In this episode, we're delighted to be welcoming on Tracy Hannigan, the sleep coach, and Tracy specializes in adult insomnia. Welcome Tracy. Hey, thank you for having me on. I'm really excited to be here. We are as well because this is something a bit new, bit different. It's um, cuz we all know that sleep affects us, but we also wanted to find out from an expert about does sleep affect the way that we drive?
And could it be causing anxiety and stress? Yeah, so some of the context around that is that we hear from people who have been driving for years. Perfectly happy driving. Don't really give it a thought. And then all of a sudden, and they describe it as out of blue, they experience some driving anxiety and they dunno where it's come from.
They can't fit it into a natural pigeon hole. They, they sort of say, it's not like I had an accident. It's not like something happened. I just had it bam outta the blue. And it's almost like a mystery, and we just are interested in exploring some of the possible potential contributing factors, and we think sleep might be one of those contributing factors.
Yeah, I could definitely see how there would be a relationship. There's a, there's actually a bidirectional relationship between anxiety and sleep. And when people are having difficulty with their sleep, specifically, if it's insomnia related, their um, psychological arousal is higher. Their safety system, their radar is switched on.
It's just a little bit more sensitive and it's very adaptive actually, but it becomes a bit of a vicious circle. So it's adaptive in the sense that. If we were, um, walking across the, the Masai chasing wilderbeast all day and we're very, very tired and we climb into a cave to sleep. We don't want our tiredness running the show if a lion appears, right?
So if we we're anxious and we perceive ourselves under, under threat, it becomes difficult to sleep. If we then start worrying about our sleep, we start sleeping even worse. So it becomes a bit of a vicious circle in that way. But if, if people are sleeping poorly, that hypervigilance, that hyper arousal, that sensitivity to threat.
Is actually a 24/ 7 phenomenon, so it can affect other things in people's lives. The unconscious scanning that people do when they're driving for things that don't fit the pattern like much too quickly or that thing just jumped out between, those cars are much more sensitive to those inputs. We might not necessarily react to them appropriately.
Sometimes a bit, bit too much, a bit too little, but the safety radar is that much more keyed up. And so when you're in a situation where you are constantly having to be scanning threats, you could easily see how not sleeping could become paired with being anxious in the car. Anxious. That makes so much sense.
Yeah, that doesn't it really? Yeah. So if you had a bad night's sleep, maybe you were woken up by the children or the grandchildren in, or if you suffer within insomnia and have, poor sleep patterns, then you are more on high alert. Yeah, some of the things that our brain becomes really good at when we don't sleep well, we always talk about the things that our brain becomes bad at.
But there are things that we do get good at, and one is, focusing on the negative, focusing on threatening things, perseverating about things, the fixating on them. That's, again, that's simply our safety radar, being looking for danger. You know, we've become really good at looking for danger, but unfortunately this creates a little bit of a selection bias.
So then we start seeing all of the negative things and then they start piling up and piling up, piling up, and we become, less able to kind of think laterally and think creatively. And so you can see how all of those things could create issues for people's driving as well. Yes. So not only might it be that you are on high alert for danger on the road and other cars, other drivers, but actually you're gonna be more likely to be having negative thoughts about maybe other things in your life.
Absolutely. So you're gonna be focusing more on stressful areas of your life cause you had a lack of sleep because you're tired. Mm-hmm. Yeah. And then of course you then become more anxious and worried. Um, you might make poorer decisions. Uh, we do have slower reaction times when we don't sleep well. So all of these things can feed into, um, a scenario where it becomes a bit of a vicious circle.
You know, you, it's normal to not sleep well. If we are anxious, it actually is a sign that our sleep system is working exactly the way that it should. It's just highly inconvenient when, especially when it goes, when it goes on for a long time and becomes self-perpetuating, kind of keeps feeding itself by doing exactly that.
We start focusing on the arguments with the spouse and the things that are going wrong, and that just pour fuel on the fire. Sure. Yeah. So it's a real vicious circle almost. See, I'm, I'm thinking that as, as a driver myself, And I can put myself back into that situation. You've just described it when we were younger a few years ago, we were probably living on less sleep than we are now.
And what that was happening was we knew we were tired. So I was telling myself, right, I'm tired. So what I need to do is to, God, I need to do this, I need to do this, and I need to do this. And it is that part of actually knowing that you are tired, you start overthinking. Absolutely, you become even more protective of yourself.
