What’s your relationship with sleep? Something you anticipate with pleasure – or dread? A necessary but mundane element of life or a time of sanctuary?
The number of people reporting sleeping problems is rising, and if it hasn’t happened to you, then you’ll probably have heard more than one of your friends talking about a lack of sleep.
It is such a common problem; 10% of the adult population suffers from insomnia. In the Office of National Statistics UK wellbeing survey, lack of sleep tops the list of psychological symptoms amongst adults, with 25% of men and 35% of women reporting problems with sleep.
Sleep is just as much a pillar of wellbeing as diet and exercise, yet most people take it for granted. We have become almost arrogant in our approach, assuming that we can burn the candle at both ends and suffer no consequences.
Yet if you’ve ever had a run of poor nights you’ll know how utterly debilitating lack of sleep is. That’s why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture! You feel desperate, at your wit’s end, finding it ever harder to think straight and get through the day. It really can ruin your life.
As well as making you feel rotten, lack of sleep also has a massively detrimental impact on how your mind and body performs. Insomnia interferes with a whole range of fundamental body processes so you are more likely to experience weight gain, high blood pressure, lowered immune response, impaired judgement, lack of concentration and poor memory.
In short, insomnia affects every aspect of your life: your health, your relationships, your work, your home and social life.
For something so fundamental to good health, there is a surprising lack of public knowledge about how to ensure a good night’s sleep. Ask someone for their tips for diet or exercise and they can usually come up with a decent list of suggestions: five a day, drink plenty of water, exercise 3 times a week, use the stairs…. yet for sleep, the public health messages are more or less absent.
It is normal to have times when your sleep is disrupted. A new baby at home is the classic. Or a temporarily unsettling time in your life. However, these temporary disruptions can quickly turn into longer-term problems. Unlike poor diet and lack of exercise, where it can take months and even years for the effects to have an impact, sleep problems can get established very quickly. So take action as soon as you notice.
So what can you do if you are suffering?
I have worked with many clients who have almost given up hope of sleeping well again. They have convinced themselves that they are beyond help; they have completely lost confidence in their ability to enjoy a normal night’s sleep.
I tell them this is just the ravings of a sleep-deprived mind! In my experience, once you take sleep seriously, even the most hardened insomniac can learn how to sleep well again in a matter of just a few weeks. (Of course there are exceptions, such as people with underlying medical conditions or medication that is contributing to insomnia so do consult your GP.)
To regain healthy sleep, you need a two-pronged approach:
- Review your life style. Stop running round like a Duracell Bunny. Bring more calm into your days and learn a relaxation technique to prevent your mind from filling with thoughts every time you put your head on the pillow. If you do have a situation that is causing you worry, then seek outside help. It’s important to remember however that you can still learn how to sleep well, even in troubling times. Moreover, good quality sleep will help you weather the storm.
- Re-educate your thoughts. One of the biggest differences between someone who sleeps well and someone who lies awake for hours is not that the good sleeper never wakes up at night. They do, maybe several times! But they don’t panic about waking up. For them it’s no big deal. They have confidence that they will soon be back in the land of nod again… and so they are.
For the poor sleeper however, the minute they are awake, their minds flood with anxious thoughts: I’ll never get back to sleep again. I’ll never cope tomorrow. What’s wrong with me? and so on…and of course, those anxious thoughts drive sleep far away.
So the second aspect is to change your thought processes to re-establish a positive relationship with sleep.
To help you with the first aspect, it’s essential to be able to use a simple relaxation technique to stay calm and drift back off to sleep again. You‘ll find one at the end of this post I wrote earlier.
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