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.