Sleep: How to Add This Pillar to Your Coaching Toolbox (Part 4)

Today we’re going to wrap up our series on ‘How to Add Sleep To Your Coaching Toolbox’ by breaking down how you’d make decisions for the design of your client’s program. Before we dive into the details, it’s important that you’ve read the prior posts as they provide the necessary foundation for our recommendations that follow. Find those previous posts here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

If this is the first time you’ve really formalized any process to coach sleep, your best bet is to start having conversations with friends and family around the benefits of sleep. This is a great audience to begin with because they will likely give you unfiltered feedback on why they can’t or won’t sleep more or take steps to sleep better. It’s this feedback that will have you better prepared when you start coaching clients.

Moving on to clients, let’s assume that you’re beyond simply saying “You need to sleep more” and you’ve gone through the assessment with a new client. Here’s what to do next:

Start with Quality:

In this day and age, it is incredibly difficult to have someone simply ‘sleep more.’ When that prescription is provided, we are setting clients up to fail. What we’d rather do is give them a (relatively) easy win. Why? Success breeds motivation, not the other way around. So we start by looking for areas to improve the quality of the sleep quantity they are currently getting. Things to explore:

  • Temperature Decreases – start by dropping 2-3 degrees for two weeks
  • Reduce Ambient Light – cover cable boxes, bright clocks, turn phones upside down, and the for the super-ambitious, use blackout curtains
  • Adjust wind-down routine – allowing the brain to slip more easily into sleep mode can be done by removing mentally stimulating activities like phone and TV screens. Recommend they cut use of those within at least 60 minutes of their normal bed time. Reading a book can be a great replacement here too!

Personalize It:

We provided several examples of coaching prescriptions in the previous section, but it’s important that you choose the best option based on what you know about your client. Also, resist the urge to be overly enthusiastic by giving three, four, or more of those directives. Start with one, allow a period of time for measurement and then mastery before adding the next one.

When it comes to personalizing your prescriptions, it’s important to remember that each pillar should inform and influence the others. For instance:

  • You should aim to decrease the intensity and complexity of workouts if sleep is not improving.
  • If a client has a big work deadline approaching, the ‘Manage’ pillar would take on a more prominent role. Perhaps you’d have them wind-down at night by journaling what tasks need to be accomplished the following day. This will allow the brain to “park” ongoing challenges and recover better during sleep.

Measure Results:

Sleep is a leading metric, which means that it leads to improvements not immediately realized. You will work with your clients to quantify the result the are striving for. For instance, maybe they are looking to have more energy in the afternoon:

  • You work on quality sleep by personalizing your prescription of establishing a solid wind-down and wake-up routine
  • Automate a text message to them at 2pm each day asking for their energy level on a scale of 1-10, 10 being best possible. Chart this progress in their file.
  • At the 30/60/90 day marks, you look back and evaluate: “Does my client have better energy levels at 2pm today vs 30/60/90 days ago?” Share with the client.

Refine and Repeat:

Not everything you have your client do will work. If you disagree and feel that all your prescriptions work every time, you just haven’t coached long enough! This is why it’s so important to measure what you are doing. In the previous example, let’s consider two possible scenarios:

  1. Client’s energy didn’t improve, or got worse, in the first 30 days
  2. Client’s energy improved steadily through day 47 but then leveled off after that at a score of 7.5/10.

(Regardless of whether the client adhered to the plan you came up with or not, the reality is that your job is to refine things over time.)

In scenario one, you would hear the client out and acknowledge the need for a new prescription, identify possible outcomes, and set new expectations. It’s important that you are honest from Day 1 and let them know you are not prescribing quick fixes, but rather long-term sustainable change. This first scenario also highlights an important reality -> if you are waiting more than 30 days to sit down 1:1 with all of your clients (especially new ones), you are no doubt missing massive opportunities to refine their plan and keep them moving in a positive direction.

In scenario two, we are at the point where something that was leading to improvement simply isn’t any longer. This is ok! Provided your conversation with your client didn’t uncover any reason for you to suspect your prescription should have kept working, it’s time to layer on a new habit. So perhaps in addition to their new wind-down and wake-up routines, you call for a temperature adjustment down 3 degrees. This does not mean they stop doing the first thing. You should also make sure to warn your client that they may experience a bit of a backslide on their energy reporting. This is completely normal and simply due to a “new” stressor being put onto the body, but once the adaptation process occurs, the expectation is that they will move past their previous best.


So what should the sleep program look like for your client? As with so many things, it depends. YOU are the coach. But I can tell you this, the right program:

  • Starts with an assessment
  • Includes a healthy dose (see what I did there?) of education from coach to client
  • Is personalized
  • Is measured against the result(s) the client cares about
  • Is refined over time

Coach this pillar well and not only will your clients get better results, but your value as a coach will go up!

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