I’m a firm believer that changing your diet isn’t hard, it’s breaking the habits surrounding the diet that is. I know this because my clients and I spend more time brainstorming new habits to build than actual meal planning. But truly understanding how hard it is to break and form new habits finally hit in a real way for me this past week. And not with food. Something else just as precious. Sleep. Oh sweet, sweet, savory sleep.
I am working with a physical therapist on a lat, scapular, serratus, rib, trap… shit storm of pain and weakness in the left side of my body. After three weeks of trying to pound the inflammation out with minor success, the doc asks me if “I sleep weird.”
“What’s sleeping weird?” I ask. “Well, do you sleep on your back with a pillow tucked under your knees?” He asks. “No, that would be weird…” I respond. (I hope you all agree with me. What kind of psychopath sleeps on their back with a pillow tucked under the knees and doesn’t move all night or snore themselves to death?) “I sleep, on my stomach, with the left arm (problem child) tucked under my pillow and my right knee practically in my stomach.”
Doc looks at me. I look at Doc. Doc looks at me a little longer. I suddenly realize I’m spending 7-10 hours of my 24 in a position that might be killing me. Doc opens his mouth to explain what realization has just washed over me and I’m not happy with his course of correction.
“You need to learn to sleep on your back…. with a pillow under your…” “yeah, yeah my knees.”
Three decades of conditioning to break. Great. That’s not going to be easy.
I get into bed that night with resolve and forced excitement to sleep belly up for the first time EVER. I lay in bed, wide awake, staring at the ceiling for about 55 minutes before I acknowledge that this sucks so fucking bad. I put on my meditation app, Breathe. It’s a sure thing that I will fall asleep now. I’ve never had cravings like this before. I’m agitated I can’t just roll over knowing that if I did I would be out in seconds. But I can’t quit on the first night. My sleeping position retraining can’t start tomorrow. That’s just weak.
I’ll tell you now that Doc also said I could sleep on my side, with my arms beside me, with yet another pillow between my legs but couldn’t tuck my knees. I know, he is no fun at all! It’s like saying you can’t eat ice cream, but don’t worry, you CAN have frozen celery.
The first night is broken sleep filled with crazy dreams of Doc and I studying why the new sleep position is so valuable to the human body. It was practically an anatomy class all night long.
The second night, I won’t bore you with the details but it’s basically a repeat of night one. Dreams and everything. Mediation app has now let me down two nights in a row.
The third night, all I can do is fantasize about rolling over onto my stomach. I feel oppressed, slightly manic, and don’t want to be touched. Mediation is a load of crock straight from the sleep devils mouth, and a crippled arm for the rest of my life is sounding ok.
Except it’s not. I know, understand, and believe that what I am doing must be done. But my mind is not having it. My brain’s fighting itself is a Jekyll and Hyde variation played out as Scientist vs Petulant three-year-old.
Night three: “Will I be forced to live a miserable existence like this FOREVER?!” I ask Patrick. “Sorry I can’t hear you, my ears are buried into my pillow.” He loves sleeping on his back. LOVES IT. I’ve never been this close to smothering another human with a pillow before. “I SAID, Will I be forced to live this MISERABLE EXISTENCE FOREVER?!!!!” I make sure I get right up close to his ear this time.
“You sleep on your side more often than you think. Go to bed.” He didn’t say go to bed, but his tone did.
I hate it when he’s right, which is often. (Only hate isn’t the right word, it’s actually very helpful and insightful.) He holds a very good mirror angle for me to look into metaphorically speaking.
This entire time all I have looked at is what I couldn’t have vs what I can, and how 50% of the sleep positions I do sleep in already works. Yes, changing 50% of my sleep pattern and my most favorite and comforting one has been removed but it HAD to be.
We change one small *huge, life-altering* thing and all we look at is how it’s fucking everything up.
I gained an enormous advantage this week with changing my sleep habit, pattern, position, etc. I now truly understand how hard it is to change the habits surrounding your diet because I experienced the pain of changing my sleeping habits. I know diet is a hard one, but not for me. I had disordered eating for half of my life and food control is no sweat off my back. The feelings of: loss of control, loss of choice, restriction, misery, discomfort, the struggle for victory, hatred of wisdom and knowledge, pain of exercising self-control, adjusting to dreading something I used to look forward to EVERY night opened my eyes big time to what my clients go through with food. Substitute “nutrition/diet/meal plan” whatever word you use in lieu of sleep and you have almost every conversation I have with my nutrition clients but now I am sitting across the table from myself.
Some might think this is dangerous for business to admit but I think I’ve been handed the best opportunity yet. I’m miserable and sleep deprived yet if I want to get better I have to go through the process of breaking and making new habits. A very difficult and life-altering thing to do. I can now RELATE. And know when people are being sissy poo poo pants and when shit is really hitting the fan.
Night 4: I wake up every time in my old sleeping position, which is equivalent to cheating on your diet. I corrected myself immediately and fell back asleep. No reason to drag it out or over think it.
Night 5: Acceptance. Only one-course correction mid-night, I wake up peacefully on my side with arms hugging a fluffy sherpa pillow.
Night 6: Asleep in under 12 minutes and no cheats to my knowledge.
It’s not over yet. I still miss belly sleeping but it’s not as hard and now that the bad habit is somewhat broken, practicing the good habit is key. It will take time and lots of patience but in a week I changed something I had been doing for 33 years. Changed, not perfected.
Remember that as you start to break bad habits to form new and better ones, it takes time to gain a foothold. Change is hard but possible. Have patience with yourself. Course correct quickly once you’ve realized you’ve drifted off. Have a sense of humor. Take one day at a time.
Brick by fucking brick we build the best version of ourselves.