Get a Better Sleep
Does it take a long time to fall asleep? Or to fall back to sleep when you wake in the night? Not getting much energy from your sleep?
Answering “yes” to any of these questions suggests that you may have insomnia.
It’s normal to have a sleepless night now and then. However, if insomnia persists for more than 3 weeks and begins interfering with your life, it’s considered a chronic insomnia.
One third of North American adults are having difficulties with sleep and the most common problem is insomnia.
Dr. Rubin Naiman believes that these high numbers reflect our society being:
- too busy and not making time for sleep (we spend 20% less time sleeping than people did 100 years ago)
- more mentally stimulated all day - with constant caffeine intake, screen time, and earbuds turned on
- unrealistic, expecting sleep to come instantly after brain and body have been going at high speed all day
- disrespectful, not valuing and respecting rest (the essential pre-requisite for sleep)
Is this you?
Unplugging, slowing down, and learning to unwind can decrease insomnia.
We all know that good sleep is negatively impacted by:
- physical factors – such as pain, full bladder, noise, sleep disorders (like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome), illness, colds, poor nutritional statues, menopause, jet lag, shift work schedule, new baby, etc.
- emotional and mental factors - such as stress, anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, trauma, worry, grief, conflict, a big event tomorrow, etc. Half of those with severe insomnia are also experiencing high levels of emotional stress.
To begin improving your sleep, address and eliminate or minimize these factors as much as possible.
It’s a behaviour!
It surprises some people to find that once the health issue, stressful work project, or money problem that triggered their insomnia has been resolved, the insomnia may persist.
Sleep is considered a behaviour of our brain and body, so if we’ve developed a pattern of insomnia, it’s helpful to introduce new sleep behaviours and practice them nightly.
Avoid expecting instantaneous results – it takes time to change a behaviour!
In fact, it may take more than 3 – 4 weeks of sticking with the new sleep behaviours before noticing an effect.
The 3 keys (the 3 B’s) to decreasing insomnia are:
1. Behaviours that strengthen sleep.
- No alcohol for 3 hours before bed.
- No caffeine after lunch.
- Limit daytime naps to sleeping less than 30 minutes.
- Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends
(unless you work rotating shifts).
- Have the same calming routine every night before bed.
- Avoid looking at the clock throughout the night.
- Associate your bed with sleep.
If you are not asleep, or back to sleep, within about 30 minutes (estimating the time… remembering to avoid being a clock watcher!) then get out of bed and calm your mind and body.
Do a calm, mentally absorbing activity like organizing your sock drawer, colouring, Zen Tangle, knitting, petting the cat, doing gentle yoga stretches or crossword or jigsaw puzzles, etc.
2. Body relaxation.
It is common that people with sleep difficulties approach their bed with increased heart rate and muscle tension. Slowing your breathing and relaxing your body helps set the stage for sleep.
In the Better Sleep Program we practice a BMW approach to fully relax the body:
- B = breathing, at the slow, peaceful pace that you have just before drifting off
- M = muscles, relaxing the eyes, jaw, neck & shoulders
- W = warm blood flow / circulation into the hands & feet
3. Brain calming - For many people a busy brain in bed is their nemesis.
- Perhaps you get into bed saying “I have to fall asleep now. I’ve got to have 8 hours of sleep. I need full energy tomorrow”. Unfortunately, demanding that sleep begins right now will actually make it harder, taking up to 3 times longer to fall asleep.
It’s much more effective to say “It’s so nice to just rest. After being active earlier today, it’s a pleasure to take a break and rest, to sink into the mattress with my head supported by the pillow, warm & cozy under the blankets, resting my breathing and muscles more and more…..”
- Perhaps you are worrying. If you’re worrying in bed, you’re not sleeping in bed. The negativity bias of the human brain makes us prone to worry, so the best approach is to set aside a time to worry during the day that is well before bedtime. Write down what you are worrying about, then record your action plan by writing “if it does occur, I will handle it / cope with it by….”
- Perhaps you are thinking, planning, analyzing, judging - keeping the executive functions of your brain active. Bed is a place to rest and take a break from mental work. Practice “parking” the daytime thoughts, like you park your car and bicycle. Mentally imagine putting the thoughts away in the closet with the rest of your daytime clothes, or locking them in your car, or putting them away in a safe place.
These 3 B’s are more effective than sleeping pills in the long run.
They are skills that develop and strengthen with practice, just like riding a bicycle, playing the piano, and shooting the hockey puck into the net with accuracy.
Give yourself permission to practice a new sleep behaviour for 3 – 4 weeks, to see what happens.
Kathy Somers provides group and private instruction in the most effective cognitive/behavioural techniques that decrease insomnia and improve sleep.
She offers a 5-session Better Sleep Program every semester at the University of Guelph to students, staff, and other interested adults. It is also available on-line.
Details are at www.SelfRegulationSkills.ca/programs/better-sleep.