Sleep! That word, that word that can bring so much emotion and reaction when you hear it. Sleep, one person’s luxury and another person’s nightmare. What is the secret to a good night’s sleep?
Why is it that one person can fall asleep the moment their head hits the pillow and can sleep until 11am, yet the next person can talk of tossing and turning for hours before waking up at 5am every morning?
Which one of these people are you?
Have you been both before now?
What happened to change the situation?
There could be several reasons for this, but I think I may have an answer…
Let me tell you about my relationship with sleep before I share my techniques for getting a good night’s sleep.
My Relationship with Sleep
So, I don’t remember exactly how well I slept as a child, but I’m pretty sure that I was getting a good night’s sleep most nights.
I then went through my teens an into my twenties partying hard and drinking too much, coupled with an inability to get out of bed before midday!
Fast forward into my thirties and my relationship with sleep completely changed.
I was going to bed late and laying in bed for hours unable to get to sleep. I was waking up in the night and unable to get back to sleep. I was waking at 6am, waking up tired but unable to get back to sleep again. This continued for a long time, a very long time.
For ten years I had variations of this sleep pattern and I had just accepted that this is how it was for me. I was a thinker, I overthink, I worry about things. I always have a lot on my mind, and I can’t switch off. This was me!
At the age of 43 I suffered a bad period of anxiety, and through studying mindfulness to overcome this anxiety I adapted some techniques to help me sleep better.
I took the general principles of mindfulness and put them together with a stress management technique, and I have been sleeping like a baby since.
I have now been using this technique for over a year now, and on average have one bad nights sleep per month! That’s quite a difference from a time where I was struggling to sleep every single night.
From taking about an hour every night to get to sleep, it now it only takes me about 5 minutes maximum.
Before I show you how I did this, I want to explore what happens to us as we grow older, possibly resulting in disruptions to our sleep patterns. Here’s just a few reasons:
- You have more responsibility, and with more responsibility comes worry. Whether you now have children to worry about, or whether you have more outgoings financially, it’s inevitable that more and more things get loaded into the worry bank as you age.
- We have more situations in our lives which are unpleasant. When something bad happens in our life, we tend to then develop a worry for that situation happening again at some point. This is how anxieties start, and the more future worries we have, the more anxiety we have as a person.
- You learn to unsleep! What I mean here is that you don’t have to think about it as child, you just sleep. It only takes a few bad nights sleep through your years, and suddenly you develop a fear for a bad night’s sleep. Ever had the situation where you think “oh no, I’ve been awake for twenty minutes. It’s going to one of those nights where I don’t sleep again!”
Combine any one of a number of these things and you have developed the inability to sleep well again. Wrong, you very much can teach yourself to sleep again. Let me show you how.
My 5-minute Routine for a Good Night’s sleep
First things to do is to make sure you take yourself to bed at a reasonable time and don’t sit up too late watching TV or other screens.
REM is an important process that your brain needs to carry out in order to shut down and process the day’s events. If this doesn’t happen, then your anxiety will only be increased the next day. Your brain will struggle to carry out REM if it is overtired.
This is a very easy step because you can just make it happen, however the next steps in the process require some practice and focus. Trying to get a good night’s sleep can sometimes feel impossible, and as if it’s something you can’t control.
If you practice this method enough, it can become like a switch that you can literally switch it on whenever you want.
OK, here’s the method I want you to follow:
- Before You Go To Bed
Before you go to bed, write down a list of all the things bothering you and currently occupying your mind. Against each item, write down an action to do something about it. If you have no solution for it, then write down a time where you can re-address the concern and think about a solution to the problem.
The instruction here is to tell your brain that you are making plans to resolve whatever it is on your mind. Your brain is built on logic and therefore needs a solution to each problem it faces. It can’t deal with unknowns.
Here’s an example. If you know you have to buy your mother a birthday present and it’s keeping you awake thinking about what to buy her, tell yourself that you will think about it when you are travelling to work tomorrow morning. Give yourself the solution even though it might not be the last time you think about it.
