If you have problems staying asleep…
If you wake up in the middle of the night and you can’t drift back to sleep after about 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet, relaxing activity like stretching, reading or doing crossword puzzles. Staring at the ceiling will not help and just leads to excess frustration and a negative cycle of thoughts which maintain your lack of sleep.
If you wake up worrying about a particular problem then take your pen and paper and write, just allow yourself to write anything that comes into your head, it may not provide the solution immediately but if its all out on paper your anxiety should be reduced, just keep writing until you have run out of thoughts.
If you wake up in a panic, perhaps from a bad dream a wonderful affirmation to recite to yourself is I am safe and I am protected. Dreams cannot hurt you but in those first few seconds of wakefulness they can appear to be very real and the fear can be overwhelming.
Avoid having any electronics turned on in your bedroom such as ipads or iphones the blue light emitted can disrupt sleep.
If you regularly wake up in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep please contact your GP and discuss this with them, there may be a medical reason for this e.g. sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or chronic pain which will need investigating and specialist treatment.
I sleep ok, but I am waking up exhausted, I feel like I haven’t had any rest at all?
There are a variety of causes of this type of problem, ranging from sleep apnea to too many dreams and your brain not shutting off due to heightened levels of stress. Most commonly though I would associate this type of unrefreshing sleep which is essentially a light sleep that, even after a full night, doesn’t leave you rested with ME/CFS and fibromyalgia, or chronic pain conditions where restorative sleep simply eludes sufferers, they often report waking up exhausted and feeling as if they haven’t slept at all — no matter how long they were actually asleep. The consequences of unrefreshing sleep go beyond mere tiredness. These include unrelenting fatigue, daytime sleepiness, poor concentration and other cognitive impairment (brain fog), increased sensitivity to pain (hyperalgesia) and general disability. Once again I would recommend seeking medical advice to discover the underlying cause before discussing treatment for this.
Having difficulty getting to sleep? Change your habits…..
Firstly and I know this may seem obvious but do not go to bed until you feel sleepy. If yu are not tired then al that will happen is that you toss and turn, and become anxious about the fact you can’t get to sleep. If you wait until you are tired, that pleasant kind of snoozy feeling then go to bed you will be far more likely to drift off and have restorative sleep. This may take practice especially if you have a routine already and you are concerned that staying up late may make you feel worse, but on balance spending hours laying in bed staring at the ceiling and becoming fretful is just as debilitating.
Get into a routine….
Try to use the hour before going to bed to
But I’m in bed and I can’t sleep….
If you have not fallen asleep within 30 minutes get up and have a malty drink. Listen to relaxing music, read a relaxing book until you feel snoozy.
Make sure your bed is associated with sleep.
Avoid smoking immediately before bed as it is a stimulant.
Although having a nightcap is often suggested as a way to help you sleep, and certainly if you have a night out with a few beers or glasses of wine you may fall asleep (pass out) quickly, the quality of sleep is non restorative. Therefore avoid drinking alcohol is you wish to gain healthy sleep.
Try deep breathing… focus on the sound of your breath as you inhale and exhale… then start by breathing in for a count of 5 then out for a count of 7. Keep doing this until you fall asleep, you should find that you gradually stop consciously counting and just relax into the breathing cycle which will help you drift off to sleep.
If you are feeling very stressed, worried or upset you can develop this routine further by imagining that as you exhale, choose a colour (I use deep brown) this colour represents all your worries and concerns, and as you exhale you can see all your negative thoughts and feelings leave your body. Then choose another colour to inhale you are breathing in (I use pale blue as its very calming) and as you breathe in you are filling your lungs and in turn your whole body with relaxing and calming feelings.
Another adaptation of this is to breathe out all the negative and stressful feelings from every part of your body, e.g. hands, arms, neck, brain by naming them as you go, then inhaling the positive colour with its relaxing nature and then saying goodnight to each body part, I would suggest you start from your toes and work up.
What can you do during the day to improve your sleep patterns.
Gradually increasing your daytime activity and exercise, will help but don’t exercise too near to bedtime or you will still be hyped up.
Try and avoid sleeping for long periods during the day as it can disrupt your sleep cycle, have you ever fallen asleep for an hour or two in the afternoon and woke up feeling worse for it? That’s because your body has a natural sleep cycle and hormones and chemicals within your body reflect this cycle so when its disrupted everything is a little out of whack and make you feel awful. Catnaps can be useful but no longer than 20 minutes at a time.
If you have had unexpected sleep deprivation e.g. no sleep for 36 or 48 hours due to a family emergency for example, then when you do sleep try not to recover all your sleep in one go, it is better to have 30 minutes extra every day for a few days than try and sleep an additional 8 hours straight off.
These simple guidelines really can improve your sleep but they take time. Please be patient, your hard work will pay off although it can take many weeks to develop new sleep habits.
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