Today’s hustle culture often puts sleep at the bottom of priorities. That thought is wrong, because if you want better physical health and a better financial standing, you will need better sleep. Lisa Pezik is joined by returning guest, life and sleep coach Janet Whalen. Janet talks about why she added better sleep to her coaching repertoire and her list of priorities. She also discusses the origins of insomnia and why she decided to improve her sleep. If you want to make a change to your sleep habit, this episode is for you.
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Better Sleep For Better Health And Success: Talking Sleep With Janet Whalen
Let's talk about sleep. Whether you've never slept well, you've always been chasing this or those words coming out of your mouth, "I know. I should focus on that." Maybe you've tried some things and haven't been successful. Maybe now, with the state of where we are, still in pandemic here in Toronto. We are in a lockdown which can cause all sorts of emotions and things to come up. I would say that you probably haven't lived if you haven't had a sleep issue because so many changes and things have been thrown at us. I'm so excited to have someone come back who was on my show before, Janet Whalen.
I'm so excited to come back. Thank you for asking me.
Things have shifted for you. The last time we had you back, you're doing a lot of work around money mindset and knowing your money archetype, which was so valuable. I feel like anything you put your hands on turns to gold. Now, you're doing sleep coaching. I'll tell them all about you in a minute. Tell me, what made the shift from money stuff to sleep stuff now for you?
That’s a big 180. I was a business coach for women entrepreneurs. I focused on money and I loved it. At the same time, in the background, I was working on my own sleep using my sleep coaching tools to fix a decade's long sleep problem that I had. I was a terrible sleeper since I was a kid. I can remember so many issues where I knew sleep was never my thing. I just assumed I was a terrible sleeper and that's the way it was. I created a thought for myself, which was that sleep is for chumps, literally. I sleep when I'm dead. Sleep is for losers. Why would anyone waste a third of their life asleep? You don't need to. I thought it was my superpower. I was just pushing away at the whole problem instead of trying to fix it.
When I got certified with the Life Coach School, the whole idea of that style of coaching is that we create our results with our thoughts. We have thought about a circumstance. It creates a feeling. That feeling makes us act in a certain way and that creates our results. It’s based loosely on the CBT process. The way that it was always explained to us is you can put anything in your results line. You can put any goal in there and use this model to achieve that goal. I thought, "If I could put anything in the results line, I'm going to put 'I'm a good sleeper,' and work backward up this model and see if I can create this for myself." I did. I thought I had resolved the answer of the universe. I was like, "How did this happen? Nobody knows. I had to make millions of dollars. This is insane." I started researching it and realized, "No, I didn't," because there's already this process called CBTI, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia. I could get certified as a practitioner without having to be a therapist.
I was saying to you earlier, I am a coach. I'm not a therapist. I don't perform this in a therapeutic environment. I added my own spin of life coaching on top of the CBTI. I've changed the way the program works a little. I use the tools but I add on a bunch of other stuff. Anyway, how this evolved? It involves the pandemic, interestingly. Last March 2020, I had been sleeping well for probably a year at that point. I got in a car accident the week that everything shut down. The car was a mess. It was almost totaled. They were able to fix it only because it was still worth more than the damage. I ended up with a concussion, whiplash and a whole bunch of injuries. That week, the whole world shut down. I was a business coach. My clients were women solopreneurs, some of whom had brick and mortar businesses that also closed. My business got down overnight, plus I had a concussion. I couldn't be on the computer very much.
I was working with my own coach, as most coaches should, at the time. I started saying things to her like, "Maybe this is a good time to examine what I'm doing here because my whole background was marketing, my whole career. That's why I did business coaching because it just made sense but I don't know if that's what I want." She said, "If you could do anything, what would it be?" I said, "I would help women like me figure out their sleep." It just came out. It had never occurred to me before but that's what I said. When I said it, I got chills. I was like, "I could totally do that." She happened to be a nurse practitioner as well. She worked in a hospital with people who had issues like this. She immediately said, "If you did that, I could send you so many clients." If you're a marketer, that's how you know you found a niche when somebody else is telling you, “I know someone for you." I thought, "That's interesting." I went looking at the CBTI process and realized I could get certified. I spent my off time doing that in the summer, building my own program, and then I launched it in the fall.
