Battling anxiety: a good night’s sleep.
Want to sleep well? You’ve come to the right place! In this article, I’ll share some general tips on getting a good night’s rest both from the perspective of a hypnotherapist and based on my personal experiences too. Sleep is truly nature’s way of restoring your balance, recharging your batteries and maybe treating yourself to am amazing dream or two! Firstly though, let’s look at some basic ideas and beliefs about anxiety and how it can stop you from getting those precious Zzzs.
What is anxiety and where does it come from?
When you are driving along and a warning light comes on, flashing its way into your sight and mind - it’s disturbing and more than annoying but, when you think about it, essential - you know that you will get it sorted for the general sake of the car, the engine etc.
There is roughly a hierarchy or ladder that goes - worry leading to stress/stress to anxiety/anxiety to fear/fear to panic. Stress, and our reactions to it, varies from client to client - depending on factors such as our social and economic circumstances, our environment, and our genetic make-up.
Stress and anxiety can be caused when we experience something new or unexpected, something that threatens our sense of self and/or having a feeling of little or no control over circumstances. Within our bodies, stress produces hormones that trigger fight/flight/freeze responses that activate our immune systems making us respond in turn to dangerous situations.
How can hypnotherapy help with anxiety and sleep?
The good news is that hypnosis and hypnotherapy interventions can successfully treat all known anxiety disorders. Of course, there are no guarantees and it can depend upon the scale of the issue, the nature of the treatment and the motivation to change. Yet, all anxiety comes from our emotions and feelings and all feelings originate and are controlled by the subconscious and unconscious mind.
Hypnosis is one of the best ways to communicate with the 'other than conscious processes' that generate anxiety.
Anxiety is treatable because it is ultimately caused by unmet needs.
Once needs are met, the anxiety signal has no further need to communicate and can be replaced by a feeling of satisfaction. Anxiety can be thought of as 'brain pain' - remember that warning signal? We can change course, fix the car, deal with the issue that is stopping us sleeping.
Before getting into the specifics of what you can do to help yourself sleep better, it is worth thinking about the benefits of using hypnosis and hypnotherapy to do so and these include:
1. The fact that no drugs are involved or needed in hypnotherapy - I would not judge anyone who needs sleeping tablets short term (I have used them myself after family bereavements etc.) but longer-term their use can be detrimental, mentally and physically. The longer you take them, the less effective they become. And no-one wants to be taking pills every night.
2. Hypnotherapy addresses the underlying problem(s) that caused the problem generating anxiety and sleeping issues in the first place. These vary from person to person and will come out in the consultation with good questioning on the part of your hypnotherapist.
3. The therapy works with the mind’s signals to alter the unconscious information processing that lead to the problem and can teach you essential life skills that banish anxiety. For example, you may be taught how to do self-hypnosis or be given pointers to improve stress management generally in your life.
4. Hypnotherapy can help us relearn how to effortlessly relax and get the creative brain working for you. Working with a skilled hypnotherapist can help take your life back and to better ways of thinking, behaviour and feeling ways that are superior to what 'functioning' was like before.
So what do I need to know to help myself?
In order to become anxiety-free, you need to be sleeping well. This is not an option because when you sleep well, you get full psychological and physical rest, waking up in a relaxed alert state ready to take on and enjoy the challenges of the day.
From talking to the hypnotherapist and agreeing on a therapy plan, you will be able to explore how and why your insomnia is caused – usually through some sort of background worry or fear and on some level, your needs are not being met. There are different forms of insomnia - difficulty falling asleep, getting back to sleep, and waking up too early in the morning or a terrible cocktail of all three - but the important thing to remember is that if the hypnotherapist can get you to relax at night, after establishing and discussing any issues that may be contributing to the insomnia, success is more likely.
Think about your sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene behaviours are recommended by the NHS as part of the approach to treat and alleviate insomnia, and your hypnotherapist can reinforce some of these in trance through direct suggestions. Some of these include:
Things to do
- Go to bed only when you feel sleepy but also establish a convenient routine i.e. go to bed/get up at the same time every day as much as possible. It is better to get six hours of quality sleep, than eight hours of tossing and turning. You know how many hours of sleep you need to function. Don’t clock watch but be in the right zone mentally.
- Get regular exercise every day, preferably something you enjoy that gets you outside, this will not only tire you out but lots of endorphins and natural chemical highs will have been released. Do something that is quite challenging, if you can, that brings you out in a sweat i.e. running, a cardiovascular workout, team sports etc.
- Keep the temperature in the bedroom comfortable (not too hot or cold), and the room dark enough to promote sleep; think thick curtains, use a night mask. These can act as a trigger that tells your body and mind that it is the optimum sleep time now.
- Keep the bedroom quiet and use a relaxation exercise and/or tape just before turning in, establish this quiet time as a routine you can do every night, your hypnotherapist can help you with this.
- If you are going to worry, do it during the day (why not put aside a 15 minute 'worry time' every day and let it all out) and don’t save this for precious sleep time, write your worries down on paper or put them in an imaginary box beside your bed - your mind and body deserve and need your restful peace. Give yourself a break.
- Only use your bed for sleeping and sex - no reading or watching TV either, you are re-associating the bed with rest.
Things to avoid
- Exercise just before bed or engage in stimulating activity i.e. playing computer games, watching TV shows or movies, having an important discussion with your partner. This also means having no unnecessary electrical appliances in the sleeping area - and, yes, this means mobile phones.
- On this topic, recent studies have shown that using your phone two hours before going to bed can cause insomnia, so avoid it unless essential.
- The use of caffeine or too much alcohol in the evenings. Although a small tipple is hardly the end of the world, these don’t really improve sleep quality either psychologically or physiologically. You may wake up for the toilet etc. Also don’t go to bed too hungry or too full.
- Smoking before bed, it’s a stimulant that will keep you awake.
- Force yourself to go to sleep. The law of reversed effect means the harder you try to force sleep, the more awake you become, it only makes your mind and body more alert. Sleeping is a very natural process for the majority of people, but the paradox is that the more we try to sleep, the harder it becomes. This sets up a very vicious cycle for the insomniac – the more you struggle to sleep, the more you worry about sleeping and the more difficult it becomes.
- Lying in bed awake for more than 20-30 minutes - get out of bed and read a book or something else relaxing and quiet until you feel sleepy again, then go back to bed.
A reminder then…and more reasons to be cheerful.
Hypnotherapy is very effective at dealing with insomnia. It helps you start to focus on the positive things in your life and reduces your stress.
The root cause of sleeping problems is in fact anxiety. If your general levels of anxiety are high, then you may well struggle to sleep. Most, if not all of us, have experienced difficulty sleeping before a stressful event or in the midst of an anxious period in our lives. But when anxiety about not sleeping starts to build, the problem becomes chronic.
Attacking the symptom, insomnia, is almost certainly doomed to failure. Think of all the ways you’ve tried so far. We need with the formidable help of hypnotherapy, to address the cause(s), which is your general levels of anxiety. The less anxiety you feel, the easier sleep becomes. This doesn’t happen overnight, but by reducing your tendency to react to life with anxiety you get back on an even keel. Hypnotherapy is very effective at dealing with insomnia. It helps you start to focus on the positive things in your life and reduces your stress.