We have to sleep almost every day of our lives to regenerate our bodies and our minds. When getting a good night’s sleep becomes a problem, it can have a negative affect in every area of your life including your health and well-being, your productivity at work and at home, and your relationships with others.
Sleep problems take many forms and can include difficulty falling asleep, waking frequently, waking and not being able to go back to sleep, nightmares, or restless sleep and waking feeling exhausted.
While there are times when sleep difficulties have solely a medical cause, most sleep problems are related to emotional issues or poor sleeping habits that have developed over time. Problems such as excessive worrying, rumination, anxiety, depression, and stress are usually the cause of sleeping difficulties.
It is important to discuss your sleeping problems with your medical doctor to begin to explore the cause of your sleeping difficulties. Your doctor may send you for tests and/or prescribe medication to treat the symptoms. If your disturbed sleep is obviously related to emotional or psychological factors, then it is important for you to deal with these factors and learn how to get yourself a good night’s sleep. Here are a few ideas that may help.
Pay attention to how you are feeling before you put yourself to bed. Often, people get into the habit of going to bed stressed and having thoughts race through their head. It is very hard to fall asleep, stay asleep and have a restful sleep if you start your night this way. You have to clear your mind and relax your body before you climb into bed. If you have a lot on your mind, try writing down your problems or the issues that you have to deal with. This helps you to get them out of your head and put them on paper. After writing down the problems and your thoughts or feelings about them, try to identify what can be changed and how you can act on it. Next, write down what cannot be changed and what you can do to learn how to live with it. Now, tell yourself that you have done everything you can right now and to let it go for the night. Do this at least a couple of hours before bed if you can. If you are in bed and your mind is racing, get out of bed and do this exercise.
After you have done this exercise, do something to relax yourself. Have a hot bath, read a novel, watch TV, play on the computer, or do some of the relaxation activities described below. What you are trying to do is to clear your mind and your body so that you go to bed in a calm and clear manner with nothing to focus on but sleep.
Relaxation activities can be of great help in training your body and mind to relax and to release the stress and tension of the day. We often carry this tension without even knowing it. Cassette tapes with relaxation scripts can be found in many bookstores and drugstores. Listening to these in bed (preferably without headphones) can be a great help in falling asleep. Some people find that reading a book in bed can have the same effect.
Another form of relaxation involves focusing on relaxing your muscles and is called progressive relaxation. You will probably feel relaxed the first time you use this technique. You will also find that you will enter into increasingly deeper states of relaxation as the process is repeated so it is important to do this on a nightly basis for the first while.
You can have a friend read the following instructions to you or you can make a tape recording of them. Make sure the room is quiet and that there will be no interruptions. Allow plenty of time for completing each step in a comfortable, relaxed manner.
1) Go to a quiet room with soft lighting. Shut the door and sit in a comfortable chair, feet flat on the floor, eyes closed.
2) Become aware of your breathing.
3) Take in a few deep breaths, and as you let out each breath, mentally say the word, “relax”.
4) Concentrate on your face and feel any tension in your face and eyes. Make a mental picture of this tension (it may be a rope tied in a knot or a clenched fist) and then mentally picture it relaxing and becoming comfortable, like a limp rubber band.
5) Experience your face and eyes becoming relaxed. As they relax, feel a wave of relaxation spreading throughout your body.
6) Tense your eyes and face, squeezing tightly, then relax them and feel the relaxation spreading through your body.
7) Apply the previous instructions to other parts of your body. For each part of the body, mentally picture tension, and then picture the tension melting away. Tense the area then relax it. Move slowly down each part of your body: jaw, neck, shoulders, back, upper and lower arms, hands, chest, abdomen, thighs, calves, ankles, feet, toes. Do this until every part of your body is relaxed.
8) Keep on breathing slowly and deeply. If you lose your concentration (and this is normal), gently bring your mind and body back to the task. Your concentration will also improve each time you do this exercise but there will be some days when it is harder to stay focused.
9) When you have relaxed each part of the body, rest quietly in this comfortable state for two to five minutes.
10) When you are ready, gently let the muscles in your eyelids lighten up, become ready to open your eyes, and become aware of the room,
11) Now let your eyes open, and you are ready to go on with your usual activities. You will feel relaxed, focused, energized, and happy. You have just given your mind, body, and spirit a wonderful gift of health and well-being.
Finally, it is vitally important to manage stress effectively during the day including adequate exercise and a proper diet. Here are a few ideas to reduce stress on a day to day basis:
Short Term Stress Reduction Strategies
· Go for a 1 km walk
· Take a hot bath, shower
· Get a massage from a Registered Massage Therapist
· Listen to relaxation tapes
· Start doodling and keeping a diary
· Buy yourself a small gift
· Buy someone else a gift
· Book a weekend somewhere
· Listen to music after work
· Stop watching the news on TV
· Make time for your hobby
· Plan an evening out with friends
· Begin a small renovation project
· Sign up for an evening class of interest (Yoga is great!)
· Read in your interest area
· Smile at everyone you meet
· Have a nap (but not for too long!)
· Do some volunteer work
· Meditate and/or pray each day
· Get yourself a pet
· Book off early once a week
· Take your spouse to a movie, play
· Learn to bake from scratch
· Daydream before sleep
If emotional and psychological issues disrupt your sleep on an ongoing basis, talk to someone who can help, a Registered Psychologist.
Dr. Stephen Carter