Pro-active self-care for sounder sleep
Everyone who suffers from sporadic or chronic sleep disorders can benefit from sleep training. In this context, it is irrelevant what has caused your sleeping problems. Long-term sleep disorders will cause stress and worries. People who have trouble finding sleep often develop actual fear of sleep and beds. That will further aggravate the situation. You cannot control sleep. You cannot force yourself to sleep. No matter how much you want to fall asleep, it will only happen if you let it happen if you allow it to happen. So, what can you do? Here you will find tips and exercises, which if applied on a long-term basis can help you improve your sleep.
I will briefly introduce you to six very relevant topics:
1. Compassion 2. Relaxation 3. Light and physical activity 4. Consumption of Alcohol, Nicotine, and Caffeine 5. The period immediately before going to bed 6. A good place to sleep
1. ATTENTIVENESS AND COMPASSION
The newest research indicates that compassion has a significant – and until recently, completely underrated – impact on health, both psychological and physical. Compassion expresses a statement of the soul.
The psychologist Kristin Neff describes three elements of compassion: self-compassion shared human existence and attentiveness. Self-compassion and self-care mean to have the inner conviction of caring for you.
People who care for themselves will treat themselves well, too. They will show understanding and sympathy towards themselves in situations of hurt or mistakes. Personal needs, feelings, and strength will be taken seriously to stay healthy, in their body and soul. Seeing personal experience as being a part of the collective experience of humanity is called shared human existence. We call it attentiveness when we accept dealing with unpleasant and hurting feelings in our conscious mind.
1. Share feelings:
Try this; when you have a strong negative emotion. Experience it clearly (as unpleasant as it may be) and then say the following words to yourself: in this precise moment, thousands of other people on earth have this same feeling. What impact has that thought on you? Everything is continually changing, and a curious mind is helpful to allow changes to happen and to experience them positively.
2. Become a best friend of yourself
Observe your thoughts. How do you speak to yourself? Nicely? Or do you motivate yourself with verbal violence or insults? If you observe the latter, try to talk to yourself as if you were your best friend. It is often difficult to change habits because new behavior often feels „wrong“ until it becomes a habit as well. That’s why you shouldn’t give up immediately if it doesn’t work as quickly as you’d want to. Mistakes are opportunities to learn something. Therefore it is not inability, lack of intelligence or anything like this that causes you to not being able to fall asleep or wake up after 3 hours, for example. Try to be friendly and relaxed towards yourself.
3. Learn to meditate for attentiveness in 7 steps:
- Look for a quiet and comfortable place. Sit on a chair or a pillow. You should sit straight. Turn off your mobile phone or at least change it to silent mode, so you’re not interrupted. You can use the timer of your mobile phone to determine the period you will meditate today.
- Set the timer to 3 – 5 minutes. That is more than enough, for a start. Be sure your spine is straight. Your clothes are light. Nothing is uptight or tense. You can put your hands in your lap or on your legs.
- Close your eyes or focus them very „loosely“ at a specific spot.
- Breathe in your rhythm and be sure that your abdomen goes up and down with the breathing. You can also choose a different part of your body; to be sure it visually reflects your breath.
- Then you will notice how thoughts and feelings arrive. That’s completely normal. Give a name to your feelings or thoughts. So, when a thought comes, you say to yourself: Thought thought… If a feeling arrives, try to name it: frustration, frustration…. or: sadness, sadness…, etc… or say to yourself: „Feeling, feeling…“. Please avoid judging it, as: „you stupid thought, disappear, I don’t like you, I can’t even stay away from thinking for 5 minutes.“ I repeat: it is normal that you start to think and feel!
- Direct your attention again to your breathing.
- Always return softly to your breathing, even if you get lost for a moment in your thoughts. You always return to your breath. That’s all! Honestly, isn’t that easy? Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated. On the contrary, it’s easy. The challenge is to get started. Meditation will only be a benefit if you do it. Thinking, speaking, or dreaming about it, doesn’t take you any further. Try it for four weeks and observe your reaction.
The cause of sleeping disorders is often so-called psycho-vegetative over-excitement (Hyperarousal) and maintained. During Hyperarousal, abnormally high values of catecholamines (i.e., adrenaline) and cortisol is in the blood. That causes difficulties in falling asleep or being able to sleep for a whole night, and the function of recovery of sleep is compromised.
Learning to relax can help reducing that excitement and helps to improve sleep.
Hyperarousal, be it either inability to sleep or any internal or external factors of stress you often perceive in the following four areas: vegetative, motor, emotional, and cognitive. Signs on
- the vegetative level are: elevated heart rate, increased sweating, increased corporal temperature, even during sleep at night.
- level of the motor is higher muscle tonus, which can lead to muscular strains.
- Emotional level is easy irritability, depressive tendencies, and elevated anxiety.
- The cognitive level is too many worries and the sensation of not being able to „switch off.“
Relaxation techniques can help to reach a certain degree of recovery during the day and even compensate lack of sleep up to a certain extent. From a therapeutical point of view, relaxation is also useful in improving and reinforcing the immune system and resistance to stress. One of the goals of self-relaxation is to allow all self-healing forces of the body to reach their optimum activity.
Listen every day to an hypnosis-CD.
You can order a CD directly from: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.institut-drzottmann.de
Observe yourself exhaling your breath and then again you inhale the air back into your body, until reaching the diaphragm. Do this during a few cycles of breathing. You will feel how your nervous system begins to relax almost immediately. Practice this exercise regularly for a few cycles of breathing.
Whatever you’re doing, start making a small pause of a few minutes every one and a half hour. You may practice the so-called „power-breathing“, a breathing exercise for energy and vitality. It is really simple: take twice as long for exhaling your breath than for inhaling. That means, you can inhale and count to 3 or 4, maintain the air for a little and then exhale, slowly, counting to 6 or 8. Do that for about 5 cycles and notice the difference. You will feel different.
