How to Sleep
"A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”
Sleep is probably the best thing that can happen to us. We spend nearly a third of our time doing it but do we really think about it?
When we sleep our bodies are repaired, memories are processed and consolidated and hormones levels are regulated which helps our immune system, digestive tract and hunger levels
A lack of good quality sleep causes a host of physical and psychological effects.
Physically our immune system is impaired; our blood pressure goes up as does our risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. We feel hungrier and our bodies ache.
Psychologically, our memory, reaction time and performance are impaired and our risk of anxiety and depression are increased.
Poor sleep also becomes a symptom of depression.
The amygdala is the part of our brain that controls the fight/flight response caused by negative stimuli.
When we are sleep deprived, our amygdala becomes over-active initiating the fight/flight response at lower levels of stimulus.
We become less able to cope with stressors.
There are set stages of Sleep:
Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep.
N1 – The onset of sleep
N2 – Light sleep. Breathing deepens, temperature drops and heartrate slows
N3 – Deep restorative slow wave sleep. Full muscle relaxation with tissue repair and hormone regulation
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.
In REM sleep our bodies are almost paralysed but our brain waves are active and similar to those seen when we are awake – fast and low amplitude. There are the characteristic rapid eye movements and here is where we dream, processing the events of the day.
Our sleep follows a repeating cycle every 90 -120 minutes. This is shown in the diagram below.
At times we may wake from REM sleep but usually fall back to sleep very quickly.
Our sleep timing is controlled by our circadian rhythm via melatonin levels. This is a hugely complex system that is affected by light levels. As it gets dark melatonin is produced by the brain and we feel sleepy. Melatonin production stops in response to light, so as it gets lighter levels go down and we wake.
A healthy person who spends a good portion of their day outside will feel sleepy 2-3 hours after sunset and wake 2-3 hours after sunrise.
In our modern lives we have become out-of-sync with our circadian rhythm. This can be due to work patterns, our behaviours, exposure to artificial lights and light pollution, blue light from devices, our diet and alcohol intake.
What can we do about getting more and better quality sleep?
This week we share 2 tools to help with this.
The first is sleep hygiene. This is something we often talk to patients about.
The second is a tool to help you get off to sleep using an adaptation of a hypnotherapy induction technique.
Getting a good night sleep is all about setting up healthy rituals. Those who are parents will remember the importance of the night time routine to help babies sleep.
Well, it is the same for us now.
Establishing a healthy night time ritual:
Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day. This helps your circadian rhythm.
Turn off stimulating devices at least an hour before sleep time
Have a soothing bath making sure the water is not too hot
Use aromatherapy; lavender oil is known to help sleep. Try 6 drops in the bath or 1-2 drops on the pillow (check allergies.)
Try to allow time for a relaxing meditation before bed
Block out external stimuli – blackout blinds, ears plugs, eye masks as needed.
Allow 15-20 minutes to get to sleep if you do not drop off then get up and find a calming activity. Try again when you feel sleepy
Relaxation exercises can help
Healthy daytime rituals that will help with sleep:
Make sure you spend time during the day outside exposed to natural sunlight to help regulate your circadian Rhythm.
Get some physical activity every day but nothing too vigorous close to bed time.
Avoid too much alcohol. People often use this as a way to fall asleep but it is a diuretic meaning you are more likely to wake needing to empty your bladder. Long term use can also affect your mood which is closely linked to the quality of your sleep.
Caffeine is a stimulant so limit usage and avoid in the evening.
Avoid eating late
Sleep Induction Technique
This technique is adapted from a hypnotherapy induction script devised by Terence Watts It is based on the neurological concept that people can only hold between 5 and 9 conscious thoughts in their short-term memory. Encouraging people to concentrate on more than 9 things overloads the short-term memory and they can be more easily led into trance.
We will teach you how to do this here, with the end goal being sleep….
Make yourself comfortable in bed
Follow each of these instructions very slowly.
The aim of the exercise is to bring your awareness to a new and different sensation or thought, changing it at regular, slow intervals.
The order of each thought or change in awareness is not important.
It does not matter if you repeat certain changes of awareness or add in your own.
The key is to keep slowly and repetitively brining your awareness to something different until your conscious mind becomes overloaded and gives way to an altered state.
Once you are deeply relaxed, sleep will follow...
Place your right hand on your stomach and your left hand on your chest
Take deep regular breaths in
Feel your right hand rise and your left hand stay steady as you breathe deeply into your stomach
Feel the pillow underneath your head
How soft it is
And the way your head presses deeply into its softness
Smell the familiar smells of your bedroom
Or any aromatherapy oils you have added to your pillow
Feel the indent in the mattress on your bed
From the pressure of your body as gravity pulls you deeper and deeper in
Listen to the sound of silence in your room
There is never complete silence
Recognise the comforting sounds inside and outside your home
Feel the warmth of your body
As it relaxes into the bed
Drawing you deeper and deeper into a state of relaxation
Listen to the quiet, regular sound of your heartbeat
That is always there
But not noticed in the press of our busy days
Feel the air filling your lungs
Deeper and deeper
Feel the pressure of the covers pressing into your body
Making you safe and secure
Feel yourself pulled deeper and deeper
Into the realms of sleep
Where your body will repair itself
Making you healthier and stronger
Ready for a healthy, vibrant tomorrow
 Koulivand PH, Khaleghi Ghadiri M, Gorji A. Lavender and the nervous system. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:681304.  Watts T. Crucial Fantastci Inductions and Deepeners for the Professional Hypnotherapist Kindle edition  Miller GA. The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review. 1956;63:81–97