16 Ways to Help You Sleep

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16 Ways to Help You Sleep

In the short-term medication can be an appropriate choice to help you get to sleep.  Particularly if you just need to get through a short but difficult time.

Woman Sleeping on train tiredness insomnia sleep manchester sleep counsellorHowever using medication to help you sleep in the long-term may potentially make things much worse.  Depending on the type of medication used, you may become physically or psychologically dependent on it.

It is usually more helpful and healthier to try these simple behavioural changes first to help improve your sleep habits:

  1. Avoid caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant which stays in your body for many hours. If you drink beverages such as coffee, tea, cola and energy drinks, try to set a mid-afternoon cut off point. This will allow time for the caffeine to leave your body before bedtime.  Caffeine can disrupt your sleep patterns leading to unrefreshing sleep.
  2. Avoid alcohol: Alcohol may initially appear to be helpful, as it can help you relax and feel sleepy.   However as it is processed by the body it disrupts the natural sleep patterns, causing restless sleep.
  3. Check your environment: Make sure your bed is comfortable, and ensure the bedroom is quiet, dark, at a comfortable temperature, and free from potential night time disturbances.  Close the curtains, ensure you are not too hot or cold, put pets in another room, turn off TVs and mobile phones, and wear ear plugs if noises disturb you.
  4. Establish a bedtime routine: Sleep can be very habitual.  Therefore for the last hour before bed, develop and then follow a similar bedtime routine every night.
  5. Stop clock watching: Clock watching can lead to frustration, which leads to insomnia. Turn off clocks or put them somewhere were they can’t be seen.
  6. Try to go to bed and get up at the similar times each day: Your body and mind get used to going to bed and getting up at similar times each day.  With repetition your body will begin to naturally feel sleepy at your regular bedtime.
  7. Don’t nap too late, or too long: If you must nap during the daytime, try to do it earlier in the day, and keep it relatively short, ideally less than 20-30 minutes. If you nap for longer than this, it may leave you feeling even groggier, and it can disrupt your night time sleep patterns.
  8. Get some morning sunshine: Light regulates your circadian rhythms. Exposing yourself to natural sunlight (or bright lights) in the morning helps tell your body it is the start of the day and to wake up.
  9. Dim the lights in the evening: The opposite of the previous point. Bright lights at night can confuse your body into thinking it is still daytime and that you should be awake. Turning off or dimming the lights for an hour or two before bedtime helps tell your body to slow down and prepare for sleep.
  10. Avoid using smartphones at bedtime:  Minimise your use of smartphones or tablets before bedtime, as the blue-ish light given off by these devices can fool your body into thinking it is still daytime.
  11. Eat early: Eating a large meal close to bedtime can delay the onset of sleep.  As your body processes a large meal, the digestion process itself can disturb the quality of the sleep you get.  Ideally try to leave 3 to 4 hours between eating a large meal and going to bed.
  12. Exercise early: Exercising close to bedtime can also delay the onset of sleep, as well as disturb the sleep you do get.  Try to exercise in the morning or early afternoon if possible.  Ideally try to leave at least 3 to 4 hours between exercising and bedtime.
  13. Quiet your mind: Both worrying and exciting thoughts activate the sympathetic nervous system, which wakes you, prepares you for action, and increases alertness. Obviously, this is not a good state to be in when trying to go to sleep.  This can also develop into a vicious circle if you worry about not sleeping.  Taking action on your worries during the daytime often helps, as well as learning to accept and let go of worries that are outside your control. Remember that problems can sometimes seem a thousand times bigger in the middle of the night.  Regularly practice methods to still your mind, such as meditation, self hypnosis, mindfulness, or try recalling relaxing memories.  Also examine your worrying thoughts, particularly if they are about sleep. Then gently interrupt or challenge them, replacing them with more realistic or positive thoughts.   If you are struggling to examine or manage your thoughts and emotions, a course of sessions with a qualified counsellor or psychotherapist should be able to help.
  14. Relax your body, relax your mind: To sleep you ideally need a quiet mind and a relaxed body.  Devote some time to learn techniques to deeply relax the muscles in your body at will.   A warm bath, a massage, some deep slow breathing exercises (e.g. box breathing or 4-7-8 breathing), listening to a guided progressive muscle relaxation exercise, or some delta wave binaural beats brain entrainment music, or doing a body scan exercise are examples of some things that may be helpful before bedtime and while you are awake in bed.  Luckily the mind and body are interlinked, if you relax one the other will tend to relax as well.  Be aware that exercises like meditation, relaxation, body scans and breathing exercises are practical skills that require practice and lots of repetition over many days or weeks. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t “magically” seem to work right away or seem too difficult.  Keep practising and you’ll end up with a useful skill for the rest of your life.
  15. Your bed should only be associated with sleeping or relaxing: The only thing that should happen in bed, and ideally the bedroom itself, is sleeping or relaxing.  If you do something in bed, make sure it is something relaxing.    Do not watch TV, use smartphones or tablets, play games, work, or do anything that is even remotely mentally stimulating.
  16. Practice Non-sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) or Yoda Nidra: Instead of trying to fall asleep, shift your focus to relaxation: Deep physical and mental relaxation can be very restful and restorative by itself.  Concentrating on becoming deeply relaxed can slow or stop worrying thoughts about not sleeping, helping you to relax further.  With the added benefit that you are more likely to naturally fall asleep if you are relaxed.  If the worst case happens and you are awake for a large portion of the night, at least you’ve had some rest and restoration from the deep relaxation.  Guided NSDR tracks.

16 Ways to Help You Sleep

Websites Related to Sleep and Insomnia:

  1. National Sleep Foundation – Sleep Research and Education
  2. NHS Choices – Insomnia Treatment
  3. Brain entrainment music and binaural beats for sleep – links to Brain.fm
  4. Sleep Manchester
  5. Anxiety Manchester

About Inner Changes

Inner Changes is the website of Manchester-based UKCP and BACP Registered Psychotherapist & Counsellor, Nigel Magowan.  Nigel is a professional and experienced Manchester Counsellor and Psychotherapist, NLP Master Practitioner, Life Coach, and Ericksonian Hypno-Psychotherapist  He has been in full-time private practice as a psychological therapist for over 20 years, and uses a flexible brief integrative approach which combines all his training, skills and experience to produce a treatment that is tailored to your specific needs.

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