Many of us will have experienced insomnia at some point in our lives.
Acute insomnia is when you experience temporary sleep problems, the night before an exam for example or when you have suffered a bereavement.
Chronic insomnia is when sleep is disturbed at least three nights a week for at least three months. The result of this is obviously fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and decreased performance in work or at school.
Ultimately lack of sleep can have a drastic impact on our physical and mental health. It’s a big subject so I will be including just the most important facts in this article.
We need to sleep to sustain life, its as simple as that. Its important to remember thatyour system is programmed for effective sleep; its the most natural thing in the world! However, feeling pushed for time (have you ever cut short your sleep because there was too much to do? I know I have) and the habits of modern day life often impact on our ability to achieve good quality sleep.
If you think your sleep quality could be better, have a look through these two checklistsand what you can do to make things easier for yourself….
Keep a regular routine in terms of timings and go to bed when you feel tired.
Manage those stress levels (more on that later)!
Relax for at least an hour before bed
Your bedroom should be dark, quiet and cooler than daytime temperature (but not cold)
Exercise regularly during the day
Ensure your mattress, pillows and covers are comfortable
Try to get 30 mins exposure to natural sunlight per day – this helps to remind your body which is day and which is night! Artificial light is not the same!
Have a hot bath before bed to relax, plus the drop in your body temperature will aid sleep.
Remove distractions from your bedroom: screens, phones, clocks
Do not smoke, or drink alcohol, tea or coffee at least 6 hours before going to bed
Do not eat for about 3 hours before bed, especially sugars / carbs
Do not exercise late in the day (that is, less than 4 hours before bed)
Do not watch screens in the 2 hours before bed – they block the release of melatonin by 23%, interrupting your normal sleep rhythms
Do not nap during the day
Do not sleep in after a bad night’s sleep – stick to your regular sleeping hours instead
Do not drink too many fluids before bed as you will need the loo in the night!
Drugs – clearly recreational drugs will impact sleep, but often prescription ones can too, so speak to your pharmacist about this, it may be that taking your tablets at a different time of day may help
Don’t lie in bed awake. This breeds anxiety and makes it even harder to get to sleep. Get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.
Try to avoid sleeping tablets if you can, even those you can buy over the counter. They can help in the short term, but they do not induce natural sleep and can make the insomnia worse.
Back to the big issue of STRESS. Stress clearly impacts on our ability to sleep and then insomnia tends to increase our stress levels further – argghhhh!! I quite often see people suffering with insomnia and Craniosacral Therapy often helps them. In fact, people often report that their sleep has improved since they started Craniosacral Therapy, even when that was not the main reason they started coming to see me!
The point is, that when our systems are hyper-vigilant, or in fight, flight or freeze, of course it is often hard for us to ‘switch off’ at night. A good example of this would be a man I worked with a long time ago who had been in the forces for many years who had big sleep issues. He said, ‘When you’ve slept with a gun in your hand every night for so long, its kinda hard to get any kind of deep sleep’. And many of us (albeit for other reasons) have systems which are equally on ‘high alert’.
The best way to address the stressed / hypervigilant system is to show it how to down-regulate from ‘fight, flight or freeze’ to ‘rest and digest’. This is of the main things we do in Craniosacral Therapy. The system is being shown the ‘off switch’ and little by little, it gets easier and easier to access the ‘off switch’, until the system is generally much calmer and sleep becomes much easier. Plus of course, the person feels less stressed / anxious generally!
If you have taken board all the suggestions above and are still struggling with your sleep, please do seek the advice of your GP.
1) What conditions does Craniosacral Therapy (CST) help with?
The effects of CST are far reaching, so it would be impossible to draw up an exhaustive list of symptoms than can be helped by CST. However, to summarise, I specialise in the following three areas:
Stress and Anxiety. Craniosacral Therapy is unique in its ability to treat the source of symptoms on every level, mental, physical or emotional. Letting go of tension and fear held in the body enables it to settle into calmness.
Pain Management. People may come for Craniosacral Therapy because they have acute physical symptoms like headaches or back pain, or long standing issues with pain.
Babies & Children. Craniosacral Therapy can offer support for colic, reflux, sleeplessness, irritability in babies and many common behavioural, social and learning difficulties in children respond well
2) There’s nothing actually ‘wrong’, can I still come along for a session?
There doesn’t need to be anything ‘wrong’ as such for you to benefit from a session. Many people use it simply to maintain their sense of well being and calm. I actually still have regular sessions myself for this reason.
