by Rachel Hott, PhD
How many times have you or someone you know had a sleepless night, needed more sleep, had difficulty getting to sleep or woke up in the middle of the night? Sleep, like exercise, food and water, is a necessity for healthy living. In this interview you will learn many helpful strategies for going to sleep, staying asleep, and waking up energized for the day.
I had met Terry as a student at one of our hypnosis classes in spring ’09. In the training I asked if there was anyone who was able to go to sleep easily. Without any hesitation Terry shot his hand up. We agreed to follow-up with a formal interview. This essay is from two 90 minute interviews done on September 18 and October 3, 2009.
Terry Kerrigan is 41 years old. He is a professional athlete who competes in Iron Man and triathlon events. He is also a coach who works with functional diagnostics integration, metabolic nutrition, Ericksonian hypnosis and exercise science. You can visit his web page, www.aperionforlife.com.
We began discussing the process of modeling and I explained that my interview was part of a project for the Institute for the Advanced Studies of Health (IASH) conference in October 2010. He immediately exclaimed, ” I have no difficulties with sleep.” The modeling interview focused on his ability to go to sleep easily, and to sleep well.
Terry has an understanding of his body from a scientific as well as from an athletic point of view. When he thinks of sleep he is using his entire day to prepare for his restful evening. He explains, “I don’t do anything to upset my parasympathetic nervous system. I am aware of the environmental stresses outside, for example noise which excites the sympathetic nervous system and can result in adrenal exhaustion.”
Since he understands the body in regards to the Autonomic Nervous system, he evaluates everything between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system for activities and balance. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our flight and fight response, and our parasympathetic nervous system is known for the relaxation response. He continues, ” I know that after sympathetic training, I will have to digest and recover. A typical day is that I wake up at 6 am and I eat breakfast. I like to eat alkaline, (protein and vegetables). I then will exercise, work on my computer and/or work with a client. I know that energy output causes stress. I believe I have coping mechanisms to handle stress. I have unusual amount of coping abilities. I am aware of the Circadian Rhythms due to each season, so I pay attention to the season that I am in now.”
At the time of this interview it is autumn and he explained that autumn through winter is when people need more sleep. This is due to the change of light. He suggests that it is best to “give into fatigue, go to bed early, and wake at dawn.” (Perhaps individuals with Sleep Affective Disorder (SAD), may consider using more sleep as a way to help them get through the winter blahs.) In the spring it is common to start feeling more energy, since there is light and the sleep cycle continues to follow the natural rhythm of the day. In the summer when there are longer days, you can stay up later with the light and possibly handle six hours of sleep instead of the recommended seven to eight hours. Basically if you follow the seasonal light, you go to bed when it is dark and wake when it is dawn.
As he prepares for his day he also has a daily readiness check list that he uses with clients and himself. It is a checklist based on sensations and feeling states. For example, he will wake up in the morning and ask himself, ” How does my stomach feel?” or “When I stand up, what is my energy like?” These answers then move him on to his next phase of the day. He said, ” I look to see what are my sensations.”
Terry is very sure that his beliefs are biological and scientific. He said that, “I know when my mind and body have chronic overload and if I eat too much etc. it is a cause-effect, so I’m taking responsibility. I have awareness of how my day is going.”
I asked Terry to give me a specific example of when he was going to sleep. He selected the day prior to our interview. He said he was in upstate New York for a running workout. It was a 25 K run which was rigorous. He did it in 1 hour and 45 minutes. He said that he knew that between his driving upstate and his training that he would be fatigued the next morning. When he evaluates his state, he utilizes supplements to help him with his energy. He takes a multi mineral, Iodine and HCL (hydrochloric acid) mineral complex. Terry has learned and trained himself to take these supplements to help him throughout the day and into the evening.
Throughout the day he is asking himself, “How do I feel.” He is aware that there is a conscious and unconscious awareness. For example, after eating, he knows that he will be hungry again in about 3-4 hours. He stated, “I trust my feelings.” Throughout the day he is evaluating his sensations and his feelings. What he eats is very important as a part of his sleep preparation. He feels that, “sleep is related to gut health, and gut is sleep.” He explained, “A healthy gut and adrenals means that the gut will produce serotonin and can convert to or produce optimal melatonin. The hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis is our master regulator of the autonomic function.”
