Sleep can be a real challenge for most of us. To be our best as coaches, we need to have an awareness of factors that help to move clients from where they are now to an outcome goal somewhere later in time. But there are many factors that can get in the way and undermine our hard work and strategies. We know that our client needs to eat properly and get solid rest in order to recover and have energy for a workout if we are also doing physical training.
But all coaching types get better client results when outlying specifics – like sleep – are not sufficient. What if their sleep is short-changed?
As coaches, we know the importance of sleep, and we also can use our understanding
of how active the brain is during sleep as a coaching tool, to help understand or identify
a client who is not getting sufficient sleep.
With sleep in mind, it serves as no surprise that the brain is the command center of the
sleep cycle. In addition to making a decision, the brain also produces and consolidates
memories. The brain forms ingenious connections, as well as detoxifying and the ability
to learn and understand how to carry out physical tasks. In other words, if you want to
improve your performance on any task, then you may want to consider getting your
clients to sleep longer. Think of sleep as the environment for our mental housekeeper to
stay and work for best function.
While many people can be sleep deprived on occasion, there is a greater incidence of
chronic sleep problems in those with mental health/psychiatric conditions. This includes
post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD), and bipolar disorder. In the past, sleep disorders such as insomnia
were seen as symptoms. Studies suggest that issues with sleep can play a larger role
contributing to the development of some mental health conditions. Addiction to
substances such as alcohol or opioids has been shown to be disruptive to the sleep
Stress and sleep
Environmental symptoms of stress can include social withdrawal, or concerns related to
changes in appetite, sleep, or even libido. These factors demonstrate how stress can
have a significant impact on our physiology, psychology, and behavior. Due to strong
evidence that supports mind/body strategies in published literature, we can harness the power of science to help clients along.
For example, Sleep Science Coaches are encouraged to experiment, using breath-based meditations and movements in support of improving sleep habits as an important factor in maintaining cognitive function. This includes enhancing brain reserves, to promoting emotional
regulation, enhancing physical performance, preserving your physiological function,
supporting a connection of the mind to the body, and promoting a deep level of
relaxation and self-awareness.
It is not only acceptable for the coach or trainer to provide tips and strategies that can
assist your client in adapting health sleep behaviors – it is often required for successful
outcomes. This is especially true when strategizing ways to improve brain functions
that either support healthy sleep or require normal, restorative sleep. We are rarely
called upon to consider interventions that can help clients with mental health conditions
such as addiction and PTSD (it’s only discussed when it is within our scope of
practice). It is important to remember that your role is not to diagnose the client with
any medical condition, but to use any such history to enhance their individual coaching
experience if it relates to their sleep.
The brain serves as the command center that tells us when to feel sleepy and when to
be alert and awake. Tiny amounts of brain cells are in charge of making us stay awake
or fall asleep. Some of them encourage alertness and others encourage sleep; some
cells promote stages of wakefulness and others promote levels of sleep.
The brain cells (neurons) that encourage alertness also work to prevent actions that
encourage sleep, and vice versa. Maintaining a balance usually results in either a
reasonably constant phase of alertness or a reasonably constant period of sleep. This
is how the brain is believed to regulate sleep. The intricacies regarding exactly how the
brain controls sleep, is not fully understood.
Certain areas of the brain, such as in the hypothalamus, and the brainstem support mental alertness and wakefulness by releasing neurotransmitters, such as acetylcholine. These chemicals stimulate the cerebral cortex, which when activated causes us to stay awake. This is what happens when a person takes caffeine. It stimulates the cerebral cortex, which covers the
thought process, and it also stimulates the medulla.
The latter results in decidedly negative effects, such as an increase in heart/respiratory
rate and poor muscular coordination. If you are a personal trainer, this can have a
direct impact on your client’s results. It can also delay their pursuit of a successful
outcome goal. We can – and need to be aware of factors that help our client experience
a restful night of sleep for all of the specific reasons stated within their planned goals;
we can also provide some knowledge and learning as a supporting service to a client
who is not getting good sleep. For this, we should also know ways to nudge them along in pursuit of optimal sleep hygeine.