4. Instructions for a technique of self-hypnosis:
Close your eyes and imagine a place where you feel very well and secure. That can be a place that exists or a place of your imagination. Now say to yourself or say out loud, what you can feel with your senses at that particular place. You can repeatedly sense the same things or instead start looking around or behind you.
- I see (i.e., the green sea, reflecting the sun, the old, high and very thick tree, the yellow flowers on the grass, the airplane in the sky)
- I hear (i.e., the birds singing, the noise of the cars, the grasshopper, the trees moving in the wind) Five times: I feel (i.e., warmth, a soft breeze, the rain, sun shining on my skin)
- I smell (i.e., the smell of grass, the cake, the flowers)
- I taste (i.e., the salt on my lips, the water, I’m drinking)
Then, say four times to yourself, what you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste. Then three times, then two times and at last, once. Now, start moving hands, and feet again, stretch your members and open your eyes. If it is easier for you, do the same with your eyes open.
5. Exercise: Improving the coherence of your heart Duration: 10 to 30 minutes.
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
Allow yourself to fully concentrate on only this exercise for the time it takes. For this short period, forget all your other thoughts and worries. Now, focus on your breath. Observe, how you exhale and how the air goes back all alone into your body. Observe your breath during a few cycles of breath.
Now focus your attention on your heart.
Try to imagine or pretend, that you’re breathing through your heart, or merely the central region of your chest. Maybe you can even picture in your imagination how you breathe in and out through your heart. Continue breathing slowly. Imagine and try to feel how your heart receives oxygen, and any wasted air is carried away with every breathing out. Observe very consciously the slow cycles of breath, with which your heart receives fresh oxygen. You may also imagine your heart as if it was a young child, having fun in the warm water in the bathtub and you’re watching it. You can use other pictures. For example, you can imagine that tiny bubbles of oxygen surround your heart, and wasted air expel.
Imagine something, for which you would be grateful or focus your thoughts on an animal or a human, who you love.
The heart is especially sensitive to gratefulness, any feeling of love, be it for a thing, a being, or a positive environment. But you can also imagine the sensation of having done the „perfect“ swing in the game of golf or having done a nice ski descent, or your energy and endurance while running, etc… Feel how these thoughts and feelings open your heart and expand the whole area of your chest. You might have a smile on your face and feel happy.
And now let this feeling enter directly into your heart.
Observe how this feeling enters your heart and what happens there.
Now you will feel the moment of coherence, the state in which the cognitive (intellectual) brain and the Emotional brain is synchronized.
Both halves of your brain are now active: This is the state, in which we feel satisfied, relaxed and calm, have important realizations, work very well and learn and feel in perfect harmony with the world.
1. Adapted from: David Servan-Schreiber, Die neue Medizin der Emotionen, Goldmann Verlag 2006. In this context, the findings of Harthmath institute are fascinating as well https://www.heartmath.org.
3. Light and physical activity
Light The influence of light and physical activity is often underestimated. Maybe you can’t feel the consequences immediately. Don’t expect any quick changes here; they can take some time. In the human body, several clocks are ticking, not only in brain cells, but also in cells of the liver, the kidneys, the lung, and the heart. All these clocks are controlled by the rhythmic activity of a small region in the brain, called the suprachiasmatic core (SCN). A vital circadian organ, from a therapeutical point of view, is the epiphysis. The epiphysis produces a neuro-hormone called melatonin that helps people having excellent and continuous sleep. One of the most important stimuli for starting production of this hormone is the fading light of the dusk. It is reduced if any light is sensed in the human eye. Melatonin improves the readiness of the organism to fall asleep and sleep through the night and is therefore really important for a good quality sleep. It’s in the form of melatonin that the influence of light on our chromo-biological rhythm is most significant.
The light of flat screens and laptops often has a high quantity of blue light.
This kind of light disturbs the day-night-rhythm, at least for people who have a sensitive sleep, as it doesn’t allow the production of melatonin for several hours. If you sit several hours at your computer at night, the creation of melatonin is reduced, and your inner clock and therefore all cells of your body get convinced, that it’s still the only afternoon.
If at all possible, try to catch half an hour of sunlight every morning.
Routine helps your inner clocks to get back in tune. It helps a lot to go to bed every day at the same time and to wake up at the same time as well (even on weekends).
There are programs for the computer that adapt the screen configuration according to the time of day (reducing the amount of blue light in the evening)
Physical activity and lifestyle: Movement is the essential inner time base.
Not only older people often suffer from sleep disorders because of insufficient physical activity. The muscles represent the most significant organ with a sensitivity that influences the central nervous system. Movement brings benefits. Even in the conventional medical investigation has this correlation been accepted. Besides the known positive effects on depression, disturbances of metabolism and heart problems, scientists have also acknowledged its positive influence on colon cancer. Without physical activity, both the absorption of nutrients as well as the evacuation of toxins in the body is stopped.
Enough movement is an essential condition for having a healthy life.
Even people suffering from chronic diseases can benefit from regular exercising. While not too much time ago, people who suffered from chronic heart insufficiency were ordered to rest, today it is even recommended that they regularly practice sport, though very moderately. These people not only start to show better resistance but also a better mood.
Move 30 minutes every day. Go take a walk, practice jogging, swimming, cycling or canoeing. Choose something that you like.
Don’t take longer naps during the day (exception: 20 to 30 minutes before 3 p.m.). Even a short nap of about 30 minutes has a high value of recovery. It improves your mood and notably increases your energy for the second half of the day. On the other hand, a nap in the late afternoon or in the evening (the so-called „TV-sleep“) can cause problems falling asleep at night or sleeping for a whole night.