Every aspect of our lives has an impact on our sleep. What we do outside, how much we eat, and what hormones we have all impact the quality of our sleep. These were all things I completely forgot about when I struggled with chronic insomnia for many years.
A vicious circle of sleep anxiety can be created. I spent hours in bed, becoming more anxious, wired and tired as the time passed. Prescription sleeping pills were always within reach for those early mornings when I needed to get up. Problem is, worrying about sleep can increase stress hormones and cause sleep disruptions. When we are in a state where fight or flight is the norm, it is time to relax and digest. My insomnia was worst when I was exhausted and running on empty. On recurring days, I would feel overwhelmed and unable to move, and then fall asleep and get recharged.
Over the years, I tried many different sleep tips. It was like sticking plasters to a broken leg.
It is now clear that all the sleep tips I tried over time were just like plastering a broken leg. There are only so many things that lavender, earplugs and herbal teas can do to help you sleep when it is disturbed or out of control. A eureka moment happened when I was reading Richard Waters' book, a pioneer in cognitive therapy, clinical hypnosis, and protg of Emile Cou, the French pharmacist and self help guru. Waters only wrote a few pages about sleep biology and how words can affect our mind, bodies, and sleep. But they were enough to get me researching, experimenting, and thinking. I spoke with several experts, tried all the techniques and sleep science I could find, and viewed sleep in a wider context than usual.
Waters also created a brief, first-person sleep program that explains what should happen in the body and mind during the countdown to bedtime. This one-minute sleep script was recorded on my phone. I used it every day to fix my insomnia and research for my book Teach Yourself to Sleep. A sleep script can help us harness the power and potential of suggestion. We can use self-talk and clinical Hypnosis to alter our habits, physiology, and behaviour. I spoke with Professor Peter Whorwell who is a clinical hypnosis expert and creates custom scripts for a variety of disorders including IBS, phobias, insomnia, and pain. He has a 75-80% success rate where other treatments have failed.
After following the Waters and Cou thread to now and exploring the fascinating worlds of light and habit science and experimental psychology, it became apparent that it is worth having a basic understanding of the biology and science behind sleep. It also helps to understand the mind-body loop's extraordinary power. It's easier to get results that last. Quality sleep improves not only our mental and physical health, but also our energy levels and cognitive function. Now I can instinctively eliminate any obstacles that could affect my sleep and create sleep habits throughout the day. This allows me to go to bed without having to wake up every hour and wake up feeling refreshed the next day. These are seven tips that I used to get rid of my insomnia.
1) Stop calling yourself a bad slumber!
Your words can have a direct effect on our mental and physical health. This is evident when you choose words that are diametrically opposite to describe the same situation. What we say can have a profound effect on our emotions, perceptions, hormones, and behaviour. This includes our sleep. This loop and how it can be altered to improve our health have been the subject of many fascinating studies. Professor Brooks from Harvard Business School said to me that words are what codify and strengthen our thoughts, which in turn can change how we feel.
2) Accept the fact that too much light can cause your body to react
Our bodies are hardwired to align themselves with the 24-hour clock of nature. It makes all the difference in your sleep if you are aware of how biology influences it. Understanding that your eyes are extremely sensitive to light helps keep your sleep-wake cycle running smoothly is key. To give my office more light, I use a lightbox on certain mornings. A screen break before bed helps increase sleep-inducing levels of melatonin. It moves away from bright, wake-up signals and toward the darkness of night.
3) Avoid the negative effects of stress
Stress is a major sleep disruptor. Nearly 50% of sleep problems can be attributed to stress. It is important to use science-based stressbusters to balance our body's chemical mix in favor of sleep. This will help reduce cortisol levels which are constantly increasing due to modern life's pace, anxiety, and overstimulation. Forest bathing, which is walking among the trees, has been a great stress buster. It also helps me to reframe my emotions and change my perception of stress, so that it doesn't hold on as strongly. These are some of the many strategies I use when I feel stressed.
4) Discover your DIY sleep habits
You can easily replace bad sleep habits with good ones once you understand how they develop in your brain. Your bedroom is your sleep environment. You can make changes in the content and behaviour of your bedroom to change automatic sleep behavior. You can get tangible results by expressing gratitude for the things you have. You can also remove any sleep-sabotaging cues, such as work and screens, from your bedroom, while adding sleep-promoting cues, such as sleep-inducing smells, to encourage new, more desirable sleep habits.
5) Listen to a sleeping script
Habitual thoughts can set off a chain reaction that alters your emotions, body chemicals and behaviour, as well as your sleep expectations. The sleep script is a positive affirmation that your mind and body are properly preparing you for sleep. It helps by slowly shifting your sleep-related thoughts. Scientists, neuroscientists, and medics are now exploring the potential of clinical hypnosis and self-talk. Listening to a sleep program during the day gives you a chance to take a breath and allow stress to pass. When I was battling chronic insomnia, I used to listen to my body read a short sleep script every day. It still serves as a powerful sleep cue.
6) Take your armchair with you
You can use an armchair to help you think through your worries and write down your thoughts. This would be a time when you can sit in a comfortable space other than your bedroom and allow yourself to think before going to sleep. It is more effective if you are able to understand the science and biology behind it. You can give yourself time to think or to jot down notes. What youre really doing is shifting worries and preoccupations from the brains emotional HQ, called the amygdala to your problem-solving prefrontal cortex. Your brain will even look for solutions as you dream.
7) Look into the darkened bedroom of a pitch black room
You can increase your sleep-promoting levels of melatonin by looking into the dark last thing before you go to bed. This is because the hormone that promotes sleep is released at night when your light-sensitive photoreceptors in the eyes detect it as dark. Melatonin, among other things, can also be an immune system booster. Allowing your body to release as many melatonin as possible throughout the evening, while avoiding bright lights as you approach bed, will help you to have a more restful, easier sleep.
Little, Brown publishes Teach Yourself To Sleep: An Ex-Insomniacs' Guide, by Kate Mikhail, at 14.99 It is available at guardianbookshop.com for 13.04