later, my son… I have two kids, my daughter’s five and my son is two now. I think when my son was born, there were some new insomnia things that popped up for me. I started to get less and less sleep, partly because of him, but also there’s more pressure and responsibility of being, a parent of two kids, and my job responsibilities got heavier. So I think it was just more stress and anxiety I was putting on myself that really triggered this latest phase when I finally found your course.
Martin Reed: I think a lot of people will really identify with your description there. I just finished recording another podcast episode with someone that their story is so similar to yours in that they recognize that they often had these nights where they struggled, but that almost just became part of their life. They didn’t actually worry about that too much. They just recognized that they were someone that every now and then they would struggle with sleep. But then, they had this one night where they got no sleep and that raised the arousal levels. That led to more worry like, “Oh, has everything been building up to this now? Have I somehow maybe lost the ability to sleep,” or something like this. It was just the way it transitioned from just these occasional struggles, maybe just accepting that, to this night of no sleep. That’s what set everything into motion and just really perpetuated the problem.
Jeff Shetterly: Right, right. There’s a lot of fear. I can relate to the fear of, something’s broken, something’s not right, and the fear of, can I get this back? Do I have the ability to sleep normally again? Kids certainly break that a little bit to some degree, but joking aside, you can get that back as I’ve learned.
Martin Reed: Did you find the whatever it was, whatever the stress that was in your life, or the worry that was in your life that was triggering these occasional sleep issues and that night of no sleep? Did that then transition into you were finding that pretty much all of your worry and anxiety was related to sleep? Or, do you think it was still related to whatever these external stressors were?
Jeff Shetterly: I think, the worries about sleep came around as bed time got closer. It’s that sleep anxiety as it got to the bedtime. That continued to build and get stronger as I struggled more with sleep. My son was a pretty good sleeper. My wife and I had more struggles with my first child, my daughter, because partly we didn’t know what we were doing. With my son, we handled that a little better. Still, after we got through the infant phase, and he started teething, and that phase was kind of unpredictable, so there was a little bit of uncertainty thrown in.
Jeff Shetterly: Even if I felt like I could fall asleep, there was this worry that he was going to wake up and whether it was my night or my wife’s night to go and soothe him, added some uncertainty to that anxiety. It was really just learning how to deal with my anxiety and stress in life with a buffer period before bedtime. That was one of the big things that was very helpful about your course is learning how to cope with that at bedtime and taking an hour before I went to bed to wind down. Because, I never did that before, and that was a big difference.
Martin Reed: Yeah. On that note, isn’t it really interesting though, especially as parents, we recognize that we can’t put our kids to bed when they’re in hyper mode. If they’re running around the house, we recognize as parents that we need to… There’s no point in trying to put our kids to bed right now. They need to relax, maybe read some books. But yet, we never transfer that recognition onto ourselves. We’re quite happy to go to bed and try to sleep when we’re still feeling really wound up by the day. We just don’t take our own advice.
Jeff Shetterly: Right. Absolutely. Yeah. Kids get treated with the utmost care and we tend to neglect that part of ourselves, especially as parents, and just not having the tools or knowledge of how to take care of myself around sleep. That was part of it too, is this education around, how do I help myself get to sleep? And, that was huge. Taking your course and learning those tools to teach myself how to do that, that was a big deal.
Martin Reed: So, would you say, though, when you were going through the height of your struggles with sleep, was your main issue just trying to fall asleep at the start of the night or was it more to do with you’d wake during the night and then find it hard to fall asleep, or maybe both?
Jeff Shetterly: Definitely falling asleep for me. I almost never had trouble falling back to sleep. Occasionally, a few times when my kids were waking up in the middle of the night, and I’d go in, and soothe them, and put them back to sleep. Almost always for me it was falling asleep. Once I could get to sleep, I was in good shape. That initial anxiety of just getting asleep was always my issue.
Martin Reed: Before you found my online course, before you found out about cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia techniques, what kind of things had you done, if anything, to try and get your sleep back on track?
Jeff Shetterly: That’s a good question. Well, eventually I did talk to my doctor about it, my general practitioner, primary care doctor. I think, I’m trying to remember, temazepam was the last medication that he prescribed to me that is a benzo. I don’t like to take medication when I don’t… I do anything I can, especially around sleep, to not take any medication. Over the years, I think I had taken some over the counter medication.
Jeff Shetterly: Those things you can get at any drug store. Those were very limited, and I always felt lousy the next day after taking those. There was one anti-anxiety medication that I also took before to Temazepam, and I forget the name of it. You may know it, but it was never really good for sleep. It was more about treating anxiety, and that did help me get to sleep. I feel like part of that was placebo too, but I just never felt good the next day.
Jeff Shetterly: I had cotton mouth and felt like I was hung over for most of the day, but the Temazepam I started using it sporadically, and eventually I got up to where I was using it two to three times a week, and that’s when I really started to worry that I knew that it was going to wear off and it wasn’t going to be as effective. I was going to have to take more of it and I didn’t want to go down that path, so I was looking for anything to get me off of that, and just to learn more natural techniques to put myself to sleep.
