The amount of people suffering from sleep deprivation, a sleep disorder or insomnia is very high. Every day in my practice at Attuned Psychology I see clients who are anxious and frustrated with their sleep pattern and are looking for effective solutions. Sleep problems and disturbed sleeping patterns often cause high levels of distress and are symptomatic manifestations relating to life stressors, depression, anxiety and physical ailments. Sometimes the disturbed sleep in itself is the major cause of frustration for a person. There are different kinds of sleeping disorders, from insomnia (too little sleep) to hypersomnia (too much sleep). Research and clinical experience shows us that there are different types of sleepers, just like there are different types of personalities. If you experience sleeping problems, the first step might be to analyse what type of sleeper you normally are:
- Do you fall asleep easily?
- Do you sleep in stages or in one hit?
- Do you wake up during the night?
- Are you a light or deep sleeper?
- Do you dream often?
People often refer to how they should sleep or compare themselves to their partner or friend. It’s about being aware of your body’s routine and accepting that yours might be different to someone else’s. The most reported effective habits to improve your sleep are defined as sleep hygiene. The following tips are good habits to establish and maintain in order to overcome sleep difficulties and set up a regular healthy sleeping pattern:
- Only use the bedroom for sleeping
- Have a set schedule for bed time and a consistent bed time routine that sets you up well for resting
- Increase your exercise level but prevent exercising within 3 hours before bedtime
- Avoid use of caffeine/alcohol/cigarettes for at least 4-6 hours before bedtime
- Avoid daytime napping
- Darken your bedroom.
Although these strategies are usually quite effective, I often hear my clients complain about the ‘busy mind’ once the head touches the pillow, which is not addressed by these practical strategies. So let’s zoom in to look at this issue a bit more closely. If your mind starts racing when it hits the pillow and this is the biggest issue that prevents you from falling asleep, you might want to read these tips. I usually explain to my clients that sometimes the mind starts racing at night time because we haven’t allowed it much time during the day to reflect.
This might be a first step to try: Give your mind 5-10 minutes ‘speaking time’ by allocating a set time to write down all your mind wants to reflect on and share with you. This doesn’t have to be in full writing style, it might be just keywords or phrases. Set an alarm to specify the time. After your time is up you might want to look at it or put it aside straight away. Try to do this exercise at least 20 minutes before bedtime so you can start your bed time ritual after this.
When you are in bed and your mind still starts racing, you might want to use a mindfulness meditation exercise in response to this difficulty. Mindfulness teaches us to be more accepting of all thoughts, emotions and sensations, even when uncomfortable and teaches us to focus our attention in a non-judgmental way. When it comes to falling asleep, mindfulness meditation allows us to let go of the struggle with being awake and the urgency to get to sleep fast. This struggle contributes to frustration and anxiety soby anchoring to our body and tuning into the breath, we are more able to accept uncomfortable sensations and let go of thoughts that make it even harder to relax and drift off to sleep. I will provide a brief description of an exercise you might want to try in bed:
“The aim is to focus on your breath. When you lay in bed, close your eyes and pay attention to your breath. Follow the air flowing in through your nostrils, moving all the way down to the lowest parts of your lungs and eventually making its return up again, through your air pipe, flowing out through your nostrils or mouth. Feel the sensations in your body while breathing. Repeat this for at least 10 deep breaths. Try to stay focused on the sensations. If your mind wonders and drifts away from the breath, acknowledge this and refocus on your breath. From time to time you may notice your attention drifts as you become aware of feelings of anxiety or frustration or a sense of struggle with staying awake. When you notice these feelings or sensations, make room for these feelings, accept any feelings of discomfort willingly and then come back to the breath.…Let go of any signs of struggle……..stop fighting with being awake and just let it be. It may help to remind yourself that it is unpleasant to be awake, but I am willing to accept it. Notice what happens when you let go of the struggle….. When your mind draws you away and distracts you as all minds do, simply acknowledge this and bring yourself back to the breath….”
This exercise will make more sense when you experience it rather than read about it, so maybe it’s worthwhile giving it a try a couple of times to see if this exercise suits you and whether you notice an effect. Usually people with busy minds are often not used to these types of exercises so it might take some consistent daily practice to feel comfortable or to notice an effect. Even though you might not always fall asleep, at least you have spent less time struggling or worrying.
If you are struggling with sleep problems and have tried a number of different strategies but you are still experiencing difficulties, don’t give up hope yet. These are just some suggestions and we might need to tailor them more specifically to your needs and circumstances. If you are fed up with sleep issues affecting your mental health, energy levels and relationships, contact our practice Attuned Psychology, our psychologists are skilled in dealing with sleep issues. Contact us to set up an appointment today and make the crucial first step to improved sleep and daily functioning.
Hope you have a good night’s sleep.
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