Relax your breathing, list all your problems, create pockets of downtime throughout the day – and don’t forget to be a ‘sleep detective’.
These are just some of the tips for getting a better night’s sleep shared by BACP counsellor and self-care coach Eve Menezes Cunningham on World Sleep Day (Friday 15 March).
Eve has seen the effect sleep problems have on her clients’ work, life and wellbeing - and is determined to help them get a good night’s rest.
“Sleep has a huge impact on wellbeing and mental health as we need sleep to process the day, lay down memories, rest, recuperate and recharge. It’s absolutely key,” said Eve,
“I was a terrible insomniac from primary school until my 20s. Years of working with clients means I know the tools that aid better sleep. But I also believe that we all know what is best for ourselves. These ideas are offerings. Some may appeal – play with them! Some won’t – ignore them!
“It’s important to be a sleep detective – and work out the things that work for you. Create a log for yourself of what you have done, so you can see the impact it has had on your sleep. We’re all different. Honour your body’s wisdom by really listening to the clues.”
Here are some of Eve’s top tips for better sleep.
Be a Sleep Detective
Notice the things that support and hinder sleeping well. Log them. Examine the logs for patterns and make tweaks to your behaviour and log the results of those, too.
Relax your breathing
This is so simple and has a big impact. Take a deeper breath and a slightly longer exhalation. You can count if you want (maybe in for 1 and out for 2 or 3, or in for 2 and out for 3 or 4) or simply sense it. Bring your awareness back to your breath each time the mind wanders.
Set a positive intention around what sleeping well means for you
This means thinking about how you want to feel when you wake up (eg. energised, refreshed, alert) rather than how you don’t want to be (eg. tired, cranky, exhausted.)
Create pockets of downtime throughout the day
These might be a minute or two of mindful breathing or resting. Lifting and lowering the nervous system throughout the day means we’re better able to relax. If we’re flat out all day, it’s like attempting to slow down from 100km an hour.
Talk to yourself in a soothing manner
Even if you feel like you’re lying to yourself and you’re going to feel shattered tomorrow morning, imagine you were a beloved baby/puppy/kitten/goat and talk kindly to yourself about how it’s all going to be OK. This helps calm you down and makes sleep more likely.
Make your bedroom as comfortable as possible
What in your sleeping environment supports a good night’s sleep? What gets in the way? How can you make tweaks and ultimately create a sleep-friendly sanctuary for yourself?
Do some sleep-inducing yoga
There are Yoga sequences that are designed to support better sleep. Yoga Nidra can help sleep, rest and deeper healing. You’ll be harnessing the power of the unconscious mind to bring your daydreams that bit closer too.
Step away from the bed
When you lie awake for hours, the bed feels far from comforting. After a length of time that feels good for you, get up! Do a little light pottering or whatever feels like a break from trying to get to sleep. Give yourself a break and return to your bed when you feel ready.
Aim to eat at least two hours before bed
This supports a branch of the nervous system and aids ‘rest/digest’ and therefore sleep and makes so much sense.
Think about your caffeine intake before bedtime
Some people are fine with an expresso right before bed. But notice the times you have caffeine and come to a decision that supports better sleep for you.
Avoid raw fruit and vegetables before bed
We want to support the body’s rest and digest response and aid sleep by not giving it too much to digest. You might be fine with a salad before bed but notice the impact.
Write in a journal
This is such an easy way to take stock of the day and ease into visualising a tomorrow or more distant future you’re working towards.
List all the things you’re grateful for
There are so many studies around the benefits of gratitude. It’s a lovely habit to get into. You might want to make it part of your journaling practice or simply list them mentally.
List all your woes
Rather than trying to suppress the worry, let yourself catastrophise for a few short minutes.
Prepare for the day ahead
Make yourself comfortable and imagine tomorrow or any upcoming event in great detail. Use all your senses to make it as vivid as possible as you imagine it going even better than previously imagined.
Mentally visit your ‘happy place’
Choose a moment (real or imagined) where you feel completely at ease, well and happy. Make it vivid as you give your body a break from stress hormones and allow yourself to indulge in the physiological benefits of a mental holiday.
If you want to find a BACP counsellor or psychotherapist via the BACP’s Therapist Directory.