Having difficulty sleeping can be very distressing during the night, and severely interfere with your daytime functionality and mental state. Long-term, lack of sleep has a severely detrimental effect of both body and mind. There are many reasons why people may have difficulty sleeping:
- Physical pain or illness
- Sleep apnoea (a condition where a person stops breathing for short periods during the night)
- Issues such as anxiety, depression, stress or trauma
- Worrying about not sleeping
- Napping during the day
- Lack of physical exercise
- Over-stimulation at bed time via television, caffeine or alcohol
- Erratic bedtime routine
Whilst there are many factors that can affect your ability to sleep, establishing good sleep-related habits is extremely beneficial if you want to get a good night’s sleep. If you are having difficulty sleeping, it might be helpful to:
Establish a calming bed-time routine. It doesn’t matter exactly what this is, so long as it is predictable, calming, and indicates to your brain that it is time to go to sleep. A sample routine might include brushing your teeth, reading a chapter of a book, going to the toilet, and then going to bed. If you don’t fall asleep in half an hour, get up and go to another room. Do something quietly until you feel sleepy, then go back to bed and try falling asleep. If you are not asleep in half an hour, repeat this process until you fall asleep. By doing this you will associate bed with sleep and you will teach yourself to fall asleep quickly in bed. If you are up for most of the night, keep calm by reminding yourself that it will be easier tomorrow night because you are more tired. If you need to, take time off work for this process.
If you become anxious or worried during the night, write down what you are worried about and tell yourself you’ll set aside some time the next day to address your worries. Next, try filling your mind with a relaxing, pleasant experience you have had. Focus on the soothing and tranquil details of this experience. For instance you could picture a relaxing walk on a beach or dinner in a restaurant you enjoyed.
Take control of your self-talk during the night. Give yourself soothing messages such as ‘Even though I’m not sleeping, I’m still resting’, ‘I have a plan and my sleeping will get better’, ‘The worse I sleep tonight, the easier it will be tomorrow’, ‘If I need to I can take tomorrow off work’ (even if it’s not true, self-soothing messages such as these can still help).
Wake up at the same time everyday regardless of how tired you are or what time you went to bed. This helps stabilize your circadian rhythm and body clock, paving the way for the introduction of a regular bed time at night that you can adhere to.
Aside from these helpful practices, there a few behaviours you may want to remove from your routine when sleeplessness is an issue:
- Eliminate daytime naps.
- Reduce your food, caffeine and alcohol consumption close to bed time.
- Use your bed solely for sleeping – no TV, laptops or craft projects in bed.
By learning to associate your bedroom with being a relaxing space where sleep occurs, and adhering to some of the healthy sleep routine practices listed above, it IS possible to reset your body and mind to dream o’clock. If you would like to discuss your concerns about sleeplessness, our counsellors and psychologists are adept at dealing with insomnia issues, and can help put your mind at ease.