Having trouble sleeping?
Here’s a summary of my advice on overcoming chronic insomnia.
You can also view how these tips have helped chronic insomniacs by watching me help a client live on ITV’s Daybreak here:
Definition – Insomnia involves a difficulty falling to sleep, maintaining sleep, waking too early or experiencing un-refreshing sleep. It affects daytime performance such as impaired concentration, memory, reaction time and productivity and is associated with increased absenteeism from work.
In the long term chronic poor sleep can increase the risk of ill health including depression and anxiety, weight gain, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, immune system suppression, stroke and cardiovascular disease.
The Problem – Almost everyone will experience transient insomnia, whereby they sleep badly for a couple of weeks because of some form of life stress, but return back to a normal sleeping pattern once the stress is resolved.
However, for a quarter of the UK population the problem can develop into a chronic condition lasting months, if not years. For example, a person has a stressful day at work, which prevents them from falling to sleep. The next day they start to feel anxious about falling asleep, which inadvertently keeps them awake. Unfortunately the more they fear the impact that lack of sleep could have on their life, the more they try to control it and the more conditioned they become to feeling awake whenever they try to sleep.
Being trapped in the vicious cycle of insomnia could be likened to an endless battle of tug of war, whereby the harder you pull, the more severe insomnia becomes.
All of the tips below are based on a new way of approaching insomnia known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. They are designed to help you let go of struggling with poor sleep and therefore re-train to your brain to sleep naturally once more.
Let go of the props: Follow a normal & regular wind down each night to teach your body & mind that its time to sleep. Remember that sleep is a natural physiological process that can’t be controlled and having a reliance on unnatural night time rituals or props (e.g. warm baths and milk etc) can fuel sleep anxiety.
Be mindful: Worrying about poor quality past sleep or imagining how bad things will be in the future if you don’t sleep only helps to increase night time arousal levels. Whilst noticing things objectively and without judgment in the present moment like the touch of your duvet on your toes or the gentle movement of air in and out your nose can actually promote sleep.
Welcome thoughts and emotions: fearful thoughts or strong sensations such as anxiety at night can keep you more awake. Learning to change your relationship with them by getting to know them and even welcoming them when they arrive will reduce arousal levels and lessen your sleep struggle.
Stay in bed: If you are awake at night choose to stay in bed and conserve your energy by lying still and being calm and relaxed. Be mindful and welcome your thoughts and emotions – try not to struggle with them or to get out of bed to avoid them.
Keep on time: Go to bed and get up at ‘roughly’ the same time each night – this will help to keep your body clock on time and promote your natural drive to sleep. If you fancy a nap, limit it too less than 20 minutes.
Adopt healthy sleep habits: Live a healthy lifestyle that promotes sleep. For example, drink a moderate amount of caffeine and stop by 2pm. Limit alcohol consumption, especially close to bedtime. Exercise regularly during the day or early evening and for the reasons of enjoyment and health promotion, rather than to get you to sleep. Sleep in a cool, comfortable, quiet and dark room.
Live your life: the fear of not sleeping drives us to stop living our lives such as avoiding going out at night with friends or sleeping in the spare room. Commit to making small actions everyday that take you closer to what is important to you in your life because a happy and content brain is a sleepy brain.
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