Getting good sleep is an essential part of your mental and physical well-being and functioning. There are a surprising number of non-pharmacological (medication) interventions available. Many need practise, and as with many things in life, different interventions will suit different people.
One technique requires the person to restrict the amount of time spent in bed to that actually spent asleep. For example, if you normally get five hours in a night, then they should stay in bed for only those five hours.
It is important to take into account the following;
- Reduce stimulants prior to bed e.g. caffeine, alcohol
- Only use bed for sex and sleep
- Ensure a period of quiet before going to bed
- Regulate the time of retiring to bed and getting up in the morning
- Do not go to bed until tired and get up if unable to sleep
- If unable to get to sleep, then get out of bed and go to another room to return to bed only when sleepy
- Set alarm and get up at the same time every morning, regardless of the amount of sleep achieved
- Generally daytime naps should be avoided, however, for older people 30-minute naps between 1-3 pm can be helpful and doesn't reduce night time sleep
- Follow a regular pattern e.g. walking, eating, having a regular bedtime routine and going to bed at the same time every day
Some Useful Techniques to Help With Sleep
Exercise can be helpful in promoting sleep, as regular exercise lifts mood and lifted mood can improve sleep. Moderate intensity exercise during the day can increase sleep time.
Another useful method to prompt sleep is cognitive relaxation, which can be achieved through the use of visual imagery. For example, the age old method of counting sheep would be included in this, as would meditation and stopping thoughts, or using imagery which has positive connotations for the individual. Or try visual focusing, with your eyes closed focus on a designated object, such as a vase or flower, or trace a shape such as a circle or square with your eyes.
Other relaxation methods include progressive muscle relaxation which can be achieved by contracting and relaxing the muscles to achieve a more relaxed state (“progressive muscle relaxation”), using breathing exercises while lying down (and with eyes shut if possible) e.g. deep breath in, slow breaths out (as long as possible), and unwinding in more personal ways, such as by taking a hot bath. There are also many meditation exercises to enhance relaxation within the body, such as “body scan” and “loving kindness”. Find works for you and use it each time.
Often intrusive thoughts get in the way of sleep, like planning, worrying, anticipating etc. It is important to be willing to let go of these thoughts. You can remind yourself that “Everything is as it should be right now. There is no need to lie awake thinking. I can deal with it in the morning. I can simply go to sleep”.
Other useful techniques include ‘articulatory suppression’ and ‘thought jamming’. This involves repeating a neutral word such as ‘the’ several times a second. Other words could be chosen which you find particularly effective, such as ‘relax’ or ‘tired’. Similarly, the word ‘stop’ (i.e. stop worrying thoughts) could be used. You can also use a ‘forward control exercise’, which involves writing negative thoughts down before going to bed, and also a plan of what to do with the worries if they occur (‘worry chair approach’). When thoughts come into your head in the night you can tell yourself that you dealt with that earlier.
It is also important to consider your diet, which may also have an effect on sleep. Foods that promote sleep may include thiamine, ascorbic acid, pyridoxine and tryptophan, found in milk and chicken.
If you would like further help with enhancing your sleep, please contact us and arrange an appointment with our Psychologist.