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Sleep and Health: How Support from a Health Coach Can Help You Get the Rest You Need

by Kelli Saginak, EdD, A-CFHC, NBC-HWC

Published on

Believe it or not, sleep is perhaps the most important thing we do. In fact, we can go without food longer than we can without sleep. Whereas the debate continues as to whether or not a person can actually die from sleep deprivation, studies on sleep do report the risks, and even dangers, associated with a lack of sleep. In other words, sleep and health go hand in hand.

Sleep and health
Lack of sleep and negative health side effects go hand in hand, but working with a health coach may help. iStock/yanyong

Yet, in our fast-paced, over-scheduled, highly driven, contemporary lives, sleep is often the first thing sacrificed. Furthermore, even if sleep is a priority, our busy, modern-day, plugged-in existence is interfering with our body’s natural ability to slip into slumber. It’s not surprising that studies report an increase in sleep disorders globally. (1)

Although altering our sleep patterns and norms is possible on our own, increasingly, people are discovering and experiencing the benefits of partnering with a health coach to navigate the process successfully and long-term. This article, as part of an article series, will introduce you to the importance of quality, adequate sleep, and its effects on health and wellness, and give you a glimpse into what working with a health coach on sleep could look like.

Sleep deprivation is becoming the norm in our society, but working with a qualified health coach can help you adopt better habits and get restorative sleep. Check out this article from Kelli Saginak to find out how. #healthylifestyle #changeagent

What the Research Shows about Sleep

Statistics about sleep indicate that:

  • Around 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems. (2)
  • Thirty percent of Americans are getting less than six hours of sleep per night. (3)
  • Forty-four percent of adults surveyed globally admit their sleep has worsened in the last five years. (4)
Bottom line, living sleep-deprived is increasingly becoming more the norm than not; and it’s a norm that is having a catastrophic impact on health and wellness globally.

Research on sleeping increasingly links lack of sleep and poor quality sleep to chronic health issues such as: (5)

  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Neurocognitive disease
  • Cancer

Not to mention, inadequate sleep is taking “a toll on nearly every key indicator of public health: mortality, morbidity, performance, accidents and injuries, functioning and quality of life, family well-being, and health care utilization.” (6)

Interestingly, studies on sleeping report that: (7)

“Eight in 10 global adults want to improve the quality of their sleep, but the majority (60%) have not sought help from a medical professional.”

It appears that people would rather ask Google how to solve their sleep issues than reach out to a healthcare provider. (8) While some people are able to correct their sleep issues on their own, partnering with a health coach offers many benefits for your sleep and your health.

The Connection between Your Sleep and Health

The relationship between sleep and health is growing increasingly clear. Whereas a deep dive into the research and data on sleep and health is outside the scope of this article, with an estimated 30 percent of adults experiencing at least one symptom of insomnia, chronic sleep loss is rapidly becoming a global health crisis. (9) Beyond the effects of sleep on health, not getting enough sleep causes substantial decline in performance, productivity, learning, safety, and overall quality of life, including relationships.

Sleep affects your health in more ways than you might realize. Truth be told, our bodies are undergoing important, vital processes when we sleep. Cellular growth and repair occur when we sleep, as does hormonal regulation, which influences blood sugar and immune system functioning. Healthy sleep improves brain and cognitive functioning, including memory. Most of our bodily tissues and physiological systems are enhanced significantly by healthy sleep. In addition, healthy sleep improves productivity and performance (including athletic) and mood, resilience, our response to stress, and our overall aging process and life expectancy. (10, 11)

Generally speaking, healthy sleep for most adults consists of at least 7.5 hours of consistent, quality sleep nightly. However, the exact amount of sleep a person needs can vary. Yet, when calculating hours of sleep, it is important to note the difference between time in bed and actual sleep time. Meaning, to get 7.5 hours of sleep, we need to be in bed for about 8.5 hours to allow time for the mind and body to wind down and prepare for peaceful slumber. For example, if you want to wake up at 5:00 a.m., in order to get 7.5 hours of sleep, you’ll need to be asleep by 10:30 p.m. This means that you’ll want to be in bed by around 9:00 p.m. every night, consistently.

The Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation

Whereas skimping on sleep occasionally will most likely not cause long-term health consequences, consistent inadequate sleep can lead to a number of health issues, including physical health and mental health. Furthermore, sleep research reports that sleep deprivation “has been linked to 7 of the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S., including cardiovascular disease, malignant neoplasm, cerebrovascular disease, accidents, diabetes, septicemia, and hypertension.” (12) Persistent sleep deprivation has also been linked to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and, in particular, bipolar disorder. (13) Whereas lack of sleep is often a symptom itself, common symptoms of not getting enough sleep include: (14)

  • Extreme daytime drowsiness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Problems focusing or paying attention
  • Difficulty learning
  • Forgetfulness
  • Fatigue
  • Moodiness or irritability
  • Loss of libido

If any of these symptoms are familiar to you and you’ve been living in a state of sleep deprivation, or your overall sleep health seems to be deteriorating, it could be time to reach out for assistance and support. Scheduling an appointment with a healthcare provider is a recommended first step. Sleep conditions, such as sleep apnea, are not to be taken lightly. Depending on the results and recommendations, you are mostly likely going to have to make some behavioral, environmental, and lifestyle changes.

The realm of changes proposed will most likely depend on the lens through which the healthcare provider views your sleep symptoms. For example, conventional medicine historically offers few recommendations for addressing sleep disorders. In fact, sleep often receives limited coverage in the conventional medical school curriculum. (15) Conventional providers will generally recommend a few techniques to try such as progressive muscle relaxation initially. Then, if sleep does not improve, the prescription pad appears.

What is often missing from this common, conventional scenario is assessment of important areas that affect sleep such as nutrition, exercise, stress management, environment, and lifestyle, which for Functional Medicine practitioners are critical areas to assess. Making the leap from a few basic sleep strategies to strong prescription medications can often cause more harm than good. Although sleep medications may sedate you into slumber, they can also cause harmful side effects and actually interfere with quality of sleep. There is a vast difference between being put to sleep artificially and inducing quality sleep naturally.

Depending on the healthcare path you take to address your sleeplessness, you will most likely leave your provider’s office with a variety of recommendations to implement and changes to make. Some of the recommended changes may be easy, such as reducing the temperature in the bedroom. However, other prescribed changes like reducing caffeine or alcohol consumption, limiting screen time, and following a consistent sleep schedule might be more challenging. You might discount or resist these recommendations altogether. Choosing to partner with a health coach can make all the difference in if, how, and when these recommendations and changes are made! 

How Working with a Health Coach Can Help You Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Health coaches empower people to change their lifestyles and behaviors so they can achieve their health and wellness goals. With expertise in behavior change, health coaches are perfect partners for people, like you, who want to change their sleep hygiene and habits. Trained to listen with an objective, compassionate, non-judgmental ear, health coaches are uniquely skilled to help you uncover the obstacles preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep, while also empowering you to recognize and celebrate what is supporting your sleep.

For example, say that during your quest to improve your sleep, you discover that your busy mind’s racing thoughts are the source of your tossing and turning. Before any changes are made, a skilled health coach will first seek to build a rapport while helping you articulate your personal wellness vision, the long-term goals you want to achieve, and the obstacles in your way of getting a good night’s sleep. This initial assessment phase will enable you and your coach to understand your sleep issue fully and all that you hope to achieve, including what you’ve tried, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked, and any practitioner recommendations.

In initial health coaching consultations, which may include assessments, visioning, and goal setting, it’s common to uncover an array of influences on sleep that busy, over-scheduled practitioners do not have time to explore fully. For instance, many factors can influence sleep:

  • Diet and nutrition
  • Movement and exercise
  • Play and creativity
  • Stress and relaxation
  • Career and work
  • Social connections and relationships
  • Screen and device time
  • Lifestyle and environmental factors

From here, you and your health coach will collaborate on how you can start altering your sleep routine and adopting habits for calming and quieting your mind. Because health coaches are skilled in collaboration, you can expect your health coach to invite you to brainstorm a list of options to experiment with and test. Together, you and your health coach will list an array of possible options without judging or negating any of them. This is an empowering process intended to open your mind to the power of possibility. 

