If you are struggling to get a good night’s sleep, then this guide will help you learn more about sleep and what you can do to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep. If you need further help, contact me on 07792 447 331. I studied “Treating Insomnia and Sleep Disorders” with the London College of Clinical Hypnosis. I can also teach you meditation techniques that will reduce your levels of stress and help promote calm and wellbeing.
This guide looks at research on sleep, why it is so important to our mental and physical health, explains the stages of sleep, and gives you lots ideas for improving your sleep – from a simple meditation to foods to help you sleep.
Have you found yourself lying awake for hours and hours? Tossing and turning, unable to get comfortable? Or overthinking that same problem night after night. Looking at the alarm clock and seeing only another hour has gone by, and then later not able to wake as it seems you have only just got off to sleep.
In the morning, do you find yourself crawling out of bed, perhaps getting the children up and dressed and off to school as you head off to work yourself, when you could rather be back under the duvet, asleep. Have you found this happening day in and day out and found it is affecting almost every part of your day?
Occasional lack of sleep leaves us feeling fuzzy, irritable and more irrational. However, Chronic Sleep Deprivation weakens our immune systems, upsets our relationship with food, interferes with our memory function and stops us thinking constructively. Quality sleep is important to health and happiness, and plays a vital role in the maintenance of skills such as thinking and learning.
As well as insomnia, there are a number of other disorders but these are not included in this guide .
- Sleep Apnea – where you breathing stops and starts in the night
- Sleep Walking
- Narcolepsy – where you suddenly just fall asleep during the day
- Restless Legs Syndrome
- Nightmares and Night Terrors
I find sleep fascinating and have made a special study of sleep – particularly in the times when I just lay there night after night, finally seeming to nod off properly around 4.30am – so I know only too well the misery of insomnia.
Everyone seems to have suffered from periods of poor sleep at some time in their lives. Babies and young children keep parents awake, we don’t sleep so well when we are stressed and sleep seems to deteriorate as we get older. But it is important to take steps to improve your sleep, if you can as serious health issues, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes have been linked to sleep deprivation.
The Huffington Post reports on a study by Colin Smith, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Surrey, (see link below) which showed that after only getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night showed changes to more than 700 genes – and that was after only one week. Another at the University of Cambridge shows that these changes to genes could be passed down from parents to children. Sleep is critical to maintaining and repairing our bodies, and if that isn’t happening, there could be an increase in degenerative diseases. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/26/sleep-deprivation-genes_n_2766341.html
Another article reports there are a lot of consequences of only one poor night’s sleep. And we can all identify with some things on this list that happen when we are tired or exhausted
- Craving sugary foods, eating more and buying unhealthy foods
- Becoming clumsier and more likely to be involved in accidents.
- Looking rough, bags under our eyes, looking older become less patient and more likely to get upset and emotional.
- Getting more colds – I know so many people who get ill on the first day of their holidays.
- Memory suffers, we loose things and it is harder to remember new information
After prolonged periods of poor sleep, there are serious health risks as our bodies become stressed and less able to ward off illnesses. Research suggests that this includes
- decrease in sperm count
- some cancers
- heart disease.
SLEEP – HOW MUCH AND WHAT SORT?
How much sleep do you need?
The amount of sleep anyone needs, varies from person to person, but the general guidelines are:
- 16 hours for infants
- 9 hours for teenagers
- 7- 8 hours for adults
We all know people who survive on a lot less – and we all have to sometimes, but Richard Wiseman’s book Sleep Matters, suggests even adults should be aiming for 9 hours a night
STAGES OF SLEEP
There are two forms of sleep – REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and Non-REM. You dream in REM. Within this there are different stages of sleep and sleep occurs in cycles lasting 90 – 120 minutes
As you get into bed, you will often start thinking about the day’s events or something else. People who are stressed or worried often find they are stuck here, rehearsing what they will do tomorrow, replaying their day and perhaps regretting how they handled something – turning it over in their heads again and again.
Non REM or Slow Wave Sleep
Stage 1 – Very Light Sleep (hypnogogic state) – lasts about 10 minutes per cycle. You may get fantasy thoughts, thoughts about relaxing, nonsensical images, feelings of weightlessness and twitches.
Stage 2 – True / Light Sleep (theta waves) – lasts about 20 minutes per cycle. Temperature, heart rate and breathing reduce and you might mutter and move.
