Why a Bad Night’s Sleep Won’t Make You Lose Your Job (Probably)

This is the third instalment of Sleep Slidin’ Away. Read Part I here; Part II (It Costs Sleep to Make Sleep) here.

I blame Suede. I wasn’t planning on extending my recent sleep experiment to full on sleep deprivation, and then Suede went and played in an inconvenient location on a Saturday night.  By the time I’d got home and caught up on Doctor Who, I was in the midst of an accidental sleep deprivation experiment.  What sort of therapist would I be if I didn’t take the opportunity for an additional experiment?  A well-rested one, probably.

Unfortunately, after around 6 hours’ sleep, I woke up feeling fine. Great, even.  So annoying.  I’d unexpectedly coped perfectly fine on 6 hours’ sleep. I did some admin, I went for a 10 mile run, I had some food, I sat on the couch.

Then I fell asleep. For two hours.

When I woke up again my Sleepy Brain told me that this extended nap was obvious proof that I’d got it all wrong, that in fact I can’t cope on six hours’ sleep after all. It told me that I was lucky this was a Sunday, that if it had been during the week I’d have fallen asleep in front of a client during a session. It told me that I should be worried if I’m not asleep seven hours before I need to be out of bed again. It told me that sleeping for seven hours was more important than sticking to a routine. It told me it could take me to a better, sleep-filled world where all alarms are snooze alarms.

What we have here is a potentially unhelpful belief. I say “unhelpful” because it leads to worry and either restricting late night outings or having to wait until tomorrow to watch Doctor Who. I say “potentially”, because until proved otherwise, there’s still a small chance it’s accurate, in which case I probably should be worried.

Sleep unhelpful belief cycle

I have a choice. I could listen to my Sleepy Brain and accept this belief as fact based on my recent unplanned nap, or I could consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, a two-hour run could be considered a confounding variable. If I take it as fact, I will need to make adjustments to fit this “reality” into my life. If I treat it as a theory, then I can test it out before I plan my life around something that might not actually be true.

The Prediction
I cannot cope with less than 7 hours of sleep. Specifically, if I get less than 7 hours, I will fall asleep during the day. More specifically, if I get less than 7 hours, I will fall asleep during the day in front of a client, embarrass myself, and lose my job.

Rational brain believes this prediction 20%.
Sleepy brain believes this prediction 95%.

The Experiment
I let my rational brain plan the experiment. I decided to go more extreme, because if I could get through that, my Sleepy Brain would have no choice but to accept the reality. I decided on 5 hours, which is the minimum amount of sleep I would recommend to a client doing sleep restriction experiments. This meant going to bed at 2:30am.

The Results
First Attempts – Midweek
I settled down with a box set and a pocket full of good intentions, which were being fulfilled right up until the point when Sleepy Brain appeared, disguised as rational brain, and told me that if I was tired tomorrow I would fall asleep while in sessions with patients and the patients would complain and I would lose my job and I’d never get another one in the field of psychology and I’d be miserable and…

I woke up ten minutes before my alarm after a nice 8 hour sleep. Some variation of this happened for the next few nights until I finally decided that my fear of falling asleep in front of a patient would need to be addressed separately, and I scheduled in the experiment for a Friday night.

Second Attempt – Friday Night
I slept for exactly 5 hours and the next day I was fine. Absolutely fine. Despite this fairly hard evidence, my Sleepy Brain would not let up about falling asleep in front of clients.

CUT TO:

INT. COURTROOM FROM ALLY MCBEAL – NIGHT

Rational Brain paces back and forth in front of Sleepy Brain, who is seated at the witness stand, and an unknown judge, who is asleep.

RATIONAL BRAIN
Explain to the empty chairs again why you are so confident in your assertion that we will fall asleep in the therapist’s chair?

SLEEPY BRAIN
I think we will.

RATIONAL BRAIN
Yes. You said that.

SLEEPY BRAIN
Yes.

RATIONAL BRAIN
Yes?

SLEEPY BRAIN
Yes.

RATIONAL BRAIN
Could you… elaborate please?

SLEEPY BRAIN
Yes.

RATIONAL BRAIN
Thank you.

SLEEPY BRAIN
You’re welcome.

RATIONAL BRAIN
Now, please?

SLEEPY BRAIN
Now?

RATIONAL BRAIN
Yes.

SLEEPY BRAIN
We get tired after a bad night’s sleep.

RATIONAL BRAIN
That’s true, we do. Go on.

SLEEPY BRAIN
We unwittingly napped for two hours the other day.

RATIONAL BRAIN
Also true.

SLEEPY BRAIN
We have dozed off in a cinema before.

RATIONAL BRAIN
Objection. Irrelevant.

SLEEPY BRAIN
Overruled. We slept when we didn’t want to.

RATIONAL BRAIN
It was dark. It was Eat Pray Love.

SLEEPY BRAIN
Overruled.

RATIONAL BRAIN
What else?

SLEEPY BRAIN
Remember that psychologist who told us she had fallen asleep during sessions?

RATIONAL BRAIN
The analyst? She barely spoke in sessions. She’d seen her clients for years. Sometimes they barely spoke either. She couldn’t even see their faces. It’s not the same thing. Objection.

SLEEPY BRAIN
Overruled. It feels important.

RATIONAL BRAIN
What else?

SLEEPY BRAIN
What ‘what else’?

RATIONAL BRAIN
That’s it?

SLEEPY BRAIN
Yes.

RATIONAL BRAIN
That’s not a reasonable argument.

SLEEPY BRAIN
I’m sorry but it’s how I feel.

The judge emits a gentle snore. Sleepy Brain takes out a pillow and falls asleep. Rational Brain continues pacing.

FADE OUT.

Third Attempt – Midweek
On Wednesday night, I slept for 5 hours. Thursday was filled with management meetings and admin, and was followed by another 5 hours of sleep. On Friday, I had five sessions of CBT. I stayed awake for every single one of them.

CUT TO:

INT. THERAPY ROOM – DAY

Rational Brain sits in a large therapist’s chair and nods empathically. We see the client, Sleepy Brain, looking at a chip in the wooden arm of her chair.

SLEEPY BRAIN
I guess I don’t always think straight when I’m tired.

RATIONAL BRAIN
Nobody’s perfect.

FADE OUT.

© Cognitive Behave Yourself, 2013.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full credit is given to Jane Gregory with a link to the original material.  For CBT in North-West London please visit hampsteadcbt.com.

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