Would you like a good night’s sleep? Here’s how


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Did you have a good night’s sleep last night? Did you wake up this morning feeling refreshed? Or was it a bad night?

If you had a rough night then you are not alone. Many people experience problems sleeping at some time in their lives. As babies, we can sleep for 16 hours a day. As adults we tend to benefit most from 7- 8 hours sleep on average. Over your lifetime you will develop your own sleep pattern, which may change as you age. You will probably notice changes in sleeping habits at significant times as a result of various issues. When I see clients seeking help for sleep problems it is helpful to define exactly what they are experiencing as there are different types of sleep disturbance:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Sleeping lightly and restlessly, waking often, and lying awake in the night
  • Waking early and being unable to get back to sleep

We are probably all familiar with the tell-tale signs of a rough night’s sleep! Physical symptoms usually include feeling tired during the day, frequent headaches, irritability or lack of concentration, and feeling tired on waking rather than refreshed and re-energised. The main causes for sleep problems are:

  • State of mind – anxiety, depression, worry, anger, grief, or anticipating a difficult event
  • Menstrual cycle changes in women
  • Change – moving house, starting a new job or a course
  • Environment – noise, discomfort, time zone change
  • Pain
  • Medical conditions – heart, breathing, digestion, high blood pressure, arthritis, anorexia, tinnitus
  • Recreational drugs – nicotine, caffeine, heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, LSD, cannabis
  • Sleeping pills or tranquilisers – these substances can create sleep disturbance!
  • Other prescription drugs – some contraceptives, diuretics, slimming pills, beta-blockers, stimulants

It’s a long list so if you are having problems sleeping, it is important to work out whether there is an underlying cause for your disturbed nights, or any particular trigger. Here are some areas for you to consider:

  • Are you aware of any cause or trigger
  • Are you aware of any stressors
  • Is your bed comfortable – how old is your bed and does it need replacing
  • Is your bedroom dark enough – do you need thicker curtains or an eye mask
  • Any noise disturbance – neighbours/snoring partner. Earplugs may help
  • What is the temperature of the room and is it cool enough for sleeping
  • Diet – very rich foods and alcohol can interfere with sleep. Are you eating too late in the evening

It also helps to avoid these:

  • Naps during the day especially after 3pm and longer than 20 minutes
  • Going to bed when you are stressed or wound up or not ready
  • Having an argument at bedtime
  • Working, eating or phoning in bed
  • Using an electronic device in the evenings which emits blue light – including watching TV
  • Lying in bed awake for more than 30 minutes
  • Eating, drinking or smoking if you get up during the night
  • Falling asleep in front of the TV
  • Drinking too much liquid towards the end of the evening
  • Worrying about not sleeping or getting angry
  • Stimulants – coffee, tea, alcohol, nicotine, cola drinks, food additives, junk food, slimming pills or appetite suppressants

The good news is that there are many things you can do to change habits which may be interfering with the right quality and quantity of sleep, including:

  • Change or resolve things causing you stress where possible – see a therapist if you need help with this
  • Accept situations that you can’t change
  • Give yourself enough time to do things. Don’t take on too much and avoid unrealistic demands
  • Live in the present, rather than worrying about the past or fearing the future
  • Talk through any relationship problems with the person concerned
  • Do some relaxing activity just for pleasure
  • Get regular exercise, but not later than 2-3 hours before bedtime
  • Spend at least 30 minutes a day in natural sunlight. Daylight regulates your sleeping pattern
  • Some foods aid sleep such as a meal high in carbohydrates 2 hours before bedtime, a warm milky drink, a herbal tea such as chamomile, or hot water before bedtime
  • Establish a bedtime routine
  • If you are a late sleeper, get up earlier
  • Get up at the same time each day
  • Only go to bed when tired
  • Do one final security check
  • If you can’t sleep, get up and do something that is not too stimulating
  • Have a warm bath or take a light walk before bedtime
  • Replace negative thoughts with positive ones – “I will sleep”
  • Lavender scent on pillows can help to relax you
  • Don’t try too hard to sleep – instead just let go and allow it to happen
  • Give yourself some quiet time each day
  • Practice relaxation techniques or breathing exercises regularly
  • Keep your mind and body as relaxed as possible – self hypnosis, mindfulness and meditation is great for this

Various natural remedies claim to aid restful sleep such as valerian and cherry juice products. Research suggests that cherry juice increases melatonin levels – the hormone that regulates sleep and makes you feel naturally sleepy at night. As melatonin is released you feel increasingly drowsy. You naturally feel most tired between midnight and 7am. You may also feel mildly sleepy between 1pm and 4pm when another increase in melatonin occurs in your body.

Psychological interventions are very effective for dealing with sleep problems and can include relaxation training, stress management and hypnotherapy. I have helped many people suffering with insomnia using these techniques. For starters, why not listen to my free 10 minutes relaxation track before you go to sleep. If you find this approach helpful then there are lots of meditative recordings generally available which will help you to relax a busy mind and promote a good night’s sleep. My free recording is here: http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com. Alternatively, seek out a hypnotherapist who will work with you on a one-to-one basis.

Sleep well!

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