When I’m developing customized sleep plans for my patients a lot of the times people are solely focused on the end result of getting eight hours of sleep per night.
The evidence-based solutions I utilize are a series of small steps which are implemented over time and then finely tuned in a stepwise fashion. Progress is never linear in terms of total sleep time (TST). And even though I also share the goal of helping my patients to get eight hours of sleep per night, I feel it is most valuable to feel rested throughout the day.
One of the fulfilling but challenging aspects of my job is teaching people that quantity of sleep is not the holy grail, it’s quality of sleep. I could honestly wax on about this for hours.
Today I heard a wonderful metaphor for this while listening to the Tim Ferris podcast as he hosted Seth Godin.
Seth was describing a strategy for teaching people to juggle. In the beginning, most students will try to juggle by concentrating on not dropping the balls. When Seth teaches juggling he asks students to only practice throwing a single ball and to deliberately let it hit the ground. It is only after 20-40 minutes that he’ll advance the process. His teaches this way because the key to not dropping to ball is throwing it well. When the ball is thrown well, catching it becomes easy.
His method for learning to juggle is a metaphor for being divorced from the outcome. Throwing can be writing, practicing a sport, or anything we aspire to do well. In that way, we learn resilience from throwing, not from trying to control the end result whether it’s juggling, winning a race, or getting a good night of sleep. Actually, in the case of getting a good night of sleep, it makes it less likely.
This mindset is one of the reasons that trying to buy a good night of sleep by way of a pillow, mattress, or gadget will never be a magic bullet. Everything you need to sleep well is right inside of you.