What are your thoughts about sleep?

Insomnia or sleep deprivation? Part 2. In the first part of this blog we looked at some tweaks parents could make to give themselves more time in bed. We also discussed the quality of our sleep and our priorities as adults. Is there an accidental sleep deprivation or a real problem with insomnia?

The Great British Sleep Survey 2017 identified that as a whole we were following conventional sleep advice regarding screens and sleep hygiene. The survey found more people than ever were using music and mediation to help them sleep and yet the amount of hours slept was overall lower than 4 years previously.

https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/The-Great-British-Bedtime-Report-2017.pdf

Therefore awareness of sleep hygiene and the importance of sleep does not necessarily mean we are achieving a good nights sleep.

Why is this?

Consider how our brain works – it is designed to learn from experience, to extrapolate from previous situations and help us change our behavior to avoid repeating mistakes. Our brains are also very good at ruminating and worrying about the ‘what ifs’. As an example, if a person who generally sleeps well has a bad nights sleep – they may shrug it off as a ‘one off’ and continue as normal. If that person then has 2 or 3 bad nights sleep then their brain may well start to forecast and predict that they will ‘never sleep again’.

This may start a cascade of worrisome thoughts and feelings regarding sleep. This person is now giving much more attention and weight to this problem and will naturally try to solve it. Conventional advice regarding insomnia looks at sleep restriction, getting up after 15 minutes of sleeplessness and other techniques including lifestyle improvements and possibly CBT for Insomnia. This advice is helpful in the short term and will most likely help resolve intermittent periods of insomnia.

But I’ve tried all that you say!

Let’s look at advice previously given by Goodnight Solutions regarding children’s sleep. In past blogs I have discussed sleep environment, bedtime routine and falling asleep where you want your child to sleep all night.

This advice all relates to sleep associations i.e feeding to sleep, dummies or a parent present. It also links to the normal cascade of hormones needed for sleep initiation, i.e bedtime routine to regulate the melatonin release needed for continual sleep. Adults (and teenagers!) are no different. We also need that strong regular release of melatonin which is promoted by a short calming bedtime routine and consistent sleep and wake times. Remember we all run on a circadian rhythm.

Now consider looking at the clock every evening to see if you have been awake for 15 minutes or more knowing that perhaps you then need to get up. Is that relaxing? Think also of those worries and anxieties which pop into your brain as you lie there. It is is not an easy task to lie with troublesome thoughts and the emotions that accompany them. But these thoughts are just that – thoughts and feelings – and not actual events happening at the time.

We need to stay in bed!

To achieve better sleep we need to stay in bed, falling asleep anywhere else is a poor sleep association and will not maintain long term good sleep. We need to rid ourselves of the negative association of bedtime and our beds by accepting that we probably will lie awake! However lying awake in bed is still more restful than marching around the house and will result in a more rested next day regardless of whether we fell asleep. As a sleep practitioner I always tell parents to reward their children for lying still in bed and NOT for falling asleep as this is beyond their control. Likewise for an adult – we cannot control when we fall asleep – it is a complex hormonal cascade.

Conversely however our brains are very good at preventing us from falling asleep. The more we try to fix this the harder it becomes, as our brain is now far too active and engaged. In fact our brain is most likely activating the ‘fight or flight’ stress response as we get into bed as that is what it has become conditioned to do. It is not easy to change the way we see our insomnia. However by changing our attitude to lying in bed awake we will start to see small improvements in our nights. This allows us to make more positive changes during the day and starts us on an uphill spiral again.

For help and support with your family’s sleep or for help in the workplace please contact https://www.goodnightsolutions.co.uk/