Learning how to sleep better and return to natural cycles of waking and sleeping has become part and parcel of my therapy practice.
And what with the ongoing worries and fears about Covid-19 I have seen an increase in people with sleep disturbances.
Of course, sleep problems can have many causes, both physical and psychological…
Stress, anxiety, fear, and depression are on the increase as we all try to cope with the demands placed on us in all walks of life, from long hours at work, financial worries or to being cooped up indoors during lockdowns.
And it’s when all of these factors combine that we can start to experience sleep problems.
On this page we’ll begin identifying the psychological aspects of where your sleep problem may stem from and look at some ways to start making improvements…
Change begins with acceptance
Perhaps the best place to start is by simply acknowledging and accepting that you currently have a problem.
The thing is that most people who have sleep problems get extremely frustrated with their insomnia but this only serves to make things worse, adding to the already heightened feelings of stress or tension.
Learning to accept things as they are is often the first step to making positive changes. Acceptance means that you stop fighting with the part of you that controls your sleep cycle.
Of course, this is easier said than done. It’s natural to want to ‘get rid of’ or even ‘fight’ a problem.
But when we calmly accept the situation, we stop the inner conflict. Less inner conflict equals less tension in the body. And a calmer body helps create a calmer mind, prepared for sleep.
So this is the first step to your sleeping better.
But let’s look now at something not so well known about the workings of the mind-body system…
How to sleep better involves a return to nature…
Let me tell you about something called ‘ultradian rhythms‘…
Every ninety minutes or so your brain switches over to right-hemisphere dominance which lasts for about twenty minutes. It’s during this time that the mind-body system processes the last hour and a half’s experiences and re-charges your batteries.
However, if you constantly over-ride this natural need to take a break your general stress levels will continue to rise.
The added stresses of Covid-19 – heightened fear, anxiety, loneliness, sleep problems, depression etc. – along with the everyday demands of life, means that most of us miss out on this much needed break every hour and a half.
The interesting thing about this ninety minute cycle is that it continues when you are asleep. During sleep the brain still switches over to right-hemisphere dominance when you go into REM sleep and start dreaming.
And even if you don’t remember your dreams, it is something that we all do every night. Dreaming is nature’s way of turning off the daytime’s unresolved emotional arousals.
RELATED CONTENT: Why We Evolved to Dream – watch the video below…
Raised stress = excessive dreaming = disturbed sleep
So, the problem is that by missing out on the natural need for a rest every ninety minutes during the day, your stress levels rise, resulting in your having to dream more at night.
Now that we know that dreams are nature’s way of turning off the emotional arousal that wasn’t resolved in waking hours the day before, we can see how this might be causing a problem with your sleep cycle…
Excessive dreaming is actually very tiring for the brain. In order to protect itself, the brain may decide that you should wake up early – or avoid sleep altogether!
Indeed, this is one of the major problems I see with people suffering from depression…
Too much emotional arousal in the day time (in other words, worrying about things) results in lots of unresolved issues for the dreaming brain to sift through at night during REM sleep.
And the things we tend to worry about most are unmet emotional needs. Things like the need for safety and security, attention, control, belonging, connection with others, status, meaning and purpose etc.
The symptoms of depression
If you’ve ever suffered from depression you will probably have noticed…
- Problems getting off to sleep
- Waking periodically through the night then having trouble getting back to sleep
- Waking early
- Feelings of tiredness, exhaustion and lethargy that makes getting out of bed really difficult
- Lack of motivation to do usual things.
Feeling de-motivated the next day only gives rise to yet more worries: ‘Why am I feeling like this? What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I want to socialise anymore?’
This type of questioning only perpetuates the worry cycle. Looking for whys and wherefores dig you deeper into the hole.
Breaking free from this dilemma requires that you learn how to stop worrying about things in the daytime and focus your attention elsewhere.
I talk more about this in my article on curing depression using a holistic approach.
How to sleep better by altering your attention mechanism
Now, I’m not saying your sleep problem is linked to depression but what we do know is that the two often go hand in hand.
Are you a worrier? Do you negatively ruminate over things when you lay in bed at night? Do you see things going catastrophically wrong? These are all things that make you more prone to feelings of depression.
See, worry is a trance state. Your attention gets locked by the emotional intensity of the worrying thought. In effect, you’re practising negative self-hypnosis!
Learning how to sleep better often involves directing your attention away from the problem and onto something else entirely. Indeed, much of the hypnotherapy I do is in teaching you how to use your attention mechanism differently and thereby creating better trance states.
I speak more about this in my free e-book What You Need to Know about Hypnosis and Trance
Of course, we all worry sometimes and most of us have, at some point, had the odd sleepless night. But some people’s insomnia has become so chronic they no longer even know what the possible causes might be.
It’s as if bad sleeping has become a habit. They now expect not to sleep because their brain has been programmed so often through repetition, night after night.
The wisdom of Socrates: how to sleep better by asking the right questions
Socratic questioning – done at the right time – can help you calmly look at your situation, as if from a distance (rather than getting tangled in a web of worry).
I say ‘at the right time’ because last thing at night is probably not the best time to question things if you’re currently having sleep problems!
Set aside a few minutes during the day; calm down with some Zen Breathing then gently enquire into what might have been going on in your life when the sleep problems began.
Had there been any excessive stressors? What about trauma? Did a relationship end? Was there a significant loss or change in my life?
Another thing to consider is so-called bad dreams – often called nightmares – so terrifying that your brain is actually preventing you sleeping as a means to avoid having one.
This is where your ‘protective mechanism’ has gone awry; it’s protecting you from the possibility of having a scary dream without realising that you do actually need to go to sleep!
Sleep – both a physical and emotional need
The thing is that sleep is both a physical need and an emotional need. Not only does good sleep restore the body but with the right amount of REM sleep it clears the mind of those unresolved stresses from the previous day without tiring the brain.
With the right amount of REM sleep and slow-wave sleep you awaken with more energy and motivation, giving you the impetus to deal better with the everyday stresses of life rather than spending hours mulling over things.
You’re better able to find ways to meet your emotional needs in healthy ways and you start feeling more positive about your life and who you are.
And all of this goes a long way to restoring a natural balance to your sleep cycles.
I hope you’ve found this information useful and that it helps you start improving your sleep patterns. Rest assured, there really is so much you can do. And sometimes, it takes just one little adjustment to make a big difference.
And don’t forget to check out the many hypnosis downloads that can help you start improving the quality of your sleep…