3) So how does CST actually WORK?
It took me 3 years to train in CST. It works on many different levels and different approaches are used depending on the needs of the individual. To summarise:
“Craniosacral Therapy is a subtle yet profound and powerful hands-on technique, developed from osteopathy, which identifies pain and tensions held in the body. It supports the body’s natural tendency to find health and optimum balance by relieving the body of these restrictions and allowing it to realign. Craniosacral Therapy can often effect structural change, but also has much wider implications, both physically and psychologically. Craniosacral Therapists are trained to feel motions in the body which are more subtle than the heart beat and lung breathing that we are all familiar with.”
The best way of understanding the treatment is to experience it yourself. You don’t have to believe its going to work for it to work and you certainly don’t have to understand how it works for it to work. But it does take at least a little bit of hope on the part of the client (I always have hope).
4) I’ve had this insomnia / back pain / depression for 20 years. Can you resolve it in one session?
I have actually had people ask me this. One lady even said that even though there wasn’t a doctor in the land who could help her, she still expected me to resolve her long standing symptoms in one session!
It’s only right that I manage people’s expectations the best that I can. Generally speaking, fresh / recent trauma / restriction in the body tends to resolve very quickly (new born babies suffering with birth trauma are a good example of this). When symptoms have been there for decades (or the tension has been gradually building over this time), it’s likely that it will take longer to resolve. I usually recommend a short course of treatments (maybe 5 or 6) and then a review to see how much progress has been made.
It is true to say also that there might be other issues that your system needs to resolve before the specific issue that you want me to address is able to come to the fore (that is, your body has its own sense of priority and since I am working with your body’s own innate ability to heal itself, the ‘inherent treatment plan’ of your body will dictate the order of things).
Amazing things happen in my clinic but I am not a magician!
5) So……what are you actually DOING?
This is a question I often get asked either when someone is watching someone else have a treatment or when they are having a treatment themselves but have not been able to ‘feel’ much changing.
In Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (CST), there will be no physical manipulation ever. I am working at a much deeper, more fundamental level. For various reasons, some people are able to notice a lot of the changes that are happening in their body during a session and some will notice fewer or maybe even none (this does not mean that nothing is happening!).
Somebody watching a session may observe jerky movements, changes in the clients breathing, movement and so on but obviously they will not see all of the changes that are happening inside the body (again this does mean that nothing is happening!).
If you want someone to ‘click’, ‘crunch’ or otherwise manipulate your body you need to seek a different kind of therapy!
6) Are you being honest with me (Will you tell me that I need more sessions than I actually do for example)?
One of the reasons that my practice is a successful one is because I get good results. Another is that I take pride in running it with honesty and integrity. I have a firm belief that a therapeutic relationship built on mutual trust and respect gives you the best chance of getting the results that you want.
This said, I cannot fix everything for everyone! I also cannot guarantee in advance how your system will respond to treatment. However, I am a highly experienced practitioner and my advice to you will be based upon the successes that I have seen in the past. I know what tends to work best and I will be honest with you about how I think we can achieve the best results possible. We will discuss this in order to ensure that your treatment plan is a good fit for you.
7) Can something so gentle make me better?
YES! I am working with your body’s innate ability to heal itself. I will be listening with my hands to what your body needs and facilitating the process of release and restoration. When we are working at the level of the mid-tide, changes are gentle but profound.
8) Can CST work even when many other avenues can be exhausted and the doctor says nothing can be done or that my condition will only get worse as the years progress?
That is very possible yes, I have seen it many many times!
9) How long have you been practising for / how well qualified are you?
I graduated from the Craniosacral Therapy Education Trust (CTET) in 2011 after a three year training. For over two years, I have worked as a tutor in CTET’s teaching clinic, supporting final year students. My practice is very busy. I will soon be qualified to work as a supervisor (mentor) to other CSTs.
10) I’m sure I must be the worst case you’ve ever seen?
People say this a lot. There can be a lot of shame and embarrassment over our condition. Rest assured that I have worked with a lot of trauma (military, road traffic accidents, abuse, violence, the list goes on). I am not here to judge you or your situation. I am here to create a safe, listening, neutral and supported space for your system to express what is going on and then I will facilitate the processes that need to take place in order for you to recover, at a pace that feels okay for you. You are getting help and that is what’s important.
11) Your life must be really perfect! / You must be really sorted!?
