We’ve all experienced insomnia. It is very common – affecting 40 – 50% of the population at any given time according to the Sleep Health Foundation.
There are two common forms of insomnia:- inability to get to sleep, and inability to maintain sleep, i.e., waking up during the night and finding it hard to get back to sleep.
Insomnia – some causes and reasons
- Not prioritizing sleep
Some people consider time spent sleeping as a waste, and try to make do with the minimum sleep with which they can function. During sleep, the body repairs itself, and the brain sorts through the memories from that day, so sleep is vitally important.
Try to avoid taking naps during the day. If you have to take a nap, ensure it is before late afternoon, and that the total time for all naps is no more than 30 minutes per day. Otherwise, you will likely sleep less during the night.
- Poor sleeping environment
Your bedroom should be quiet, well ventilated, and dark. Your bed should be warm, but not too warm. Many people find particularly that if their feet are cold, that they cannot get to sleep. Your mattress should be comfortable and the correct firmness for you.
- Too much caffeine, alcohol, nicotine
Caffeine (found in e.g. tea, coffee, chocolate) is a stimulant and should not be taken close to bedtime. Alcohol can help you get to sleep initially, but you may well wake up later in the night. Avoid it before going to bed if you have insomnia.
Nicotine is also a stimulant, and should not be taken near bedtime.
- Shift work
Shift workers generally sleep less per night than non-shift workers, and may find it difficult to get to sleep due to noise during the day. Hormones are designed to keep us awake during the day and make us feel more tired at night, so shift workers are trying to fight against this natural trend.
- Jet lag
This is usually an occasional source of insomnia, except for regular business travelers. It can disrupt the sleep pattern until the individual has adjusted to their new location. This is usually best achieved by trying to fit in with the waking / sleeping times of the new location.
- Eating and drinking late in the evening
This can cause a need to visit the bathroom during the night, and thus waking from sleep. It can also cause heartburn and discomfort, which make sleep more difficult.
- Failing to wind down before bed
Use of iPads and other electronic devices, or otherwise being too active just before bedtime can make sleep more difficult.
Worry about the day’s events, or forthcoming events, can cause insomnia. This is because the mind is still in the thinking mode when it should be relaxing and slowing down. There are methods to resolve this involving relaxation and selective attention (i.e. refusing to worry)
- Various medical conditions can worsen insomnia
If you think you have any of these conditions, please seek medical help.
Health effects of not sleeping
- Lowered immunity
People who are deprived of adequate sleep can have a lower immunity then those who are well rested.
- Digestive conditions
Lack of sleep is reputed to worsen inflammatory bowel disease, acid reflux, and Crohns Disease.
Most of us have experienced this! Lack of sleep can make people more irritable.
People without adequate sleep may be more likely to develop headaches, and migraines if they are prone to these.
- Difficulty learning
Lack of sleep can make it more difficult to concentrate.
- Depleted sex drive
Lack of sleep can decrease sexual desire, and sexual responses.
- Poor vision
Sleep deprivation can cause tunnel vision, double vision, and hallucinations.
Four stages of falling asleep
We all go through four stages as we fall asleep:-
Stage 1 – Thinking
When we get into bed, we can be thinking of the past, or anticipating (worrying?) about the future.
Stage 2 – Fantasy
As we relax, our thoughts turn to imaginings, which can be pleasant, or not so pleasant (worries, etc.). To be effective in transitioning to the next stage, the thoughts need to be pleasant.
Stage 3 – Hypnoidal
People then enter a hypnotic-type state. There is time distortion (losing track of time),
Stage 4 – Unconscious
Unaware of surroundings, and deeply asleep.
People who have difficulty getting to sleep can find it difficult to move down the four stages into sleep for the reasons given earlier in section headed “Insomnia – some causes and reasons”.
As an example, they may be worrying about the past or planning something in the future (staying in the thinking stage). They may alternatively be in pain (unable to move into fantasy stage due to thinking of their pain).
Methods of overcoming these factors and creating restful sleep
- Use peripheral vision
When you want to get to sleep, start becoming aware of what you can see out of the ‘corners of your eyes’, and imagine that you can see behind you (which starts moving you into the fantasy stage of sleep). Using peripheral vision activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which has a calming influence.
- Worry time during the day
If you worry about things while trying to sleep, choose a “worry” time during the day.
- Keep active
Reasonable activity during the day can assist with sleep, due to physical tiredness.
- Record how much sleep you are getting and develop a positive attitude
Develop a positive attitude – many people do not realize that they are sleeping as much as they are. You may wish to keep a note of when you go to bed and wake up, and try to not get stressed if you do not immediately fall asleep.
- Do not nap too much during the day
If you nap during the day you are likely to have less sleep at night. Some sources state that anything longer than 30 minutes nap during the day may lead to difficulties sleeping at night.
- Keep bed for sleeping
Only use bed for sleeping and sexual activities (not eating, reading a book or using your iphone, etc.). Thus, your mind associates your bed with sleep.
- Consistent routine
Wake up and get out of bed at the same time approximately, even at weekends. This sets up a pattern for your brain to start to feel tired at the same time each day.
- Avoid listening to or reading upsetting or frightening items near to bedtime
As your subconscious mind becomes more active as you are falling asleep, and it is not judgemental, these items may prey on your mind while you are trying to sleep.
- Keep a sleep diary to see which changes help your sleeping.
This will help you to discover any trends, and thus activities that help you get to sleep, and vice versa.
In part 2 of this blog post I will cover some self-hypnosis techniques to improve your sleep.
I hope this has been of some assistance to you. As a hypnotherapist, I can help you use the power of your subconscious mind to increase the quality and amount of sleep, so please feel free to contact me on 0403 932311.
Please note: If you are concerned about your insomnia, or feel that there could be an underlying medical condition, please see your GP or healthcare provider. This blog post is not a substitute for medical treatment, and is general advice that does not take into account your particular circumstances.