By Martin Crump.
Martin is a Director and co-founder of Evolution. He is a certified NLP Master Trainer with a wealth of experience of working with organisations of all sizes and types across the UK.
Sleep is as important to us as food, water and air. Although the purpose of sleep is not yet fully understood, the health effects of lack of it seem to suggest that it is important in enabling the body to rest and repair itself.
Different people need differing amounts of sleep to stay healthy and so there are no hard and fast rules about the amount of sleep you need although most adults seem to need 7-8 hours per night.
- Tired during the day?
- Tired and un-refreshed when you wake up?
- Waking early and finding it impossible to get back to sleep?
- Better able to sleep away from home?
- Suffering from frequent headaches during the day?
- Irritable and unable to concentrate?
- Taking longer than 30mins to fall asleep?
- Waking often in the night?
- Only able to get to sleep with the help of sleeping tablets or alcohol?
Then you are probably suffering from insomnia.
At times throughout your life, you may find that you have difficulty sleeping. Anyone can suffer from insomnia, although sleeping difficulties are more common among women, older people, smokers, alcoholics and people with illnesses. Sleep problems are also common among young people.
Not being able to sleep, while not life-threatening, or an illness can be frustrating, exhausting and stressful.
Types of Insomnia
There are two broad categories of insomnia:
- Transient insomnia – this lasts for a few nights or weeks and is usually associated with stressful events such as exams, work or relationship problems, or a bereavement.
- Chronic insomnia – this lasts for months or even years Medical illness can cause chronic insomnia. Some of the medicines used to treat illnesses can cause sleep problems (medicine for high blood pressure, for example). Steroids can also cause sleep problems.
Pain, anxiety and depression can also cause sleep problems.
Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can keep you awake. Chronic insomnia can also be caused by something as simple as bad sleep habits.
Worrying about not being able to sleep can cause sleep problems!
☺ Keep a sleep log for a week. Note down how many hours per night you sleep, how often you wake and how long you are awake when you do wake up.
If you’re not aware of something, you can’t influence it!
The way we think can be split into two – our conscious and unconscious thoughts
☺ Just become aware of the floor beneath your feet. Can you feel it? Before I asked you to become aware of it, was the floor there? Were the nerves working in your feet and legs? Was your brain working? So why weren’t you aware of the floor beneath your feet?
The fact is we can only be aware of a few things in our conscious mind at any one time – a little like a torch shining round a darkened room only illuminates a small area at once. George Miller in 1957 demonstrated that our conscious mind can hold only 7+/- 2 ‘chunks’ of information at a time.
On the other hand, most of our thought processes take place at an unconscious level, with thoughts passing from our unconscious to our conscious awareness – hence the picture of an iceberg, most of the iceberg is below the surface, we can’t see it, but it is there and can cause problems – look what happened to the Titanic.
The conscious mind is like the rider of a horse, steering and guiding, setting goals and deciding direction. The unconscious is like the horse that actually does the work in getting to where the rider wants to be. It is not a good idea to let the horse decide the direction. Nor is it a good idea for the rider to try to tell the horse where to put its feet at every stage of the journey. At best, conscious and unconscious form a balanced partnership. At worst, they pull in different directions making it extremely difficult to achieve anything.
When you are consciously aware of thoughts, you can influence them and the outcome. When thoughts are in your unconscious, you cannot influence them and the effect they have on you.
Taking the time to make your unconscious thoughts conscious means that you can choose to deal with problems at the time, or decide to leave them until the morning.
If you don’t decide what to do with these thoughts, they will keep returning to your conscious until you do – a little like a small child tugging on your sleeve for attention.
Use the exercise below to help make your unconscious – conscious.
What is causing your Insomnia?
☺ What is you state of mind at the moment? Are you anxious?, depressed? Worried about anything? Angry? Grieving? Anticipating a challenging or exciting event?
☺ Are you going through any major change at the moment? Are you moving house? Getting married? Going through a divorce? Starting a new job?
☺ What is your sleep environment like? Is it noisy? Is the temperature ok? Is your bed comfortable? Is it too light? Or too dark?
☺ Are you in any pain?
☺ Do you have any medical conditions? Heart? Breathing? Stomach/digestive? High blood pressure? Arthritis? Anorexia?
☺ Do you take recreational drugs? Including: Nicotine? Caffeine? Heroin? Cocaine? Amphetamines? LSD?
☺ Do you take sleeping tablets or tranquilisers?
☺ Do you take any other prescription drugs? Such as diuretics? Contraceptives? Beta-blockers? Stimulants? Slimming pills?
What can you do about your insomnia?
The good news is – quite a lot!
You can cure your own insomnia in your own way and at your own pace. You may decide to enlist the support of your doctor or a counsellor and you must be prepared to make some lifestyle changes in order to sleep better.
☺ Your Bed. Make sure our bedding is clean and that it makes you warm enough, but not too hot. Try changing the position of your bed – or change your mattress if is uncomfortable
☺ Noise. People can often sleep through high levels of noise. It’s more about how you feel about the noise that keeps you awake. Try wearing earplugs, or find ways to take your mind off the noise. Relaxation exercises can help, or put the radio or music on to mask the noise. Talk to noisy neighbours or family members.
☺ Light. If it is too light fit black out blinds or thicker curtains. Try wearing a sleep mask. If it is too dark try opening the curtains a little or use a night light – they’re not just for children.
☺ Drink less caffeine – especially late in the day.
☺ Drink less alcohol – especially late at night. It may make you sleepy, but it will cause you to wake up early and, because your body produces adrenalin to counteract the alcohol, you will sleep fitfully.
☺ Cut down or stop smoking.
☺ Exercise regularly, but don’t do any strenuous exercise just before going to bed.
☺ Avoid napping during the day.
☺ Go to bed at a reasonable time, even if you feel sleepy earlier, and stick to the same time each night.
☺ If you can’t sleep, get up and only go back to bed when you feel really sleepy. Avoid watching television while you are up as this stimulates rather than relaxes
☺ Relax physically and mentally for at least an hour before bed. Have a warm bath, drink hot milk, listen to a relaxation CD or do some yoga.
☺ Make a list of the things on your mind and tell yourself you will do them in the morning.
☺ Avoid using the bed for ‘waking’ activities such as working, watching television or eating.
You won’t need to do all of these. Decide which would be the most helpful and start with those. If they don’t work, try others until you are sleeping better. Your aim is to establish a good bedtime and sleep routine which will re-establish the connection between bed and sleep. You are working to break the cycle of broken sleep.
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