Insomnia is one of the most common issues I treat at Phoenix Coaching & Therapy and it’s a problem which seems to be on the rise, particularly among young people. There's a strong link between good sleep and our overall health so it's important to get on top of sleeping problems early before they start to take a heavy toll on our physical and mental wellbeing. Disrupted sleep is often caused by some form of underlying anxiety and a tendency to overthink and ruminate while lying in bed. Many people nowadays find it that much harder to switch off mentally when they turn in at night, and this has been exacerbated by the curse of social media and a growing tendency to sleep with our phones next to our beds.
Sleep problems were one of the major difficulties I struggled with during my own depression. In my case it took the form of recurring nightmares relating to my former employment as a journalist. In my dreams, I would replay the real-life scenarios of office politics and work stress over and over again, leaving me exhausted and emotionally drained upon waking. Nested dreams, in which I would dream that I was dreaming, were also a problem, making it increasingly difficult for me to distinguish between my dreams and reality! For those of you suffering from nightmares, a good hypnotherapist may well be able to help resolve the problem by working on the underlying root cause. In my own case, it was hypnotherapy which finally enabled me to make peace with my traumatic workplace memories, leading to eventual cessation of the nightmares and sleeping problems.
One reason why sleep problems appear to be on the rise is our growing reliance on electronic gadgets. One of the best pieces of advice given to me by my psychologist when I was in therapy was this: “The bedroom is for sleep and sex, nothing else. Keep electronic devices out of it”. There’s a lot of sense in this. Quite apart from anything else, the blue light emitted by phones and tablets suppresses the production of melatonin - the chemical that regulates sleep. So it’s no wonder that increasing numbers of young people in particular are reporting problems with insomnia and disrupted sleep patterns. Also, the last thing you need when you’re trying to get to sleep is to be constantly roused by your phone going off. Try to set a cut-off period each evening, after which your phone remains switched off. Certainly don’t take it to bed with you. Limit your overall screen time. There’s nothing online that can’t wait.
Treating the root cause of insomnia is the key to achieving real and lasting improvement in a person’s sleep patterns, but there’s also much that you can do yourself to boost your chances of a better night’s sleep. Here are some handy tips:
Your bedroom – Make sure the bed and room are warm. If your bed is past its best and if you can afford it, think about getting a new one. The same goes for your pillows. Are the curtains heavy enough to keep the room dark?
Noise – It might be hard to stop noise from outside the house. Make sure you control as much noise inside the house as you can.
Your partner – If your partner snores or is restless, ask if he or she could move to another room if you have one until you start to sleep better. He or she must move – not you – as you must learn to sleep well in your own bed.
Exercise – Exercise can help you sleep better. Do this in the morning, afternoon or early evening. Don’t do it in the three hours before bed. A brisk walk for 20-30 minutes is as good as anything.
Relax before bed – Try to slow down in the hour before going to bed. Have a hot bath, listen to music, read a book. If you work on the back-shift or are studying for exams, don’t go straight to bed from your work. Give yourself time to switch off. Try to build up a relaxed routine.
Caffeine – Caffeine is a stimulant. You get it in tea, coffee, fizzy drinks, energy drinks and tablets, some headache tablets and pain killers. Try to cut down your caffeine intake across the day. Try to cut out as much as you can in the later afternoon and evening.
Smoking – Nicotine, like caffeine, is a stimulant. Don’t smoke in the three hours before bedtime. Never smoke during the night if you wake up. If you are a heavy smoker, you would be best to give it up. Ask your GP for help.
Alcohol – If you rely on a night-cap to get over to sleep, you must stop this now. It may well get you over to sleep. But as alcohol level in your blood drops, it will wake you again in 2-4 hours. It will then be hard to get off to sleep again. It also disrupts sleep rhythms and cuts down your REM and deep sleep. Alcohol may keep stress alive and this, in turn, helps keep your sleep poor.
Warm milky drinks – The old wives were right! Ovaltine, Horlicks or warm milk may help you get more deep sleep. Drink these instead of tea and coffee at night.
Food – Try not to eat for about two hours before going to bed. Your body starts to work to digest the food. You want it to be slowing down. If you are hungry, take a very light snack. Try not to eat during the night if you wake up.
Drink – Try to drink as little as you can in the evening. This may stop you from waking to go to the toilet during the night.
Your sleeping needs – Most of us sleep around 7-8 hours each night. On the whole, we need less sleep as we grow older. Yet older people still try to sleep 7-8 hours. This may explain why many older people wake up in the latter parts of sleep. The amount of sleep also depends on your lifestyle. If you have young children who keep you on the go all day, you may need less. Some people seem to thrive on only four hours a night. So you have to find your own level. This may mean changing habits, such as going to bed at the same time each night.
Start to get a grip on your sleeping pattern by filling in your sleep diary first thing each morning. Keep filling them in as you use these ideas. You will then be able to see your progress.
Further help is available in our exclusive Beat Insomnia Digital Course, available to buy and download from our online Phoenix store. In this course, containing 16 lessons divided over two modules, you'll learn about specific sleep disorders including sleepwalking, snoring, restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy, and discover a wealth of handy hints to teach you how to get a better night's sleep. Also included in this bumper package are: * Four guided meditation recordings from the Phoenix audio series to help you get off to sleep and stay asleep. * Beating the Insomnia Trap eBook from the Phoenix Personal Development Series. * Four Phoenix Worksheets. * The Essential Guide to Sleeping While Quitting Smoking. * Aromatherapy for Insomnia guide. Hypnotherapy can be powerfully effective in treating sleep disorders but we recognise that not everyone can afford one-to-one therapy sessions, particularly with many people's household budgets having been squeezed by the financial impact of Covid-19. That's why we've put together this affordable and comprehensive package of materials which you can download and use within the comfort of your own home. Clink on the link below to access this digital course and take your first steps towards a better, happier and healthier night's sleep.