Although the causes of insomnia and sleep-related problems are varied, there are several common methods to getting your sleep back on track. Here you will find three suggested programs – one addressing stress and anxiety caused persistent night-time wakening, and one for a weekend routine back on track.
You may prefer to devise your own tailor-made pre-sleep regime that includes writing in a journal or performing yoga, breathing or meditation exercises. Music is a great relaxer and can be used to supplement meditation and relaxation techniques; try nature sounds, mood music or light classical or jazz, but avoid anything with lyrics or spoken words or that is too loud or disharmonic, which will only serve to keep your mind stimulated.
TOUGH DAY SLEEPLESSNESS SOLUTION
Some days we all find ourselves at home with a racing mind and an anxious to-do list, with a much needed restorative slumber impossibility. This usually means we find ourselves lying awake in the dark, trapped in a cycle of worrying about our inability to sleep.
Try this relaxing 90-minute program to speed the onset of sleep, leaving you refreshed and able to start the next day energized and with a rebalanced outlook.
A retreat at the end of a busy day is essential for renewing your spirit and your body for the next day’s challenges.
At the end of your active day, turn off your phone and switch on low lights around your home, including the bathroom (hard, overhead task lighting will not allow you to relax). Let your body adjust to the new lighting, encouraging melatonin production, and play soothing music. Especially useful are CDs specifically created for inducing sleep or deep relaxation. Have a warm bath and add five drops of mandarin or lavender essential to the water.
Leave the doors and windows closed to allow the atmosphere to become fragrant and steamy. Place a soft towel and bathrobe over a radiator to warm, and place a pen and note pad by the tub. While the bath is running, prepare and enjoy a soothing bromine-and tryptophan-rich snack, such as a whole meal sandwich of banana and peanut butter, or turkey and lettuce with a glass of warm milk and honey.
Return to the bathroom where you need to soak for at least 30 minutes to allow the relaxing essential oils to work on your system. In the first few minutes in the tub, use the pen and paper to draw a list with three columns; tomorrow, one week, one month. When we are stressed, we see every problem as part of one big ‘emergency’ and writing each task under the relevant time frame will help you see what you really have to deal with. Once you have written out your tasks, ring each one that you can delegate or ask for help with (can you have your shopping delivered or ask a colleague to help source information for a report?). Write out your real to do list for the morning and put it to one side. Enjoy the remaining time in the water. After your bath, dress in comfortable; lose sleepwear that makes you feel relaxed.
Your body and mind need 30 to 60 minutes to wind down. Go to a comfortable, warm room and, in low light, try the following breathing method to help the body and mind release tension and worry.
When you take a relaxing bath, ensure that you allow at least 30 minutes for the essential oils to work their magic.
Sit upright in a firm and comfortable chair. Begin to breathe in a slow, regular way on developing breathing techniques, concentrating on the inhale and exhale sensation. Now think of two words, such as ‘calm’ and ‘relax’, which equate ‘rest’ to you. When you breathe in, say one word in your mind, and as you expel the air, think of the other. Repeat for 5 to10 minutes. The technique will help banish other, worrisome thoughts that are hard to release with conscious effort. The more you practice and run through these steps, the more readily your body will respond; you are creating your own relaxation ‘trigger’.
Move to your bedroom and get into bed. Lie on your back in the Corpse position and begin some positive visualization to calm a racing heart and mind. Imagine a scene dear to you in which you were completely relaxed, perhaps on a winter holiday in a rustic ski chalet, lying on an old couch. Imagine the smell of the burning wood on the fire, then the sensation of the threadbare couch fabric, comfy underneath you. Then imagine the drowsy heat from the fire. Focus on different details and sensations in the scene, feeling you gradually relax. It may be that your ideal scene draws on a memory such as a picnic or a beach outing * just choose somewhere that you felt safe, happy and rested. This visualization technique should lull you off to sleep.
As another aid, create an ‘emergency relaxation kit’ consisting of a notepad, pen, essential oils or fragrant candles, self-massage tools and a music CD, which you can pull out after a harassed day for 30 minutes of instant relief. Make sure you maintain it so you don’t find yourself turning the house upside-down for missing components, further adding to your stress.
NIGHT TIME AWAKENING PROGRAMME
Night-time awakenings can be very distressing and isolating. It is essential to create a system to help manage these jolts, as they can rapidly become a source of great discomfort resulting in excessive daytime sleepiness. The first thing to appreciate is that everyone has night-time awakenings, several times a night, but usually they are so brief we have no recollection of them.
First, make sure you go to bed when you are sleepy; we often force ourselves to bed feeling tired, but the fatigued body is kept awake by a mind racing with dramas we have just seen on TV, in a brightly lit environment, not allowing ourselves the preparation for sleep. Avoid daytime naps no matter how tempting if you are having this problem, to ensure you are truly tired. Some night- time awakenings can be caused by hunger and can be easily resolved; try a small tryptophan-rich meal 30 minutes before bed. It should be easy to digest, such as a glass of warm milk with nutmeg and honey.
Some people wake with a jolt of panic or fear, a sudden adrenalin rush that pulls them into consciousness. The relaxation technique here was devised by Michael Krugman, founder of the Sounder Sleep System. After years of studying arts such as yoga, qigong and meditation, Krugman devised a system called ‘mini moves’, which is based on breathing and visualization techniques and which helps achieve a state of deep relaxation and deep sleep. This adaptation is ideal for returning to sleep after a late night awakening.
