Having heightened anxiety around us will lead us to soaking up that anxiety ourselves. And that means that we will trigger off our threat centres in our brains and focus more on survival. And when that happens, it is very easy for our sleep to be disturbed because parts of our mind are focusing more on the survival thing, which is more important than sleeping. As a result of that we might notice that our sleep for example is being disturbed during the night, or we’re finding it difficult to actually go to sleep in the first place. What can we do in these situations?
Let’s start off with a few things that will help us go to sleep. The first important thing is to establish a routine as to at what time we go to sleep. The more regular we are, the easier it is for our mind and our body to adjust to: this as a time when I go to sleep.
The second thing is very much linked to this and it’s establishing some kind of ritual that will help us before we go to sleep. For example, spending some time reading a book or listening to music. Again, this is a way in which we signal to our minds and our bodies that this is a time where we are going to sleep.
A third thing that’s important is to make sure that our sleeping quarters are electronic gadget free, and that the time before we go to sleep, we’re not using electronic gadgets. First of all, it’s because there’s something about being disturbed that we would like to avoid: messages coming in, someone calling, emails coming in. But there’s also something about looking at a screen which actually stimulates our eyes and therefore is also trying to wake us up precisely when we are trying to sleep.
And linked to this is the fourth thing, which is about avoiding watching news or adrenaline pumping movies just before going to sleep because, of course, these will trigger off thoughts, they will trigger off adrenaline in our system, which is there to make us awake rather than to make us sleep.
Another thing that’s really important is to avoid heavy meals, cigarettes or alcohol two to three hours before sleeping time, because these are not things that will allow you to sleep deeply, after all.
And finally, it’s really important to do exercise and tire your body out during the day. But at the same time, it’s important to avoid doing this right before you go to sleep because exercise activates you, while what you want before going to sleep is to calm yourself down.
What about if you wake up during the night? What can you do in that case? The first thing that’s really important is that if you notice that after 10 or 15 minutes you haven’t gone back to sleep, don’t spend a lot of time in bed trying to force yourself to go to sleep because you will not manage to do that. So after 10 to 15 minutes just get out of bed. Do not switch on bright light because that will wake you up. Just put on some dim lighting, go to a different room preferably, and perhaps use the ritual that you’ve established to go to sleep like reading, or listening to music or radio, or something like that, to help yourself go back to that space prior to sleeping, and then go back to bed, and try sleeping again. And if you don’t manage, repeat the same thing.
The second thing to do is that if you notice that your mind is going into things that I need to do, things that I’m worrying about: just take note of them. And tell yourself: “These are things that I will look at, these are things that I will do tomorrow, not today. At the moment I can’t do anything about them.” In a way it’s using a bit of the more rational side of your brain to remind your brain that now is not the time to do these things because I actually can’t do anything about them. But I will do something about them tomorrow: that’s why I’m taking a note about this.
And finally, it’s really important that you practice some kind of breathing exercises, relaxation exercises, like meditation for example, so that you can help yourself calm down, relax before going to sleep. You can find plenty of these online. I will also be uploading some so that you can make use of them at a later stage.