How to support a loved one with a sleep problem
+ Being patient and supportive
+ Not getting drawn in to anxieties & expectations around sleep
+ Being the voice of reason
In this post, I want to talk about something that I don’t think is talked about even nearly enough…how to support someone you love who has a sleep problem.
So this is not for those who are suffering themselves, this is for the husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, friends and whoever else might be trying to support someone they care about who is struggling with their sleep. Of course if you are the one struggling, you can pass this along to those who care about you.
It is not easy to know how to support someone with a sleep problem and ideally you should not be doing it alone.
I believe that as a loved on, you are in a unique and important position to help those struggling with their sleep. Sometimes when I work with people I actively try to involve loved ones because you are in a position to have quite a lot of influence and keep them on track in making progress.
I know that this isn’t always easy. I know that it can be incredibly frustrating when you are around someone who is struggling with their sleep. Sleep problems can change someone's personality, it can change their temperament and you might miss the person you used to know.
Your loved one might develop all sorts of rituals and anxieties about their sleep and might start to worry about things that you would have never dreamt they would worry about.
If you are in a relationship, you can get a lot of the blame for why they can’t sleep – you breathe too loudly or move too much for example.
It can also be really frustrating because you want to be able to fix it but you can’t.
So, it is important to recognise that these things they are doing, are actually symptoms of the problem. They are not trying to upset you or cause problems – these things are very normal when struggling with sleep.
What they need from you more than anything is your patience and understanding.
So, if you need to give your opinion or challenge them about something (which can quite often be important), you need to do it in a very kind and gentle way because they are suffering and they are struggling.
People with sleep problems are often very frustrated and upset with themselves. This simple thing they used to be able to do has become so difficult and they can’t do it. What they need from you as a loved one more than anything is a hug. They need comfort. They need you to be the person they can go to and that requires patience and understanding.
One of the most important jobs you can do in your unique position, is to encourage them to seek professional help. You can’t fix this for them. Very often they will be feeling embarrassed and frustrated. They might be heavily criticising themselves and not wanting to make a fuss which means they don’t get the help they need and the problem keeps dragging on. They may need you to give them permission to put themselves first, make it a priority and admit this is a problem so they can seek the help they need.
A lot of the people I work with have had some encouragement from someone who cares about them. In some circumstances, the loved ones have had to do all the research etc for them because when you are not sleeping, you struggle to have the headspace to deal with these sorts of things. Day to day life becomes about survival.
It is easy to get drawn in to their ways of thinking, expectations and their anxieties around sleep.
Especially when sleep problems have been going on for a while, it is easy to believe that ‘this is just the way I am’ or ‘there must really be something wrong with me’ and so it is easy for the loved ones to get drawn into believing this too.
It is easy to say things like ‘we can’t do that because you won’t sleep’ or ‘make sure you have your tablets or you won’t sleep at all’.
These things can just trip off the tongue because it is part of the reality you are experiencing and the evidence you are seeing.
But, believing these things is where insomnia and sleep problems get their power from. So every time they say or hear these things, it compounds the problem just that little bit more. It can be even worse when they hear it from someone else.
So, being careful about what you say can be really important. Try to keep your language neutral and supportive as much as you can. This is not always easy but if you can be aiming for this you are doing a good job. Try to make sure that you are not getting drawn into the same unhelpful thoughts and beliefs that the sufferer is stuck in.
Instead try to say things like ‘would you like to try it’ or ‘how can I best support you with it’.
So trying to be there and support your loved one without getting drawn into all the unhelpful stuff that is part of the problem.
You are in a position to feedback more helpful ways of thinking and a more positive perspective to the insomnia suffer.
When someone is struggling with their sleep, they will usually be stuck in negative ways of thinking and feeling, particularly related to sleep itself.
So, you can be really positive about the good nights that they do have, or even the good portion of a night. You can be encouraging them and reminding them that they can cope, even when they don’t think they can. You can be reminding them of funny places they have fallen asleep or great sleep that they have had, thunderstorms that they have slept through etc.
This helps to reflect back that they are not broken and that they are capable of sleeping. Something may have gone awry but they are not incapable of sleep. This very easily gets lost for those people struggling with their sleep.
These things are really important and can make a difference but they are not going to fix their sleep. Ideally you really would not be supporting them on your own.
Sleep problems usually require some professional support to overcome. We need to retrain their body and mind to sleep and to overcome those old ways of thinking so as to get them back to sleeping naturally and easily.
This help is usually relatively quick and easy, it is not a long drawn out process, so you can encourage them to take action on this.
I hope this post has been helpful and stops you feeling so powerless.
A sleep assessment with me is a great place to start – it is a simple one off session which can be a nice entryway to getting the help they need.
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