You know, um, there are some scenarios where you, if you're actually really sleepy, particularly in a driving context, you need to take a nap or pull over and keep kind of the safety, safety piece first. Um, but y you're absolutely right. We've become, um, protective. And we, we, when we are feeling vulnerable, because we're perceiving all of this threat in our life, we're focusing all these negative things, our brain goes into overdrive to try to control these situations cuz we think that it's gonna make us safer.
Um, so it, it doesn't usually, depending on the context in the, in the situation, sometimes that just makes things worse. But, um, Yeah, when people become, because of my specialty is insomnia in particular, when people become when they perceive the sleeplessness as a threat, that creates problems. It's good to be conscious of our sleep and to want to get good sleep, but over focusing on, I have to fix my sleep, I have to do this, I have to do that.
Like the list that you were kind of outlining, that only makes things worse. How dangerous is that then? That's, is that It's actually really dangerous, isn't it? Knowing that you are tired but still choosing to drive as well? Especially if the, if it's sleepiness, sleepiness is the, is obviously the, the risk.
Long, long drives and, and sleeping, um, or don't mix well together. You don't wanna be trying to do the two at the same time. And it usually happens on accident. You know, nobody intends to fall asleep with the wheel, but it does happen, unfortunately. Yeah. Yeah. So what, for anybody listening, is there a distinction?
Tiredness, sleepiness? I think I can feel what the difference is. But how would you describe the difference between tiredness and sleepiness? So if somebody is tired and fatigued, they may or may not fall asleep. If somebody is sleepy, they will fall asleep. So that's, that is the main difference. Sometimes when people have longstanding insomnia, they have such high arousal that that sleepy feeling never comes.
And people will sometimes say to me, I haven't felt sleepy in a long time, but their fatigue may start manifesting sleepiness in a different way. So people may start holding their heads or they may start doing things with their body that signal that actually sleepiness is there. It's just showing itself a little bit differently.
But the biggest difference for most people is. Are you ready to fall asleep or do you just feel really like you've done three workouts today and you've been working in the garden and you've, you've been up a long time. That's the difference. Yeah. So that Tired hired, but wired,
oh, tired and wired is how I describe actually how people feel when they have insomnia, uh, particularly during the day, but also also at night. That that wired piece of it means that the sleepiness can't come and that is the arousal. Yes. Yeah. No, that makes sense. And actually, uh, you see that in your children sometimes when they get overtired.
Mm-hmm. And they can't fall asleep. And that's when they are sort of crying uncontrollably because they're so tired. Are you like, just go to sleep. But they can't because they're stressed and they're wired. Mm-hmm. And I recognize that in myself. So there are times when I'll say, I'm really tired, but I can't go to bed yet
I need to wind down. Yeah. Yeah. We've all, we've all been in experiences that are, are really stressful and you. Are, are awake for a long time, sometimes for days, depending on what's kind of going on in life. And there's just no chance that sleep is going to happen. Cause the stress level is just really high.
I mean, if you use a, an example is, um, you know, suddenly finding out about a bereavement. You know, the stress levels and the upset is so high. Most people who have a close bereavement do not sleep for a few days at least. Um, just because this, there's no chance for that sleepy feeling to come in.
And is this um, an age related, or, the reason I'm saying that cuz a lot of people that I teach to drive. 17 to 22 is, is sort of like my main demographic of people that I teach, but they're very different to people that are in their late twenties and thirties because of life.
Is, is different. Do the people, are they more tired when they're younger? 17 to 22? Are they because of the lifestyle or was it. What you've explained to people that are tired and wired because there's so much going on, is, is there a difference there? So the biggest difference between that day, age demographic and the rest of us, cause I'm definitely not in that age demographic anymore.
Um, the, the biggest difference is that young people, when they are going through, um, kind of second stages of puberty, their secondary sex characteristics are developing. Their brain is changing. They actually experience a change in their circadian rhythm, though the, the classic teenager who can't get out of bed in the morning and stays up all night, um, there's actually a biological reason for that.
So if I went into the next room to wake up my son right now, he would be very sleepy because his brain is saying it's the middle of the night. And that's simply his biology. Now some people stay, uh, in what we call like that delayed phase, and they are just the classic night owls. Many become self-employed because it works better for them than having a nine to five.
