The NHS estimates that there are over 10 million sleeping pills prescribed each year for individuals who are suffering from a sleep disorder. Currently, there are over 80 documented sleep disorders, with insomnia (poor quality or lack of sleep) being the most prevalent. Individuals who suffer from insomnia lack a sufficient amount of uninterrupted sleep necessary to wake feeling refreshed and well rested. However, if left untreated insomnia can increase your chance of developing serious health problems such as depression, anxiety, heart disease, and can even increase the risk of mortality in older individuals. Fortunately, there are many treatment options available for insomnia, and in most cases the treatment does not require medication, but involves addressing the underlying physical and psychological issues that are causing the sleep problem.
Many who suffer from insomnia opt for the Rip Van Winkle technique to get to sleep. They skip the warm glass of milk and instead drink a night cap in an effort to sleep better. However, that late night cap that you may be drinking to help you go to sleep may actually be making it more difficult for you to fall asleep. This is because like caffeine which is found in tea, coffee, chocolate, and even some medication coatings (check the ingredients if you take medication), alcohol can also stimulate and help to keep the body in an “alert” mode. So, what can you do to help combat insomnia?
The following 10 tips may help you achieve the good night’s rest you desire and need:
- Keep a sleep journal: Write down what you are eating and drinking, what time you go to bed, when you wake up, and how long you are actually sleeping. Try this for a week; the information you write down may provide important clues to why you are not sleeping as well as you would like to.
- Improve your sleep environment: Your bedroom where you sleep may be affecting the quality of, and your ability to, sleep. You room should not be too hot or too cold. The pillow you sleep with should provide proper support, and the bed clothes should also be comfortable against the skin. Light and noise can also attribute to the quality of sleep you experience. If your room is too bright try putting up thicker drapes\curtains, and if it is too noisy try sleeping with ear plugs—silicone work very well.
- Move the clock: People with insomnia often get fixated on the clock and watching the time pass by. Moving the alarm clock out of sight may help to lessen your fixation and alleviate your level of stress.
- Relax: Try breathing exercises or progressive relaxation to help you loosen up your body. If becoming relaxed enough in order to fall asleep is difficult then simple, natural relaxation techniques may possibly help you.
- Think positive: The thoughts that pass through our minds often can work against us. The connection between the mind and body is strong, and with negative thoughts such as “I should be asleep right now” or “Why can’t I just sleep like a normal person,” may actually be inhibiting your sleep. Pay attention to the things you tell yourself when you are trying to sleep. Are they positive or negative? If they are negative, replacing these thoughts with something more positive may help you to fall asleep with greater ease.
- Only sleep and have sex in bed: The association we may make with the bedroom may affect the quality of sleep. Use the bed for sleep and sex only. Limiting the use of the bed will help to create positive associations that you may not currently have. If you are working in bed or surfing the Internet before you go to sleep you may be creating negative associations which may be fueling your insomnia.
- The 15 minute rule: If you find yourself still awake after 15 minutes of trying to get to sleep in bed, get out of it! Go watch television, surf the internet, read a book, take a short walk, or find an activity that will help you to relax until you feel tired. Once you feel tired, return to bed and try to go to sleep. Try repeating this until you are able to go to sleep.
- Establish a sleep routine: If you lack a routine bedtime, establishing a regular sleep and wake time, and stick to this even during the weekends, may help with your insomnia. Try avoiding catching up on sleep and taking naps for more than 30 minutes, this can throw off the resetting of your body’s rhythm.
- Speak with a therapist: Research has shown that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be helpful in treating insomnia. Therapists trained in this form of psychotherapy can help treat insomnia by helping you identify possibly thoughts that you may be unaware of that are inhibiting your sleep, and teach you techniques to help fall asleep with greater ease.
- See your GP: If you have tried the above techniques and you are still experiencing difficulty sleeping, the cause may be physical and not psychological. Tell your GP about your struggle with sleep as they may opt to run tests to see if your insomnia is a symptom, and can help you decide if medication is right for you.
The aforementioned insomnia busting techniques may help you to achieve the sleep you deserve. If however, you have tried natural remedies to resolve your insomnia with no luck, then speaking with a therapist trained in CBT or your GP may prove helpful. Lastly, remember that your body needs to sleep to function properly and that insomnia can, and should, be treated in order to avoid possible health and psychological issues. If you are concerned about your insomnia and would like to speak to a therapist about it, Harley Therapy’s associated psychotherapists may be able to help.
Written by Justin David Duwe, BSc, MA, MBPsS, MBACP