Martin Reed: Yeah. You know, a lot of people say this to me. A lot of people enroll, start working with me and they’re actually already taking medication, maybe even been taking it for years. And it’s interesting, because some people vary in their response. So, some people, these sleeping medications, they’re just not working anymore. And other people are like, “I take these sleep medications. So when you look at my sleep logs, my sleep journal, it will say that I’m getting sleep, but it’s medicated sleep, so it’s not the same.”
Martin Reed: But the commonality here is that I think everyone just doesn’t want to, they recognize that it’s not helpful to be relying on this medication. They kind of just want to get off it, which I think it’s almost like when you read in the media, people are just like, “Well, people can just take a tablet. Then they’ll sleep, then they’ll be fine. What’s the big deal?” But in reality when that’s you, you don’t feel comfortable relying on something or believing that you can’t sleep unless you take, whether it’s a pill or a supplement or any other kind of sleep crutch, you just want to get to that stage like you were before, before you had any problem with sleep. Where you just don’t really think about sleep, don’t worry about sleeping, you just have confidence in your own ability to sleep.
Jeff Shetterly: Yeah, it’s cool. Medication is just the fool’s gold around sleep, because it’s never going to be a good long term solution, even if it gets you to sleep. For six months, or I think I’d been taking my Temazepam maybe for four to five months or so, and I just knew I just needed to find a way to get off of that. So, I was looking for different alternatives. And I can talk more about some of that, when we get into this more.
Martin Reed: Yeah, absolutely. Well, let’s move on to that then. So, you found out about cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. I’ll just refer to it as CBT-I from this point on. But I believe that you didn’t find out about CBT-I from me originally. You found out about it from another source.
Jeff Shetterly: That’s right. I can remember it vividly. I was going to a therapist to try and get some support around this insomnia and some other anxiety issues, and she recommended Dr. Gregg Jacobs’s book, which I know you know about, Say Goodnight to Insomnia. And I got it. I read it. I was very excited about it, because the concepts in there made so much sense and they’re somewhat similar to your course, a lot of the techniques.
Jeff Shetterly: And I started to read it and to work the course, and I got stuck. And he actually has, Dr. Jacobs has a method where you can sign up for emails with him, but it sounds like a joke but they’re limited two sentences. You could send them like one email per week and it was limited to two sentences, and it just didn’t work for me. It was very frustrating because I had so many questions about different ways to approach the techniques, and I just felt like I was on an island that I didn’t have the support I needed because… and I had this experience in your course, but you were quick to explain that this was just part of the process. I’d have some good nights, like two or three good nights, and then I would have a really bad night or two in a row, and it would throw me off track. I would get really discouraged and say, “This isn’t working.”
Jeff Shetterly: And looking back on it, it was working, but I just didn’t have that long view on it because I was right in it. But I had a night when I got no sleep, I got again no hours of sleep in this book course that I was doing, and I may have been in the second week or the third week, and I just didn’t know if I was doing it right and I was so frustrated. I felt like that was my rock bottom that led me to your course.
Jeff Shetterly: So it was about four in the morning, and I knew my night’s sleep was shot. So I just got on the computer and started looking. What I was looking for was some kind of support group, a chat room or something online, some kind of forum where people could commiserate and share experiences. And I found your website, and I looked at the forum briefly, but I more looked at the coaching piece and I thought, “Wow, that’s quite a concept.” I just hadn’t seen that before, and I was just like, “This is it. This is what I need. I need this personal piece to the course and the process to help me along because I couldn’t do it by myself.” So that’s what led to me signing up.
Martin Reed: Yeah. I think that you made a really, really important point there in that, a lot of it is this, just having that person, or having access to someone just to give you that support, the reassurance, just to know that you’re implementing the techniques correctly and appropriately, and just to keep you motivated and to go through it, because-
Jeff Shetterly: Right.
Martin Reed: … the techniques themselves are relatively straightforward, and you can learn all the CBT-I techniques in any number of books. There’s plenty of books out there, and Jacobs’s book is definitely one of the better ones, but because when you’re implementing these techniques, they first can also seem counter intuitive, right? How does the idea of getting out of bed, how’s that going to help me get more sleep?
Jeff Shetterly: Exactly. That was a killer.
Martin Reed: Yeah, exactly. Like things like that, I think you’ve got to be so self-disciplined and really self-motivated and really just have a lot of confidence in what you’re doing to just do it alone, because it can be so challenging, and I think that really does make a difference. Just when you’ve got access to someone to help address any questions or concerns you’ve got, keep you motivated. And also, a lot of clients tell me “Just to give me that accountability, because I know that at the end of the week or at the end of every two weeks, I’m going to have someone looking at my sleep diary and making sure that I’m following a sleep window, that I’m implementing the techniques on them.” And I think it can make a really big difference.
