Improve Your Sleep
Insomnia causes unhappiness and worry and, when it is severe and on-going, depletes vitality and concentration.
However it is not an illness - it is a behavioural pattern and one that can be changed fairly easily if you persevere with some practical steps.
Common causes of insomnia
Cause 1- Ineffective stress management
Insomnia is frequently a symptom of ineffective stress management. The more stressed you become, and the more active your mind becomes in endlessly going over things, the more difficult it is to switch off and get to sleep, to remain asleep, or sleep deeply and restfully.
Cause 2 - Putting things off
Insomnia can be caused by, or exacerbated by, excessive procrastination. We often procrastinate because of the endless succession of unfinished business that runs through our mind as we try to get to sleep or because we have let matters get into such a mess that we do not know where to begin to deal with them. This produces a mass of un-dealt-with issues in 'the back of the mind'.
We may well be able to block There is sues out of our minds in the bustle of everyday life but they continue to affect us emotionally, in the background, producing higher and higher levels of emotional stress. Then, just as we begin to relax fully and drift off to sleep, we suddenly find ourselves becoming fully alert and awake - and the misery of insomnia begins once again. (Incidentally, this is also a common reason for early-waking, too.)
Cause 3 - Poor preparation for sleep
Even if we are not particularly stressed we may also accidentally develop the insomnia habit following one or two occasions when we have difficulty in getting to sleep. This might be caused by drinking caffeine in the evening, having too interesting an evening, pleasurably anticipating something, worrying about having to get up early the next day for a special event, and so on. If a bout or two of such quite normal insomnia results in the expectation of insomnia then we can easily develop the habit of expecting to not sleep well which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Cause 4 - Worrying about insomnia
Most adults have interrupted sleep; to briefly wake up on occasion during the night is quite normal. But if we then begin worrying that we may have insomnia this creates an alert state of mind and makes it difficult to get back to sleep again. Many instances of insomnia are caused by this worrying about insomnia.
Cause 5 - Trying too hard to get to sleep
Sleep comes naturally and effortlessly when we mentally and physically switch off. So it is best approached as a passive process, rather like relaxation. You cannot force things or make yourself go to sleep any more than you can force or make yourself relax. When you re-develop this habit of passively allowing sleep to occur, or not to occur, sleep is likely to occur more easily, because you are not mentally or physically striving
Cause 6 - Unrealistic expectations
As we get older we require more rest and less sleep. The amount of sleep you need depends on a range of factors including your physical health, the amount of mental or physical activity you engage in, you expectations of how much sleep you need, and so on. However it is unlikely that in your 30's or older you will still need the eight or nine hours sleep that you may have needed as a teenager. And you can easily get that extra rest from regular relaxation sessions.
Physical ways of beating insomnia
- Use breathing exercises to calm your mind and body. Check this on https://pe2000.com/breathing/
- Reduce physical tension Many of us get the mental-physical balance wrong. We engage in too much mental activity and too little physical exercise. Aim to get some energetic physical exercise daily, even if you believe you are too tired to do so. You will sleep better and soon get over the too-tired-to-exercise feeling.
Mental ways of beating insomnia
Reduce Mental Tension
- Use the Writing Freely (check this on http://www.pe2000/anx-selftalk.htm to reduce mental activity through reducing the number of topics you have to think about and/or organising your thinking about them. And remember, when you use one of the breathing exercises mentioned above you give your mind a single issue to attend to and this has a calming effect.
- Deal with your self-talk. As soon as you are ready to sleep give yourself permission to switch off - "Now I'm going to switch off - everything can wait till tomorrow!" Remind yourself that your Writing Freely has got things into a better perspective and that your unconscious mind can resolve many of the issues while you "sleep on it". Engage in as little self talk as possible. (Regular use of Writing Freely will reduce the number and intensity of the topics which you might otherwise "go over" in your head).
Many people find that mentally imagining or visualising pleasant things is more calming than thinking of the same topics using self talk. You may wish to spend a little time getting into this habit. In our NLP Trainings in the New Forest we examine practical ways of reducing self talk.
- Manage your mental imagery. Train your mind to attend to just one subject at a time - visualise only one topic and gently dissolve or fade out others. Discover how to change your imagery to make it more calming. For example pastel colours, de-focused images, and slowed motion are generally more calming. Or discover what colour you find ,most calming and use this to tint your mental imagery in preparation for sleep. The NLP Submodality insights and methods are excellent for this and the Swish Technique is one example of submodalities in action.
More ways of beating insomnia
- Your body likes routine so aim to go to bed at the same time nightly. Begin winding down about an hour before you go to bed.
- Avoid caffeine, especially from late afternoon onwards, as it has a stimulating effect for up to 6 hours.
- Avoid using alcohol to sleep - it produces a shallow, un-restful quality of sleep. People who use alcohol to help them sleep usually find that they get to sleep quicker - but then wake up a few hours later.
- Decide bed is for nothing other than sleeping (and making love) - so avoid eating, watching television, telephoning, knitting, having serious discussions, etc.
- Keep clocks out of sight! Many people create a mini-neurosis through lying awake and checking the clock every few minutes to calculate how much sleep they are missing!
- Never stay awake in bed for more than about 30 minutes. Have a list of boring/unpleasant tasks beside your bed. Get up and do something from this list if necessary. The idea here is to break the association or anchored-relationship between being in bed and experiencing insomnia.
- Avoid rewarding middle-of-the-night waking with food, drink, cigarettes, etc.
- Develop the ability to breathe shallowly. Slowing your breathing reduces loss of carbon dioxide - which has a calming effect on thinking and on physiology. (Check our article on Buteyko Breathing.)
- To get better continuous sleep you may need to temporarily deprive yourself of sleep, at first. Get up a little earlier each day - till you are sleeping as you would like. Then gradually extend the length of time you are in bed, once again.
(For example, you might begin by getting up 15 minutes earlier every three days - while still going to bed at the same time - until eventually your mind-body "allows you" to get to sleep more quickly at night. Generally this process takes a few weeks to produce results.)
- Avoid day-time naps if you experience insomnia - at least until you break the insomnia habit.
- Sleep requirements vary so if you don't need a lot of sleep why not use the time constructively - study, hobby, voluntary work, etc.
- Use your relaxation skills - before sleep or if you wake.
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