Trouble Sleeping? Part 1

Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

We will all have the occasional night where we just can’t seem to get to sleep. Maybe you have gone to bed feeling really sleepy, but once the light goes out and the quiet of night fills the room you suddenly find yourself wide awake. You feel restless and just can’t get comfortable or perhaps your brain just won’t slow down and is determined to keep busy worrying about the day’s events or what is in store for you tomorrow. And the harder you try to get to sleep the more frustrated and awake you find yourself. Perhaps you lay awake until 3 or 4am before tiredness overwhelms you and you finally fall asleep? Does this sound familiar?

For occasional sleep difficulties here are a few basic tips which may help you improve your quality of sleep:

Don’t drink any caffeinated drink after 4pm

Have a relaxing, warm bath before you go to bed and allow yourself to wind down and let the stress of the day go.

Do not watch TV immediately before going to bed as it overstimulates your brain.

Make your room colder -Your body needs to cool down in order to fall asleep and stay asleep, so do what you can to make your room cool.

Stress causing you sleepness nights?

If worrying kicks in just after you close your eyes, schedule a “worry time” earlier in the day. This is a 15 minute period when you consciously try to think of all your worries and tell them to a trusted confidant and/or write them down. Getting your worries out and raising them to a conscious level can keep them in their place – during the daytime.

If your brain will simply not shut up then try this simple exercise: Imagine a chest of drawers, it can be as big or as small as you like, it can be made from whatever you wish (I use an old wooden one from my childhood bedroom). Allow your thoughts to come into your mind, and as they do, simply choose a draw, open it and place that thought in, then close the draw, knowing that you can open it again tomorrow. Repeat this until you find that you have no more thoughts or worries, and then allow yourself to drift off to a quiet and restorative sleep.

Keep a pen and paper by your bed, so if you do wake up in the middle of the night with an idea or if you can’t get to sleep because you have too many thoughts running around in your head then take the opportunity to write them down, it will reduce your anxiety and thus calm you down and allow you to drift off to sleep unhindered by unnecessary thoughts and fears.

Does this look familiar?

Sleep problems can be broadly categorised into three types:

  • Problems getting to sleep – lying awake and not being able to fall asleep.

  • Problems staying asleep, for example waking up early in the morning.

  • Poor quality sleep – not feeling refreshed by the sleep you do get.

In order to understand which sleep problems you are experiencing try filling out the sleep diary, it will help you identify patterns in your sleep cycle and your behaviours. This knowledge in itself will be really empowering and allow you to begin to take back control of your sleeplessness.

What does a good nights sleep look like?

There are different types and stages of sleep. We cycle through these during the night. These range from light, drowsy sleep through deep sleep to dream sleep, or so called ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ sleep. During these phases we physically and mentally recover. We process memories, heal and grow. It is essential for recouperative sleep that this cycle is occuring each night. Some emotional, physical or health conditions can disrupt this cycle e.g. stress or the pain from arthritis.

A healthy cycle of sleep would look something like the diagram below:

As you can see there are points during the night where you are almost wakeful and it is common that you may turn over during the night and be aware that you are awake momentarily then drift off to sleep again really quickly, this is normal.

Next installment – ideas for improving your sleep patterns

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