Jeff Shetterly: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean there’s so many points in the course where there’s just a lot of nuance and needed clarification on. Well, I’m a detail oriented person, so I appreciate the attention to detail around certain things and that. The getting out bed every 30 minute rule was so tough mentally, just because you knew you weren’t going to get … if you get out of bed, that you’re probably out at least 45 minutes of sleep, because you’re up for 30 minutes, and then getting back in bed and taking at least 15 minutes to fall back asleep.
Jeff Shetterly: But just what you brought, the coaching piece was that, “Hey, this is not supposed to help your sleep tonight, it’s about the long term effort and going to help you long term, this is about building those associations.” And that was key, just to get that personal feedback on that.
Martin Reed: Yeah, that’s really important to bear in mind. So, this technique, it’s known as stimulus control, and we’re basically just trying to get you to relearn to see the bed as a place for sleep and relaxation, just like it was in the past before you had any sleep issues. And the way we do that is by making sure that the only thing we do in bed is sleep. So anytime that we’re in bed and we’re really struggling, normally it’s a better idea to just get out of bed until you feel relaxed and calm again, a number of times. And just through repeatedly doing that, your brain kind of slowly learns that, “Oh I can’t just be alert and anxious and frustrated because he would just get out of bed.”
Martin Reed: So over time you learn to just reassociate the bed with sleep because, in the short term, yeah, it can definitely lead to a little bit less sleep, but you also can bear in mind that if you get a little bit less sleep that night, your sleep drive is still building. So, the urge to sleep gets stronger and stronger. So, as long as you’re still observing an appropriate sleep window, you’re not going to bed earlier in the day to make up for this additional sleepiness or staying in bed later.
Martin Reed: The urge to sleep is just going to get so strong that you will end up sleeping in your own bed, and the need to keep getting out of bed during the night will just become will become less frequent, you’ll need to do it less often. Over the short term, it can definitely be difficult and I think it is really important to emphasize that to people that getting out of bed is not intended to help you sleep that very night. It really is just this long term strategy to go back to where you were in the past where the bed is effectively a strong trigger for sleep rather than worry, wakefulness, and anxiety.
Jeff Shetterly: Right. Absolutely right.
Martin Reed: Yeah. So you mentioned that that was one of the techniques that you initially struggled with. Were there any other CBT-I techniques that you found difficult, at least in the short term?
Jeff Shetterly: I think in the short term, adjusting my sleep window to such a small period of sleep, like five and a half hours I think. The getting up at the same time every morning was not a big deal because I had gotten that down pretty much with my kids. I had gotten up at like 5:30 or 6:00 every morning anyway with them to get in my exercise and to start my day. But if I was getting up at 5:30, going to bed initially, like having that more narrow sleep window, that was harder for me more mentally just the idea that okay… Because I still had that hangup about I’ve got to get at least seven and a half, eight hours of sleep. I still had that myth in my head that that’s what I needed, and that was a really key piece of information to understand because I’ve found out that I don’t need that at all. Seven hours, six and a half is good for me and I never knew that. I never knew that.
Jeff Shetterly: But initially going to bed at like midnight or 11:30 knowing that the maximum sleep I could get was five and a half or six hours, that was just tough mentally, because I still had those old hangups about how much sleep I thought I needed, and struggling with that a little bit in the short term I think was probably the second toughest thing in addition to getting out of bed every 30 minutes and having those nights when you’d have to get up and out of bed a few times or three or four times and just had a tough night of sleep. Just trying to keep the long view about that early on was I think the hardest part.
Martin Reed: Yeah. I think you just this second touched upon this, but if someone’s listening to this and they’re trying these or they’ve tried in the past these techniques and they really identify with this idea that the thought of only allotting five and a half or six hours for sleep, the thought of getting out of bed during the night when I’m struggling with sleep, that in itself is making me feel worried. So how would you address that if someone was those concerns? Because you’ve been through that yourself. How did you get through it? How did you overcome those fears and those worries and actually implement the techniques?
Jeff Shetterly: Well, I think, and you explain it well in that eventually you move that sleep window back to what becomes the more appropriate window for yourself. And I think just really kind of getting that concept in your bones, which is… It’s easy to understand intellectually at first, but just understanding that at a gut level like, “Okay, I’m going to do this. I’m going to be tired for a little bit, but I’m going to start sleeping better. It’s going to take me less time to fall asleep.” And that happens… I feel like that it didn’t take that long for it to happen, maybe three or four days or a week of I got to be so tired that I would fall asleep within sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes 15 minutes in that range. That was proving to me… Once I started to do that, that was proving that this was working.
