Self Help For Insomnia
By Adam Sargant, Dip.H.Ed (Nursing Studies), Dip.Hyp.,NLP (prac)
The benefits of a good nights sleep cannot be underestimated. It is believed that sleep gives our bodies the chance to maintain and repair our bodies and minds. Cell growth and cell repair takes place to combat the affects of stress. Sleep also helps our bodies fight infection. This is because our immune system releases a sleep-inducing chemical while fighting a cold or an infection.
Sleep helps the body conserve energy and other resources that the immune system needs to mount an effective attack. While the mental processes that take place in sleep are not well understood, it is probable that sleeping and dreaming allow the mind to re-organise experience in constructive ways. The areas of the brain responsible for dreaming are also those areas associated with inspiration and aspiration.
Sleep deprivation has long been understood to give rise to some very unpleasant consequences. In early stages (which can arise from persistent poor quality sleep), we can see
- Irritability, edginess
- Inability to tolerate stress
- Problems with concentration and memory
- Behavioural, learning or social problems
- Frequent infections
- Blurred vision
- Vague physical discomfort
- Alterations in appetite
Insomnia is a condition that causes distress to many people. Insomnia is probably responsible for more days off work and more mental strain than any other condition in the western world, with the usual response from a frustrated medical profession being the prescription of powerful sedatives that have strong adverse side effects. Nobody knows just how many sleeping tablets are consumed every year, but in the US alone the government permits the manufacturer of pentobarbital (Nembutal) to make over 15 tons yearly!
There are many things we can do to improve the quality of our sleep. What constitutes quality sleep will vary from person to person, but on average, an adult requires 7 or 8 hours sleep a night. During sleep, we cycle through three stages of sleep ranging from light sleep to deep sleep, and finally, to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. A complete sleep cycle takes 90 to 110 minutes on average.
Basic Sleep Hygiene:
Basic sleep hygiene rules are really common sense when you think about them. They could include:
- Become aware of your mind and body’s natural cycle. Some people function better going to bed early and rising early, other people function better when going to bed late and rising late. Listen to your body, and notice at what times of day you function best and are most productive.
- Sleep only when you feel sleepy. This reduces the time you are awake in bed.
- If you can't fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and do something else until you feel sleepy, but make sure it is not too stimulating. Sit quietly in the dark listen to some nice soothing music.
- Try not to take naps. This will ensure you are tired at bedtime. If you just can't make it through the day without a nap, sleep less than one hour, before 3 pm.
- Get up and go to bed the same time every day. When your sleep cycle has a regular rhythm, you will feel better.
- Don’t exercise for at least 4 hours before bedtime. Regular exercise is recommended to help you sleep well, but the timing of the workout is important. Exercising in the morning or early afternoon will not interfere with sleep.
- Develop a routine. Listen to relaxing music, read something soothing for 15 minutes, have a cup of warm milk, and do relaxation exercises.
- Stay away from caffeine, nicotine and alcohol at least 4-6 hours before bed. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Alcohol may seem to help you sleep in the beginning as it slows brain activity, but it is a depressant, and will interfere with the quality of your sleep.
- Have a light snack before bed. If your stomach is too empty, that can interfere with sleep. However, if you eat a heavy meal before bedtime, that can interfere as well.
- Make sure your bed and bedroom are quiet and comfortable.
Good quality sleep is a habit. If you make the changes above, don’t expect changes in your sleep pattern to occur overnight, give it time. And be forgiving of yourself. Nothing prevents a good night's sleep more than the increased sense of annoyance at not being able to go to sleep. So quit trying, get up and do something relaxing.
Further Self Help Strategies
Just as the external environment and our patterns of behaviour influence our ability to fall asleep easily and readily, so too does our internal environment have an effect. We can make every effort to reduce external stimulus, dim the light and listen to soothing music, but if we are making huge, bright pictures in our mind, or chattering away to ourselves in an urgent, intense tone, we are still creating a problem for ourselves.
So pay attention to your thoughts as you prepare for sleep. And notice “how” you think them. What is it about them that make it harder to drop off to sleep?
- Are you making images that big, bright, active, crowded? Let them become dimmer, further away, slow down the activity…
- Are you talking away to yourself? What sort of tone is that internal voice using? Make it slow down, and drop in pitch. Allow your internal thinking to become as soothing and gentle as you have made the external environment. You might find this helpful to do over a few minutes, so the internal dialogue gradually becomes quieter and quieter until you can barely hear it.
Self-hypnosis is a way of relaxing mind and body to a stage at which the communication between your conscious and unconscious mind becomes free and unimpeded. There are a number of ways in which this can benefit sleep, not least in that the relaxation it brings is beneficial in its own right.
There a number of ways to learn self-hypnosis, but it really is quite simple. When settles in bed, find a way to physically relax your body. Different ways work for different people, so for example, you might like to:
- Direct your attention to each part of your body in turn, noticing how tense it feels. Then tense it further, release it and relax. Move on to the next part of the body. Do this from the feet up to the muscles in the head and then back down again, before just lying there and enjoying the sensation of relaxation. Or,
- Visualize a relaxing energy traveling up your body. It may be a golden light, or a warm pink glow. As it travels up your body, notice what the energy feels like as it suffuses and relaxes every muscle. Is it warm, does it gently vibrate? Is there a sound like a gentle hum associated with it? (If you represent it differently, that’s OK… everyone is unique in this respect). Alternatively,
- Pay attention to your breathing. As you breathe in, notice what happens to the muscles around your body. And as you breathe out, notice how they relax just a little bit further each time you breathe out. As you breathe in, say to yourself (in your mind) in a slow, relaxing voice “Breathe”, and as you breathe out, say “…and relax”
- And having reached that state of relaxation, simply say to yourself, in the same slow, relaxing manner, and knowing you are addressing your unconscious as well as conscious self “…and tonight, as I sleep more readily and easily each time I do this, I sleep deeper and deeper than ever before, to awake in the morning, refreshed, alert and awake”
You can repeat this three times, allowing your internal voice to get quieter and quieter each time you say it.
About the author:
Adam is an NLP practitioner, hypnotherapist, and mental health nurse with over a decades experience. He is passionate about the use of language to effect change