Often people see their practitioner as being someone who is ‘shiny’; someone who sets a good example and they assume that the practitioner must have a pretty perfect life. Typical things that people often assume about me are that: I am vegetarian (probably vegan), that I meditate daily, that I have a VERY happy marriage, that I never shout, that my children are completely zen, that I am super healthy and fit, that I never take prescription drugs and that I probably don’t drink. It is true to say that my focus is very much on my own health first (otherwise how can I help anyone else), but I am far from perfect.
Honestly, I am on a journey just like you are. I have suffered a fair few traumas in my life, more than I care to recall. I have a belief that often therapists are people who have ‘been through the mill’ themselves. Hence why you tend not to get therapists in their 20s. I have worked very very hard on myself over the years (receiving CST has been a big part of that but not all by any means) and I will continue to do that always. Not because I aspire to be shiny, but because I know I still have a lot of growing to do and growth brings me better health, a better understanding of myself and others and the result of that is that I feel happier, make wiser decisions and I enjoy life more – yay!
There are many facets to Craniosacral Therapy, but my favourite and by far the most profound is that of dynamic stillness. Nearly all of you who have been me for therapy will have some understanding and experience of this. So what does it mean to you? Why am I always banging on about it? What is it exactly and why does it matter?
I like this description of Michael Kern’s from his book, Wisdom In The Body…..
“Dynamic stillness can be experienced as something that is universal, beyond the duality of subject or object. It has no defining characteristics or qualities, as it is the realm of our pure unfabricated nature. Consequently there are no words on concepts that can adequately describe it. At this level of our being there is no inertia and no conditioning, just the presence of peace, luminosity and stillness. It may be perceived as a sense of Grace. When we emerge from this experience, something has changed – for we never come out the same way that we went in. We become touched by our deepest nature.”
Some people will simply experience stillness simply as a sense of calm (usually unlike anything they have experienced before). We all need to be able to access a still place. It is essential to health (of mind, body and spirit). It can be tricky to access, particularly when the system is overwhelmed or dissociated. However, I often view stillness as the gateway to everything because once a client’s system is shown how to access stillness, big changes tend to take place. The resources of the system build too. Michael Kern talks of the 7 different levels of stillness and how each level “brings a settling of some further aspect of our life process“.
“It is the stillness of the Tide, not the stormy waves that bounce upon the shore that has the potency, the power.” William Sutherland.
My experience also is that once the system gets practiced at accessing stillness, clients report that they are better able to access a calm place at other points in time and that they are coping better with life, feeling less stressed, anxiety lifts, they sleep better and so on – see why I love it so much!!
The subject of pain is a HUGE one and deserves much more time and space than I have here, but I will do my best to cover the key points.
We all know what pain is like, but to clarify…. acute pain is short lived, the term chronic pain is used when pain has lasted for 3-6 months or more.
In a Lancet study carried out in 2014 (Michaleff et al), it was found that reading about how pain works for 30 months plus two telephone conversations, worked as well as twenty, yes TWENTY sessions of physiotherapy!!! Therefore, understanding how pain works is key to recovering from it.
So here, and in my clinic, I teach people why they still have pain and help them out of it.
Its important to recognise that initial pain is often an indicator of danger. It tells us to react and can save us from further injury or death e.g. if your finger is burning on the oven for example, you will automatically withdraw your hand from the heat (without even thinking). When we have just injured our back, pain is helpful, because it warns us against further injury.
However (and this is the important bit) what we now know, is that after 3-6 months, pain is rarely in the tissues but in our nervous system. That is, pain has caused our nervous system to change. Our nervous system has become too sensitive!
“Sensitization means we turn the volume up on our alarm system, but are very poor at turning the volume down.’, Steve Haines, Pain Is Really Strange.
The medical profession used to believe that chronic pain was held in the tissues of the body, now we know that it rarely is. The answer to resolving the pain issue is to show the system how to down-regulate / desensitize / ‘turn the volume down’.
I should also say at this point that unresolved emotional trauma is held in the physiology and in the limbic system, not the cognitive (thinking part of the brain) as previously thought. It often shows itself as physical pain. So whilst we may be looking for the cause of our pain by having MRI scans for example, there may well not be a structural cause.
So…..hopefully all of this goes some way to explain why Craniosacral Therapy (in my experience) is so effective in terms of reducing or eliminating pain from the body.
I could go and on about this subject, but I am passionate about helping people with pain. The people I see in my clinic have often been in pain for decades. They may have limited mobility and their quality of life / ability to work may be seriously affected.