Jeff Shetterly: It was kind of a simultaneous understanding too that I didn’t need those eight hours of sleep to function. Because I like to exercise in the morning, I exercise about six days a week and I always had the thought fixed in my head that I must get a good night of sleep to be able to exercise, which is not true. I mean, until I kind of went through it and found that I was able to exercise actually just fine on a lousy night of sleep, even if I got two or three hours of sleep, I still could pretty much do all of the workouts that I had done before, I might be a little bit more tired. If I got two or three nights of tough sleep is when I usually felt it more, but kind of going through those experiences and learning that I was able to function much better without sleep than I had thought, and so much of that had to do with attitude. And I can talk more about that because that was a really key mental hurdle to kind of just change my attitude around losing sleep.
Martin Reed: Yeah. That’s really common among people with insomnia is there’s a lot of fear and worry over how they’re going to get through the next day. So when you’re struggling with sleep during the night, you kind of perpetuate the problem by worrying about how you’re ever going to get through the day. “I’ve got all these deadlines coming up at work, I need to be on my A game,” or, “I have a really important job, people are depending on me, I’ve got to be at my best.”
Martin Reed: But upon reflection, I think almost everyone with insomnia can recognize a number of times where they’ve actually, they have got through the day after a really bad night of sleep. I like to say that people with insomnia are experts at getting through the day after little to no sleep. They’re the best people in the world at doing it, but yet they’re the people that are the most worried about how they’re going to get through the day when they’re struggling with sleep.
Jeff Shetterly: Yes. So true, so true. When you keep that sleep diary and go through all those nights and you’re so focused on how much sleep you get. I got so dialed in on knowing how I would feel based on two hours of sleep or four hours of sleep or six hours or five hours. I mean, I could really tell kind of a difference between the different amounts of sleep I would get. And I noticed for myself, if I could get even four hours of sleep that I could do just fine. Even on three and two, I can be okay, I knew I could get through the day without too much… The tiredness would not affect me so much that I couldn’t do my job and couldn’t do the other things.
Jeff Shetterly: But, just getting like four hours of sleep sounds like to a lot of people I talked to, they say, “Oh, that’s terrible. That’s no sleep at all.” And I’m just like, “It’s actually not that bad.” Now I’ve had a lot worse. After going through those nights of no sleep or two hours or three hours or whatever it would be, you kind of learn with those experiences how to thrive and just to operate on that sleep. I think just going through those experiences is part of everybody’s process.
Martin Reed: Yeah. I think another reason why that can be so helpful, just recognizing your ability to get through the day, is it’s so easy and so tempting to modify our days or modify our entire lives around sleep. You know? So we might cancel plans with friends, call in sick to work and kind of take away all these things that we enjoy in life in response to the insomnia. So in effect, we’re actually guaranteeing that our insomnia is going to have a negative impact on our quality of life. Not to downplay it because long term insomnia does definitely affect your quality of life, but we actually on an individual level, have so much influence over those outcomes.
Martin Reed: If we can just kind of push through the day as much as possible, as though the insomnia doesn’t exist, this can actually help us recognize the quality of our day isn’t as connected to the quality of our sleep as we often think. And if nothing else, it gives us the opportunity to still enjoy our days or just have a few enjoyable moments during the day, which can just be such a boost to your overall quality of life.
Jeff Shetterly: The other… And that’s so true. I used to be guilty of that, not doing certain things, whether it was socializing or just doing things a little bit differently to avoid talking to people or just… Almost like trying to conserve my energy because I thought, “Well, I haven’t got enough sleep so I need to conserve my energy.” But the concept that was so helpful was that I’m building sleep pressure, the idea of building sleep pressure, and instead of conserving energy saying, “I’m just going to live my day to the fullest here because I’m building my sleep pressure.
Jeff Shetterly: I’m one day closer to having a good night’s sleep.” Which was always true, and I had… It was very rare for me to have more than two nights of poor sleep. Occasionally I had three in a row maybe a few times, but I almost always would sleep well after a poor night of sleep one night or two nights. It was never more than that. And that kind of buoyed my confidence a little bit to know that no matter what, I’m going to be getting some sleep this night or the next night.
Martin Reed: Yeah, absolutely. Just going back to what you said earlier was, when I asked you how you managed to get through that short term pain, when you were implementing the techniques. The difficulty, the challenges associated with allotting less time for sleep and getting out of bed when you can’t sleep. Because that’s a big concern quite rightly for people with insomnia. But what I like to say to them is, yeah, that’s definitely going to be unpleasant in the short term. The idea of spending less time in bed, getting out of bed when you’re struggling, but how is your life right now with insomnia? Probably not pleasant, but yet right now there is no real end in sight, because you’re probably not implementing these evidence-based CBT-I techniques that are so effective for people. So how about you just transfer your current situation, which is unpleasant right now, but with no real end in sight, to an equally perhaps unpleasant situation, but the difference is there is that end in sight, because you’re working towards this longterm goal of just better sleep and more sleep confidence.
