Why Can’t I Sleep?
If you are struggling to get a good night’s sleep, you are not alone! Statistics show that one in three of us are finding sleep an ongoing problem, and it is a common complaint that I see in my therapy room. My clients will often talk of how they struggle to fall asleep, their minds being very busy as soon as their head hits the pillow, or they might wake in the night and find it difficult to get back off to sleep, their minds racing with random, unhelpful thoughts, or it could be that they sleep well through the night but never feel refreshed when they wake. Does any of this sound familiar? If it does then you have probably already searched for a possible explanation and tried various remedies to improve your sleep, because regular lack of sleep can be very difficult to live with. The good news is that Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can really help people to get back on track with their sleep. Interested? Read on to find out more.
Often held to blame for causing sleep problems are stress, work load, working different shifts, computers, having too much ‘screen time’, medication, poor physical health, pain, poor diet and lack of exercise. Of course, there are also those sleep deprived parents out there who need to face broken sleep on a frequent basis. If you have four or five nights of broken sleep, you will feel sleep deprived. If you have a new born baby it can be months or even years for some families when you don’t get more than four hours of unbroken sleep.
We spend a third of our lives asleep and most people will know that a healthy sleep pattern is essential for good health. Typically, people will complain that they may find it difficult to concentrate or they are grumpier after a bad nights sleep. Without adequate sleep we can find our cognitive skills become weaker, we may have difficulties with communicating well, remembering key information and being creative and flexible in thought. But prolonged lack of sleep can have an even more significant impact on our general wellbeing.
A significant lack of sleep has been linked to physical problems such as a weakened immune system, and it can make you more prone to serious medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Lack of sleep has also been linked to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. After several sleepless nights, the impact on your mental wellbeing becomes more significant. My clients will often talk of ‘brain fog’, making it incredibly difficult to concentrate and make simple day-to-day decisions. People will also describe how their mood can drop and they can feel quite low and have a general feeling of not being able to manage in their daily lives.
How can I improve my sleep?
Sleep is vital for us to be physically and mentally well, but what can we do to improve our quality of sleep? There has been a lot of helpful research in this area that has helped us to understand that ‘sleep hygiene’ is something we should all be considering before our head hits the pillow. ‘Sleep hygiene’ is not about clean bed sheets, although that will probably help, it is about making sure we have the optimum environment and the right bedtime habits for a good nights sleep. For example, we should be doing such things as not drinking caffeine or eating too much sugar before we go to bed, making sure we are not checking our emails and we are not using any device emitting blue light before bedtime. Having good sleep hygiene is likely to improve your quality of sleep.
The science bit
Some of my clients may have very good sleep hygiene, others may be struggling to put some of these new habits into practice, either way they come to me because they are still struggling with their sleep. This is the perfect time to explain that sleep also has another very important role in that it provides the time needed for the brain to process all the information, thoughts and feelings that it has experienced throughout the day. It will do this during your REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement). During this time any worries or upsetting thoughts can be moved from the more emotionally driven part of the brain, to the more intellectual part of the brain where you will have control over them. So, when you wake up things can quite often seem much better, or you may have even forgotten about those worries completely.
Unfortunately, your REM sleep only makes up for 20% of your sleep pattern. When you think that we will all have, somewhere in the region off, 50,000 – 70,000 thoughts per day, it has a lot to work its way through. In fact, during your REM your brain is at its busiest, it will be burning white with the amount of energy it is using.
When we are feeling very busy, stressed, anxious and/or depressed we can find that we are giving our brain more and more thoughts and feelings to process. As it only has a very short amount of time to work through this it can run out of time, your mind will then wake you up, and you will know when it is your mind waking you up because quite often you will feel miserable, and quite often you will struggle to get back to sleep again. Of course, if the brain is using so much energy during this REM sleep, what can also happen is that even if you have managed to stay asleep throughout the night, you wake in the morning still feeling exhausted, as though you have not had any sleep at all.
This is where Solution Focused Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy can really make a difference to a person’s quality and quantity of sleep. Firstly, Solution Focused Psychotherapy encourages the client to start thinking about what small changes they can start making to their everyday lives that will help them to go to bed at night with the best possible mindset, feeling more able to practice good sleep hygiene. Secondly it will also help the client to start focusing more on the positive things that are happening in their life, moving their thoughts away from the negative things and subsequently reducing the amount of work the brain will need to do at night. Thirdly, Hypnotherapy places people in a very relaxed state of trance and this replicates our REM period of sleep, that optimum time for our brain to process and make sense of any thoughts and feelings. The hypnotherapist will use this opportunity to help your emotional primitive mind to process these thoughts with positive suggestions. Helping to embed all of the wonderful solutions the client has identified themselves. And finally, just twenty minutes of trance is the same as 4 hours of sleep, so it’s no wonder that many of my clients describe feeling very relaxed and refreshed after their appointment with me.
Of course, there is also the option of using sleeping pills. Please don’t self-medicate and do seek advice from your doctor if you are considering using these. You may have already tried using sleeping pills, if you have, you may have noticed that whilst they may help you to fall asleep, you are not waking up feeling refreshed and ready to start the day. It is believed that this could be happening because sleeping pills do not help you to fall into a deep enough state of sleep to be able to make use of REM, that critical time needed to process the thoughts and feelings of the day. Research has shown that sleeping pills have the unwanted side effects of making you feel irritable and unable to concentrate; the same side effects of feeling sleep deprived.
If you are at a loss with your sleep and maybe you have tried lots of other things, why not consider Hypnotherapy? After all it is completely natural, it is a very relaxing experience, it can help to calm that emotional primitive part of your brain that can be triggered into a state of fight, flight or freeze when life becomes very busy and stressful, it will encourage you to find your own ways to make sleep a more positive and normal experience for you again and it provides an additional opportunity for that ever important REM sleep. Many of my clients find that their sleep is improved after just a few sessions of Hypnotherapy and I have had sleep deprived parents come to me just for relaxation and a top up of their REM. Maybe it could work for you too.
If you are worried about depression, anxiety or sleep you should always consult your doctor.
I have been working with children, adults and families for over 15 years, providing a range of therapeutic services and relaxation classes designed to create positive changes for the mind, health and self.
Here you will find articles written by me that are my own thoughts influenced by the most up to date neuroscience, research and my experience as a therapeutic social worker and a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist and Psychotherapist.