The National Sleep Foundation defines chronic insomnia as ‘disrupted sleep that occurs at least three nights per week and lasts at least three months’. How many of us recognise our own nocturnal activities in that definition? The internet is rife with statistics and studies informing us how little sleep we’re getting – apparently 16 million UK adults endure sleepless nights, with a third of us labelling it insomnia.
A recent study of the ways in which we treat those with insomnia offers some hope, finding that undergoing cognitive behavioural therapy (or CBT) might actually be the most effective way to remedy the issue. Dr Judith Davidson, co-author of the study, believes CBT should be more widely available, such is its ability to help, and said of the findings: “It is a very effective treatment that doesn’t involve medication, and should be available through your primary care service. If it’s not, it should be.”
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a broad umbrella for therapies that work to help an individual notice and change patterns of thinking and acting; in the case of insomnia, it offers the individual a way of changing how they approach sleep and the feelings that surround it. The study found that just four to six sessions could drastically improve sleep for up to 12 months afterwards, showing the wild success just a few therapy sessions can have on our quality of sleep, and by extension, our health. Insomnia can have a drastic impact on quality of life and, in some extreme cases, contribute to anything from mental health problems to physical issues, like heart disease.
In lieu of a therapist to hand, what can we do in the meantime? If you’re struggling to sleep, here are five tips from psychotherapist, Micheline Hogan:
Create an oasis
“One of the most important things to think about is the bedroom setting. It should be calm – no phones or TV,” says Hogan. Keep your surroundings as tidy, cool and quiet as possible – it will help you rethink the act of going to bed and ensure you have nothing to worry about. Tidy space, tidy mind.
Empty your mind
“It’s important to write your thoughts down somewhere before you go to bed. Anything that you’re preoccupied with or you’re worried about for the next day, write it down.” That way, you leave your thoughts on paper, rather than them bouncing around your brain, keeping you awake.
Wait until you’re tired
“Spend the time before you sleep away from bed. If you want to read, do it in another room; if you want to watch TV, do it in another room. Whatever you do, make sure it’s not too adrenaline-boosting. Anything relaxing is okay.” You should only move into the bedroom when tiredness hits.
“For those that have difficulty falling asleep, a focus can really help. Breathing exercises are really helpful; I recommend a gentle in-and-out, paying attention to each breath and remembering it is an anchor wherever you are.” She recommends trying to stay with each breath for its full duration, as if you were riding the waves of your own inhales and exhales. Whenever your mind wanders, bring it back and notice what it was that took you away.
During the night
“Those who toss and turn at 3am should get out of bed and do something soothing. That could be having a chamomile tea or trying a breathing technique; whatever it is, do it until you get tired again, then return to bed.”
Author: HANNAH COATES