Sleep- Why do I struggle and what can I do to improve my sleep?

If you’re under any form of stress or anxiety at the moment then you’ll undoubtedly be struggling with your sleep. Waking up in the night for hours on end, struggling to get to sleep, waking up at 4am or finding it difficult to get out of bed in the mornings.

Getting more sleep would enable you to be free from that constant stress and anxiety. You would be more focused at work, spend more time with the family, feel less exhausted and have more energy. You would be less irritable and emotional, suffer less from aches and pains, make better and more focused decisions and stop reaching for those high fat and high sugary foods.

So how does anxiety and stress have such an impact on our sleep? Think of a bucket in which all our stress, anxiety and negative thoughts build up in. If that bucket is overflowing then our sleep is affected as a result. We use REM sleep to empty that bucket. During the night, our brain processes events of the day and moves them from being an emotional memory to a narrative memory, which we have control over. For one reason or another REM sleep is restricted to 20% of our sleep pattern. Now, if we try and overdo this then the brain will wake us up. You will know the difference between that and a sound in the night waking you up for instance as you will be wide awake and frustrated. On the other hand, if that stress bucket is overflowing you may find it difficult to get up in the mornings, feeling grumpy and tired. This is because there is so much in that bucket that it takes a great deal to empty it. That REM sleep uses large amounts of energy and if we try and overdo that 20% then this will exhaust us even more, leaving us low and depressed.

You can see how this then becomes a vicious cycle. The more you have in that bucket, the poorer quality sleep you will have and the more anxious and stressed you will feel.

So, the most effective way that we can improve our quality of sleep is to reduce stress and anxiety and empty that bucket. I can’t stress that enough. Many people think that they can ‘bank’ sleep like a credit and debit system. For example, if they don’t sleep in the week that copious amounts of sleep will make up for it at the weekend. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that and a lack of sleep daily on a long term basis has severe effects on our mood, memory, motivation, immune system, long term health and even life span.

Here are my top tips for helping improve sleep which in turn will reduce your anxiety and stress:

  1. Stick to a sleep routine. Aim to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day, even at weekends. Your body likes to stick to a rhythm and it will thank you for it.
  2. Try to exercise no later than 2- 3 hours before bed time.
  3. Avoid caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant. Watch out for foods with it hidden in like chocolate, cola and certain teas.
  4. Avoid alcohol before bed. Alcohol deprives you of any REM sleep whatsoever.
  5. Avoid napping after 3pm.
  6. Take a hot bath before bed. The drop in body temperature when you get out of the bath will help you to feel sleepy.
  7. Do something that helps you to relax before bed, whether that’s reading or listening to music. Make sure that you allow yourself time to switch off from work.
  8. Keep the room cool. 18 degrees Celsius is optimal body temperature for sleep.
  9. Avoid technology. The light on your phone or iPad mimics natural daylight and will encourage you to stay awake.
  10. If you wake up don’t lie in bed awake for over 20 minutes. The anxiety of not being able to get to sleep will make it harder to do so. Read a book for 30 minutes and try and switch off.

If you would like to find out how Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can help to get your sleep patterns back on track, eliminating stress and anxiety as a result then please get in touch to arrange a free initial consultation.