Welcome back! In our previous write-up we talked about the various ways negative thinking can spiral out of control and prevent us from switching off and sleeping. We also highlighted the importance of identifying which of our worries and stress factors are within our control so we can do something about them but let everything else, go. In this final blog post for Stress Awareness Month, we look at “structure” and “stimulus control” to support of better sleep and reduce insomnia.
Firstly, it is vital to get into the right space of mind for a restful night’s sleep – there are many ways to do this throughout the day or evening, like taking a relaxing bath, exercising in the morning or early afternoon, avoiding or cutting down on alcohol and caffeine especially after 2pm.*
From a stress management perspective and looking at our previous post on the control circle, keeping a journal to write down worries is a great habit to start**. It’s called “Worry time”. Once the things you are anxious about are spelled out, go through your list and let go of the ones outside your control and work our actions for those within your direct control. It also helps to map out which actions to take now and which to tackle the next day – planning tomorrow’s tasks helps clear the mind as well.
Once bedtime arrives, make sure you put your phone away at least 1 to 2 hours before going to sleep and maintain a steady pre-sleep wind down routine so it becomes second nature. Mindfulness and meditation are a great help to rest the mind and body and prepare yourself to wind down.
An important element of chronic insomnia treatment, is to condition the mind through stimulus control*** It’s important to create a strong, subconscious association between falling asleep and the environment you sleep in. Essentially, an insomniac’s mind will be set racing through the negative associations linked to going to sleep, if they are active or stay awake for long period of times in their bedroom. Stimulus control works to re-wire those associations positively and restore a more natural physical wake-sleep cycle. Here is how it works:
- Only go to bed when you’re sleepy – think heavy eyelids, watery eyes and yawning rather than just feeling a tad tired.
- Once in bed, if you have not fallen asleep within 15-20 minutes, leave the bedroom and head over to your chosen area for a relaxing activity such as meditation, breathing or a light read. Be careful with activities like watching TV, eating or any other activity the mind considers rewarding or addictive (like social media). These should be avoided otherwise your brain will create a positive association with having no sleep. Return to your bed as soon as you feel sleep.
- Ensure your bedroom is the place you sleep and rest, not your office, gym, library, cinema. This helps generate an environment you can relax in.
- Set an alarm for the same wake-up time every morning to re-establish a regulated sleep-wake cycle. This means no sleeping later to catch up in the morning, sorry! Even if you didn’t sleep well the night before your mind and body will be better prepped to sleep the night after and naturally make you feel sleepy earlier and more deeply.
- Avoid napping during the day, otherwise getting sleepy and falling asleep at your usual bedtime will be a struggle. Keep the same times to go to sleep and wake up - this is vital in teaching the mind and body how to sleep better.
With so much information out there, start with a small and achievable (!) number of new habits and figure out what works well for you. After all, it isn’t worth stressing about how to reduce stress 😊
In May, we will celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month. The theme is Kindness this year, from connecting with others to being kind to yourself to better support others, we will run a series of posts around these important topics.
Stay safe & healthy! And stay tuned for our next blog post in a couple of weeks time, subscribe below and we will let you know each time a new post is ready. Take good care !
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- The WeSleep Team –