Another example. If you are sat up worrying about money, tell yourself that you will allocate two hours after work tomorrow to map out and plan how you will deal with your financial situation.
If whatever is on your mind is something you don’t feel you can find an answer for, then you must shut down the thinking one way or another before bed.
You can’t solve the problem right now and having another bad night sleep will only compound the issue. Search hard for the next action you will take and write it down.
Now this all sounds very simple, and I’m aware that people have problems which are more serious than this. I personally thought I had a critical illness when I was suffering from anxiety, so this isn’t something you can just close down quickly each night.
It is possible to do and I have managed to achieve this at other stressful stages of my life..
You simply need to write down the logical response to your problem. For example, if you do have a serious concern, there is nothing that can be done about it while led in bed, so you need to wrote down what you will do, or when you will think about it next. Just give it a time slot at least.
Although the problem hasn’t been solved, only reallocated a new time slot, the next two steps will take the process a step further.
You can find other articles to help deal with anxiety here.
2. Find Your Good Memory
Secondly, write down one thing that happened today that was good. It’s important that you find something that was good about the day. It could be the actions of another person, or a piece of news that you heard.
If the only thing you can think about was that it didn’t rain while driving to work, then that’s OK. You must pick something!
Your instruction is that if any other thoughts pop into your head, you must replace it with the one good thing that happened today.
The moment you worry about money again (or anything else from step 1), you must quickly replace it with the one good thing that happened today. You must do this.
At first this used to take me about 10-15 minutes of constantly trying to force my ‘good memory’ into my mind and overrule whatever was consuming my mind before. Now I can do it instantly over and over when needed.
When your brain processes something good that actually happened, it does a number of things; it releases serotonin in to your body and makes you feel happier, it also starts a process of REM which helps your brain to unwind, and also your mind can’t think negative thoughts while you are focused and thinking about something positive.
The logic of remembering something that is real, rather then the insolvable future, will allow your brain to relax.
3. Focus On Your Breathing
Lastly, get in to bed, lay on your back and take deep breaths in and out, focusing solely on your breathing. Do not think about anything else while you do this. Keep doing this until you fall asleep.
If any random thoughts pops into your head while doing this exercise, tell them to go away and imagine the thoughts drifting out of your head an into the air. If you can’t get the thoughts to disappear then replace this thought with your ‘good memory’ from the day.
Then go back to your breathing. Keep repeating this until you fall asleep. If you wake up in the night, then tell your thoughts to drift away, and if needed keep reminding yourself of your ‘good memory’, thinking about it constantly. Then start your breathing routine again and before you know it you will drift off asleep.
If you practice this every night, I guarantee that you will eventually master the art of getting yourself to sleep. It might take a few days, or it might take a couple of week’s but I guarantee that it works through practice.
You need to practice the ability to sleep again, removing the process that laying in bed is your time for thinking because otherwise it will be a time where those anxieties that you’ve developed pop up and appear.
I know that laying in bed at night can put you alone with your thoughts and fears but trust me it doesn’t have to be that way. You can get back to a place where sleep is something you barely think about in order to start sleeping again.
When you find that place again you will feel a like a new person. Trust me its worth the practice!
One last thing, you don’t want to undo the good work here by drinking excessive amounts of coffee each day. Try to have your last coffee about 1 o’clock in the afternoon, allowing your caffeine to leave your body in time for bed.
I know that when you can’t sleep well coffee is your best friend, however you must get over this routine. It will only take a day or two to break the routine.
Getting exercise each day can also help to release cortisone and make you sleep better. Just 15 minutes HIIT training a day can help you sleep better. Why not follow Joe Wickes on YouTube for quick routines that you can do in the comfort of your own home. You don’t have to go for long runs every day to get exercise.
I would love to hear how you’re getting on in your quest to get a good night’s sleep so come over to my Facebook page and let me know.