So if you are having lessons with people in that demographic in the morning, it's going to be more challenging them than if those lessons were being held in the late afternoon. The late afternoon is when they are starting to wake up and get moving. It's a little bit like hour 10, 25 in the morning to them at about four o'clock in the afternoon.
And, and that is so true with less. I know some people it's not, it's not everybody is like this, you know, with generalizing, but it's, it's very true in the concentration levels. And the, I suppose, the engagement in the lessons as well. You know, people who are a nine o'clock lesson in the morning that are 17, 18, they probably struggle more because of they're tired.
Their, their body is tired. Yes, they could be tired because they're not allowing themselves enough sleep. They could be tired because their body is telling them that it's the middle of the night. Yeah. It's the opposite of myself. I'm very much an early bird. I would be the one that would want the 8:00 AM appointment, but I would never book anything that required concentration at four o'clock in the afternoon.
Ooh. And so what I'm thinking there is in terms of knowing yourself, Knowing your sleep patterns, knowing when you function best, it actually makes sense. And I know this isn't easy with driving lessons because you have to get what you can take at the moment. Uh, finding an instructor and finding a slot.
Mm-hmm. You sort of have to fit in, but wherever possible, trying to book your driving lessons, learning new skills, something like learning to drive at a time when. That's best suited to you, your, your sleep patterns and your concentration levels. Mm-hmm. Because you're gonna be less stressed. Yes. You're going to feel, you're going to feel more capable.
Yeah. You're going to be able to engage more. It's going to mean more to you. You're gonna have easier time with the muscle memory piece. Kind of starting to take a role in things. If you feel better, you're gonna feel more confident and you're gonna just do better in, in the lessons and be able to get more outta them.
And I think that actually all of us driving or not in life could learn a lot from this because we're better at certain things at different times of day. I'm better at creative things in the morning and I can do brainless admin in the afternoon. That works really well for me. Some people are the exact opposite, but if you know that you can attempt to schedule your, your life around where your strongest suit is, depending on what you have to do.
That could be fantastic, couldn't it? Just being able to fit things in around when you know you are at your best and therefore you have more belief in your ability. And that could make a really big difference to how much learning happens and how successful it is. And it leads to less procrastination too.
Yes. So you end up getting more time and you end up being more productive, uh, with the time that you do have and things don't take as long. I've got so many questions. I'm, I'm, I'm, I'm taking, my brain is taking a bit of a leap pig, so I might be wrong. I might be going off track, but what I'm also thinking is that if somebody learnt drive 10 years ago at a timer the day.
Where it didn't suit them. They were never at the performing at their best, and therefore they always left with these feelings that their driving wasn't great and that driving wasn't enjoyable, but then leads on to how they feel about driving later on down the line. It could definitely affect the mindset that they, that they carry forward with them.
Um, particularly because there's no, usually people don't offer themselves an opportunity for that mindset to be changed and challenged. Mindset and the language we use around things in our life. Driving is a great example. Using my example, I tell myself I'm not a driver because I haven't driven in a very, very long time.
Now this doesn't help me. No. The next time I have to drive, I'm going to be a nervous wreck, right? That is my mindset issue around it. But these kinds of mindset issues affect everything in our life. Yeah, and don't forget, as we've said when we were in contact earlier, at some point in the future, if you want to work on it, Tracy, you know where we're, I know exactly where I'm going to go.
I did sit in the car the other day and learn where all the buttons were, so it's step in the right direction. I'll be fine once I actually start driving, it's just all in my head. Literally all in my head.
I've gotta go back to, I've gotta go back to some of the questions, but if I was a, a 17, 18 year old, is there an ideal amount of sleep that I should be having? At that age, the typical amount of sleep that people get is really, it's tricky to know cuz a lot of teenagers deprive themselves of sleep because they're wanting to be up doing things.
Um, yeah. And they also, because of school demands, they usually having to get up earlier than they would normally like, but you're looking at kind of a, a standard range of like eight, nine hours is, I would say is a, is a good number. They do need a little bit more sleep than us because they are. Developing.
