Sleep is fundamental to survival. Proper sleep boosts the immune system, refreshes and revitalises you for the following day. When you go into dream sleep the brain closes off all unfinished emotionally aroused patterns from throughout that day. Some people may think that they never dream or that they never sleep but all those people do sleep and dream. Sleeping and dreaming is so fundamental to life that without it people would die. On average people nowadays sleep for about 20% less time each night than people did a hundred years ago. This reduction in sleep has a dramatic effect on health. Sleep deprivation causes many accidents and increases the risk of psychiatric problems. Without sleep people find it increasingly difficult to function correctly, they have poorer memory and co-ordination skills etc…
Insomnia is probably the most common sleep disorder. It is often caused by excessive worrying. This can make it difficult to relax and fall asleep. It also makes you dream too much which then makes you wake up tired (see depression section). Stopping worrying during the day will help to lift the insomnia. It will also help to stop nightmares (it also will help if you reduce anxiety-see anxiety section). Many sleep problems from night terrors (which occur in non-dream sleep and the sufferer awakens with no memory of the incident) to nightmares (bad dreams).
To help improve sleep it is advisable to make sure that you don’t have a clock near the bed that you can see as seeing how long you are awake for can lead to worrying about it which then makes it harder to sleep. To help you to relax and sleep at night you could purchase a relaxation CD to focus on as you go to sleep or you can learn to relax. To relax you could learn to tense and relax your muscle groups from head to feet in time with your breathing. Tensing up as you breathe in to the count of 7 then letting the muscles relax as you breathe out to the count of 11. Then pausing briefly to get a sense of that relaxation and beginning to get an idea of a pleasant ‘special place’ (don’t think of it as a ‘special place’ if this wording is wrong for you, find something that is right for you) forming in your mind that can become like a brief waiting room before you pass into sleep. After pausing you can then move onto the next muscle group (the neck for example) again breathing in to the count of 7 as you tense then out to the count of 11 as you relax, then pausing again. Doing this each night will retrain your brain to relax when it is time to go to sleep at night. Currently your brain will have been expecting the night to involve worrying or distracting thoughts etc… Some people may find that within a night or two of doing this they are sleeping properly others may take a week or a little longer before they regularly sleep well throughout the night.
Some tips to have the best chance of rapidly sleeping well; if you find you are in bed for a while and still not asleep then get up and go to a dark, cool room and sit there for 30 minutes. Always wake up early (don’t lie in). If possible don’t do shift work. Don’t watch TV or use a computer within an hour of going to bed. Don’t eat or drink too much within 2 hours of going to bed. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and other substances within 3 hours of going to bed. Avoid going to bed drunk. Have a hot bath 30 minutes before going to bed. Don’t exercise within 2 hours of going to bed. Another idea is attempt to stay awake for an hour longer than the time you would’ve normally ended up falling asleep. Many sleep problems are due to excessive worry or excessive emotional arousal. Learning to relax and be calm will help improve the quality and quantity of sleep you get. You can also write down everything that is on your mind before you fall asleep.
Drinking alcohol or taking sleeping pills to help sleep is generally not advisable because these disrupt sleep patterns, but if prescribed you should follow what your Doctor advises or seek further medical advice. They may help someone get to sleep quicker but they disrupt sleep that goes on a few hours later. This disruption upsets the balance of rapid eye movement sleep and deep slow wave sleep. Due to receiving less rapid eye movement sleep you don’t close off all of the emotional arousing patterns from the day before so you get a build-up of open patterns requiring more R.E.M sleep the next night and then more the night after that etc… This can make people feel worse during the day and be more prone to anxiety problems as the brain is already overloaded with emotional arousal. They are likely to also get very emotional very quickly at almost nothing and not know why. Deep sleep is required for healing. So with reduced deep sleep they don’t do the required amount of healing on their body that they need to be doing. The deep sleep is involved in keeping the immune system charged up and in growth so both of these areas will also be affected so people may fall ill more frequently due to lowered resistance to illnesses.
Below is a self help track to help you fall asleep and get improved nights sleep that can be played on this site or downloaded, there is also a comments section where you can share your experiences, comments and progress. If you know anyone else that would benefit from this article or self help track please share this article with them.