When Sleeping is a nightmare
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Graeme Orr MBACP(Accred), UKRCP Reg. Ind. Counsellor
6th November, 20130 Comments
Sleep is something that we all have in common. The reasons that we sleep, the purpose and mechanisms are only now becoming clearer and many throughout the world are researching more about sleep and our relation to it. What most of us will be able to say with some certainty is that a lack of sleep is not a good thing. Most people have suffered from some insomnia at a point in their life and will know how much it affects them. They may be irritable, find it difficult to concentrate, make more mistakes, feel unwell and many other unpleasant side effects.
For many though this problem moves from a short term problem to a longer term problem. Perhaps they always have difficulty in falling asleep, or they wake early or in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep. One of the most common causes of sleep problems is stress and anxiety - although mood disorders, medication and medical conditions can all trigger insomnia. As with most health conditions a good place to start is your doctor. They have a range of treatments that they can offer and they will be alert to conditions that insomnia may be a symptom of. In addition to this there are many things that you can do to help yourself.
You can help your body to prepare for sleep, so avoiding stimulants and eating before bedtime. This might mean no caffeine after lunchtime and remember that its not just coffee and tea that contains caffeine - many fizzy drinks, sweets and other foods have caffeine in them too. Establishing a bedtime routine that you can stick to makes a difference, so set a bedtime and stick to it. Many people find that hot baths or warm milky drinks help them, these might be worth trying. Of course where you sleep should be safe, quiet and dark. Try banning electronics from your bedroom and ask your partner to do the same. Turn off the lights and relax.
Of course it’s at that point that many find their head races with thoughts, the 'I shoulds' the 'what ifs' and so on. Write the thoughts down, so you can read them in the morning. In the first place you have written them down so they are safe ready for you to deal with in the morning. When you come back to them notice if there are any patterns or themes, perhaps there is some obvious anxiety you need to deal with.
It helps if you can feel less stressed and more relaxed, and there are a number of resources available that you can use - for example a search online will reveal many progressive relaxation CDs and these guide you in letting go of tension in your body. Often this will help you to drift off. Indeed if you wake during the night it is good practice to try a progressive relaxation to see if it helps you drift off. Getting up and being productive fires the brain up into ‘wake up’ mode, better to relax and try to sleep.
Insomnia is a difficult condition and makes it difficult for us throughout the day, but it can be beaten and you can get back to good sleeping habits that will restore you through the night.
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