There's a lot going on. There's a lot to process. Most teenagers will sleep more than that, but certainly I wouldn't suggest that they try to get less than that. Most of them procrastinate around sleep pretty heavily. I live with two of them that do that. The amount of sleep that anybody needs is it's very individually determined.
This is why I'm hesitant to kinda like pin a number on it. Mm-hmm. Um, the amount of sleep that a person needs is. Whatever number allows 'em to fall asleep within 15 or 20 minutes, but no faster than five minutes to wake up a couple of times in the night long enough to remember it, but to fall back to sleep and to wake up when they need to wake up with the energy that they need to do the things that they need to do during the day.
Yeah. Yeah. So for some people, that's a lower number. For some people, that's a higher number. And when you start getting to the near adult ages, it starts to fall more into that, that pattern. But I wouldn't expect, , a 17 year old to have an issue if they are sleeping 10 hours a day.
Mm-hmm. And I think it's really important for parents to know not to be constantly waking your teenagers up because you are depriving them of sleep in the end. Yeah. Yes, I've had a number of people come to me to talk to me about their teenagers, and the, the concern that everybody has is, you know, my 16 year old goes up to bed at nine o'clock and can't fall asleep for three hours.
And the thing that is, that is off in that scenario is the expectation that that 16 year old should fall asleep at nine o'clock. Not that the teenager is not sleeping at nine o'clock. And so this can create a lot of stress and anxiety around sleep, which can then worsen somebody's sleep. They think they have a problem and they're doing lots and lots of things to try to fix this perceived sleep problem and become anxious about going to bed.
It's just gonna make things worse. And this is, this is probably more related to me, I think, but.
I like power naps in the afternoon. Mm-hmm. Um, and then I think it recharges me, you know, if I have a 10, 15 minute nap and then I can get up again and then I'll go again. Cause it's mm-hmm. You know, like you said earlier in the afternoon, it's those, you know, I'm creative in the morning, in the afternoon. I find the power naps actually help me.
Yeah. They can take the edge of the sleepiness right off. How long should that nap last because I've heard varying different reports on this. I mean, I love my little 10, 15 minutes, but if it goes to half hour, I quite enjoy that as well.
Is is there an ideal way for a power nap in lunchtime early afternoon? I like a nap length that's in the 20 minute range. Um, we have a little bit of a joke in the house. That 22 minutes is a perfect number for us because we like that number. The issue is, if you nap too long, and this has probably happened to most, everybody who decides they're gonna take a 15 minute nap and they end up sleeping for over an hour, you often wake up feeling worse than when you, when you wanted to take the nap in the first place.
Um, and the other issue is if you take too long of a nap, it's going to use up some of your sleep drive and affect your sleep, um, in subsequent nights. And so that's another reason to keep naps short, especially if you already have issues with sleep at night. You generally advise not napping unless it's for safety reasons, but to keep them short and early in the day so that you have lots more hours before bedtime to build up more sleep drive and kind of, um, maximize your ability to.
Fall asleep and stay asleep. Now I'm almost picturing visualizing sort of like topping up my sleepiness in a pot sort of thing. So I need my pot to be full of sleepiness, ready to go to sleep at night. Is that, have I pictured that right? It's a really, that's a really good way to picture it. I use the balloon analogy.
When we wake up after a full night's sleep, we have an empty balloon. And as we are awake during the day and as we are physically active, those are the only two things that fill that balloon. The balloon gets bigger and bigger and bigger, and you need a big balloon in order to be able to sleep. And then when you fall asleep, the balloon begins to empty.
So if you take a big nap in the afternoon, you're letting somebody air out around.
Yeah, I like that. And this is where the circadian system plays a role here, since we're talking about different age demographics, because they start building their balloon just at a different time than ours. And the circadian system is in charge of when does it stop taking us away during the day. So the circadian system doesn't tell us to sleep.
It counteracts the buildup of that sleep drive. If we didn't have it, we would wake up in the morning with 100% energy and then we would slowly get sleepier throughout the day. But what happens in reality is we're awake and then we kind of hit this wall where the sleepiness comes. And that is when our circadian system has stopped sending alerting signals to the brain to say, stay awake, stay awake, stay awake.
So that just happens at different times for different people. And in that demographic, more often than not, it's uh, it doesn't kick in until the wee hours. So, just for people that don't know, what is a circadian rhythm? The circadian rhythm is one. Uh, when we're talking about sleep is one of many, many biological, clocks in our body and in our brain, they usually anchored around key survival issues like access to light and access to food.