I love how you train and coach at CTI in 2018, a life coach in 2020 and now the CBTI. I love how you talked about how you blended like you took pieces of each thing that you learned. I think that is the secret sauce to coaching. You're not just, "Here is the cookie-cutter system that you follow," because people are complex. People have all sorts of things. I love your line that you're not a therapist and sleep coaching should not be considered therapy.
Sleep is a very individualized thing. We can't even say that the average adult needs eight hours of sleep.
There are some sleep issues that require you to work with a therapist like if you're experiencing trauma that's unresolved, if you have severe unmanaged depression or anxiety, things like that. Other things require a doctor like if you have narcolepsy or you have sleep apnea. I don't deal with any of that.
Let's talk about what you deal with. I thought I was so savvy when we connected. I've known Janet for a while. I just love her to bits. Before the pandemic, we were getting together for lunch and coffee. We're like, "We got to get a date on the books." It's happening. I was, "That's so interesting you're doing sleep stuff because sleep's always been a major issue for me. I've done a huge overhaul of the light-blocking glasses, not putting my phone in the bedroom and weighted blanket." I had to get the half-weighted blanket because my husband's a furnace but I'm always freezing. I like my own little personal throw that goes on me at night, taking collagen, having healthy fat before beds, and I'm not waking up, all the things Dave Asprey has taught. That's what I was learning a lot from him with the mastermind that I was in.
I thought I was so savvy and smart and then Janet says to me, "Those things are great. Don't stop doing that but that's external stuff. Has it gotten better for you?" On a scale of 1 to 10, ten being on the best sleep in the whole entire world, I was probably a three before. I'm now probably a six. I have gotten better but I wouldn't say that that cured and saved me and fixed all the problems. Tell me what you deal with and how your approach is different.
None of that surprises me. There are a couple of ways to go at this. One is to say that sleep and insomnia are two different issues. If you don't have insomnia, then a lot of what I'm going to say is not relevant to you. You can go and continue doing what you're doing, even if it's the complete opposite of what I suggest. Good sleepers don't have to worry about this stuff. If you are already suffering from chronic insomnia, the stuff that they're doing isn't going to help you. All of these things that we consider sleep hygiene, having to do with light, temperature, supplements and all the other things are great assistance if you are already a good sleeper.
The problem that most insomniacs have is it relates to stress. If you're putting band-aids, which is what I call these external solutions, on top of an unmanaged problem, it's like the Princess and the Pea story. If you know the story I'm talking about, it's an old fable where this royal family wants a princess to marry their son, who's a prince. The only way that they can decide if this woman is a true princess is by putting her on a bed of 50 mattresses with a pea under the bottom one. If she can still feel the pea under all those mattresses, then she's a real princess. There are often illustrations of this on the internet where it's all these mattresses. The idea is you can't just keep putting band-aids on things. You're still going to feel the problem. Most of the things that we do to try and resolve insomnia are the exact opposite of what we should be doing. We should be managing our daytime stress better because insomnia is a 24-hour problem. It's not a nighttime problem. It's not even fully a sleep problem. It's an anxiety and stress problem.
Insomnia is a 24-hour problem, not a sleep problem.
Some of it has to do with the biochemical stuff that's going on in our bodies. Our circadian rhythm is governed by three things, light, our hormones and temperature. We do have to exist in the world in the most natural way possible because that's the way we evolved. We evolved to be outside early when the sun is low in the sky. That light in our retinas signals to our brain that it's time to kill the melatonin and increase the cortisol and wake you up because melatonin and cortisol work like a teeter-totter. They can't both be high at the same time. They can't both be low at the same time. If you're stressed because cortisol is also a stress hormone, you cannot sleep because your melatonin will be low. Cortisol is fantastic in the morning. It's not fantastic at bedtime.
If you're the kind of person who thinks, "I can't shut my brain off at night," it's every insomniac’s favorite line. "My brain just races. I can't stop it from thinking. I can't shut it off." These are very common complaints. When you're in that stress cycle, cortisol stays high. Your circadian rhythm gets disrupted. It thinks that it must be morning because you've got all this cortisol. Your heart rate's high. Your blood pressure is high. It thinks, "This is what we do in the morning. This is not what we do at night."
