Many of our clients come to us with difficulties going to sleep or waking abruptly in the night, with anything from worry and anxious thoughts to a full-blown panic attack.
Sleep is essential to maintaining normal levels of cognitive skills such as speech, memory and flexible thinking and plays a significant role in brain development. So not sleeping well or having a restless sleep is not going to help and contributes to a vicious cycle of anxiety and mental health issues. It will also affect how you cope with relationships around you and your ability to work effectively.
If we sleep less, because of going to bed late or waking up early, we're unlikely to get as much deep sleep as we need, or enough of the stage that comes after it - REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when we do most of our dreaming.
We recommend good sleep hygiene, which essentially means giving yourself a relaxing space and routine before bedtime. This means making your bedroom a sanctuary. Keeping your bedroom clean and tidy and switching off all devices long before bedtime. Perhaps have a relaxing bath or a hot milky drink with no caffeine. Make this a ritual and enjoy this space before you go to sleep. Listening to a meditation or calming music once you are in bed will also help you drift off to sleep.
The main synchroniser for our body clock is light. Our eyes react to the light and dark, even when our eyelids are closed. You therefore to keep your room as dark as possible when you go to sleep. Try blackout blinds/curtains and make sure all electronic devices are turned off or in a drawer so there is no light. Daylight prompts our brains to reduce the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. We become more alert, and wake up.
We all have a built-in body clock which tells us when we are tired, and helps synchronise thousands of cells in our body to the circadian rhythm. Getting to sleep at a regular time will help regulate this process and therefore aid sleep and the quality of sleep. To read more about the body clock, please click here.
Our core body temperature goes down when we sleep. It's controlled by our body clock, which starts to open up the blood vessels of the hands, face and feet, to lose heat, as we approach the time we should be sleeping. If our bedrooms or duvets are too warm, our bodies can't lose heat. That can lead to restlessness and discomfort.
Our core temperature should only be half a degree less than during the day. If we get too cold, we get restless. So monitor how the temperature of the room as much as possible and perhaps ensure that extra blankets are available if you get too cold or you are able to discard bed clothes if you become too hot.
Caffeine is a stimulant which can stay in our system for many hours. Drinks high in caffeine make it harder to fall asleep and can result in more time in the lighter stages of sleep, with less deep sleep. So cut down on the caffeinated drinks as much as possible. Cutting caffeine intake will also help with managing your anxiety levels.
Although alcohol initially helps some of us fall asleep, too much of it may disrupt sleep. A lot of alcohol close to bedtime means we can go straight into deep sleep, missing out on the usual first stage of sleep.
As the alcohol starts to wear off, our bodies come out of deep sleep and back into REM sleep, which is much easier to wake from. We usually have six to seven cycles of REM sleep, which leaves us feeling refreshed. However, a night of drinking means we'll typically have only one to two, and wake up feeling exhausted. Cutting down or eliminating alcohol will also improve sleep quality.
Eating a large, heavy meal too close to bedtime may also interfere with sleep. Spicy or fatty foods can cause heartburn, which leads to difficulty in falling asleep and discomfort throughout the night.
Foods containing a chemical called tyramine (examples include bacon, cheese, nuts and red wine) can keep us awake at night. Tyramine causes the release of noradrenaline, a brain stimulant. Carbohydrates, such as bread or pasta, have the opposite effect. They trigger the release of hormone serotonin, which makes us sleepy. Therefore avoid bacon, cheese, nuts and red wine before bed and maybe eat some carbohydrates.
Make sure that noise is kept to a minimum as much as possible as this will distract you from getting off to sleep. Invest in some ear plugs if necessary. As we drift into light sleep, an area of the brain called the thalamus starts to block the flow of information from our senses to the rest of the brain. But it will still let through noises, which can wake us up.
Stress and Anxiety are the enemy of sleep!!. Not only can current anxiety about life encroach on our sleep but feeling anxious about getting enough sleep will only make it worse!
When we are anxious we lose track of time during bedtimes because even though we may nod off and wake up again it may still feel as if we are getting no sleep at all. This can result in fragmented sleep with less time spent in the deep stages of sleep. We have found with our clients that coming into the moment and concentrating on your breath really helps to relax your mind and aid restful sleep. Your breath is always with you and you can use it as an anchor at anytime to pull away from anxious thoughts of the future and all the ‘could ofs’ and ‘should ofs’ of the past. We also provide our clients with meditations that will progressively deeply relax all parts of your body, from head to toe and enabling you to drift back off to sleep. Our clients often report not hearing the end of the recording as they have drifted back into the coveted deep stages of sleep. Invest in listening to our meditations for insomnia before going to bed or use the Mindfulness technique of noticing your breath and where it is in your body or listen to a Mindfulness of the Breath recording.
Our Anxiety course online and in our groups always include our Sleep recordings and education on sleep hygiene and its importance.
Sweet dreams from Rewind Your Mind!!