Sleeping badly seem to be one of the worst and most worrying effects of stress. We are familiar with the awful feeling of tossing and turning, unable to sleep, mind racing with all the things that might happen, mistakes we made the day before, things we have to do that we don’t feel able to cope with …
Still, there are some things we can do to sleep better.
Be careful what you drink: Avoid caffeine for some hours before bed. Also be careful of drinking too much liquid in the night, which would make it much more likely for you to get up for the bathroom.
Don’t exercise at night: Exercising in the later part of the evening can make you feel more energetic and make it difficult to sleep.
Make your room a haven: Making it a calm and peaceful place with soothing light can increase your chances of falling asleep.
Sleep and coping: When we have difficulty sleeping, we lie awake and think: “Oh no, I can’t sleep. I won’t be able to cope tomorrow”, which makes us more anxious and sleep more difficult. But we can actually cope much better than we think. Junior doctors who work long hours on call for emergencies with little sleep cope great, as do nurses, and parents with a new baby!
Don’t watch the clock: Every time we look at the clock, we remind ourselves how bad the problem is and feel more anxious. So put the clock away. If you need an alarm clock, put it somewhere in the room where you can’t see it (that also gets you out of bed in the morning!)
Counting sheep? Sometimes we get so anxious and have difficulty sleeping. It can be helpful to break this cycle by using some simple distraction. Rather than counting sheep, which you can do automatically, it is better to have distractions that use up your mental space and not leave you room to think about worries. Try: counting backwards from 101 in 3s, listing the ingredients of 5 favorite recipes, reciting songs or poems.
Try getting up: If the above methods don’t work, try getting up and doing something boring e.g. ironing, reading a dull book. Stay up until you start to feel tired and calmer, then go back to bed.
There are many different ways of learning to relax. These include mindfulness which we tried last week and progressive muscular relaxation (PMR). Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and without judging it as good or bad. PMR involves tensing and relaxing muscle groups around the body so that you experience a greater feeling of relaxation.
Feel free to return to this page and listen to the mindfulness or PMR mp3s as a way to end your final session!