Have you ever spent the whole night battling to get to sleep, only to then fall into a deep sleep just as your alarm is set to go off?
Have you ever tried to block out your thoughts or get rid of your anxious feelings in the middle of the night, only for them to grow in number, size and strength and leave you feeling wide awake?
At The Sleep School, we understand that whilst it’s only natural to want to fight against your insomnia, it can be the very thing that fuels it. That’s why we’ve been pioneering the use of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT, for the non-drug based treatment of chronic insomnia. ACT recognises that to overcome your insomnia you need to change the way you relate to it, rather than battling against it.
The following tips will change the way you think and approach your insomnia and set you on the path to achieving good quality natural sleep.
- Don’t battle insomnia – Sleep is a natural biological process that can’t be controlled and battling against it could be likened to an endless game of tug of war, which only wakes you up more! Learning to let go of the battle is the first step towards recovery.
- Let go of the sleep aids – Using sleep aids such as pills, potions, rules and rituals may offer some short-term respite, but they are not a long-term solution. Dependency on sleep aids weakens your trust in your own natural ability to sleep and fuels sleep anxiety. Remember, good sleepers do nothing to get to sleep and neither should you!
- Be mindful – Worrying about past poor quality sleep or imagining how bad things will be in the future if you don’t sleep only helps to increase night time wakefulness. Choose to mindfully observe the movement of your breath, whilst noticing and letting go of your worries as they arise.
- Welcome thoughts and emotions – Endlessly struggling to get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings fuels night time wakefulness. In contrast, objectively describing and welcoming thoughts and feelings can move them from being fiends to friends. Greeting their arrival with comments such as “My mind is telling me that sleeplessness story again”, changes the way you relate to them and therefore their power over you.
- Keep it regular – when we can’t sleep we try to catch up by going to bed earlier, lying in or napping for long periods during the day. Whilst this may help you to cope in the short term, it weakens your sleep and wake cycle making it harder to sleep at night in the future. Going to bed and getting up at ‘roughly’ the same time most nights will help to keep your body clock on time and promote the natural drive to sleep.
- Wind down for sleep – Aim to start winding and darkening down at least 30-40 minutes before going to bed. Get into a gentle routine of dimming the lights, switching off all your devices, preparing for the next day, brushing your teeth, washing your face and then reading in bed (ideally a print book), before turning out the light.
- Stay in bed at night – 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. The key is learning how to be in bed with all of your fears, rather than spending all night struggling with them or getting out of bed to avoid them.
- Nap on it – Traditional sleep therapy says “Don’t nap during the day as it will weaken your drive to sleep at night”. Whilst avoiding naps may increase your sleep drive, it can also make you feel overtired and anxious leading to even worse sleep. If you haven’t slept, be compassionate to yourself. A 20 min nap between midday and 3pm can help to recoup energy, quell rising anxiety and promote night-time sleep. If you can’t sleep, then use the time lie down and rest, as even this will help.
- Live your life – the fear of not sleeping drives us to stop living our lives by avoiding nights out with friends or sleeping in the spare room, for example. Commit to making small actions every day that take you closer to what is important to you in your life, whilst experiencing your insomnia. Doing so can help to lessen resentment and paradoxically promote sleep.
- Drink caffeine and alcohol – Yes you read it correctly! So many clients get caught up with giving up caffeine and alcohol to control their sleep, only to find themselves resenting insomnia. Take insomnia off the pedestal by enjoying a coffee or having a glass of wine, but in moderation. Aim to limit caffeinated beverages to 1-3 cups per day and avoid after 3pm. Drink alcohol in moderation, avoiding it 2 hours before bed.