I have an Oura ring. That was something that we started measuring and tracking our sleep with this group that I'm in. Every night, I'm restless. It's your deep sleep, REM sleep, restlessness, timing, don't go into bed at midnight or 1:00 AM. Everything can be great for me, except the restlessness. I never get a restful sleep. I feel that. Even when I wake up in the morning, it's like I can always sleep more. I wonder if that's because that cortisol is always going through my brain.
It could be, especially for women. That's who I work with, midlife women and moms. In particular, I have a very sweet spot for moms because we are the people who tend to put everyone else's needs first. This is where I do a lot of self-care coaching with moms and trying to help women realize that this is part of putting your oxygen mask on first. There are many things that happen when we're not sleeping well. Various connections in our brain are supposed to be very well regulated and working well. The connections are very weak, particularly between our prefrontal cortex and our amygdala. The prefrontal cortex is your executive functioning, decision making, rational part of your brain. The amygdala is fear-based, reactionary and emotional. When things are going well, that connection is working very smoothly like a well-oiled machine.
There's been a bunch of study on this lately. It shows that when we are overtired or sleep-deprived, those connections are weak. We tend to react more emotionally. Even if we have the best of intentions, it's very challenging for us to work with intention. It's when you'll snap at your kids or your partner, or you'll have a rough day at work. You don't know why. You're probably more tempted to eat foods that are not foods that you want to be eating like comfort food. When we're tired, we crave carbs, sugars, fats, things that we're trying to avoid. That's where the connection between sleep and weight loss comes in. The other thing I'll just mention because you brought up your Oura ring, these things should be taken with a grain of salt. One of the first things I do in my program is tell all of my members, it's a membership, to turn off their fitness trackers for the first eight weeks that we're working together. The reason for that is some people's insomnia gets worse because they're focusing on the data. Most of the data, you can't control. You can't control how much deep sleep you get. You can't control how much REM sleep you get. You don't even know for sure. The Oura is pretty accurate.
You can't control the amount of REM sleep and deep sleep you get?
No. You're getting information that you can't do anything about. You're tracking it obsessively and worrying about it. It's created something that the researchers are calling orthosomnia, which is an obsession with your fitness tracker, sleep information.
They were sharing this one guy gets four hours of REM sleep. I'm like, "I get an hour in ten minutes on a good day."
That's the other thing. Who says four hours is good? Who says that's what your body should be getting?
I've always believed in that too, that everything is so individualized.
Sleep is a very individualized thing. We can't even say that the average adult needs eight hours of sleep. This is a huge myth that everyone needs eight hours of sleep and yet it's the thing that's pushed out to all of us in media and books. The Sleep Research Community goes on the science. I can share this graph with you if you're interested. They studied millions of people and all causes of mortality, car accidents, cancers, everything, and correlated that with people's sleep, length of time. What it showed was the lowest risk of mortality happened somewhere between 6.5 and 7 hours of sleep per night. Not only that, the increased risk where the chart went up like a J was with long sleep, not with short sleep. They both increased. People who sleep for a long time, more than 8 hours into 9, 10 11, had a hugely increased risk of early death. We don't even know why. If you think about that, people who sleep a long time are probably also not that active. You're sleeping almost half of your day. What does your day look like?
You can't keep putting Band-Aids on things. You're still going to feel the problem.
I had a fitness client back. That was my previous business before doing all this. She asked me. She said, "How many hours should I be sleeping a night?" I said, "What makes you feel good? I don't want to just give you a number. How do you feel when you wake up? Go with how you feel. Listen to your body. If you need an extra 30 minutes to 1 hour, take it. If you wake up in the morning and you only slept for six hours and you feel great, then get up." She's like, "I've been told I'm supposed to sleep eight hours. Around the seven-hour mark, I feel good. I just lay in bed to force it. That's such a waste of my day." What you're saying has brought back that memory for me when I was like, "Do you feel good at seven hours? Get up and go about your day. I don't know, I'm not a sleep expert, but go with how you feel." You're right. We've been conditioned that eight hours is the gold standard.
My program, my whole goal is to help my members reconnect with what quality consistent sleep feels like for them. Consistency is one of the keys to good sleep. That means your schedule, not sleeping in on weekends. Sleeping on weekends is the biggest thing you can do to cause insomnia for yourself. That was the kicker for me because I used to sleep in every weekend. I called that me time. I was like, "I love sleeping in on the weekends. It's so great. It's a treat for me. It's amazing. I love it."