Jeff Shetterly: So true. And I’m the type of person that I love to have a plan for anything, and just having a strategy or a plan for anything, especially a problem that I’ve identified, having some kind of plan in place is so reassuring for me. And I feel like I can go through any short term pain if I have some kind of plan that I have some confidence in. Even if I’m not fully confident that it’s going to turn out the way I hope it does in the end, if I have some confidence in it, which I did in this course. It’s so helpful because it’s just like I can get through this, this is only eight weeks. I mean it’s nothing. I mean I can… And having kids, you can probably relate to this, having kids helps that because you’re like, man, I got through that first year of my first child who was not easy from a sleep standpoint. It was the shock and awe campaign, and if I can get through that I can get through anything. So just having some of that experience.
Martin Reed: Yeah. I think the plan, having that plan in place can definitely be really helpful. I like to refer to it as this roadmap. Because I just feel that when you’ve got insomnia, when you’re… It’s the middle of the night, you’re by yourself, you’re feeling quite isolated so your mind’s just going a mile a minute. You have all these mental gymnastics. What can I do to help myself fall asleep? What should I be doing now? What should I do if this happens again tomorrow? When you’re implementing these CBT-I techniques, especially if you’re working with a coach or a therapist or someone else trained in insomnia, they can work with you and give you these road maps. It just removes all that mental rumination.
Martin Reed: So you have a plan in place, you know exactly what to do. You know when the best time is to go to bed. You know if you’re struggling, you know what to do. You know when to get out of bed. You just have that plan in place. You can switch off all of that mental rumination, just engage this robot mind. It’s almost like computer programming language. There’s no room for doubt anymore. You have a question or a concern or a doubt and there’s an answer for it. Like what you should be doing in response.
Jeff Shetterly: Right, right. Yeah. It’s a well established process that’s in place and I just need to follow it to the best of my abilities, and I’m going to get some results. And when the struggles or doubts pop up, I think that’s where having the access to you as a coach to email and get feedback that’s specific, is so helpful to just clarify those things. And that is like stepping on the fire of doubt when those fires start and you’re like, I’m going to put that out. Put that doubt out. It just eliminates all the doubts going forward as you get through it.
Martin Reed: Yeah. Absolutely. So, you mentioned that the sleep window and stimulus control, the idea of getting out of bed, doing nothing in bed apart from sleep were quite challenging, but it sounds like you definitely found them helpful. Would you say that they were the two techniques that you found most helpful? Or were there any other techniques as you went through the course that you also found really helpful, that maybe were a little less challenging in the short term?
Jeff Shetterly: I think the getting out of bed is the technique that I still use. That’s a big one that’s so helpful to get me to go back to sleep. That’s a big takeaway from the program. The relaxation techniques I think were helpful also to get me to pause my day, to take 15 minutes out of the day to do a meditation and do some relaxation. Those were very helpful. I’m trying to think of some other.
Martin Reed: You mentioned earlier about the buffer zone. Was that something that you found helpful?
Jeff Shetterly: Oh yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I’d put that up there. That and getting out of bed, the 30 minute rule, I think are probably the two most important things. And I, even to this day, if I don’t take that buffer zone time for myself, whether it’s 30 minutes or an hour or whatever it is, some nights it doesn’t have to be as long as others. But if I don’t do that, I do find that I have trouble falling asleep still. But if I just go back to that process for myself, it’s just so helpful, and it really helps me to wind down and helps me to go to sleep. And there’ll be nights where there’s something unusual going on that creeps into my usual buffer time. But I think the idea of like, I’ve got… I used to have such a fixated idea on, I’ve got to get to bed by X, by 10 o’clock, if I’m going to get my eight hours of sleep.
Jeff Shetterly: And it was just racing to get to bed. And that anxiety was just so useless because then I’d be in bed for an hour and a half and it’s like, why not take 30 minutes to read, wind down and then get to bed 30 minutes later? And that concept was so helpful too. So taking that buffer time, even if I’m getting to bed later than I had wanted to, and not being a anxious about it is so key. Because knowing that, hey, if I’m going to get six hours maybe tonight versus seven, but I know that that’s okay and I can function absolutely perfectly on six hours of sleep, no problem. Especially if I’ve had a week or three or four nights of good sleep before that, it’s not even detectable for me.
Martin Reed: Yeah. I really like the buffer zone. For those listening that don’t know what we’re talking about, it’s basically just this period before you’re planning to go to bed, maybe half an hour or an hour, where it’s just you time. You can do whatever you want as long as you just find it relaxing and enjoyable. And it’s pretty straightforward. The idea behind it is it’s just that time for you to just unwind and relax, and it can also be really helpful because not only does it help your mind to relax, but it helps you recognize cues for sleepiness. So, let’s say the activity you choose to do is reading. As soon as you start to get those heavy eyes, you’re reading the same line over and over again, you can recognize those cues for sleepiness. And it just helps increase the likelihood that you’re going to be going to bed when you’re ready for sleep, not when you’re tired, but when you’re actually sleepy.
