Undoubtedly a good night’s sleep is the cornerstone of better health.
Those precious hours of rest allow the body the much need time and space for its all important detox and repair work.
But poor sleep is a common symptom with many people worrying about not being able to sleep properly and therefore feeling tired.
There are many things that can disrupt both your ability to get to sleep and how well you stay asleep once you have drifted off. A poor pre bedtime routine, for instance, with eating too late, caffeine based drinks, and strenuous exercise too near bedtime all contributing to issues sleeping, whilst your sleeping environment, with a room that’s too cold, hot, noisy or light, or physical pain and discomfort also potentially causing problems.
But if you’ve addressed all these possible causes and you’re still having trouble sleeping then it may be worth taking a look at your thinking!
So before we go any further let’s get a couple of things straight about sleep …..
Firstly it is not possible for your body not to sleep.
Just like if you hold your breath for long enough a natural reflex will kick in that makes you take a breath whether you want to or not, so you will eventually sleep.
And secondly we are notoriously bad at accurately assessing how much sleep we’ve actually had,
usually significantly under estimating. We generally sleep much more than we think. The problem is that this sleep is often not the restful, deep sleep so we end up feeling tired anyway.
Because of our, albeit innocent, misunderstanding of our ability to sleep, we tend to set ourselves expectations around how much sleep we should be having, then worry and become anxious when we don’t achieve that. This thinking sets off our stress response – the flight or fight state – which, as its name suggests, ‘revs’ the body up to take action to protect itself – not a situation conducive to drifting off into restful sleep!
We end up literally not sleeping because we’re thinking about not sleeping.
If you think (excuse the pun!) that you may have got caught in this trap then here are a few things you can try to settle that thought storm down, and with it your ‘ready for action’ stress response:
- Try playing with the possibility that actually your body knows what it’s doing (now there’s a radical idea!). You may have decided that you need a set number of hours sleep but perhaps, just at the moment, for whatever reason, you don’t. Remember – you cannot not sleep so try to let go and just go with it for now. In other words try to think less about what you should and shouldn’t be doing and simply see what happens.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night with your mind racing, or you just can’t get to sleep, then get up and do something. If your body is in a flight or fight state then there’s a lot of pent up energy there. Do something to release it. You don’t have to run a marathon or something else equally strenuous – simply getting up to make a hot drink (not caffeine based though!), for example, can be enough to settle your system.
- If you’re awake thinking about what you need to do the next day, a task that needs completing or something similar, then again do something about it. Make a list of what you need to do, just go and do it, or whatever else is suitable. The idea is to stop the mind feeling that it has to keep reminding you!
And even if these tips still don’t help you sleep what more than often happens is that by quietening down your over excited thinking about not sleeping, it allows the space for the ideal solution for you to pop into your head, easily and effortlessly. Our own inner knowing, intuition or common sense, whatever you like to call it, knows exactly what we need to do (or don’t need to do) if we just stop worrying about not sleeping long enough to listen!