“People who have sleep problems on a regular basis talk a certain way that nobody else talks,” says Pelayo, who is also a professor at Stanford Medicine and the author of How To Sleep: The New Science-Based Solutions for Sleeping Through the Night. “The phrase that you’ll often hear people say is that they try to go to sleep.”
This word choice may seem innocuous, but Pelayo says that it speaks to a defeatist mindset and can therefore put a real damper on restfulness.
He considers someone’s state of mind to be one of the four main indicators of sleep quality (along with the amount, quality, and timing of sleep) since the brain can quickly dysregulate sleep. He explains it like this: If you are someone who breaths a healthy 12 times a minute, chances are you aren’t actively thinking about this cadence. It just comes naturally to you. But if someone came up to you with a timer and forced you to take 12 breaths a minute, you’d likely mess up.
The same goes for sleep: The body is naturally equipped to get a certain amount of it each night, and overthinking things can get in the way.
“You don’t try to breathe. You don’t try to get hungry. These are biological rhythms,” Pelayo reiterates. “You can only try to sleep by staying awake.”