Jeff Shetterly: Right, right. Yeah, and the reading was, and still is my go to in the buffer time. I’ve got some short daily meditative readings and then I have a book of some sort that is always interesting to me but it doesn’t get me too excited. And I like to read a lot of history and some of that I find fascinating but also it’s perfect bedtime reading because it’s not so exciting and thrilling like watching something on TV for me. That I do, I get those heavy eyes and I’m on the same page for the last minute and that’s when I know it’s time to start heading to bed.
Martin Reed: Yeah. And I think it was interesting what you mentioned, that you emphasize that what’s relaxing for one person isn’t going to be relaxing for another. So you like to read a type of book, or there’s TV you might not find helpful or certain types of programming you might not find helpful, but other people might like to watch an episode of the Simpsons, or watch a documentary and that’s perfectly fine. It really is just whatever you personally find relaxing and enjoyable. Because we’re not trying to generate sleep, we’re just trying to help you unwind and just maybe recognize those cues for sleepiness. That’s all it’s about. We’re not looking for something that’s generating sleep here so it really is whatever just works for you on an individual level.
Jeff Shetterly: Yeah. And I had a trial and error period for myself. I did some music. I listened to some soft music or I’d drink some tea or something to help me, and it always kind of came back to reading. So I had to really figure out what was my best tool and technique for that time. But I feel comfortable now, a year later, knowing what that is.
Martin Reed: Yeah. So we worked together for eight weeks in total. Was there a certain point, as we were working together, when you kind of… things started to make sense, like the dots started to connect, and you started to recognize that, “Hey, these techniques, some of them are difficult, but they’re… I can recognize that they’re starting to work now.”
Jeff Shetterly: Yeah, I think in keeping the sleep diaries, I started to track and notice I’d get three or four nights of sleep that were really good, six-and-a-half to seven hours of sleep. Some weeks, it would be five or six nights when I would be at least six-and-a-half hours of sleep. Just seeing that was a confidence builder. And the time it took me to fall asleep on some of those, sometimes it was even five minutes, which I know is unusual. But it was usually in that 10 to 15 minute range.
Jeff Shetterly: You helped me to understand that falling asleep within 30 minutes, up to 30 minutes, was pretty average for people. That was helpful, because I always felt like, “Oh,” because my dad had the ability to fall asleep immediately when his head hit the pillow, and I never could understand it. I think he was probably exhausted most of the time, and that was the reason. But I found out that’s actually not very normal. God bless people that can do it, but 30 minutes was more average.
Martin Reed: Yeah, and that is a common misconception that people with insomnia have. They really believe, many of us believe, that we should be falling asleep within five or 10 minutes of getting into bed. But in the field of sleep, if you’re falling asleep regularly within 10 minutes, we would consider that excessive sleepiness. That’s not normally something we’d associate with insomnia, because the symptoms of insomnia are typically more related to fatigue, this feeling of being worn out rather than actually struggling to stay awake. So if someone is regularly falling asleep within 10 minutes of getting into bed, that could be a symptom of some other issue that’s going on. Typically, we find that people fall asleep within around 10 minutes to half an hour, is the average kind of range. If I’m looking at someone’s sleep diary and they’re falling asleep within about half an hour, that really is nothing to be concerned about, because that’s quite normal. And I think that’s important to emphasize to people.
Jeff Shetterly: I think, too, going back to your original question about when did the light bulb go on a little bit for me, when I look at my diary and see, “Oh I averaged six-and-a-half hours of sleep, or six-and-three-quarters hours,” that was big. And also, identifying that one or two nights of poorer sleep, whether it was a five hour night or a four hour night, out of seven nights was still pretty good, compared to where I was coming from. I tended to get focused on the negative, and would focus on those two nights and say, “Oh, why isn’t this perfect yet?” But focusing on the good days and the good nights of sleep was really key for me to just understand and just take in the progress that I was making. That was important for my mindset.
Martin Reed: Yeah, it really is so important to make yourself put emphasis on all the good nights, because it is so easy, if we don’t consciously make the effort, our brain just naturally wants to focus on the problematic nights. I think it’s like this survival mechanism. The brain sees that as a problem there that it has to solve. So it spends all this time dwelling on those one or two nights where there’s been that struggle, and completely disregards the five days where you’ve got really good sleep. So I think it is important to take that step back and recognize and draw attention, force yourself to focus on all the good nights, rather than the bad. I think that is key.
Martin Reed: On the note of the sleep diary, did you, when you learned that you’d be keeping a sleep diary, did that lead to any worry or anxieties? For some people, they fear that actively keeping a log of their sleep is going to draw more attention and more focus on sleeping, it’s going to lead to more difficulty sleeping as a result. Do you identify with that or did you have any of those kind of feelings?
