How to Improve your Sleep
I’ve personally found hypnotherapy very useful for dealing with sleep problems and I use self-hypnosis most nights to help me switch off and ensure I get a good nights sleep. I understand how difficult it can be to function normally with prolonged insomnia – and how frustrating it is when you’re exhausted, but still don’t sleep well.
There are different types of sleeping problems; perhaps you find it difficult to get off to sleep due to an overactive mind, or maybe you wake too early? Some people wake in the night and find it difficult to go back to sleep, others experience a combination of these.
So what causes sleep problems, or insomnia?
Trouble sleeping can be related to anxiety, stress or depression. Chronic pain often causes sleepless nights. Such problems are ideally addressed in tandem with a sleep improvement programme. There are other medical conditions as well that can cause sleep problems, such as restless leg syndrome or hypertension. So it’s always a good idea to see your GP in the first instance. In many cases however insomnia is a result of unconscious “programming”. Any repeated behaviours, like tying your shoelaces or learning to drive, get stored in the unconscious mind – and it’s the same with poor sleep; it becomes a learned habit that’s difficult to break on your own. The good news is that anything that can be learned, can also be unlearned – often fairly easily with the right guidance.
There are some practical things you can do to help get a better night’s sleep. Here are some of my top tips:
- Aim to eat your last meal at least three hours before going to sleep.
- Avoid too much caffeine. Caffeine is present in tea, as well as coffee and some fizzy drinks. Avoid caffeinated drinks completely after 2pm. Soothing herbal teas, such as chamomile and valerian, may be helpful.
- Bear in mind that sugar is also a stimulant; avoid too much sugar particularly during the evening.
- Alcohol may also contribute to insomnia. Although it may help you get to sleep, your sleep will be of a poorer quality. While you’re re-establishing a regular sleeping pattern avoid alcohol completely.
- With a hectic lifestyle it’s all too easy to fall into a pattern of staying up late, with long lie-ins at the weekend to compensate. An occasional late night and/or lie-in is not going to do any harm, but if it becomes a regular thing it may put you out of balance. Aim for a regular routine throughout the week, at least while you re-establish your sleep pattern.
- We all know that regular exercise is good for our overall health and well-being, but did you know that exercise also improves the quality of our sleep? Even if you feel tired during the day it’s worth making the effort to exercise. However don’t exercise within a couple of hours of bedtime.
- Is your bedroom properly dark? Street lamps or early morning light in the summer can contribute to poor sleep. If this is a problem consider the addition of blinds as well as curtains, or dark heavy curtains with a lining. In the summer I drape blankets over the top of my curtains, otherwise I wake when the sun comes up. Even the light from a clock can be enough to disturb sleep if you’re very sensitive.
- Use your bed strictly for only three things; sleep, sex and self-hypnosis/ relaxation techniques. Avoid activities such as reading, eating, watching TV or using your laptop/ipad in bed. It’s important that you learn to associate your bed, and your bedroom, with sleep rather than waking activities.
- Avoid stimulating TV, playing computer games, study, etc. prior to sleeping. Easy-going TV is probably OK for most people. If you still have problems try avoiding using your computer/ipad etc. or watching TV in the final hour before bed.
People with sleep problems often find it difficult to ‘switch off’.
Here’s one method I teach my clients to help quiet an overactive mind: Become aware of your stream of thoughts – things that you say to yourself, images and associated feelings. Now imagine projecting those thoughts and images onto a screen, like a TV or cinema screen. Then imagine turning down the volume as you say “ssh” in your mind – imagine fading out the colour as you do so. Finally, imagine changing over to a more relaxing channel.
What thoughts do you have, or what do you say to yourself when you wake in the night?
Does any of the following sound familiar? “2:30 again… I always wake at this time; I’m never going to cope tomorrow; I’ll be exhausted”; “I’ve been awake hours now, I’ll never get back to sleep now.” Such thoughts are surprisingly common, but are not going to be helpful for the insomniac; in fact they just make matters worse. Watch out for always and never in particular. Is that really ‘always’ or would half the time be more accurate? Do you really mean never? Note the tone of your internal voice as well; do you sound annoyed, irritable or impatient? Aim to communicate with yourself in a gentle manner, using a kind, soothing, drowsy internal voice. Examples of positive suggestions that you could repeat to yourself in this manner include; “I’m feeling more and more drowsy and sleepy”… “I now feel more and more relaxed”… “I now believe I can sleep more and more deeply.” I’m sure you can think of more… it doesn’t matter if you don’t believe it at first, but keep practising!
Do you tell yourself that you’ve always been a poor sleeper, it runs in the family or that’s just the way you are?
If that’s what you believe and that’s what you’re telling yourself you’re reinforcing the image you have of yourself as a poor sleeper. Beliefs come from you, created in your mind, and are not imposed on you by reality itself. It is possible to change beliefs – how would you prefer to see yourself? What would you prefer to believe? What difference would this make to your life? Imagine stepping out of your old story and creating a new story for yourself.
In my hypnotherapy practice I teach clients mindfulness, relaxation skills and self hypnosis, particularly focusing on the breath and progressive relaxation, incorporating various imagery techniques for better sleep.
A useful technique is to create a special, safe, relaxing place in your imagination. This is a helpful technique to help you go off to sleep or if you wake in the night. Using your imagination in this way has a very real physiological effect on the body. For example, if you think about something that makes you anxious or stressed, such as attending an interview, giving a presentation or walking alone down a deserted dark street at night, you will feel some of this anxiety. It’s likely that your heartbeat and breathing rate will increase and stress hormones will be released. Conversely if you focus on imagining a pleasant, safe, relaxing environment it will have the opposite effect; your heart rate will slow down, your breathing will slow and deepen and endorphins will be released.
- Imagine yourself in a special place; this can be somewhere you enjoy going to – perhaps somewhere you’ve been on holiday or somewhere from your childhood, or it can be somewhere you’re creating in your imagination which is just for you. It’s important that you choose somewhere that is safe, comfortable and relaxing for you to be. Re-create this special place in your mind as vividly as you can – focusing on what you can see, hear, feel, even what you can smell and taste if appropriate!
Taking some time out on a daily basis to practice relaxation skills can be extremely beneficial for improving the quality of your sleep, often in a relatively short space of time.
I always advise my clients to keep a sleep diary so that progress can be easily monitored. This includes recording daytime energy as well. Unfortunately people tend to focus on what’s the same (e.g. I’m still not sleeping well) rather than what’s different (e.g. I’m waking twice in the night rather than 3-4 times). I’m often amazed how people focus on what’s not working – rather than progress made. It’s really important to keep focusing on changes and progress, however small – this will drive further change and keep you motivated. So actively look for progress and bear in mind that it may not be what you expect! You may not need eight hours sleep and your natural waking time may be earlier than expected. You’ll know by your daytime energy when you’re getting enough sleep.
I hope this gives you some ideas of how to start improving your sleep.
If you’re interested in finding out more about how hypnotherapy can help you to sleep better, please get in touch – I offer free consultations from my therapy rooms.