According to the National Sleep Foundation, 30% of the general population complains of sleep disruption. That is, their sleep problems involve not being able to stay asleep once they do fall asleep, and/or waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep.
For many people, these issues can be just as devastating as lying in bed unable to fall asleep, because they have the same results – insufficient sleep, and poor quality sleep. Disrupted sleep – waking up often during the night or consistently waking up much earlier than you intended – can cause the same symptoms of sleep deprivation that tossing and turning and being unable to fall asleep in the first place causes.
What causes disrupted, interrupted, or too-short sleep?
There are many possible reasons why you might struggle to stay asleep, or to sleep as long as you want to. Some of the most common reasons include:
Having to go to the bathroom often during the night
Medical conditions such as eczema, restless leg syndrome or sleep apnoea
Use of bright TV, phone, or computer screens before bedtime
Caffeine or alcohol consumed too close to bedtime
Stress, anxiety, and depression
Environmental factors such as poor bedding, or bedrooms that are too hot or cold
Later we present some explanations for why such things can disrupt your sleep cycles, and some tips and techniques for how to overcome them.
But first, let's introduce a Quick Win to start practicing immediately, that you could benefit from right away.
Quick Win - Introduce A Wind-Down Routine
Starting tonight, implement an effective pre-sleep wind-down routine.
Starting 1-2 hours before your bedtime, begin to practice a healthy sleep routine that helps you "wind down" and prepares your mind and body for sleep.
One of the most important steps of re-establishing normal, healthy sleeping habits is to schedule some "me time" for yourself every night before you go to bed.
Having a consistent nightly "unwind before bed" routine allows your body and mind to settle down into a more relaxed and receptive state, meaning any pesky worries or thoughts hopefully won't trouble you through the night.
How To Try This For Yourself
Your sleep routine can be simple. Tonight, set aside 30-45 minutes before bed to unwind. Your sleep routine is your"me time" - set aside specifically to help yourelax and prepare to sleep. So don't be afraid to experiment with ways to make it yours!
The most important thing here is to choose activities which make you personally feel relaxed. For example, drinking chamomile tea or using a lavender pillow spray might well work for some people, but not for others. Here are a few relaxing activities you might want to try to get you started...
Drink chamomile tea
Have a hot shower or bath
Use lavender oil
Try a simple breathing technique such as repeatedly counting from 1-10.
Read a book - choose a relaxing read over something too gripping!
There's no doubt that exerciseis a great stress reliever—just make sure to do it at least three hours before bedtime, otherwise it could actually make it harder to sleep.
A sleep routine can be particularly effective if you suffer with anxiety, night time anxiety or insomnia.
For inspiration, here's an example of a wind-down routine used by The Restored Team member Kirsty - feel free to use this, or use it as a starting point to create your own routine!
7.30 - 8.15pm
I make sure I have completed any important household or work chores for the day
8.15 - 9pm
Have a relaxing, warm bath – with some of my favourite bath oils or bubbles!
9pm - 10pm
Relaxation time – I usually read a book (not too gripping!) or watch a TV programme (outside of the bedroom).
I take one Restored Sleep with a small amount of water (optional)
If it’s been a particularly busy day, or if I haven’t slept well the night before, I'll lpractise Dr Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing technique (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it for 7, breathe out for 8 seconds)
Lights out, time for sleep!
Why we recommend "bright lights out"
Our holistic sleep expert, Anandi, says that she often hears sleepless clients claim that they take time to unwind before bed. But when she delves further into it, she often finds that what they call "unwinding" consists of reading from phone or computer screens, or watching TV. By "bright lights out," what we're suggesting is that you shut off ALLof your bright TV, smartphone, and computer screens at least an hour or two before bedtime.
Why two hours? Well, there is an important physiological reason for this suggestion, and its name is melatonin. Melatonin is the body's "sleep chemical," the hormone that tells the body and mind that it's time to prepare for sleep. And your body cannot produce melatonin in bright light. In recent years, sleep scientists have discovered that the blue light emitted by such screens can interfere with your sleep.
The Science Behind How We Stay Asleep
As humans, we spend about a third of our lives asleep. But most of us know very little aboutsleep. Back in module 1, you learnt what happens in the body to fall asleep. In this section we'll explain what happens in the body whilstwe're asleep.
The Science Part in Brief (if you like that kind of thing):
There are two basic types of sleep physiology:
Most people spend 75-80% of their total sleep time in this type. NREM sleep is not a singular state, because it is divided into four stages (1, 2, 3 and 4), based on the relative depth of rest. We will discuss these four stages and explain the differences between them.
This state constitutes the remaining 20-25% of the total time most people spend asleep. It is considered stage 5 in the overall sleep cycle. In this type of sleep, both the brain and the body are more active than during NREM sleep. Observers can see the sleeper's eyes moving around beneath the lids, as if he or she was looking at something. REM sleep is also characterized by unique brain wave patterns. Most dreams take place during REM sleep.
What are the five stages of the sleep cycle?
What doctors and scientists refer to as the sleep cycle is broader than just the two basic types discussed above. Although there are differences of opinion, most sleep experts consider sleep to have five distinct stages, the first four of which fall into the NREM type:
How sleep changes as you age
It's also important to be aware that as we age, we tend to have a harder time falling asleep and more trouble staying asleep than when we were younger.
Changes in the patterns of our sleep - what specialists call "sleep architecture" - occur as we age and this may have an impact on how well we sleep. As we've explained, sleep occurs in multiple stages including dreamless periods of light and deep sleep, and occasional periods of active dreaming (REM sleep). The sleep cycle is repeated several times during the night and although total sleep time tends to remain constant, older people spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than in deep sleep.
The chart below shows how much sleep we really need at what age (but it's also important to be aware of how much sleep youneed as it may change from person-to-person):
The Worry Assessment
When we’re feeling exhausted and stressed, it’s easy to catastrophise and jump to the worst possible outcome scenario because exhaustion and stress is proven to dramatically impair our rational thinking and judgement.
Worry is often associated with something that either has already happened or we think might happen. This technique helps you to rationalise a situation and stay in the present, rather than the past or future.
How To Try This Technique For Yourself
Write down a list of all of your worries - list every single one out.
Assess the likelihood of that the worry coming true by rating it 1 to 10. A rating of 1 = very unlikely to come true and 10 = very likely to come true.
Write down what you will do about the situation if it does happen.
SLEEP! You'll rest easy knowing you have assessed your worries more rationally and feel comforted that you have a 'plan' should the worst happen.
Doing this helps to unload your mind and take control of your worries. Feeling in control of a situation makes it much easier to cope with.
Thought-Blocking - Learn How
The 'The' Thought Blocking Technique
In the next module we'll present some techniques to help rid your mind of anxious, worrying thoughts that might be keeping you awake. This technique is more helpful for eliminating those pesky, trivial thoughts that keep buzzing around in your head. It works by focusing your mind on a single thought, "blocking" other nagging thoughts from getting in.
How To Try This Technique For Yourself
With your eyes closed, repeat the word 'the' out loud every 2 seconds.
After a few minutes, stop saying it out loud, and just "mouth" the word in your head.
When it's comfortable, stop mouthing the word 'the' but continue repeating it in your mind, for approximately 5 minutes.
Unwanted thoughts can make you feel anxious or depressed and may stop you from being able to relax fully for a good night's sleep. Changing your thinking will take some time. You need to practice thought-stopping regularly and after a while, you'll be able to stop unwanted thoughts right away.
Some people may need more help to stop unwanted thoughts. Please speak to your GP or a therapist if you want more help to stop thoughts that bother you.
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