How better sleep is attainable for all of us (from an ex-poor sleeper)
1. Keep a diary/make notes
In the past keeping diaries was commonplace and it served a really important function. If we keep a diary and write in it every night before we go to bed, it gives us the opportunity to process thoughts and emotions from the day. This processing allows emotions to be moved from the amygdala (the emotional centre of our brain) to the pre-frontal cortex (the rational part of our brain). Moving this emotion allows us to have thought it through before we go to bed rather than ruminating on it once we are there!
2. Give the sleep hormone a chance
The notion of us having too much light as a result of exposure to technology is nothing new. Those of us who work nightshifts know quite well that the light patterns being out of sync with our bodies are extremely hard to cope with. One of the signals that makes our bodies produce melatonin (the sleep hormone) is reduced light or darkness. Nightshift mode isn’t really enough of a change to make a difference to you, going tech-free (including tv) at least 30 mins before bedtime is.
3. Find activities which allow you to let go of stress
Too much stress keeps us awake and being awake tends to add to the stress! Find activities in the evening that allow you to de-stress. Walk for the sake of walking. Draw or paint. Do! In other words, do anything that allows you to switch off and idly do something. While you are doing this, your brain is processing the day – so much nicer than it processing once you are in bed.
4. Alerts make you alert
Consider the impact of alerts, emails etc. They are called alerts for a reason! Some of us have become part of a culture where it’s okay to read work emails late at night. If you do, I have a question for you: How productive do you think answering an email at 9:30 at night is, and what effect do you think that has on your sleep? Consider social media: you spent the evening relaxing, you pick up your phone and now you have just been bombarded with images of somebody’s so-called perfect life! That’s about to give the brain a whole lot more stuff to process…
5. Make your bedroom a bedroom
In the last few years, it has been increasingly common for bedrooms to become offices, workrooms etc. As soon as the office desk is in the bedroom, it is a constant visual reminder of work. Move it, hide it, or do something to make your bedroom more like a bedroom.
6. Occupy the conscious mind
Yet again we can take advice from the past. Although counting sheep may not be everyone’s cup of tea, for many it worked. Some of the value of sleep scripts and audio files comes from occupying the conscious mind so it cannot be thinking/ catastrophising! So find something: a sleep hypnosis mp3, a positive affirmation to repeat or your version of counting sheep. Many of my clients have found counting the duration of their in and out breath really helpful.
7. Deal with things
If something is getting you down, you are anxious or you are pursued by negative thoughts, do something about it! Accessing well-being support can be difficult through the NHS but there are plenty of private therapists of all types that could make a huge difference. Don’t put it off, you would never avoid getting your car fixed, hair done or going to the doctors if you were ill, so why do it for your mental health?
8. And finally, self-talk is everything
We will know that if we talk about ourselves positively things tend to be more positive and if we talk about ourselves negatively the opposite occurs. Our subconscious constantly listens to us and if we repeatedly tell it that we are a poor sleeper, the likelihood is we will become a poor sleeper. Conversely, if we describe ourselves as somebody who is improving their sleeping it really makes a difference!