Everyone has experienced sleep problems at various times in their lives. There are nights when it’s difficult to fall asleep, nights with multiple wake ups, nights with an early wake up two hours before the alarm rings when it’s impossible to fall back asleep.
It’s normal to have such nights on occasions and we’ll quickly feel the effects of sleep deprivation. We’ll feel tired during the day, less able to concentrate, more irritable, less able to cope. Long-term sleep deprivation can have further detrimental effects on our health and wellbeing.
We are not all equal when it comes to sleep. To start with, the amount of sleep we need can vary from 6 to 9 hours from person to person. Sleep also changes with age, gender and environment.
Similarly we are not all equal when it comes to stress. A survey by the Sleep Council in January 2013 revealed that half of Britons are loosing sleep over stress and worry*. It might be a life changing situation or it might be daily hassles. It can be related to work, family, finance, health. Some of us will worry about not being able to sleep!
Some people are more likely to have their sleep disrupted in response to stress. This is a new area of scientific research that is being investigated. Sleep reactivity (how your sleep system is affected by stress) could be a predisposing factor of insomnia **.
What we know is that people suffering from insomnia tend to show signs of biological over-activation such as higher metabolic rate, increased body temperature and increased levels of alertness. The part of the nervous system engaged in the stress response (flight or fight) is also over-activated. Basically they are pushing on the accelerator all the time, releasing more stress hormones and not using the brake.
One particularly interesting fact is that those signs of over activity are also displayed during the day. Compared to people sleeping well, insomniacs have higher levels of alertness and activation even during the day.
Here comes my tip: don’t believe that insomnia is only a night time problem.
Prepare your night’s sleep during the day.
One of the common tips to combat insomnia is to have a 20-minute relaxation ritual a couple of hours before going to sleep. This makes a lot of sense because it has been shown that people with insomnia produce higher levels of stress hormones in the evening. It might be due to the apprehension of going to bed and fear of not being able to sleep.
However, you need to train your body and mind to switch off and relax throughout the WHOLE day, not only before night time when your stress hormones are peaking.
Our body naturally tries to achieve a balance between wakefulness and sleep. This is why to help with sleep it’s recommended to have some physical activity, it’s important to eat and drink properly and to look after our sleep environment.
When it comes to stress and sleep, it’s important to push the brake regularly, not only 20 minutes before bed time.
One very powerful way to activate the relaxation response (brake) is to practice abdominal breathing.
Start practicing abdominal breathing for 5 minutes SEVERAL times during the day, EVERY day.
That will be a first step to bringing back balance between the part of the nervous system engaged in the stress response and the part of the brain engaged in the relaxation response.
Long-term sleep problems don’t go away over night. It takes time for body and mind to re-adjust but with practice it is definitely possible to improve your sleep.
If you would like to learn more about sleep and how sophrology could help improve your sleep visit www.stepintosophrology.co.uk/courses to check the latest workshops.
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* The Great British bedtime report
** Kalmbach, D.A., Anderson, J.R. and Drake, C.L. (2018). The impact of stress on sleep: Pathogenic sleep reactivity as a vulnerability to insomnia and circadian disorders. Journal of Sleep Research, 27 (6).