- Lie on your back in bed in a comfortable position, with a pillow under your head. Become aware of your breathing; is it anxious and labored or are you feeling calm? Krugman calls this ‘breath surfing’. Keep concentrating on your breathing until you feel completely focused on the sensation.
- Move into the ‘home position’ by bending your arms at the elbows, still allowing the upper arm to rest comfortably by your side, and then place your hands – palms open, fingers slightly apart, thumbs wherever comfortable – on your chest, on either side of your sternum, tips of the fingers resting on the sternum. Everything should feel comfortable and loose.
- Observe the movements of your breath, the rise and fall of your chest, feeling through your fingers.
- Tune into the area underneath your thumbs. Slowly, begin to lift your thumbs a tiny way from your chest as your chest rises to inhale. Lower them as you exhale.
- Synchronize your breathing and thumbs so each lift and breath corresponds in duration.
- Stop, rest and feel. The anxiety should be gone, and you’re breathing fuller. Krugman says this practice will ‘stimulate your body-mind’s ability to sleep’. You may drift in a dreamlike state before nodding off.
If you are still unable to return to sleep, get up, tidy the sheets and move to another room. You must avoid stimulating activities such as work and watching TV. Reading by lamplight, so that your body still appreciates that it is night, can soothe the mind, but avoid murder mysteries or anything over stimulating. Repetitive tasks such as ironing can help lull the mind back to sleep, or looking at a photography book such as rural landscape scenes with quiet music or nature sounds in the background can help. When you feel drowsy, and not before, return to bed. Repeat the ‘mini moves’. Your body must associate only sleep with the bedroom. Avoid looking at a clock, but if you are still awake after 20 minutes, get up again and repeat.
Despite a difficult night, get up at the same time. A regular wake time is essential for good rest, and trains the body to return to its natural pattern.
REJUVENATING WEEKEND – REST PROGRAMME
As a matter of mental, physical and emotional health, we should all try to set a day a month aside to catch up on our sleep and neglected needs. This plan will help you enjoy a calm, relaxed day to help you unwind and attain a rejuvenating night’s sleep.
Step One: Preparation
Choose a day when you don’t work. Make sure to stock up on the recommended foods beforehand to prevent you from grabbing sugar-packed fuel, which will give you energy and mood spikes, and also eliminate the need to enter a busy and stressful supermarket on your ‘recharge’ day. Let friends and family know you are not available, unplugging the phone and leaving your computer and emails safely switched off. Try taking some gentle exercise such as a long walk or swim, as exercise is shown to improve sleep quality, but make sure you do this in the earlier part of the day (too near bedtime and you become over stimulated and unable to rest).
Try booking a treat such as a massage or facial. lf you are excessively tired, you may find yourself low at mid afternoon during your daytime circadian dip. Do something enjoyable that you rarely have the chance to do, like watch an old black-and-white movie, but try to avoid napping. This is a day of reward and nourishment, so a glass of wine with dinner is fine, but limit it to that more will destroy sleep quality, as will stimulants such as cigarettes and caffeine. Keep yourself hydrated by drinking at least 2 liters (372 pints) of water throughout the day.
Step two: Diet
Choose food that will keep energy levels balanced all through the day, which will help you feel at peace and reduce the risk of an afternoon nap, keeping you awake later.
Choose slow-release carbohydrates such as an egg on brown or whole meal toast or porridge. Try to avoid caffeine, but if you feel unable to start your day without it make this your one cup, in order for it to leave your system by mid afternoon. Change to chamomile tea throughout the rest of the day.
Include lean protein, such as fish, poultry or red meat, or soya, and green leafy vegetables; this will deliver a boost of vitamin B, great for combating the effects of a stressful week.
This should occur at least two hours before bed and include carbohydrates such as brown pasta, rice or potatoes, pasta and lean protein, with a salad packed with healing antioxidants. A glass of mandarln or orange juice, which contains bromine, can also act as a sedative. Avoid spicy foods or excess sugar.
Step Three: Bath time
Before bed, dissolve two cups of Epsom salts in a warm bath. The salts will help rid you of any of the toxins accumulated from previously eating and drinking excessively, and also relax the muscles. The salts can, however, leave the skin dry, so do moisturize well after your bath. You may like to add a few drops of bath oil to counteract the dehydrating effects of the salt. Those with skin complaints or high blood pressure should check with their doctor first. After your soak, dress in loose, comfortable nightwear.
Step Four: Massage
Move to your bed or a comfortable chair, using only a low light source and try this self-massage technique for releasing tension from your head, neck and shoulders. The scalp especially can hold a great deal of tension. Think of the sensation in the forehead, when furrowing the brow or raising the eyebrows, which we often does when stressed. Place the three middle fingers of each hand at the front centre of your hairline. Making firm circular movements, move in a straight line along the scalp down the back of your head to the hairline at the back. Move back towards the front, working your way gradually outwards until your whole scalp has been manipulated. End the massage by kneading the whole scalp rhythmically and softly.
Enjoy a relaxing read or listen to peaceful music, and when you feel tired, make your way to bed. Have a restful sleep that will help prepare you for the week ahead. Choose a breakfast that offers slow-release energy to give you an energetic and positive start to the day.