Through unbounded brainstorming, you decide that designing an evening routine that also includes meditative practices to quiet your mind could help improve your sleep. Before partnering with a health coach, you might not have considered meditation or rejected it altogether. However, now working with an inspiring health coach and learning how meditation is beneficial to sleep, you begin to feel curious and open to trying it.

To empower your next steps, you and your health coach will spend focused time exploring all angles of ways you could use meditation for improving your sleep (that looks vastly different from the image of sitting in a lotus pose for 90 minutes). Your health coach will pose a variety of powerful questions to facilitate your preparation and planning for ways you might incorporate meditative practices into your evening sleep routine. If you’re unsure where or how to start, with permission your health coach will share reputable resources and examples of what other clients have tried and found successful.

Exploration and resources will then evolve into you creating your own personalized plan for adding meditation to your sleep routine that will include measurable goals and action plans that are simple and completely doable. For instance, you might decide to start with three minutes of body-scanning meditation before bed five nights per week or Monday through Friday. While exploring your own resources and those offered by your health coach, you decide to experiment with Calm and Headspace apps. The measurable goal you commit to is three minutes of meditation five nights per week before bed for eight weeks. You now have a simple, easy, SMART goal that you feel confident you can achieve.

Other options from your brainstorming list to experiment with might include:

  • Light journaling or reading before bed (16)
  • Limiting caffeine and alcohol
  • Reducing the temperature in the bedroom
  • Wearing loose-fitting, cool, comfortable clothing
  • Reducing artificial light and ensuring that the room is completely dark

If you’re feeling extra motivated, you might even choose to experiment with more advanced, recommended sleep supports, such as Michael Krugman’s Sounder Sleep System.

Although energized by your new plan to improve your sleep quality and the support from your health coach, it’s common to feel apprehensive and even worried about your ability to put your new plan into action. A skilled health coach will sense your hesitancy and any fear or doubt that surfaces, and invite you to explore possible obstacles that could interfere with your plan without judgment. This type of curious inquiry can help you ease your worries by calling on your strengths and capacity to succeed. Your health coach will also help you create your own system of support and accountability while empowering your success and a good night’s sleep.

Yet support doesn’t stop there! Health coaches are passionate about checking in and celebrating each small step, win, and victory along the way, no matter how small and insignificant you might think they are, as you build your self-efficacy and confidence. Ultimately, a health coach is dedicated to facilitating your ability to change and improve your sleep patterns and routines, which has the potential to generalize across multiple areas of your life. You discover through a collaborative partnership that you can achieve your health and wellness goals successfully one, small, supportive step at a time. In other words, the beneficial outcomes that result from working with a health coach to improve your sleep can enhance your overall health and wellness, quality of life, and more.

The ADAPT Health Coach Training Program Delivers Training that Develops the Skills to Support Clients with Sleep Solutions

Training as an ADAPT-Certified Functional Health Coach taught me how pillars of Functional Health (like nutrition, sleep, movement, and relaxation) work in harmony to support optimal health and wellness. Furthermore, the comprehensive, year-long applied study in the art and practice of coaching prepared me for coaching clients confidently through the ups and downs of successful behavior and lifestyle changes, such as those vital to improving sleep.

If you’re interested in becoming a health coach, click here to find out more about the knowledge and skills you can learn in the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program.

As a student in the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program, I not only learned how to coach effectively and serve as a change agent, I also learned, through the Functional Health curriculum, the importance of applying a Functional Health and ancestral lifestyle approach to my own life, including my sleep, which I once took for granted. Working with a health coach who is also walking their own health and wellness path can provide an inspiring and empowering space in which to achieve your most desired health and wellness goals, and get a better night’s sleep.

If you are struggling with sleep and you want assistance and support, consider working with a health coach. Check out our health coach directory for an ADAPT-Certified Functional Health Coach near you. 

Whether you’re trying to improve your diet, get more sleep, manage your stress, or be more active, a health coach can help you reach your health goals. To find out how, check out the other articles in this series (and check back for more):