Why you shouldn’t sleep

Some people consider this the worst word: Should.

“Shoulds are the inflexible, authoritarian, joyless rules for thinking, feeling, and behaving,” says therapist Michael Schreiner. Shoulds represent non-negotiable, impossibly high standards. They appear at various levels of conscious awareness, leading to guilt, shame, self-ridicule when these ideals are not met.

Fun, right?

I’ve coached many clients about the jabs of shoulds that interrupt their days and nights. But I was surprised to realize that shoulds were the cause of my own intense emotional pain this summer.

Myriad imperfections

I don’t love getting flabbier, and though my body has myriad imperfections, I usually have a decent relationship with it. But when summer started and I wanted to enjoy my local pool, just thinking of putting on my swimsuit was worse than dislike. I recoiled from being seen, and struggled between feeling that shame and wanting to get into the water.

I was reeling from projected hate. I was seeing myself with the eyes of others who said, “Oh, God, NO! You SHOULDN’T look like that!”

Once I realized that I was up against absurd shoulds (that I shouldn’t age?), the intensity of emotions subsided. It was a lying mind that said I was not allowed out because I shouldn’t look like I looked.

I realized I just had a body, like everyone else I knew. It was highly imperfect, but it was just a body. One that was allowed to swim with all the other imperfect bodies.

What does should have to do with sleep?

Fantasy image of child with pacifier about to be grabbed by a giant handWe all want to sleep, we love to sleep. Sleep is a magical miracle of being human— giving us dreams, better health, more energy.

But… we live on the edge of a sword in our extractive capitalistic culture. We’re insanely overloaded with work, family, wellness care, beeps, texts, emails, TikTok, scrolling, friends, and searching for elusive downtime.

We are also told with varying degrees of sternness how it’s our fault for not eating better, sleeping better, and moving better, getting into nature, much less turning off the dopamine hits of screens.

Sleep has changed from its magical miraculous state into the huge giant of should.

Should = resistance
As Marshall Rosenberg of Nonviolent Communications said, “As long as I think I ‘should’ do it, I’ll resist it, even if I want very much to do it.” That explains the very common practice of Revenge Bedtime Procrastination—staying up for hours past your bedtime doing, well, nothing.

To contradict that revenge feeling, understand how “should” shows up for you. Take a short minute to do these two simple resting exercises right now (vs. just reading it) and feel how your body responds.

First, let’s try a resting exercise filled with shoulds:

1. You Should Rest

  • First step is to become aware of your body. You should notice how you have one, and whether you feel tingling, gravity, aches, movement of your breath.
  • Stop looking straight forward and notice the periphery. You should notice what’s around you on the sides of your eyes.
  • You should shift the back of your neck so it feels wider and longer.
  • You should now make sure your back is supporting you. Make sure it also feels soft.
  • Now you should notice that your lungs hug your heart. And you should feel your belly and organs.
  • Make sure you don’t forget to notice your legs and feet.
  • Take a big breath out.
  • Your body should feel much better. If not, you probably did it wrong.

Next, experience rest without the “have tos.”

2. Experience Rest

  • Become aware of your body. Notice how you know you have one—tingling, feeling of gravity, aches, movement of your breath.
  • Feel your eyes gently become aware of your periphery, what’s around you on the sides of your eyes.
  • Let the back of your neck feel just a bit wider and longer.
  • Feel the soft support of your back.
  • Notice your lungs, as they hug your heart. And then your belly and organs.
  • Shift down to notice your legs and feet.
  • Exhale deeply.
  • Notice if your body feels just a bit more at ease.

What was that like for you? For me, even re-reading “should rest” felt like being on Mars. I couldn’t keep my attention in my body.

It’s the same with sleep. When you should sleep, you’re pointing a finger at yourself. If you’re like most people, you’re focused on heady thoughts, distant from your body.

What to do instead? Kindly re-enter your body. Remember that you transition to natural healing when you rest, and welcome (instead of forcing) sleep. Without the shoulds, you have more room to choose what your body is asking for, more room to listen and follow your true needs.

The day I realized that my shoulds were falsely indicting me for body failure, I could kindly re-enter my very much good enough body. I pulled on my suit and towel and headed out the door. Splish splash!



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