So the circadian system with, with regards to sleep. Um, and the whole sleep system starting in the morning when you wake up is anchored and tied to primarily light, but also eating and other hormonal and chemical systems. We have these 24, 25 hour systems in us that operate all different kinds of functions.
And when we're talking about the circadian system, it is the one that is tied to when we fall asleep. Brilliant. Yeah. Lovely. There was something you mentioned a little bit earlier that I wrote down, and you were saying that when people are that tired but wired when the sleepiness isn't there, but the fatigue is, and you said that sometimes it comes out in different ways, and one of the ways you describe was somebody lean their head on their hand, so putting their head in their hand and rest in their head, supporting their head.
And that made me think sometimes you see people driving like that, don't you? Sometimes you see people with their, their elbow on the window and their head in their hand and then holding the steering wheel the other way. So I'm thinking that's something to avoid. That could be a, a little clue there that that driver is tired and the sleepiness is maybe coming out in a different way.
Potentially. Yeah. And it also could be that even if they're not tired, they're bored perhaps in the car. Yes. And so when we're bored, we pay less attention to the things that we need to pay attention to. We tune out. Yeah. If, if you are doing the same route, you know, if you drive into work every day, the same time, probably seeing the same cars.
You know, you, but you, you do zone out, don't you? Because it's, these sort of things happen and, and you just go with the motion. It's almost like the car knows the way Yeah. And it drives itself. Mm-hmm. Yeah. But of course when you're in that and yes, you're, yeah, you're right. It could be just being bored, just being disinterested.
And then if something does happen, you are gonna get a real jolt because you weren't paying as much attention as you should have been, and that in itself can trigger off all sorts of things. Mm-hmm. Yes. You know, you don't see the car coming until it is much too close to you, for example. Yeah.
Because you're staring off somewhere, zoned out, letting the car do the driving.
The boredom's sleepiness. They're related, aren't they? You, you shut down a little bit. Sleepiness, you start to slow down a bit. Yeah, and, and actually anything that, if we have enough sleep drive built up and our arousal is low, that is a prime opportunity for sleep to come.
Arousal can be low because we're doing something we really enjoy. It also could be that we are also bored. Um, but I do encourage people if, if, for example, with wind down routines at night. To do things that you enjoy doing rather than to try to bore yourself to sleep. Because most people, if they, if they don't have insomnia, for example, will hit that wall where they get sleepy and then they will go to sleep.
So, why not do something that you enjoy with the time that you have on this earth, um, and do something that you like instead of trying to do things specifically to bore yourself to sleep. So, I've got a question. Go for it. I'm a 17, 18 year old learner who's got their test at eight o'clock in the morning.
I know probably that that person won't sleep the night before because they've got to think about, getting up in the morning and all they think about is getting up in the morning so they're not thinking of sleep What tips are there? If there are any tips, I dunno, for that person for the night before their test, right?
So I would actually think out a little bit further in advance, especially for that group of people in that demographic who are going to be in the middle of the night at eight o'clock in the morning, right? So, With that particular scenario, I would want to ensure that in the week running up to the, the test, that anything possible that is possible to put into place, we can talk about those sorts of things.
Um, get put into place so that they can begin to sort of start to shift themselves so that that 8:00 AM is closer to a civilized time for them. They could even do this weeks in advance, for example, paying extra attention to not playing video games until two o'clock in the morning, particularly if there's lots of blue light and doing other stimulating things.
Changing the evening routine so that there's a little bit more opportunity for that boredom to kick in. Um, if you imagine a teenager who has been grounded for something and they're not, don't have access to their phone or their computer, what do they do? They don't know what to do with themselves, so they sleep.
So, uh, but, but setting it up as a positive thing a little bit earlier. Each night over the span of, of a week or two before the test just to ensure that there's enough sleep, maintained and make it a little bit easier for them to get up earlier in the morning. And I would combine that with getting up earlier in the morning in the run up to the exam so that it's not such a shock.
Whether the person, teenager or not is worried about getting up in the morning or they're worried about the exam. Having the mindset that if, if they are nervous, which would be a completely normal thing to, to be, uh, feeling in the night before the exam, to do what we can to reframe that feeling. So, What does that feeling feel like?
