Ep 2. Let's Talk About Sleep Envy

Aug 17, 2023

Do you find yourself grappling with feelings of anger or envy when you see other people sleeping so effortlessly?

Does the sight of your kids or pets sleeping peacefully trigger anxiety within you?

Do you feel like you’re the only one struggling while everyone else seems to sleep perfectly?

You are NOT alone.

In today’s episode, we’re talking about the very real phenomenon of Sleep Envy. Few of us go through the experience of insomnia without feeling the understandable emotions of grief and resentment at the perceived loss of our own ability to sleep.

We’re diving into what drives sleep envy and how you can work through it in the following ways:

  1. Acknowledge the emotion
  2. Embrace self-compassion
  3. Understand the root cause

Take the first step towards healing and liberation from sleep envy by tuning in to this transformative episode.

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Full Transcription Below: 

About Beth Kendall MA, FNTP: 

For decades, Beth struggled with the relentless grip of insomnia. After finally understanding insomnia from a mind-body perspective, she changed her relationship with sleep, and completely recovered. Liberated from the constant worry of not sleeping, she’s on a mission to help others recover as well. Her transformative program Mind. Body. Sleep.™ has been a beacon of light for hundreds of others seeking solace from sleepless nights. 

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Let’s Talk About Sleep Envy

Hello, my friends, today we’re diving into the topic of sleep envy. And chances are, if you hit play on this particular podcast, then you already have an inkling as to what these two little words mean just through lived experience. But for anyone out there who maybe isn’t sure, let me provide a bit of context around what I’m going to talk about today.

What is Sleep Envy?

Sleep envy is something that occurs when we start to unconsciously compare our sleep with other people. And, it doesn’t even have to be just people, it can be pets or animals. And it doesn’t have to be just in person, it can be watching someone sleeping on a movie screen or in a picture.

I remember when I was going through it that I would watch my cats sleeping just so incredibly effortlessly and I would study that and hope that just by studying them it would that would somehow rub off on me — that my brain would somehow pick up on that. And you know, there were probably hundreds of times during my flight attendant career that I would look around the cabin at the sea of passengers just sitting there sleeping straight up in their seats and be so genuinely perplexed by how they could do that- like it seemed completely foreign to me 

Feeling Triggered By Others Sleeping

I was talking about this with my Mentorship community earlier this week and many of the members could really relate to this experience and how you start noticing everyone else’s ability to sleep whether it’s your partner of your kids or even your own previous ability to sleep. 

There are so many emotions that can come with this…. a lot of times sleep envy will express in the form of anger, and I think this stems from a sense that this basic biological function that others can enjoy so painlessly has been lost, and maybe there’s a feeling of unfairness or injustice about that. And sometimes that THEN can turn into some resentment towards the people that we really care about and that can be a little confusing.

It's almost like seeing someone else sleep reminds you that you’re NOT sleeping. And you’re not really mad at the person directly but seeing them sleep makes you anxious about your own situation. 

Why Can't I Sleep Like That?

So, it’s a very real phenomenon and the big underlying questions that I see driving the comparison are usually things like: “Why can’t I sleep like that?” “What is wrong with me that I can’t do this very simple thing that everyone else can enjoy?” “Why do I have to worry about this when they don’t have to think about it at all?”

Underlying Emotion Behind Sleep Envy

Now I think that a lot of times sleep envy or anger reflects a much deeper emotion of grief — or maybe a sense of loss or longing. Likely there’s some sadness coming to the surface for the perceived loss of your own ability to sleep and all of the things that are associated with that. 

And THEN there are all of the emotions about feeling these particular emotions, right? The stories we tell ourselves about feeling envy. And you know this really threw me because envy wasn’t a super familiar emotion for me… Like someone could have everything in the world that we might traditionally covet (money, things, status) and I felt like zero envy around any of those things But with sleep it was somehow different. I really did feel a sense of loss or separation that I couldn’t be a part of the world in this way. 

So, how can we address sleep envy? How can we work with it in a way that it moves through our experience. 

3 Ways to Work With Sleep Envy

Here are 3 things to keep in mind when you notice sleep envy coming up in your recovery…

#1. The first one is to just acknowledge the emotion and give yourself permission to have it. You did nothing wrong to cause insomnia, it could happen to anyone. And anyone would feel these emotions if they were going through insomnia. So, letting go of any of the pressure or judgment you might be putting on yourself NOT to feel these emotions, because they really are very human and have nothing to do with who you are as a human being.

#2. Apply loads of self-compassion, you seriously cannot overdo this. I plan to talk a lot more about self-compassion if future episodes. But there is an aspect of you that has been through something difficult enough to create these emotions in your life. So, be gentle with that part of you. Know that there is likely some grief driving the process, so tend to that grief with kindness. Give yourself whatever you might need… Talk to a friend, have a good cry, give someone a hug, get your favorite Starbucks — whatever it takes… just give that grief freedom to be there in the space of compassion. 

#3. Understand where the emotion is coming from. Remember, sleep envy is generally based on a belief, or a set of beliefs, that something has been lost. We might think that our own capacity to sleep has been broken, or damaged. We start to move through the world believing that other people have some sort of special skill or mechanism that allows them to sleep effortlessly that we no longer have. 

But this isn’t true. 

Other people just haven’t gone through insomnia. They haven’t developed a fear of not sleeping. They’re just not thinking much about sleep at all. 

Sleep Envy Is a Normal Part of Insomnia

So, if you’re feeling some sleep envy, know that it’s a completely normal part of the process. Be kind to the part of you and recognize that there could be some grief or loss underneath the emotion. 

And remember… everything you need to sleep is still inside of you and that’s never going to change. 

This is Beth Kendall, and you’ve been listening to the Mind. Body. Sleep podcast. 

I’ll see you next week! 

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