I have helped lots of families get their little ones to settle and sleep better but there have also been a number of parents who have continued to struggle to sleep. This guest blog from Kathryn Pinkham at the Insomnia Clinic has been written with those parents in mind so, if you are struggling to sleep and it is not your little one keeping you awake, check out her tips below!
With around a third of the population experiencing the symptoms of Insomnia at some point in their life, it’s probable you’ve experienced some sleeplessness yourself. Although it may only last a short while, sometimes sleeplessness can recur and become prolonged.
Insomnia is identified by four key symptoms
1. Problems falling to sleep
2. Problems staying asleep
3. Waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep
4. Not feeling refreshed from sleep.
Although we are very different, research has shown us that there is a distinct pattern to how sleep loss become chronic. The pattern generally follows three stages.
Firstly, a person may be more prone to sleep difficulty than others. They may be a naturally anxious person or struggle to ‘switch off’ at night. These factors would predispose somebody to insomnia.
There is also usually something that triggers an episode of insomnia. This could be a period of emotional stress like losing a loved one or going through a divorce or it could be as simple as a cough and cold which disrupts your sleep pattern. These are all things that would lead most of us to lose some sleep but when things don’t return to normal, it can lead to insomnia.
As a result of the poor sleep, habits and behaviours develop which are intended to combat the effects of sleep loss but which end up making the problem worse. For example, by going to bed earlier to try and catch up on sleep we end up being in bed at a time that our natural body clock doesn’t associate with sleeping, leading to another bad night.
In the end insomnia develops as we become stuck in a cycle of poor sleep and worry. The more time we spend in bed worrying, the more we associate bed with worry and then simply getting into bed can make us feel stressed.
At this point many people will turn to sleeping medications to help them to get better sleep and although these can be helpful in the short term they are not dealing with the root causes of the sleeplessness. Sleeping tablets also have a negative side effect called ‘rebound insomnia’. This is when a person doesn’t take the pills for a night and the insomnia is worse than before as the body tries to adjust to the withdrawal of the sedative effect. This usually causes a lot of anxiety and most will return to the tablets again.
However, there are plenty of things you can do to overcome sleeplessness yourself and even prevent it from occurring in the first place. Here are a few of The Insomnia Clinic’s top tips for a better night’s rest.
1. Create the right sleep environment
Take a look around your bedroom and see if there’s anything which may prevent a good night’s sleep. Is there a streetlight shining through the window? If so, get some better blinds or blackout curtains. How about your alarm clock? If it shines brightly, it might be preventing you from getting a proper night’s sleep so consider changing it for one that doesn’t light up – just make sure it doesn’t tick too loudly! You also need to get the room temperature just right. Your body temperature fluctuates during sleep and extreme highs or lows can make it difficult to sleep. Make sure your room is free of light, noise and of a comfortable temperature.
2. Wind down before sleep
You come home late, exhausted and the first thing you want to do is get into bed and sleep. But it doesn’t happen. Why? Because your mind is still active from the day’s activity, and now that it’s free from distractions it is free to wander, and keep you awake. Before going to bed, set aside some time to unwind by reading a book or listening to music. You may even want to consider starting a diary so you can unload your thoughts before getting your head down.
3. Avoid screens and electronic devices
Electronic screens on TVs, smart-phones and laptops give off blue light which reduces the body’s production of melatonin. Keep the screens turned off while you are sleeping and avoid their use close to bedtime, particularly when getting out of bed following the fifteen-minute rule (see number 6 below).
4. Avoid smoking, alcohol or meals around bedtime
If you are a smoker, you might think of a last cigarette before bedtime as a good way to unwind. However, nicotine is a stimulant and more likely to keep you awake. So if you can’t quit smoking, then you should at least refrain from smoking within 2 hours of bedtime. Similarly, although alcohol helps many people unwind, after drinking, the quality of sleep is generally poorer than without, so avoid alcohol if sleeplessness is a problem. Meals are also best avoided within 2 hours of bedtime. Food is your body’s fuel, the last thing you want to do is fuel up when you’re ready to be turning off for the night.
5. Keep your bed for sleep and intimacy
By performing other activities in bed, such as watching TV, you subconsciously start to attach these activities to your bed. The result being that when you get into bed, your body starts to prepare yourself to watch TV rather than to sleep, so be sure to restrict your bedtime activities to sleep and being intimate.
6. The fifteen-minute rule
If you’re lying in bed awake, there is a danger your body will begin to associate the bed with being awake. You should therefore give yourself fifteen minutes – taking care not to keep checking the clock – to get to sleep. If, after this time you are still awake, get out of bed and repeat your wind down routine until you start to feel sleepy. Keep repeating this cycle until you fall asleep.
7. Keep a strict waking time
If you’re struggling to sleep, it can be all too tempting to compensate with a late rise in the morning. However, this could start to become routine as, by rising late, you will be less tired by bedtime, leading to further sleeplessness. Set your alarm for the same time every day and try to be disciplined in getting up when it goes off. If you are tired, this will build up sleep pressure during the day, making you more likely to sleep more easily at bedtime.
8. Take fewer naps
Although the effects of sleep loss can make you feel tired during the day, it is important that you try to resist the temptation to take a nap as this will make you feel less tired at bedtime. If you are feeling dangerously tired, then of course, take a short nap, but try to restrict it to just 20 minutes in order to recharge without falling into a deep sleep.
9. Keep active during the day
Remaining sedentary throughout the day means your body is not using up the energy it needs to. As a consequence, by the time you get to bed, you have unspent energy reserves which will keep you from sleeping. Make sure you stay active during the day, both physically and mentally, ensuring you burn off plenty of steam ready for sleep. However, do be sure not to exercise within 2 hours of sleep as this will cause you to be more alert and take less time to sleep.
10. Regulate your body clock with natural light
During the day, expose yourself to as much natural light as you can. Natural light suppresses the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin, making you feel more awake. Conversely, in the evening, avoid natural light, helping your body to produce melatonin and making you feel sleepy. This is easier in the winter than in the summer, when you may need to have good blinds or blackout curtains to avoid natural light entering your home late in the evening.
While these ten things can be done yourself, without the need for intervention, if you are struggling, don’t suffer in silence. There are other treatments available for poor sleep that don’t involve popping pills.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia (cbt-i) is a programme of treatment which has repeatedly shown in studies to be an effective method of curing poor sleep. The programme helps users to understand sleep and to identify the habits and behaviours they may have taken on which are maintaining the problem.
With up to 85% off people seeing an improvement in their sleep in just 4 weeks it can be a short-term course of treatment with no negative side effects being reported.
The Insomnia Clinic are a team of accredited insomnia specialists who offer face to face or online sessions at over 15 locations across the UK, providing support and guidance to help you take back control of your sleep.
If you would like to book your free telephone consultation or find out more please visit www.theinsomniaclinic.co.uk