Sleep is vital for our health. Losing a few hours a night can impair our cognitive ability and mood, making it hard to get even the simplest tasks done. Constant lack of sleep can lead to us feeling depressed, anxious, easily over-emotional and more prone to illness.
Often my clients are having patterns of poor sleep when they come to therapy. They have developed patterns of anxious thoughts or worries that go around and around in their heads, making it difficult to turn off at night.
This is a technique that I teach to people, and that I use myself, to take your brain and body into a sleep state:
- Allow yourself the correct amount of time you need to sleep and wind down. So, if you need 8 hours of sleep and have to be up at 7am, you need to be starting your wind down routine 9 hours before that.
- Develop a good wind down routine before going to bed. This includes disengaging from stimulants, screens and phones an hour before sleep, making sure your bedroom is cool and dark and having some quiet time with a book or activity that calms your mind. If you are a light sleeper, consider having some white noise in the bedroom such as a fan running.
- Empty your bladder before getting in to bed. The need to get up and use the toilet several times in the night can often impair our ability to get back to sleep, especially when we are worried about things.
- If you have worries, once you are in bed ask yourself “Is this a productive worry, is there anything I can do about it tonight?” If not, then let it go and tell yourself you will deal with it again tomorrow when your mind is clear and rested.
- Begin the process of releasing tension from your body. Start in your shoulders, clench them tight and hold for a couple of seconds, then let go. Then move to your arms and hands, clench, hold and release. Gradually work your way down your body clenching and releasing to let go of tension. Finally clench and release your face and jaw, which is where we often hold a lot of our tension without realizing it.
- Move your body into its favourite sleep position.
- Now you need to find a way to stop your mind from wondering and exhausting you! To do this we use a repetitive, calm and focused thought pattern that we find soothing. Some suggestions for this are:
- Imagine watching rain gently falling against a window
- Imagine sitting on a beach and watching small waves gently lapping the shore
- Imagine sitting in a meadow or forest and listening to the sounds of nature
- Imagine you are back in a place in your life where you felt extremely happy and safe and watch the movie of that time playing in your head.
- If you like numbers, start at 200 and subtract 7 repeatedly … 193, 186, 179 etc.
- Focus on your breathing in a 5-7 pattern: breathe in and count for 5, hold for 2, breathe out for 7, hold for two, and repeat. Keep this gentle breathing and counting going. If you find this length of breathing too strenuous then reduce it slightly to 4 - 6. If you are a yoga practitioner, you can extend the breathing to a 7-11 pattern.
- Count sheep! It’s an oldie but it works.
All these mental techniques take some minutes to work so don’t give up. You want to find a place you go to in your mind that is comfortable, and that with repeated use quickly signals to your body that you are going to sleep. Once you feel the waves of sleep start to wash over you, allow yourself to give in to them and let go.
If you wake in the night you can use the same technique to take yourself back to sleep again. Don’t let yourself be anxious and watch the clock, just let go of your worries, tense and relax and then take your mind back to its focused relaxation place. Do not get up and engage in an activity and keep your phone away from the bedroom. Sleep is a habit which we sometimes need to retrain our mind and body back into.
If the subject matter in this article resonates with you, then counselling might be a good option to help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you.