Jeff Shetterly: I definitely identify with that. I’m a recovering perfectionist, and still have a lot of perfectionistic tendencies that… I like keeping records and logs like that, because I like to track my progress. I think the key for that was just to focus on the good nights and to say, “Oh.” And I would do averages for myself. Every week, I would do an average and see, “Oh, I averaged…” Because the averaging, for me, helped eliminate some of the negative thinking around the bad night. Especially the concept that you had discussed in your course about five-and-a-half-hours of sleep being core sleep, that was also a really key piece of information for me to learn, knowing that if I can get five-and-a-half-hours of sleep, that’s great. A lot of people do it long term on that. That understanding just helped eliminate any anxiety around having one or two nights of bad sleep. So keeping the log, and even if I had some bad nights, doing some of that averaging helped lose the stigma around the bad nights.
Martin Reed: Yeah, and I also think that sleep diaries can be helpful just as a measure of progress.
Jeff Shetterly: Yeah.
Martin Reed: It can definitely be difficult when you’re filling out the sleep diary for the first couple of weeks, and maybe your sleep is just looking atrocious. Maybe that’s leading to more worry. But typically people with insomnia already recognize their sleep as being pretty poor. So I find that the sleep diary doesn’t really exacerbate that. Or what it does is, it draws your attention to any progress that you’re making, improvements that you’re making, that maybe you’d otherwise have missed. I think you drew attention to this. You were able to recognize by keeping a sleep diary all those good nights that you are having, and perhaps the progress you were making over the eight weeks.
Jeff Shetterly: Yeah, and I was just remembering back to those first couple of weeks and I’d think, “Oh man, I’m only going to get three hours of sleep or four hours of sleep tonight,” and almost looking at it as a failure. Like, “I’m not doing this right.” Once I got past that and was able to see some progress on the diary, it helped eliminate some of those anxieties I did have around… I’d think to myself, “Oh, I’m not going to have a good night of sleep. It’s going to have to go in the diary as four hours or four-and-a-half hours. That’s way off what I want it to be.” Once I got past those first couple of weeks, it was much easier. And I think having your guidance around knowing that the first weeks of the program aren’t easy, they’re not designed to be easy or to improve your sleep right away, I think having that guidance and knowledge was important.
Martin Reed: Yeah, I think it’s important to just emphasize though, just like it took time for insomnia to develop and become entrenched, it takes time to unpick it and implement techniques that help you to undo that and to get your sleep back on track for the long term. That’s important to just consider and bear in mind.
Jeff Shetterly: Right.
Martin Reed: So, 10 months ago, you finished the course. How’s your sleep been since then, ups and downs along the way? And how’s your sleep now?
Jeff Shetterly: Yeah. Generally, it’s been much, much better, and I’m so grateful for that. There’s definitely been some ups and downs here and there. But one of the things that I also learned in the course was that I’ve been able to identify some of the causes a lot of times, when I’ve had rough nights. Sometimes, for sure, it’s because of my kids waking me up, and those were clear disruptions in my sleep. Sometimes it’s having more charged conversations with my wife at bedtime, which is something we both try to avoid. But sometimes those come up, and it’s harder for me to get sleep. But I’m able to see the next day, or even in the moment of, I’m not going to get a lot of sleep tonight. I know the reason. So I don’t have the charge or anxiety around it that I used.
Jeff Shetterly: And the one thing I’ve also noticed that’s a big change, is that when I do have trouble sleeping and falling asleep, and last week was an example, I had a couple of nights when I couldn’t fall asleep right away, so I got out of bed after about a half hour, I read for 30 minutes, came right back to bed and fell asleep pretty quickly. So just getting up that one time, those couple of nights worked great, and I was able to sleep, get probably six hours and felt fine the next day. Ironically, my son woke up three times last night, which is pretty unusual. He’s kind of in this phase now where he’s starting to have some nightmares and bad dreams, which, he’s about two and a half, and my wife and I switch off nights with the baby monitor to go in with him, and last night was my night.
Jeff Shetterly: So I found it ironic that the night I debuted on the podcast, my son keeps me up, woke me up three times, and I probably got five hours of sleep, but my attitude around this versus a year ago, I’d be like, “Ugh, my day’s going to be terrible,” but I don’t feel that way at all. I know I’m going to sleep well tonight, and my wife’s got the monitor tonight, so I’m guaranteed not to be woken up, and it’s it’s definitely a different way of living, for sure.
Martin Reed: Yeah. I think just talking to you about it, it’s the transformation, just the way you think about sleep. You don’t really spend any time worrying or thinking about it anymore. You’re certainly not anxious about it in response to a bad night, and really, that’s where we want to get. By implementing all these CBT-I techniques, we want to get you back to that stage where you’re not really concerned about sleep anymore, you don’t spend your days thinking about it, or worrying about how your day’s going to be if your sleep is disrupted.
Martin Reed: You can maybe recognize if there was any cause for that, like you just described. Of course, if your son’s getting up during the night, it’s going to disrupt your sleep, but then just not responding to it in a negative way, and really, that’s the ultimate transformation, because you’re just back to that stage where you just don’t even really think about sleep anymore. But anytime sleep is a problem, you’ve got all the skills to just reimplement to get your sleep back on track. That’s the real beauty of these CBT-I techniques.
