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STRESS & WORRY
If you’re anxious, your heart rate will increase which causes the brain to ‘race’. An alert mind produces beta waves, making you far too stimulated to sleep and triggers other worries, so it’s even harder to achieve sleep.
Once this pattern sets in, bedtime can become a thing of anxiety. So how can you combat the stress of sleeping?
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps people to ‘unlearn’ thought processes through psychological treatment. You can also manage your heart rate by placing your hand on your heart and listen for the beating. Breathe in deeply for four seconds, and then breathe out slowly. Repeat this until you can feel your heart rate slowing, which in turn slows down your busy brain activity.
Eliminate anxious thoughts by practising the speaking technique. This means voicing the thoughts that would otherwise live in your head. Speaking aloud overrides thinking, which stops your negative thoughts in their tracks. Practise by thinking the alphabet in your head, and when you reach ‘J’, start speaking out loud. What happened to the alphabet? Well, you stopped thinking it in your head, because speaking overrode those thoughts. Use this technique when you start worrying in bed: instead of thinking ‘the mortgage is due and I don’t have the money to pay it’, say aloud ‘we will find a way to pay the mortgage this month.’
A CBT TACTIC
CBT is the most effective long-term solution for insomniacs, helping you identify the negative attitudes and beliefs that hinder your sleep, and replacing them with positive thoughts, effectively ‘unlearning’ the negative beliefs.
A typical exercise is to set aside 30 minutes per day, in which you do your day’s worth of worrying. During this worry period you keep a diary of your worries and anxious thoughts, writing them down, in order to reduce the weight in your mind. Once this task is complete, you are banned from worrying at any other point in the day.
Before you go to sleep, you can also write down the worries that you think may keep you awake. Once you are in bed with your eyes closed, you should imagine those thoughts floating away, leaving your mind free, peaceful, and ready to sleep.
– Reduce the intensity of artificial light in your home by using dimmer switches or low wattage bulbs.
– Maintain a regular bedtime routine and sleep pattern.
– Use a hot water bottle if you get cold.
– Switch off your tech a couple of hours before bedtime – that includes your phone!
– Go to the loo before bed, and try not to consume too many liquids before you sleep.
– Don’t nap during the day.
– Avoid stimulants like caffeine and cigarettes.
– Avoid sedatives, such as sleeping pills and alcohol, to help you sleep. They have short term benefits and long term counter effects, such as dependency.
– Don’t buy melatonin supplements online. They are only available on prescription in the UK. Taking prescribed melatonin will disrupt your own natural melatonin production, potentially suppressing your ability to generate this important hormone.
– Don’t stop taking sleep medication suddenly. The best course of action is to speak to a doctor and develop a strategy to slowly wean yourself off in a healthy manner.
– Changing your diet can help you sleep, but it takes time. Start a sleep diary to keep track of your progress, and don’t give up if you see no sudden improvement – sleeping soundly takes practice!
SPORTS & EXERCISE
Working out effectively can tire your body out gently, promoting a better night’s sleep. Releasing pent up tension through exercise is also highly beneficial, helping to banish stress before bedtime. Exercising also lowers your body’s temperature, which induces better sleep.
However, there are several things to keep in mind when exercising to improve your sleeping habits:
– Don’t overdo it. Contrary to popular belief, wearing yourself out physically is not likely to induce sleepiness. In fact, it can often be counter productive, leading to additional alertness when trying to sleep.
– When it comes to exercise, the most important thing is to feel fitter and healthier. If you are experiencing sleeping problems, try to exercise a little more or change the type of activities you do. Yoga is renowned for its relaxation and sleep benefits, while moderate-aerobic exercise like walking has been found to help people fall asleep more quickly.
The 20 minute rule:
We should all go to bed when we’re tired, but if you’re not asleep after twenty minutes, it’s recommended that you get up and find another activity to do. This should be quiet and peaceful, and not involve your phone or other digital displays. Listening to music, reading or doing yoga are all recommended.
When you feel sleepy again, you should return to bed. The idea of this is method is to build a strong association between bed and sleeping, and eventually you’ll be able to fall asleep quickly.
Relax your body:
This method is best done in bed. By relaxing separate groups of muscles, you become more aware of your body and able to wind down mindfully.
1. Tense a muscle, for example your bicep, by contracting for 7-10 seconds. Flex it gently – do not strain.
2. At the same time, visualise the muscle being tensed, consciously feeling the build up of tension.
3. Release the muscle abruptly and then relax, allowing the body to go limp. Take a few moments before moving on to the next muscle.
4. Remember to keep the rest of your body relaxed whilst working on a particular muscle.
THE RIGHT BED
– Always put quality above price. When it comes to your bed, spend as much as you can afford.
– The right support is crucial. If your bed is too hard or soft, it will be uncomfortable and unsupportive. Your mattress should be firm enough to support your spine in the correct alignment while conforming to your body’s contours.
– Always try before you buy! Lay down on each bed that you’re seriously considering, spending a good 10-15 minutes realising its comfort and support levels. Try several different positions (we all move 40-60 times per night), and remember that if two people will be sleeping on this mattress, test it out together.
– Research shows that sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress can rob you of up to one hour’s sleep per night, which adds up to a full night’s sleep over the course of a week! You should consider changing your bed after seven years.
For more information visit: sleepcouncil.org.uk