A number of people have contacted me in the last couple of years because they are having difficulty getting a good night’s sleep. Insomnia and waking up early seems to be a common problem these days and so in this blog I have outlined some tips for establishing a good sleep routine as well as some of the things that can disrupt sleep. I have also added some strategies for going to sleep and getting back to sleep if you are one of those people who wake up in the night. I hope that you find something helpful here and I’d be very happy to hear from you if you do or if you have something that works for you and want to share a tip with others. You can also download the following information in pdf form on the anxiety and stress page of my website.
Some basic tips for sleeping well:
- It’s really helpful to establish a regular sleep pattern. Aim to go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
- Make your bedroom into a place that you associate with relaxing, sleeping and making love. Avoid TV, mobile phones or laptops in the room. Keep it fresh, tidy and change bedding frequently. Decorate with relaxing colours and pictures – blue and greens are renowned for their relaxing qualities.
- Keep the room cool and well ventilated at night and invest in a black-out blind if your sleep is disrupted by early morning light. When the room becomes light it sends a signal to the brain to wake up because light stimulates cells in the retina connected to our biological clock. More information further down.
- Having a routine will send a signal to your brain that its time to wind down and prepare for sleep such as: taking a warm bath or shower; listening to soft music; having a warm non-caffeine drink; reading an enjoyable book or magazine or listen to an audio book; listening to a relaxing, self-hypnosis recording
Things that can disrupt your sleep
Light: Make sure your room is dark and that your curtains/blind are keeping out as much light as possible in the early morning. Apparently light is a key factor as it regulates the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy. Too much light switches off melatonin production and according to a study by Surrey Sleep Research Centre reported in the New Scientist in February this year, it found that ‘reducing the intensity of evening light and/or using a light with less blue and more yellow wavelengths minimizes the disruptive effect on sleep.’ We need to make sure we get adequate daylight during the day but minimize the disruptive effects of artificial light in the evening and at night to help regulate the production of melatonin.
Food: Try to have your evening meal as early as possible in the evening not within two/three hours of going to bed. If you eat a large meal late in the evening and then go to bed your body will be busy digesting the contents of your stomach which can interfere with your sleep. Spicy hot food can also interfere with your body’s metabolism so it might be best to avoid spicy food in the evening. Many women find as they get nearer to the menopause spicy food and alcohol can exacerbate hot flushes.
Have a light snack instead which includes some carbohydrate to help you feel more relaxed.
Thirst: Make sure you have had enough fluid during the day as thirst can also trigger your body to wake up. In particular, too much alcohol may help you fall asleep initially but you are more likely to wake up early with a raging thirst and headache due to dehydration.
Family Conflict: If possible, avoid getting into arguments late at night with family members. If you are experiencing conflict at home then get some help such as talking things over with a trusted friend/family member or asking for some professional help. Its not weakness to ask for help or admit that you are not sure how to handle a situation. In fact, it takes strength to ask for help and it is often a turning point.
Stress: Anxiety and stress keep your body on alert making it hard to shut down and switch off properly for a good night’s sleep. If you are experiencing stress and anxiety then take some steps to manage your stress levels by practising relaxation techniques and exercise. Exercise is one of best ways to help rebalance the stress hormones in your body but build up slowly if you have not done any for a while – even 10 minutes a day can have a dramatic effect on stress levels. Learning self-hypnosis or meditation is also really beneficial to help you learn to control your feelings.
Have a worry book: Before you go to bed write down all the things that are worrying you in a notebook to get them out of your head and onto the paper. In addition, make sure you also write down some possible solutions that come to mind. It is much better to focus on solutions rather than endlessly going round and round in your mind over a problem. Tell yourself that during the night your unconscious will also help you find the right solution. You may then wake up in the morning with an inner sense of the right path or your unconscious might provide certain dreams that give you insight. You may want to invest in a good dream analysis book.
If you wake up during the night:
Keep thinking about how comfortable you are in bed. Remember that your body is resting and that’s all that matters. Avoid getting uptight about being awake as that will trigger stress hormones – stay calm and tell yourself that your body will sleep when its ready.
Use a breathing technique such 7/11 or your other favourite relaxation technique. 7/11 breathing involves breathing in through your nose and counting to seven, then breathe out through your mouth counting to eleven. Whilst doing this put your hands on your stomach and focus on breathing from deep down in your abdomen keeping your chest and shoulders still. You could also imagine breathing in a calm colour at the same time. After doing this a few times you should start to feel more relaxed.
Do something boring. Waking up in the night should not be rewarded. If you thirsty drink some water but a non-caffeine hot drink can help you relax again. If you want to read, try standing up and doing it for a while.
Keep a notebook and pen by the bed as sometimes your unconscious will wake you up during the night so that you remember something important. Thank your unconscious, write a reminder and go back to sleep.
Spend a few minutes tensing and releasing all the major muscles in your body to help you relax. You could start with your feet by tensing your foot muscles, holding the tension for 30 seconds then releasing, gradually working up your body eg. leg muscles, stomach, buttocks and so on up to your arms and shoulders. Work through each of the muscle groups and then do this again two or three times and by the end of the process your body will feel more relaxed.
I like having an affirmation/mantra that I use which I repeat to myself as I close my eyes and imagine letting go. It could be something like ‘letting go and drifting off’ – keep repeating and see what happens. You could combine this with imagining a relaxing place or visiting a pleasant memory of somewhere you went that you associate with feeling relaxed. It’s about finding what works for you.
A relaxing scent like lavender is also useful to have in the bedroom as smell can create an association that helps your brain to wind down. You could put a few drops of essential oil near your pillow as you take some deep, slow relaxing breaths.
Finally, do consult your GP if you are sleepy during the day, have trouble breathing at night, constant headaches or anything else that you are worried about.
If you suffering with insomnia and would like further information about how Cognitive Hypnotherapy could help please contact me.
Cognitive Hypnotherapy & NLP
Tel: 07703 211449