How to improve your sleep
Tossing and turning in bed unable to fall asleep is my personal idea of hell. I used to do that, but not anymore! Years of poor sleep brought me to the point at which I knew I had to do something about it. So, what did I do, you may ask? Well, I simply gave up being worried about it and remarkably my sleep has improved.
That doesn’t mean that I did nothing about the problem though. I did experiment over time with different options, got to know myself and my body’s rhythms better and chose to work with the problem rather than against it. I’m not saying that what works for me will work for anyone else, but it just might help and if you’re suffering from insomnia then you’ll probably try anything.
Any medical student will be aware that good quality sleep is one of the pillars of health. Sadly, regular good quality sleep evades many people. In fact, as many as one in three people in the UK suffer from poor sleep, so this is a common problem. Lack of sleep is often associated with poor mental health, impaired mental functioning and memory consolidation as well as having adverse effects upon various physiological processes, so it is essential to try to get enough sleep.
There are many factors that can have an adverse effect on our sleep. Stress, worries, anxiety and overthinking are the common problems that clients experience when they discuss their sleep difficulties. Unfortunately, it is only too easy to end up stuck in a negative feedback loop whereby these factors feed into a sleep problem and the sleep problem feeds back negatively, making matters worse.
If we are feeling stressed, lack of sleep will only lead to us feeling more easily stressed, becoming less emotionally resilient and that in turn will exacerbate the sleep problem.
Help with sleepless nights
The following are some Dos and Don’ts that may be helpful as well as some of my personal solutions.
For a good night's sleep, do:
- Try going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning.
- Ensure that you are physically tired. If you engage in regular physical work or exercise, you are more likely to sleep better.
- Try to reduce the lighting in your home in the evening. Artificial light interferes with the brain’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, and this will make it more difficult for us to fall asleep.
- Keep a notebook or sticky notes on your bedside table so that you can clear your mind of any mental clutter that is keeping you awake. Personally, every evening I write a to-do list for the next day and if something pops into my mind at bedtime, I write it down on a sticky note.
- There is some research that indicates that having a warm bath before bedtime can improve sleep.
- Ensure that your bedroom is slightly cool and well ventilated. It’s difficult to sleep well in a stuffy room.
- Make sure that your bed and bedding is clean and comfortable. Breathable cotton bedding can be helpful if you tend to overheat in bed.
- Try not to worry if you wake up briefly in the middle of the night. It’s quite normal and you will probably fall back to sleep again.
- Try to take some time every evening to wind down before bed, at least an hour beforehand. You could try a calming activity such as reading a novel, listening to some gentle music, doing a restorative yoga flow or a meditation.
- Listening to a calming hypnotherapy or mindfulness recording will help you to destress and wind down for sleep.
To induce a good sleep, don't:
- Don’t engage in mentally or physically stimulating activities shortly before bedtime. Cardiovascular exercise is overstimulating so try something like yoga or Tai Chi instead.
- Don’t eat a rich or heavy meal less than three hours before bedtime and avoid alcohol, tea, and coffee.
- It is thought that the blue light that emits from electronic devices can affect the brain so avoid looking at a screen at least an hour before bedtime. However, if you do want to watch television make sure that it is something relaxing such as a nature programme rather than an action movie.
- Get into an argument or a heated discussion with anyone late in the evening. If you have something difficult to discuss leave it until the daytime.
- Consume caffeine-rich foods or drinks such as coffee, tea, and dark chocolate after 3.00 pm, if you have difficulty getting off to sleep.
- Don’t lie in bed fretting about not being able to sleep. If you haven’t succeeded in falling asleep after about 30 minutes, then get up and try doing something calming and relaxing.
What I find helpful
- I don't worry about not being able to fall asleep. I accept that sometimes I may have a 'bad night' and I just go with the flow. However, if my mind is racing, I ask myself 'Why?' Is there something that is bothering me emotionally and what can I do about it?
- If I am finding it difficult to relax, I will listen to a hypnotherapy recording or I will engage in mindfulness meditation. One of these usually works for me.
- If my mind is busy for no apparent reason, it could be a positive thing. Perhaps I might use my wakefulness to do something useful, providing it is not too stimulating, until tiredness takes over and I can more easily fall asleep.
- I might do some self-healing in the form of Reiki which helps me to calm my mind and body.
- Regularly doing a restorative yoga flow in the evening has trained my brain and my body that it is now time to unwind mentally and physically.
Finally, be aware that many people experience sleep problems at some point in their lives. Medical problems and some medicines can affect a person’s sleep as well as a range of emotional factors.
It can be helpful to experiment with different solutions to sleep problems to find what works for you.
Hypnotherapy and mindfulness are well established complementary therapies that help people with sleep problems.
Both therapies may enable a person to reach a state of inner calm and reduce the symptoms of stress, worry and anxiety by reducing the negative effects of an active part of the brain known as the limbic system. A part of the brain that you would not want to be alert at bedtime unless someone was trying to break into your property! As a qualified clinical hypnotherapist and mindfulness teacher, I teach my clients how to use a range of techniques for improved sleep and well-being.
None of the information in this article replaces medical advice. If you have a persistent sleep problem or are suffering from severe insomnia, then seek medical advice from your G.P.
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