Stages 3 & 4 – Slow wave / Deep Sleep – lasts about 30 minutes per cycle – if you are woken up now you will feel groggy or confused. This is the time when sleep walking, bed wetting and night terrors are most likely to occur. You spend less and less time here as the night goes on.
REM Sleep – or Stage 5 – (theta waves)
This happens 70 or 90 minutes after we go to sleep, and there are usually 3 – 5 bouts of REM sleep a night. The brain stem temporarily inhibits motor responses and paralyzes muscles that might make us act out our dreams.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP
FOOD AND DRINK
Eat foods that will help your metabolism sleep
Dale Pinnock, in his cook book The Medicinal Chef has a section on Insomnia and a large section on Digestive Problems. For Insomnia, he recommends increasing magnesium intake, tryptophan-rich foods and avoiding refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, sugary snacks and drinks). Key ingredients to include in your meals include bananas, cherries (which are rich in Melatonin), green leafy vegetables, tuna, Low GI grains (brown rice, quinoa, bulgur wheat).
He has some great, simple recipes including banana-peanut oat bars and a good-night spiced cherry crumble.
Avoid alcohol before you go to bed. Although you may find you drop off easier, it may disrupt your sleep later in the night.
Cut down on caffeine intake – check the ingredients on drinks, and reduce the amount of tea and coffee you drink. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 8 hours.
Avoid nicotine close to bedtime, as it can make it hard to fall asleep.
Avoid big meals in the evening – try not to eat 2 -3 hours before you go to bed
If you wake with indigestion, look at the food you are eating and consider stress related issues.
Avoid blue light in the bedroom
Blue light affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin more than any other wavelength of light. Blue light is given off by computer screens, televisions, some clocks and e-book readers. Researchers compared people reading printed books and e-book readers and found that those using e-book readers found it harder to go to sleep and to wake up.
Make sure your room is dark and cool
As it gets dark, our bodies produce the Sleep Hormone MELATONIN. And this is released into our blood stream. Darkness also improves our quality of sleep, and people who sleep in illuminated surroundings show a marked reduction in Melatonin production. Invest in black out binds if necessary. Keep the temperate cool – between 60 and 67 deg F
Buy ear plugs if your partner’s snoring keeps you awake
Invest in a quality mattress and pillows – old pillows and mattresses may contain allergens that may keep you awake
Keep the bedroom for sleep and sex only – so that you associate it with relaxing and winding down. Banish the TV and computer
Invest in some Brain Wave music for sleep – listen for a while before you go to bed
Exercise each day, but not late in the evening
Go to bed and get up at roughly the same time each day
This helps to regulate your body’s clock – so stick to it at weekends too – especially while you are getting your sleeping patterns back on track
Have a relaxing ritual before you go to bed
An hour before you go to bed, have relaxing bath, with some soothing, relaxing bubble bath. Then do some restful meditation – see above
Siestas and day time naps?
Should you avoid day time naps? Some say you should, although not everyone agrees. Some people find a 10 – 20-minute Power Nap very beneficial. Siestas are common in warmer countries and the siesta habit has been associated with a 37 percent reduction in coronary mortality. (Naska et al., 2007). The University of Manchester discovered that after we eat, the neurons that keep us awake and alert are turned off by even small increases in glucose levels. “”This may well provide an explanation for after-meal tiredness and why it is difficult to sleep when hungry.
GOING TO BED
When you get into bed, and you will naturally start remembering the day or thinking about tomorrow. You should start to drift into the first phase of sleep where you get less real thoughts, imaginary visions, but you may find yourself wide awake, perhaps starting to worry, overthink, or getting anxious. So you can pre-empt your mind and plan what you are going to think about as you drift off
VISUALISE or REMEMBER back to that wonderful relaxing holiday that you once had – or invent one. Imagine being in that wonderful, special place that is perfect for you. Are there other people or are you alone? Where are you are – on a beach, countryside or somewhere else? What is the weather like? See what you see, hear what you hear. There maybe smells and tastes too. Just hang out there doing the things you enjoy doing, and notice how much more relaxed and calm you become.
Just imagine you are a blue sky, quiet, vast, peaceful and still. Get those feelings of spaciousness, stillness and silence. Imagine that your thoughts, feelings and judgments you make are birds, clouds and airplanes. They can fly though the sky, coming and going, and as you are the blue sky, you don’t need to be bothered or get too involved in them. If a thought takes hold of you imagine it is a seagull squawking and stealing people’s ice creams as they sit on the beach. Conjure up a puff of wind and send it on its way. Then go back to being the still, silent spacious blue sky.