In a treatment, we find that the body has it’s own sense of priority. Number one is showing the system what safety is, this may be something which is a new experience, but is it key to everything else. We then teach the system to notice sensations other than the pain. This is all HUGE in terms of down-regulating the nervous system (turning the volume down).
Gradually, trauma, whether that be physical or emotional will come to the surface and release and the pain gets less or goes. This is an amazing experience for someone when the pain has been there for a long time!
So, hopefully that gives you a brief summary of why I see so many people’s pain levels reduce or disappear. These steps seem counter-intuitive I know and how can something so simple be so effective?? If you would like to understand more or see if this therapy can help you, please do get in touch.
Craniosacral Therapy is often the therapy of choice for a newborn because it is so gentle and in my experience, so effective. Babies often experience stress and trauma during the birth process, and may not be able to resolve this trauma without assistance.
Common symptoms that parents report their baby having when there first come to see me are:
Colic (regular inconsolable crying)
Reflux (pain after feeds, sometimes there are regular spit-ups and vomiting, sometimes not)
Allergies / intolerances
Irritability / baby seems angry or tense
Difficulty settling / getting to sleep / staying asleep (wakes in pain)
Baby prefers to feed on one side / prefers head laid to one side when laid on back (causing flat spot)
Difficulty latching / gulping / baby slurps or ‘clicks’ when feeding
In extreme cases, parents report that the baby cannot be put down, in other words, cries unless they are being held (and often even then). Parents of babies with symptoms such as those listed often worry that there is something seriously wrong with their child. They understandably keep looking for reasons and keep talking to health visitors and doctors, trying one thing after another in an often desperate attempt to resolve the situation, such changing bottles, changing formula, and often using medication.
The babies that I see often have been through all of this and still nothing has helped. I have known babies to have their formula type changed 6 or 7 times! Parents are often told by doctors that despite the struggles and distress still going on, nothing further can be done. Although some health professionals are aware of cranial treatment and how it can help babies, many are not, which is a real shame. Because, as I have already said, even when every other option has been exhausted, I usually find that a short course of cranial treatment improves or eradicates most of the symptoms above. Improvements can often be seen after just one session! So if you know any young babies struggling, please do share this blog with Mummy/Daddy!
To have a baby who struggles to feed, cries inconsolably for hours on end or cannot be put down is very distressing and worrying for everyone around, especially Mum and Dad. And all this when perhaps mum is still trying to recover from the birth herself (I will write another blog about helping mums), the parents are just starting to learn how to look after a newborn baby, they are usually very sleep deprived and perhaps there is post natal depression in the mix too. Often the families that I see are really feeling the strain.
When a baby first comes to see me, I carry out an assessment to see if there are any tensions / restrictions held in their body (these will often be a result of birth trauma). If there is (and there nearly always is, in the babies that I see), then very carefully and gently, I help that tension to release from the system at a pace that feel okay for the baby.
Most babies appear to really enjoy their sessions, and they will be far more relaxed at the end of the session than they were at the beginning. Parents often comment at the apparent connection between the therapist and the baby. I often have a little ‘conversation’ with the baby about what is going on during their session. If they show distress at any point, lots of support is provided from Mum/Dad and they can even be treated whilst sucking a dummy, or feeding if that helps them to be calm and allow the process of release. The baby’s progress is monitored throughout the course of sessions.
My work with babies is so rewarding; I just love it. Perhaps because one of my daughters suffered in a similar way when she was a baby, which is how I found out about this therapy all those years ago!
So, there you go, a little overview of why and when to seek help for a newborn. Oh, and another question that I get asked a lot is, whether it is ever too late for birth trauma to be released. The answer is definitely not! So if you have a child, of whatever age and you suspect that the symptoms that they have could be a result of birth trauma, please do give me a call and I can advise you as to whether I might be able to help you (Sarah – 07956 390419).
Does your child suffer with anxiety? It is very common and can show itself in many ways such as worrying, difficulty sleeping, digestive issues, being moody and snappy, withdrawal, depression, obsessive behaviour, panic attacks and so on.
This time of year can be especially challenging, with the new academic year, which brings lots of change and new experiences for school aged children. But what can you do to help your child? Some children are more prone to suffer with anxiety than others, but part of our job as parents and carers is to act, when they show that they are struggling and not just ignore it and hope that it’ll go away by itself!
