Is your mind busy when it’s time to rest and sleep? Do you have problems switching off at bedtime? Mind active and won’t slow down? Do you toss and turn because your thoughts won’t let you rest?
If that image of being too restless to sleep sounds like you, you have a lot in common with many of the people I help and there is a good chance your flight or fight response is active.
So lets talk about one way to switch off the fight or flight response and quieten the mind down at bedtime. There are many ways to achieve this, and one I really like is to keep a gratitude journal.
Spending a few minutes each night to think about things you are really grateful for is a great way to calm the mind and body and trigger the relaxation response. Focusing on the things you have been grateful for during the day will help you to let go of the things that were worrying you and help you get a good nights sleep.
But you do need to do it properly; robotically going through things you think you should be grateful for is not the same! If you are aware of the work of Candace Pert, you will know that your thoughts trigger the release of chemicals that flood the body, but that does not really happen if you think the thoughts in a detached fashion. You need to think the thoughts with your heart too.
Why is this Important?
It is really important that the fight or flight response is turned off and the relaxation response is triggered for sleep. Normally during sleep our bodies and minds should go through cycles of healing and repair, but these cycles are associated with being in a relaxed state. When we are stressed they are put on hold and your body does not heal and repair as it should.
So if you want to be healthy and happy triggering the relaxation response just before sleep will help.
It seems odd to think we can be stressed while sleeping, but studies have shown that some people, like those with CFS/ME, do actually stay stressed during their sleep. So spending a few minutes contemplating what you are grateful for or what has gone well during the day is one way to switch off the fight or flight response.
Gratitude is great because it focuses you on what you have, not what you want or what you would like. I buy a nice little note pad for those that take part in my workshops, so they can use it as a journal and I urge you to buy something special too. Having a nice book to write in and maybe a nice pen will make the activity special and keep you motivated.
How do I Use This?
Personally I would prefer a paper based journal as modern technology like phones tend to keep us stimulated, alert and possibly stressed. Much better to create your own paper based journal which can become a treasure trove of positivity for you, as it fills with things that you have been grateful for. Something like this is ideal.
Spend a little bit of time composing your thoughts and then write down what you have been grateful for today. Feel the feelings as deeply as possible with your heart.
One lady I was talking too, said how truly grateful she felt for the home she lived in, even though it was nowhere near as nice as she would like. This was something she had moaned about and criticised until hearing of a tragedy the other side of the world where people had lost their homes and were spending night outside. Another lady spent ages trying to think of something only to realise she was grateful for the comfortable warm bed she was laying in.
Another chap said he thought of a different person he knew each night, spending time remembering how they have or had positively contributed to his life. It’s a good thing to vary what you write to keep it fresh and relevant.
Sometimes when times are tough, or we are busy and tired it is easy to answer with our head only. You know what I mean, when you say something but it does not have that emotional resonance, that physical sensation that lets you know you have felt something with your heart. Notice the difference between thinking what you are grateful for and feeling it with your heart. It can help to place your hand on your heart and allow the thoughts of gratitude to flow from there.
I wonder if you maybe surprised at what you have been grateful for today?
The power of gratitude
Do you have a bad relationship with sleep? Loads of people do. Maybe you associate it with tossing and turning in your bed, frustrated that you can not get to sleep, thoughts running a muck? Maybe you are one of those that feel sleep is a waste of time and resent it? Maybe you do not think sleep is as important as other things you want to do?
Whatever the reason it is worth spending some time to improve your sleep because good sleep is critical for your health and well-being. Pretty ironic when sleep is often one of the first things to suffer when we are ill or in pain.
Why Sleep is Important
Once it was common to think that sleep was an inactivate state where our bodies and minds were basically ‘switched off’, but that is far from the case. Healthy sleep involves cycling through different stages. I’ll go into details in another post, the important things to know are that during sleep:
- Your cells go into the repair process to keep up with the wear and tear of daily living
- Your immune system replenishes itself and increase some aspects of your defence.