Do you feel like you lie awake for hour after hour and then feel stressed that you can’t sleep? You are thinking the same thoughts as when you last looked at the clock an hour or so ago.
‘Time distortion’ occurs and when you are in light sleep and you can lie there thinking you have been awake for hours, whereas it is likely that you have been dropping off to sleep, and surfacing again into a very light sleep. As the same thought often re-occurs, it can feel like we have been awake all the time. Test this for your self. Lie down with your eyes closed and see how long you can stay still and awake. It is unlikely that you can lie there for 60 + minutes.
Read a restful book – A paper book rather or non-blue light eBook.
MEDITATE AS YOU LIE IN BED
You can meditate as you lie in bed, drifting in and out of wakefulness. Don’t worry about when you drop off to sleep as meditation gives your body and mind are getting high quality rest. Ensure that the meditation you are using is a calming, restful one that will help you drift off, rather than an energising morning meditation.
- Open your eyes and stare hard at the ceiling. This is called Foveal Vision, and engaging this tenses the body.
- Relax your gaze, breathe out, notice how every part of your body relaxes at the same time – and now, just smile
- As you do that, notice how much wide your field of vision becomes. This is your peripheral vision and as you engage your peripheral vision you will find that your mind calms down.
- Just hang out there – with your eyes open or closed.
- Every now and then say to yourself – ‘I am getting more and more sleepy’ – you don’t need to feel it, just say it to yourself
- When your mind wanders, go back and engage your peripheral vision again.
Personally, I love to meditate in the dark hours, when it is calm and peaceful. I often get up and meditate for 10 or 20 minutes and then find I sleep soundly and wake up really refreshed.
- Lying on your back, or sitting in a chair, look up at the ceiling and take in a deep breath in.
- Without straining your neck or tilting your head too far back, pick a point on the ceiling and focus your attention on that point.
- Keeping your eyes on that spot, soften your face, your eyes and your mouth
- Take a deep breath and hold it for a slow count of 3 and then a slow breath out to a slow count of 4 saying to yourself.
- My eyes are tired and heavy and I want to SLEEP NOW”.
- Repeat this process to yourself another couple of times and, if your eyes have not already done so, let them close and relax in a normal closed position.
- Do not let them close too soon
- It is important that you say the suggestion as if you really mean it, for example in a gentle, soothing manner. You could pick a voice that you find soothing and calming.
Once your eyes have closed you could count down from 345 to 1, imagining that you are waking down the most beautiful staircase, your feet floating easily from one step to the next, noticing your breathing, slowly in and out, and noticing the feelings of serenity and peace increasing very slowly as your feet glide from one step to another.
As you get closer to the bottom, you can imagine that beautiful, peaceful scene that is just right for you. Listening to the sounds, noticing the people just resting contentedly.
And you can join them and continue your beautiful soothing dream.
If you have been awake for ages, get up and do something serene and calming
Get up, but don’t put all the lights on and don’t switch on the computer or TV.
DID YOU KNOW that until lights became common in our homes, people’s sleep was broken into two phases, with wakefulness in the middle of the night being used for prayer, meditation and quiet reflection?
GO MAKE BREAD
Use a packet mix – You just add water – knead it rhythmically for 10 minutes or so.
As you start to knead, engage your peripheral vision – just let your eyes and face relax and notice how much you can see to the sides, and up and down. This is relaxing and calms the mind. Now notice yourself breathing in and out, in time with your kneading. Imagine letting the thoughts, emotions and feelings of tension work their way down your arms and out though your fingers where they are turned into the energy produce a wonderfully smooth dough. Every now and then just say to yourself, ‘I am feeling more and more sleepy’. If it is a long time until morning, leave the dough to rise in the fridge, when you can shape it into rolls or a loaf and freeze it or leave it rise again and bake it. If you wake again, force yourself to get up and go and give it another knead.
- Mind Calm – Sandy C Newbigging
- Dale Pinnock – The Medicinal Chef
- Sleep Matters – Richard Wiseman
- Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/08/sleep-deprivation_n_4557142.html
- Healthy Sleep – Harvard University – http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/
FOR MORE HELP
Please contact me for a FREE 20-minute telephone discussion about how I can help you sleep better and get rid of the worry of not sleeping.
If you’d like this as a PDF or if you need some more help in getting a good night’s sleep, please contact Sue Gray on 07792 447 331