For many people, having a busy and often stressful work life can sometimes lead to poor quality sleep.
We all know here’s nothing better than a good night’s rest. But have you ever wondered why that’s true? It’s hard to understand how important sleep is to staying healthy and feeling your best until you haven’t slept enough.
But when you add up the number of hours you spend sleeping, that amounts to about a third of your life—so it must be good for something.
Bad sleep creates a decrease in mental functioning, a lack of awareness and attention to the world around you, it can produce a distorted sense of time, and immense fatigue.
So, to make the most out of your working time, you have to make the best of your sleeping time.
One of the problems in achieving good quality sleep, is that no one really knows how to do it. It’s not like learning to ride a bike or playing a musical instrument, so the more you do it the better you get, with sleep we simply go to bed, close our eyes and hope that something happens.
To understand something about sleep, you also have to understand a little bit about hypnosis. Hypnosis, is the communication between the two basic parts of your mind; your conscious mind, that’s the rational analytical thinking, questioning part of your mind, the part of you that is listening to and analysing what I’m saying, and your subconscious mind, that’s the part of you that’s responsible for digesting your breakfast, blinking, beating your heart and, yes, you guessed it the part of you responsible for sleep.
When you’re awake, as I hope you still are, your conscious mind is listening to what I’m saying, and your subconscious mind is simply getting on with the business of running your body.
Now, as you fall asleep something rather interesting starts to happen. First your conscious mind becomes less and less active, at the same time your subconscious mind comes more and more to the front until you get to a half-way point, which is where you’re half awake and half asleep. It’s that lovely comfy, cosy, grey, floaty area that you’re aware of, just on the very edge of sleep.
Then, all of a sudden you’re asleep; unconscious; you’re not aware of anything that’s happening around you but your subconscious mind is now in control, and that’s the part that wakes you up when your alarm clock goes off to early in the morning.
That part in the middle, that grey area between being awake and being asleep, that’s where hypnosis is, and when you’re in that strange dream like state for reasons that no-one has ever properly understood nor explained, you’re more open to the thoughts or suggestions that someone who is a qualified hypnotherapist can give you, or, in the right circumstance, suggestions that you can give yourself.
And that’s one of the reasons why sleep responds so well to hypnosis and self hypnosis, because to enter sleep, you have to pass through hypnosis. This passage through hypnosis has two different scientific names, as you enter sleep you go to hypnagogical hypnosis, when you awake coming out of sleep the other side you go through hypnoidal hypnosis.
A secret about sleep
So, having a good attitude towards sleep, having an expectation that your sleep is going to be good and deep are very important parts in the process of actually getting a good nights sleep.
And here is a little secret about sleep. Sleep is very, very …. shy! The more you chase after sleep, the more sleep runs in the opposite direction. The more you worry and think about your sleep, the less likely it is for you to be able to enter sleep. It’s only when you stop thinking about sleep, when you stop worrying, when you stop analysing, when you stop thinking about sleep…..only then does sleep come and find you.
If I ever I had trouble sleeping as a kid, my mum my mum told me that lying in bed with my eyes closed, being relaxed was almost as good as sleep. And that stopped my from worrying about getting to sleep.
Was she right? Not quite. But relaxation is a good second choice. Sometimes referred to as quiet wakefulness, resting with your eyes closed can calm your mind, give at least some of your neurones a break (since you’re not actively thinking or concentrating on something), and let your muscles and organs relax. It can also reduce stress, improve your mood, and increase alertness, mental clarity, creativity, and motivation. All of these changes can enhance your productivity at work.
However, it’s only in the deeper stages of slumber that you get a substantial cognitive boost— resting won’t increase your ability to remember new information. It also won’t help your cells repair or regenerate themselves, and you won’t get some of the other physiological benefits— such as the release of growth hormone and other hormones.
Your body needs both sleep and rest. However, the important point is not to get stressed if you can’t instantly get to sleep. Getting anxious about getting to sleep sends sleep in the opposite direction.
So, how do you get a better nights sleep?
We said at the beginning that no one really knows how to get to sleep, however there are three essential ingredients that we need in order to encourage sleep to come and find us.
Firstly and most importantly, we need to be calm in your mind. Calm in your thoughts, calm in your feelings, calm in your reactions, and calm in how you respond.
Only when your mind is truly calm, can sleep come and find you. And that means closing the door on all the events that have happened to you during your busy day. It also means closing the door on all the events that are going to happen to you the following day. It means being in the moment, feeling and being calm in your thoughts and your mind. Only then, will sleep come and find you.
The second most important thing that you need to be able to enter good quality sleep, is that your body needs to be physically relaxed. If you still have tension in your muscles and your body as a result of a busy or stressful day, then sleep again is going to be difficult to find.
The third most important thing that you need is some confidence in your safety, and confidence in your ability to be able to sleep. If your subconscious feels unsafe, it simply won’t let you go to sleep, when it thinks that being awake is important for your safety.
So, let’s look at the evidence; if you’re stressed, tense and feeling vulnerable, sleep is the last thing your body thinks you need!!
To a very real extent, insomnia is the body’s way of protecting itself from danger.
But even if you haven’t slept well for many years or months, your body still knows how to do it, good sleep is part of your natural metabolism. Sleeping is part of being human after all.
How should we prepare for sleep?
Now that we know what the three pre-requisites for good sleep are, how do we go about feeling and being more calm, relaxed and safe as we prepare to go to sleep?
Well, there are some obvious things to prepare yourself:
- Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you enter sleep and stay asleep for the night.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
- Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity.
- Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool, free from any noise that can disturb your sleep and free from any light.
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses.
- Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. If you can, avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.
- Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading.
- Take your mobile phone out of your bedroom! Just this simple action can transform your sleep. The particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices activates the brain, and because our phones are receiving emails and messages through the night, we never really switch ourselves off in case we miss something!
- Phones and computers do not belong in bedrooms – use your bedroom for two things; sleep and sex to strengthen the association between bed and sleep.
- Finally – start to practice some self-hypnosis!
As you close your eyes and head to sleep, concentrate on your breathing. Visualise every part of your body relaxing in turn, choose a soothing colour to filter through your body and let it put all the parts of you to see in turn.
Imagine a door – maybe an old, heavy antique door, or a strong steel safe door and gently see it closing on the day that’s gone, moving your thoughts away from whatever the day held. Find another door and put it at the point where you are due to wake up. Close them both. Leaving you in the middle. This is your time. Your time away from the day that’s gone and apart from tomorrow. Your time to rest, to sleep, to re-energise. You deserve this space. Claim it as your own and don’t let anything disturb it.
Of course, coming to see a professional clinical hypnotherapist can really help to reset your circadian rhythm and give you really good sleep. Getting good sleep is just getting into a good habit, and hypnosis can really help you to do that. Generally you will only need 3-4 sessions and your therapist can make you a special self-hypnosis recording to get that new habit established really quickly.
So, make a decision that good sleep is something that you owe to yourself; it’s the foundation to being happy and healthy at work.