I fully blame decades of insomnia for me on that thought and that behavior. I don't want to have to sleep on a schedule. That doesn't feel like freedom to me. That doesn't feel good. It's been the opposite. One of the key benefits of my program that I tell people about is it's almost winning the time lottery for a lot of women. What they find is they've spent so much time in bed and then they complain, "I don't have time for myself. I can't work out. I can't do all this. I don't read. I don't do all the things. I get up at 7:15, seven days a week. It never changes. That's just part of my day like breathing." I can't even tell you, I'm in a book club now. I'm reading at least two books a month if not more. I'm exercising every day. I'm way happier. I sleep amazing.
You're doing ChaLEAN Extreme. I love that program.
I just finished my first round of it. Now I'm blending it with PiYo for the second round.
I saw your post about ChaLEAN's boots in the video where she's like, "I'm going to regret wearing these one day." Hello, 2021. She regrets wearing those.
It's so good. I'm being facetious. There's more to it than that. That is a key to get people to realize your circadian rhythm is a 24-hour process. It recognizes eight hours of sleep roughly and sixteen hours of wakefulness. Every time we mess with that, we're messing with the whole biological process. If you sleep in on weekends, it is the equivalent of flying across time zones every single weekend and giving yourself jetlag.
This is why I had to have you on. We're not sleeping in on weekends. You're picking a consistent time. We're not freaking out about our trackers. We realize that it's a 24-hour issue unless you've been a great sleeper and you want to just make your quality better with those external band-aids.
Go for it if that's you. If you're someone who can sleep great, you can watch TV before you go to bed, you watch TV in your bed, you do all the "wrong things," who cares? Keep doing it if it's working for you. Don't listen to me. This advice is all for people who are struggling with chronic insomnia.
I have a business question if you're going to go here. You were doing one-to-one coaching. Now, you switched it to membership. What were the thoughts, other than we know one-to-one coaching can be very taxing and burnout, and you only have so much capacity? A membership is such a brilliant idea. What made you decide to go the membership route with it?
It's a couple of things. You hit on a couple of them. You can only grow one-to-one practice so big because you're limited with your time. However, I loved one-to-one coaching so I found a way to blend it. One thing that happened was my program was eight weeks long. I struggled a bit with, "Should I make it longer? Is this the right length? Is it not?" People were sleeping well by then. They felt like they had what they needed. I started hearing back from them. A few of them hired me for private life coaching after that because they still wanted to keep working on stuff. I started thinking, "Maybe this isn't enough." It's starting to look like they need more. They need a bit of longer-term support, even if it's not in the one-to-one format. I'd always thought about a membership eventually. I thought, "This is a great way that I can constantly improve my program and make it as long as people need it to be." You can still come into my program, do it in eight weeks and be done if you want.
What I've added on is life coaching. It's still growing. Some of this is still to be posted because it's still a new program. There will be new monthly content. There's a program I'm launching on June 1, 2021 on how to go on a digital diet. Get your phone out of your room. Stop being addicted to it because that's a key problem for almost all of my clients. There will also be a program on people-pleasing, another one on perfectionism. All of the issues that I saw coming up for women that were driving their stress during the day, creating their anxiety and sleep problems at night, we dive into it. I bring them in. I teach them everything they need to know about sleep as a foundation for the thoughts they need to have to ease their mind. I teach them how to relax their brain and body so they can go to sleep at night, get some success. Let's then dive in deep on all the stuff that got you here so that we keep you sleeping well for the long term.
That's the exact reason why we love building memberships for people. When you're tackling something that's so big and multi-layered, sometimes a little course isn't going to do it. Course after course, they're not going to do that. As you said, that one-to-one burns you out. We love people but sometimes we don't want to spend that much time with them.
This is the best in all worlds because I do group coaching inside my membership. I'm still coaching the members like it's one-to-one with an audience of other people watching. You can come in and never asked me for coaching. Just watch other people get coached and learn through that process. You can put up your hand, get coached and I'll deal with your specific experience. Plus, there's a forum. There's a Q&A call. They have lots of opportunities to ask questions or clarify stuff. They're also working with a sleep diary on their own and making adjustments every week.