Ultimately he finds it important to practice “wellness and to feel good.” He values happiness, which means a mind functioning clearly and being physically healthy. These beliefs and values are guiding him throughout the day. When asked specifically, what enables someone to practice wellness, he responded, “willingness.” Willingness was about recognizing one’s natural process or your own emotional state. For example, “I am willing to feel good and I am willing to feel peace.” He looks for the balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and strives to have a constant flow with the spiritual and biological.
He considers wellness to be a natural process, and refers to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, recognizing that we need to do what is necessary to survive. He sees the basics as necessary for wellness, these basics include; food, shelter, water and safety. He used himself a metaphor in reflecting upon how he as an athlete had to acknowledge what he was willing to do to compete as an Iron Man. When he finally decided what he was willing to do as a competitor then he moved forward in his training. It was his own willingness, that validated that he was doing the best that he could do.
In relation to the importance of a good sleep, he believes that is where everything begins. He explained that, “it is the period of restoration where we don’t know what is happening, but it gives us physical and spiritual recovery.”
When asked why is wellness so difficult for others to achieve he said that he believes that in our culture there is an exercise/weight loss hysteria. Unfortunately exercise can become obsessive, and weight loss only gives some relief. He says that it comes down to values, which is not about longevity. About 11 years ago he had been dealing with sleep deprivation and was exhausted. What he realized was that his body had not adapted to his move to New York City. Now he lives with understanding how to adapt to his environment. It took failure, and recognition of what wasn’t working for him to have the willingness to change. That is when he started seeking out information about metabolic typing, exercise scientists and models for success in athletics.
As the evening is winding down, he turns off more and more lights in his apartment. Slowly changing the lighting to match the outside dark sky sends a message to his mind and body that it is time to prepare for sleep. At around 10 pm he is getting ready to go to sleep.
At this time he explains that there several things to avoid. “I avoid, multitasking, I stop over thinking, decrease any noise, no violent movies or television, no caffeine (limits caffeine to 3x’s week), limits chocolate, avoids high glycemic index type food, (except after training where he then will consume high Glycemic Value Carbs), any artificial addictions, alcohol and anything that excites the sympathetic system.” He may eat certain foods because he is aware of his metabolic type and since he is a “protein type,” he may consume some form of carbohydrates at night.
As he is going to bed, he may daydream, read, or “I become the observer, I know I can’t do anything about the future. I think about my effort, and it is training effort, and what I am doing now that will improve my tomorrow.” His daily cycle is based upon his training, and that is why rest is so important. At one point he spontaneously said, ” I enjoy rest, I enjoy recuperation.”
His behaviors for going to bed are breathing, slow rhythmic breaths. He sleeps on his right side. I asked him what else he was aware of right before going to sleep, and said, “I am in touch with my feelings.” I asked him about his identity at that point and he said that it more connected to feeling like a “spirit, floating.” I asked him what was beyond the identity and his words were, “no left brain feeling.” I believe he considers this moment to be when the parasympathetic stimulus is engaged.
I asked what if he wasn’t tired, what would be his alternative strategy. His answer was ” I would give in.” Which means he would stay awake, and then eventually go to bed. He said, ” I trust that the sleep will come, of course.”
I asked what if he wakes up in the middle of the evening. If this does happen, and it probably only happens if he had something to drink close to going to sleep, he gets up, uses the bathroom, and then goes back to bed. “He said, “You just go to bed to sleep, it is a natural process.”
He does have evenings when he stays up later, but it is dependent upon what is happening the next day. If he knows he has a race, a presentation, something for his training, then he will go to bed around 10pm. However he does have a social life and creates exceptions to his routine.
I asked about napping, and he said that he listens to his body. If he needs a nap he will only take a nap between 1-3pm, and only if he had trained hard that day. If he is tired after 3pm, he resists the temptation and waits to sleep at 10pm.
In order to wake up, he also has specific strategies. He has an alarm clock that is an illumination alarm and changes its brightness from dusk to dawn. He also makes sure he has natural light to wake him.
His day begins again. Each part of his day is connected to the next, based on his energy, based on the season, based on the level of his workout so he can balance his sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. Sleep is a necessity to him because he knows he will train the next day. The three most important pieces for him are, “Water, food and rest.” Each day is full of anticipation and excitement. He adds, ” I fully believe when I close my eyes that I am really eager about the next day.”
After our initial interview Terry raced that weekend, he took first place ahead of 700 other runners. That race included: .8mile swim, 17mike bike and 5 mile run. Needless to say he slept well. If you are also a “good sleeper” and would like to be interviewed by Rachel, please let her know. You can email her at email@example.com