Photo supplied by Peter Kasprzyk – Unsplash

Good sleep allows our body and mind to recharge so that we are refreshed and alert when we wake up.  Good sleep also helps our body to stay healthy, ward off and fight infection

If we’re not getting enough sleep, this means that the brain can’t function properly. It makes it difficult to concentrate and think clearly. And we become vulnerable to mood shifts if we haven’t had enough sleep. 

Lack of sleep is also linked to a higher risk for certain health & medical conditions. These conditions include obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and poor mental health – low moods, anxiety & stress.

Most adults need between seven and nine hours of nightly sleep.  (Children and teenagers need a lot more!).  And all sorts of things disrupt our sleep including work, day-to-day stress, our bedroom environment, medical conditions, diet and lifestyles.

We all have an internal body clock which regulates our sleep cycle. It controls when we feel tired and ready for bed, and when we are refreshed and alert. This clock operates on a 24-hour cycle known as the Circadian Rhythm.   

The Circadian Rhythm Cycle lasts for 90 minutes throughout the day and night.  It’s a really good idea to monitor your yawning as this shows the dip which you will have every 90 minutes. This is helpful in so far as it can let you know when you should go to bed.  So for example, if you yawn at 4.30pm, you will then have a dip at 90 min intervals thereafter – 6pm, 7.30pm, 9pm, 10.30pm etc.  So this means that your optimum time for bed-time sleep would be 10.30pm. 

Light also influences the Circadian Rhythm by processing signals when the eyes are exposed to natural or artificial light.  These signals help the brain to determine whether it is day or night.  And as natural light disappears in the evening, the body will release melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel sleepy.  When the sun rises in the morning, the body releases the hormone known as cortisol that give you the feeling of energy and alertness.

Once we fall asleep, our bodies follow a sleep cycle divided into four stages of which we have several rounds during our total sleep.  In a typical night, we might go through 4 to 6 sleep cycles, not all the same length but on average they last about 90 minutes each. 

It is normal for our sleep cycles to change throughout our nightly sleep. The first sleep cycle is often the shortest, ranging from 70-100 minutes, while later cycles tend to be between 90 and 120 minutes. In addition, the amount of time we spend in each sleep stage changes as the night goes along.  Sleep cycles can vary from person to person and from night to night. These are based on a wide range of factors such as age, recent sleep patterns, and alcohol consumption.  Alcohol adversely affects our sleep patterns.

Sleep stages are important because they allow the brain and body to recuperate and develop. If we don’t get enough deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, it affects our emotions, thinking and physical health.

If you have insomnia, you may not get enough in each stage of sleep and this will affect your total sleep.  And the same applies with other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea which wakes us up regularly and interrupts and disrupts the healthy sleep cycle.

So what will help you to get a good night’s sleep, to help you to fall asleep and stay asleep without distractions or disturbances?

  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, including weekends regardless of whether you are a ‘Night Owls’ and stay up late and sleep late into the morning or a ‘Lark’. 
  • Steady routine before bed, including plenty of time to wind down and relax
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine in the evening – they are all stimulants
  • Try not to drink liquid for an hour before bed as this can wake you up as you need to go to the loo
  • Reduce your use of electronic devices before bed and try to get into a habit of not looking at them when you are in bed.  Blue light stops you feeling sleepy and computer screens, tablets, smartphones, flatscreen TV’s and LED lamps all emit blue light.
  • Use blackout curtains, a low-wattage bedside lamp, and if necessary, a sleep mask to avoid being bothered by excess light
  • Wear ear plugs to block out noise
  • It helps if your bedroom is tidy, empty and secure – and no TV
  • Make sure your mattress, pillows, blankets, and sheets are comfy and inviting
  • Set your bedroom temperature erring toward a cooler setting – 18 deg C is ideal to help you to drop off
  • Wear bed socks or warm vest if you’re chilly.  With sufficient bedclothes you don’t need to shiver or sweat. If you have poor circulation – wear bed socks.
  • Hot baths are good for relaxing
  • Relax before bed-time to unwind, could be listening to music, reading.

So what can you do if your brain is just too busy to go to sleep once you get into bed?

  • Keep a pen and paper by your bed and write down anything that comes into your head that is stopping you from sleeping.
  • List three things you’re pleased about or have been grateful for that day
  • Put any negative thoughts into a balloon and let them drift up into the sky and away from you
  • If you’re feeling fed up, remember good times from the past or nice things in the future to relax your mind.
  • Focus on your breathing (not your thoughts) – slowly in & out…
  • And trying to stay awake when you get into bed is helpful, as the anxiety associated with dropping off is gone………….
  • Doing a crossword, puzzles, word games can help to make you feel sleepy
  • Breathe in lavender, could be a diffuser, lavender bag or candle.  Lavender works as an anxiety reliever and as a sedative, to increase relaxation and calm.
  • Turn the clock- face away from you and don’t check it in the night as this can promote anxiety.
  • Food – Eat a small amount of carbs such as toast, humus or banana.

So how can I help my sleep patterns during the day?

  • Have at least 30 mins daylight every day.  This regulates our Circadian Rhythm helping us to feel awake in the day and sleepy at night (don’t wear tinted glasses or sunglasses).
  • Take Vitamin D which supports the immune system and also helps us to sleep well.
  • Find time to be physically active every day – this can help you wind down in the evening and prepare for sleep.
  • Keep a sleep diary!                                                     

So what about our sleep patterns if we work shifts??

Your goal should be to achieve the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep once you get home. 

  • Napping can be useful for night shift workers as it can improve alertness while on the job so try taking a 90-minute nap before heading into work.
  • As soon as your shift is over, make plans to go straight to bed.  One of the triggers that keeps people awake is light, so it helps to decrease your light exposure at least 30 minutes before trying to sleep.  One way you can do that is to wear sunglasses on your way home, even when there is no sun.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool.
  • Make sure your family know that you need to sleep and encourage them to keep noise down when you are sleeping
  • Wear an eye mask and cover up all light sources in the bedroom if you don’t have blackout curtains
  • Because day-time is usually noisier than the night, consider using earplugs if you need to sleep during the day
  • Reduce your caffeine intake and try not to drink any within four hours of the end of your shift to give your body time to metabolize it.
  • Switch your mobile onto silent and face down so that you don’t see the screen lighting up
  • Poor sleep and shift work increase the desire for sugary and fatty foods – try to resist this temptation and eat more healthily
  • Try not to eat a large meal when you finish your shift and just before you go to sleep, as the work involved in digesting this will disturb your sleep.

If your shifts change, try to be patient when adjusting to your new sleep strategy. Rather than make the switch in sleep routine suddenly, it may be easier to take two weeks and move your sleep/wake time forward or back in 15-minute increments each day until you reach your desired schedule.

And keep a sleep diary to help you to ensure that you are getting enough good quality sleep around your shift work.

How can hypnotherapy help you with insomnia or not sleeping properly?

Solution focused hypnotherapy for insomnia can tackle potential causes and at the same time help you to relax and drop off to sleep. It may be that anxiety or depression are the cause of your insomnia, and hypnotherapy may then complement your existing treatment and help to improve your sleeping patterns.

A part of hypnotherapy is relaxation, in teaching these relaxation skills they can be used to help get you to sleep.  Hypnotherapy deals with the subconscious mind which is the driving force of our behaviours, such as sleep. And self-hypnosis audio recordings are commonly provided to play to your subconscious during the time when are falling asleep.

Book your FREE Initial Consultation or call Jo on 07904 500307 for more information about how solution focused hypnotherapy can help you to sleep better