I see a lot of children in my practice who are suffering with anxiety, and Craniosacral Therapy is usually fundamental to changing things for them.
Our nervous system should spend most of its time in the ‘rest and digest’ mode and rarely need to be in ‘fight, flight or freeze’. However, after experiencing stress, our bodies can get stuck in the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode and finding the ‘off switch’ can become almost impossible. This results in a variety of symptoms: anxiety, stress, being hypervigilant, being aggressive, very tired, depressed, and so on. And yes, this can be the case in very young children too, even babies. The priority here is for the therapist to show the child’s nervous system how to down-regulate from the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode to ‘rest and digest’ and this is what I do. This practice alone usually has a profound impact on the child’s anxiety or stress levels.
The next stage of their treatment is for me to identify any specific tensions or restrictions that are being held in the child’s physiology, and then help those tensions to release in a very gentle way, and at a pace that is right for the child.
It is worth saying at this point that nearly all the children that I see, REALLY enjoy their treatments and will ask to come back, even once they are all better! It is not unusual for them to be asleep by the end! Making your child feel safe, and secure in the knowledge that I am there to help and support them is a top priority for me. And if you don’t feel that your child could lay down during the treatment or keep still, don’t worry, we can work around this and treatments can still be really effective.
So there is a brief explanation of why Craniosacral Therapy and how it works. Now onto the ‘toolbox’ part…..
When parents bring their children to see me, they often ask me is there’s anything they can be doing at home, with their child, to support them whilst they receive treatments and I tell them about the toolbox, which I believe everyone needs. A toolbox of resources, or in other words, things or skills that we know help to keep us well and happy, help us to cope and keep us strong. Things we should use on an ongoing basis, but could turn to particularly when the going gets tough.
So, I’ve put together some suggestions of some things to go in the toolbox. These are things which either I have used myself with my own children, or that have been recommended to me by other health professionals or other parents. If you have any of your own ideas, please let me know because I am always keen to extend the list!
The Wishing Star by Relax Kids. Relax Kids do various books along similar lines for children. This one is full of creative visualisations, meditations and relaxations. Children can imagine they are lying in soft grass, sitting in a peaceful cave, watching a beautiful sunset and flying like a bird. From 5 years old.
What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide To Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner and Bonnie Matthews. A favourite of mine – this book is aimed at primary aged children, and talks about how ‘feeding worries’ helps them to grow and introduces the idea of a ‘worry box’.
Sitting Still Like A Frog: Mindfulness Exercises For Kids (And Their Parents) by Eline Snel. A book and CD, which teaches us how to be in the moment, rather than the past or the future, a key skill in mental health.
Affirmation Cards For Kids by Catherine Keller. Often children find it hard to say good things about themselves, but with daily practice, it becomes easier and easier and soon it is a new way of thinking!
The Law Of Attraction For Kids by Jennifer Quaggin. Similar to the above, but aimed at slightly older children.
Mindfulness / relaxation / sleep apps
There is vast array of these apps available. A lot are free. My advice would be to do a search and try several until you find one that your child likes. Some people prefer talking, some music, some white noise. They can be used for mindfulness practice and / or at bedtimes to help quieten the mind.
Abdominal breathing is the most efficient and relaxed way of getting enough air into out lungs. However, we sometimes get into the habit of chest breathing which increases our stress levels. There is good advice online on abdominal breathing and how to train yourself (or your child) to do it habitually, eg. http://www.guysandstthomas.nhs.uk/resources/patient-information/therapies/abdominal-breathing.pdf.
Help from the school / GP
Do the school know about the situation?
Have you told your child’s GP?
Schools are often able to offer additional support where appropriate. Both schools and GPs are able to refer your child to a mental health specialist for assessment.
Life can be stressful. We all need healthy coping strategies / support in place. Many children are under a lot of pressure from school and so on. Start filling up your child’s toolbox. By taking action, you are showing your child that it is good to be open about their feelings and to tell you when they need help or are worried; that they are not alone and that things can and will get better.
And please note also, that often when we take a look at our children’s stress levels, we realise that our own stress levels need addressing also. It’s really hard for children to be calm when their parents are not, so its important to address your own stress levels too. How about filling your own toolbox?
Please do feel free to get in touch if you would like to discuss anything in this blog or if you have concerns about the impact that stress or anxiety is having in your child’s life or your own. I’ll be happy to have a chat with you.
Special thanks go to Julie Clark of Julie Clark Nutrition for suggesting that I write this blog in the first place!