That's a key point that I should make here. We focus on macro results, not on the micro. I don't care what your sleep looked like last night. I care what it looked like on an average of a week. This is how we stop being obsessed with the data from our fitness trackers and look at what's going on for the long term. The membership feeds this well. There are a lot of similarities between this and a weight loss program. If you do all the things that I teach you to do in this program, you will sleep better. If you stop them, you're going right back to your insomnia. It's the same as if you stop your eating habits or your workout habits. You will lose strength and you will gain weight. It's the way that our bodies work. It works the same as sleep.
I love the way you set that up. It's how I see memberships. People are staying when there is a component where you can ask questions. There's community and collaboration. Not these ones that are like a vault where it's like, "Pay your price. Go access 300 videos." We give people too much credit. They're not going to do that. It's nobody's fault. As you said, we're being pinged, dinged and pulled in 500 different directions. We put ourselves and our learning last. When you're in a community or group coaching, you can do things on your own. There's accountability and coaching. It's exactly like you said, I do a lot of things where I'm in groups and I learn from where other people are being coached. I'm like, "That's a good nugget for me."
We should be managing our daytime stress better because insomnia is a 24-hour problem.
They don't even always know to raise their hand and say, "That's my problem," but it's back there. You’re hearing somebody else talk about it and you go, "I totally do that."
Where can they find out more if they want to join your membership, if they want to get coached, if they want to get some resources to change? Where can they find you?
The best way is probably to go to my website at JanetWhalen.com. At the top, besides my picture, there's a place that you can click on to learn more. It'll link you to a page that tells you more. If you're not ready, you can get on my email list, my newsletter list, below that, pretty much the same part of my website. I am on Instagram @JanetWhalenCoaching. I have a free Facebook group that I would invite people to join. It's called Permission to Sleep. I'm going to have a podcast coming out soon but it's not ready yet. Those are the best places to find out more.
I know, Janet, you're on my list. I need to get in your stuff too. If you're like me and you're like, "I just can't keep avoiding this because I'm doing all the other things," then at least you have this episode to go back to when you hit your “enough is enough” moment and you're ready to make a change. I'm so glad that we reconnected. I'm so glad to have you on. You're blowing my mind with the things that you were saying. Thank you for sharing all of this.
I'm always happy to. This is totally my passion project because I lived like that for decades. I didn't figure this out until my late 40s. I am just passionate about helping other women not live that many decades struggling because it affects everything in our lives.
I always say that even if you're doing good, imagine what it could look like when you have more energy and you're more rested, imagine what kind of content, videos, podcasts, speaking and all of that. Imagine what that could look like if you're sleeping well and have more energy. As a mom, as a partner, as a friend how you're showing up.
Even just to get all the worry out of your head about it. If you were to calculate how many minutes a day you spend worrying, fretting and stressing about your sleep, and trying to learn how to do it better and all the rest, if you could just pull that out, get rid of it and throw it in the garbage, just imagine. The best thing you can remember here is if you were to ask a good sleeper what they do to sleep better, they'd look at you like you have two heads. They have no idea what they do because they don't spend a second thinking about it. That's where I want to get all my members and all my clients. You would open up so much space in your mind for so much more.
With that, we are going to end it there. Janet, thank you for being here with me. Readers, thank you for being here with me. Go back to this as much as you need it. Always honor your time. I love that you're here. Share this episode. If you are a great sleeper and someone you know is not, share the love. We're all in this together. Thank you for being here. We'll see you next time.
Thanks for having me.
- Janet Whalen
- Last Time – previous episode with Janet Whalen
- @JanetWhalenCoaching - Instagram
- Permission to Sleep – Facebook Group
About Janet Whalen
Janet Whalen is a sleep & self-care coach for midlife moms. A former insomniac turned great sleeper, Janet is passionate about helping women give themselves permission to sleep, rest and care for themselves after years of giving everything to family and others. Janet's membership coaching program, "Permission To Sleep", helps her members sleep better in 8 weeks or less without pills, potions or needing anyone's permission but their own.
Janet is a Certified life coach with The Life Coach School, and was formerly trained at CTI as a Co-Active coach. She is also a certified CBT-I practitioner. Before she found her own sleep solution, she spent years as a marketer, family photographer and mom to her two sons, who are now young adults