Jeff Shetterly: Yeah. That last part you said is the real key, because anytime there are one or two, or three tough nights of sleep during a week, I know how to get it back on track now. I have that confidence and experience to be able to do that, and sometimes there’s some nights where I can’t explain why I can’t fall asleep, but I often look at it like, well, my body’s just not needing X hours of sleep tonight, or seven hours of sleep. I only need five tonight or six tonight.
Jeff Shetterly: And I just look at it that way, move on, move past it, because it’s inconsequential in the big scheme of things, but yeah, it’s just a different way of living. I mean, my wife and I would sleep in separate beds quite a bit when I was really struggling with it, because I didn’t want to wake her up and I had anxiety about waking her up, which added to my own anxiety and sleep arousal, of not being able to fall asleep. So I’m able to sleep in the same bed with her now and not have that same anxiety, and that’s a big difference.
Martin Reed: Oh, I bet. That’s amazing. Well, I just want to end with one last question that I think is really helpful for everyone listening. So here’s the question. If someone with chronic insomnia is listening, and feels as though they’ve tried everything, that they’re beyond help and they can’t do anything to improve their sleep, what would you tell them?
Jeff Shetterly: I would say, you’ve got to try this course. I really feel like I tried so many different things on my own, and tried a course, not too dissimilar from yours, from the book that I read, but just having that personal support from you, and in combination with the process that you lay out in the course you’ve designed, is so effective, and I really can’t see how it wouldn’t help anyone who’s really struggling. Even just rock bottom, struggling with the worst insomnia, and I’ve had the worst of just, no sleep at all. I’ve had those nights when I haven’t slept, or I’ve gotten one hour or two hours of sleep, and they aren’t fun, but this course works, and just having a plan in place that is really proven to help people.
Jeff Shetterly: It’s helped me, I know you’ve helped many other people, and I think not feeling alone was the other piece of this, because having insomnia, it evokes from me such a feeling of loneliness, and you mentioned isolation, and that was some of the worst mental torture of it, for me. It was like, “I’m the only one in the world not getting sleep right now,” and just the catastrophizing of my thoughts was some of the worst, but having you as a connection was so key, because it wasn’t just me trying to do it by myself.
Martin Reed: Well, I’m really grateful for that, and I really appreciate that I had the opportunity to work with you. I like to position myself more as the guide. I think I can give you the suggestions and give you the guidance, but it really is up to the individual to kind of follow through and put the effort in, and the clients that are most successful, like yourself, are the ones that implement the techniques, and give them a chance, because like you said during this episode, in the short term, they can be really difficult. So I’d just like to emphasize that the success is ultimately just down to you, because you’re the person that implemented the techniques, put all that effort in and had faith in them, and managed to come out the other side. I was merely just the guide helping you along the road. So just make sure that you recognize that you are the primary driver of your own success.
Jeff Shetterly: Well, I appreciate it, and I also greatly appreciate you putting the course out there, because it’s a big need. It really is. And I think it satisfies a need out there in the world that people need, and people need that kind of personal connection. It can’t be just about reading a book, it’s got to have somebody to help guide you, and so, I’m appreciative of that.
Martin Reed: All right, well thank you so much again for your time, Jeff, and for sharing your story. I think a lot of people are going to identify with your experience with insomnia, and I’m hoping that it encourages them, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, they can get past their insomnia, they can get through it just like you did. Just like you got through it, they can too. So thanks again for your time.
Jeff Shetterly: Absolutely. Thanks, Martin. I really appreciate it.
Martin Reed: Thanks for listening to The Insomnia Coach Podcast. If you’re ready to implement cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, CBT-I techniques to improve your sleep but think you might need some additional support and guidance, I would love to help. There are two ways we can work together. First, you can get my online coaching course. This is the most popular option. My course combines sleep education with unlimited support and guidance and is guaranteed to improve your sleep. I will teach you and help you implement new CBT-I techniques over a period of eight weeks. This gives you time to build sleep confidence and notice results without feeling overwhelmed. You can get the course and start right now at insomniacoach.com/online.
Martin Reed: I also offer a phone coaching package where we start with a one hour call. This can be voice only or video, your choice. And we come up with an initial two week plan that will have you implementing CBT-I techniques that will lead to long term improvements in your sleep. You get unlimited email based support and guidance for two weeks after the call along with a half hour follow up call at the end of the two weeks. You can book the phone coaching package at insomniacoach.com/phone.
Martin Reed: I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Insomnia Coach Podcast. I’m Martin Reed, and as always, I’d like to leave you with this important reminder. You can sleep.
Mentioned in this episode:
Say Good Night to Insomnia by Gregg Jacobs.
I want you to be the next insomnia success story I share! If you’re ready to improve your sleep using evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) techniques, click here to get my online insomnia coaching course. We can get started right now.
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