Your body knows how to sleep
Just as it knows how to keep your heart pumping and your lungs breathing, your body will never forget how to sleep. Most of the time, if your natural sleep pattern has been disturbed, your body will get back into its natural rhythm of sleeping and waking – if you give it half a chance – and importantly – if you stop worrying about it.
This can sometimes seem much easier said than done. But research has shown time and time again that good sleep can be restored without the need for drugs, when you are willing to follow better sleeping habits. Here are 9 tips for better sleeping:
- If you have trouble falling asleep – don’t go to bed until you FEEL sleepy. BUT – always get up at the same time each morning.
- If you don’t go to sleep within 15 minutes – get up and try again later.
- Don’t nap during the day. Or restrict naps to less than 20 minutes.
- If you don’t feel sleepy at bedtime, make sure to get some natural sunlight early in the day to re-set your body’s natural rhythms.
- If, say, you tend to stay in bed for 10 hours, but only sleep for 6 hours – then it can help to restrict yourself to being in bed for only 6 hours in total. Sleep restriction like this tends to work within about a week. Instead of bed being the start of a long restless trial each night, you will get start to get sleepy much faster when your head hits the pillow, and fall asleep much quicker. However if the problem persists, check with your doctor or psychologist.
- Don’t give yourself mixed messages. Bed is not primarily for eating, using ipads, or watching TV. If you have trouble sleeping, restrict your bedtime activities to purely sleep and sex.
- Create some downtime from stimulation and electronic devices each night, so that your body can become more naturally peaceful and sleepy just before bedtime.
- Get comfortable with waking up once or twice a night, because that is perfectly normal. We go through about 5 different sleep “waves” each night, from light to deep sleep and back again, approximately every 90 minutes. People sometimes wake as they go through in the light sleep stages of the night.
- Don’t watch the clock through the night. Most insomniacs believe they have been awake the whole time between clock-watching, but often they have drifted into sleep between checks. Hide your clock away, where you can’t see it easily.
Sometimes it can be as simple as making a commitment to stop worrying about poor sleep. Contrary to popular opinion, poor sleep will not shorten your life span. It just feels bad, especially if you continue to worry about it. Stop worrying about it.
There are however one group of people who do need to do more than just the measures mentioned above, who may need the help of specialised sleep clinics: those who suffer from a condition called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Sleep apnea is a condition whereby the muscles in the throat relax and briefly close off the throat and air supply. This will often cause the sufferer to lose airflow for seconds or minutes many times a night, and to awaken often gasping for air. Sufferers can feel extremely tired during the day from the lack of oxygen at night.
The good news is that recent research has found that up to 60% of people with the more complex problem of sleep apnea also suffer from common insomnia. Sleep experts say that it can be beneficial to treat the underlying insomnia first, before trying to learn to use breathing masks which are used in treating sleep apnea.
Insomnia and Depression
It has been found that when a person is suffering from both depression and insomnia, treating the insomnia first can lead to the depression resolving on its own, without need for further treatment.
Psychologists trained in helping people with sleeping difficulties can help to identify the type of insomnia you may have, and the best steps for resolving it in your particular case – before resorting to the need for drugs.
People who suffer from various forms of insomnia can ask their doctor for a Mental Health Care Plan to access limited Medicare support for consulting a psychologist about drug-free ways to treat insomnia.
The general message is: never under-estimate the power of a good sleep in helping to alleviate a range of physical and mental ills.
It is also comforting that the research is unequivocal – sleep is a robust bodily function which responds very well to appropriate treatment and healthy sleeping habits.
Dr Margo Orum is Principal Psychologist of Open Sky Psychology. For an appointment with one of our practitioners, visit the Our Team page or call 1300 296 641.