Many of my clients come to see me not being able to get a good night’s sleep. Many more come to see me with a different problem and in addition to that problem also have trouble with their sleep. When the sleep starts to improve the more prevalent problem disappears. We know that people who do not sleep enough, have broken sleep or can’t get to sleep are more likely to struggle with their weight and increase their risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Poor sleep also leads to an increase of inflammatory markers associated with a range of other chronic diseases. Which is worrying enough to stop us from sleeping… and so a negative spiral begins.
So what can you do to improve your sleep:
- Control your exposure to light – Light is probably the biggest factor in driving our circadian rhythms (the cycle the body and mind goes through on a daily basis). For this reason we have to treat light with respect. Try to make your bedroom as dark as possible at night. In the build up to bed time, soften the lights. All light is made up of the colours of the rainbow and it is the blue light in particular which drives wakefulness.
- Restrict your screen time – Use of screens at night can fool the brain in to thinking that we must stay awake. The red light has the least impact on our daily body rhythms and many devices come with a screen filter which filters out the blue leaving more red light. However, this does not stop us seeing a Facebook post which annoys, frustrates or saddens us. It does not stop us from seeing the video which has been designed to grab our attention using more than just flashing light and quickly changing imagery. Ultimately the best option is to stop using all screens (including that pesky mobile phone!) in the last hour before bed.
- Sleep hygiene – This is all about having a good routine in the last hour or two before going to bed. Making sure we follow a similar one each night and making sure it involves some time to relax. When I am away lecturing I know that I am unlikely to arrive home at 1 am, after the drive from the airport, and be able to fall asleep straight away. It is better that I allow myself 20 minutes or more to relax (not looking at a screen!), before following my normal bed time routine before getting in to bed. The brain often likes routine and matches patterns of behaviour to bodily responses.
- Build in some me time during the day – Part of falling to sleep is relaxing. If we spend our whole day running from one place/task/appointment to the next we are not practising our ability to relax. It is no coincidence that people who meditate regularly are much better sleepers than those that don’t. Never tried meditation? I love this two minute myth busting instructional video from Happify.
- Include some physical exercise in your daily routine – this can often feel impossible if we are exhausted from not sleeping for weeks or months or years. A walk round the block is, in my opinion, the most under rated activity. For better sleep aim to do it first thing in the morning when the sun has come up. This maximises the amount of natural light early in the day helping to reset that body clock and bring things back in to line.
- Get up at the same time each morning – I know this can be difficult. Particularly for those that struggle to get to sleep in the first place, and then once asleep the thought of waking when the alarm goes off can be painful. However, one of the biggest factors that dictate when we will fall asleep is how long it has been since we woke up. And if we have overslept by an hour or two then we immediately push back the body’s/brain’s desire to fall asleep by a similar amount, leading to the same frustration that night. Overcoming this short term pin (doing at the weekend may be the best time) can reap many benefits.
If you have tried the above and it is making no difference, or it feels like something is stopping you from doing the above, it may be time to seek some additional help. There are many professionals out there who can help. You GP should of course be your first port of call. Solution focused hypnotherapy can be enormously powerful in helping people to create good positive habits that lead to better sleep. Studies have shown hypnotherapy helps in reducing the time taken for people to fall asleep in the first place, improve the ability to stay asleep throughout the night, and reduce the amount of time spent in wakefulness if they do wake in the night. And the effects last long after treatment finishes. It is no magic wand but with some commitment and a desire to make changes you could be sleeping like a baby again and enjoying the myriad of benefits that come with consistently good sleep.
Alex Brounger is a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist, Hypnotherapy Supervisor and Lecturer. He runs busy practices in Stroud and Cirencester in Gloucestershire. He also does Hypnotherapy Sessions online. You can find out more about him here: abHypnotherapy.co.uk