- Experiences are processed and memories consolidated.
There are many things that you can do during the day, before you even go to sleep, that can make it easier to get a good night’s sleep. If you have a bad relationship with sleep, it is worth knowing more in case you happen to be doing the things that can interfere with sleeping at night, or not doing the things that can make sleep easier!
There are three broad categories of things you can do to help with sleep:
- getting your body ready for sleep,
- getting your mind ready for sleep, and
- getting your bedroom ready for sleep.
Getting Your Body Ready for Sleep
In order to sleep well, your body should be free of chemicals that can interfere with sleep. This includes all stimulants (caffeine and nicotine) as well as alcohol. Avoiding stimulants is probably fairly obvious but although alcohol can help you get to sleep, it also best avoided. Alcohol often causes you to wake up during the night and even if you sleep through the night after drinking alcohol, it still interferes with you getting the type of sleep that you need, and so you will often end up not feeling rested. So for a good nights sleep avoid nicotine and drinks containing caffeine at least six hours before bedtime. Of course you may want to avoid them altogether.
During the day regular exercise is good for sleep, as well as some types of pain if it is advised by your medical team, but don’t exercise too close to bedtime.
If you have problems sleeping at night and you sleep during the day, you should try avoiding the day time naps. Although if you struggle to get to sleep from being over-tired, a short power nap during the day may help. It is also good to establish a schedule and get your body in a natural rhythm by waking up at about the same time every day, even on weekends, and aiming to go to bed at the same time every night. Over time, you will start to feel sleepy at about the same time every night.
Avoiding eating heavy meals just before bedtime too as this can interfere with the proper sleeping cycle. If you hungry stick to light snacks and a glass or cup of milky drink. Be aware of sugar as some say this can cause problems due to drops in blood sugar while you are asleep and others say it helps reduce hormones in your brain associated with wakefulness! When there is conflicting advice like this, I recommend experimenting for yourself. My personal opinion is that sugar is bad for me but I have not noticed my sleep being disturbed on the occasional night I have a hot chocolate before bed time.
Getting Your Mind Ready for Sleep
Your mind is very good at making associations. If you repeat the same routine every night before sleep, your mind will begin to associate that routine with winding down and feeling sleepy. Ideally, you should develop a pre-sleep ritual that you do every night just before going to sleep. It might involve checking all of the locks in your house, followed by brushing your teeth, ending with some light reading or nice warm bath just before going to bed. If you read or watch TV as part of your pre-sleep ritual, you should not do this while in bed and ideally in a different room so your mind associates your bedroom and bed only with sleeping and making love.
Soaking in a warm bath containing around 500g of Epsom Salts is a great way to relax in preparation for sleep and the magnesium your body will absorb often improves the quality of sleep you have.
If you have not managed to get to sleep within 15 minutes it is best to get back out of bed and do something non stimulating until you feel sleepy. This way your mind will begin to associate your bed with sleep.
Hypnotherapy can also help here and there are many commercial CDs available that will help your subconscious mind sleep easily and effortlessly at the right time.
Getting Your Bedroom Ready for Sleep
Make sure your bed is comfortable, most people prefer a harder bed to a soft one. Keep the room cool and user a warmer duvet, rather than having a warm room with a thin duvet.
It sounds obvious but try and make your room dark and quiet. I have even heard of people using a white noise generator to block out sounds. Lastly if you are a ‘clock watcher’ turn it around so you can not see it!
Night-time Self-Hypnosis Strategies for Getting to Sleep and Getting Back to Sleep
Here you can use the 3-2-1 technique described in a previous blog, or maybe you prefer listening to a pre-recorded sleep CD, or using another self hypnosis method to quieten your mind down so that you can easily and effortless slide into sleep (or back into sleep). Either way have a technique you feel comfortable with to aid you get that deep restful nights sleep you need.