Feels like your heart could be racing. Feels like you're thinking of lots of things. Might have butterflies in your stomach. We actually don't do ourselves any favors by saying, oh my gosh, I'm so nervous. I'm so nervous. Right? Because that's like somebody's about to push me off the end of the plank, right?
Those same exact physical feelings. Um, and our tendency for our thoughts to race also happen when we're really excited. So any nerves the night before, I would really kind of encourage my, my young person in my life to reframe them as excitement. You've had amazing lessons through you guys. They've built their confidence.
Their body knows what to do. Their brain knows what all the road signs mean. They're gonna smash it out of the park. And that is what the feeling is. So reframing that feeling, um, going to bed as early as possible. Usually that's not the advice for people within insomnia, but just to make sure that they can get as much sleep as possible because the sleep's gonna be disrupted because of the anxiousness.
Yeah, I think those two things further ahead than the night before, and then really working on reframing those feelings so that the confidence can be there as much as possible. Um, and that they set themselves up for maximum sleep the night before, so that they are less likely to fear, like performing poorly, especially if we don't sleep well the night before.
We wake up in the morning and we go, oh my goodness, I didn't sleep last night. This is gonna be a disaster. And all that stuff starts happening in people's heads. It's, it's much less likely to be an issue if they've had adequate sleep, in the run up and if they're feeling more confident, then they are terrified.
Yeah, definitely. And I, yeah, I love that idea, that really thinking about it beforehand and preparing, and it is just preparing, isn't it? Instead of leaving everything till the last minute and we, we use the word nerve cited. So that mixture of nervous and excited. Mm-hmm. So if somebody can't completely reframe, too excited if they, because people are resistant, aren't they?
Sometimes. So if it feels a bit too much to reframe, completely, too excited, and then go for somewhere in the middle with nerve cited. , I really like that there are a lot of reasons why it might be challenging for somebody to completely reframe it. Reframing is a skill that takes practice to build and, um, it's, that's why it's hard to deploy in the moment and it's something to work on kind of along the way, which I love that you incorporate that.
Because we do, we get lots of secondary benefit from saying, oh, I'm so nervous because then everybody rallies around us and boosts our tries to boost our confidence and they're extra nice to us, you know, in a couple of days ahead. Oh, that's great stuff. Um, but if we were acting really excited, maybe that wouldn't but nerve cited I think is fantastic.
So Tracy, is there a question that we haven't asked that actually you were hoping we might ask about that would fit in with sleep and drive in? Is there something you were thinking, oh, I really want to talk about that. I really like that we came around to talking about what to do the night before and what we were able to kind of expand that out into, not just the night before.
Um, yeah, I think especially in, in that age bracket, because they have more biological challenges around an 8:00 AM than somebody who is not in that age demographic or. Who was an early bird? That would be my favorite time. I think I probably signed up for an 8:00 AM actually. So I, I think that particularly for younger people, they also have less life experience.
In being able to apply these kinds of mindset shifts or, or to recognize that they have this additional, it's not a fault of theirs. It's an additional challenge that they have and that they can work with it and not feel powerless. Yeah. Oh, I love that. So, Tracy, you've shared so much information.
For anyone who wants to find out more about sleep, how do they find you? Where can people find you? Pretty much everywhere on the internet. If you type in Tracy, the sleep coach, I tried to keep it consistent. So Tracy, the sleep coach.co uk is my website. Um, Tracy, the sleep coach is my TikTok and my Instagram and my Facebook.
Um, and you can always just drop me an email through the website as well if you have, have questions, want support around sleep. Brilliant. I think it's a fascinating subject. It it is, and I know we talked, we sort of like highlighted driving, but it's, it's a life. Subject almost as well, isn't it? Because it's It's affects us all.
Yeah. And you can apply it into every situation and scenario. And I think we like to talk about sleep almost as much as the weather in this country.
How did you sleep? Have a terrible sleep.
It's a massive subject. Brilliant. Thank you so much. It's been brilliant. Thank you so much for having me, and I look forward to having you in the driver's seat next to me soon. Actually, I'll probably be in the driver's seat. You'll be in the passenger seat. Yes, you'll be in the driver's seat.
Fantastic. Thanks, Tracy. Thank you.