Learn how to sleep better with hypnosis
Discover how hypnosis can help you sleep better
There's an old Irish proverb: "A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures the doctor has..."
Well, I can't comment about what cures the doctors have, but this old saw may not be too far off the truth. We can all ride out a couple of bad nights here and there, but consistently poor sleep is bad news for anyone and I'm going to tell you why...
People feel happier and arehealthier when they sleep properly. Great sleep helps to nourish your immune system, your heart, your lungs and your skin. Good sleep even helps you maintain a healthier weight. In fact, everything works better when you sleep better.
And have you ever noticed how the world just seems better all round when you get the right quality and quantity of refreshing sleep?
Poor sleep impairs performance in all areas, from driving your car safely to doing well at sports or putting in a good day's work. According to the National Sleep Foundation in the UK, people with sleep problems are more likely to develop psychiatric problems than people who sleep well - and we can all attest to being more irritable or emotional when tired. Many accidents at work also happen because of sleep deprivation - even the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl was due to human error brought on by sleep deprivation.
So it's clear that good sleep is vital on many fronts. And it's curious that the average person nowadays sleeps 20% less per night than their predecessors a hundred years ago. This is likely due to noisier, more brightly lit environments, increasingly busy lives and the importance of night time social life in our modern world.
The problem is, we didn't evolve to live like this at night time.
For billions of years the evolution of life forms all over the planet has been driven by the consistent rising and setting of the sun. And for millions of years our ancestors have slept when it's dark and risen when it is light. But in the last blink of an eye (historically), the world has been artificially lit up. Electric light keeps us alert, awake and living in a way very far from how we evolved to. If you go camping regularly, you'll probably have noticed how much earlier you tend to go to bed when you are living more by the sun than electric light. And of course, when there's no TV to keep you stimulated!
It's not only our sleeping patterns that are governed by the 24-hour circadian rhythms. They also rule our digestion, our hormonal secretions, our brainwaves, and our cellular repair and regeneration. We disrespect that cycle at our peril.
Now it's true that some people need more sleep than others - for example, teenagers need at least nine hours a night - but most people will need between seven and eight hours of quality sleep to function well and remain healthy. High quality sleep means natural sleep, which needs to be uninterrupted, and not influenced by alcohol, medications or poor food choices. And you need to have as consistent a pattern of sleeping and waking times as possible. I appreciate that life can be hectic at times, but prioritizing sleep means you enjoy life so much more and also become much more productive.
So what exactly does good sleep do for you?
Well, for starters, as you sleep deeply at night the recovery and rejuvenation of your muscles is accelerated. This is guided by the sleep hormone melatonin, which is made in your pineal gland in your brain. As light diminishes, the pineal starts to convert the 'feel-good' chemical serotonin into melatonin, which enables you to feel sleepy and have a good night's sleep. In the morning, as light naturally increases, melatonin production is suppressed in your brain and serotonin begins to increase again, meaning you can awaken feeling refreshed, alert and happy. So melatonin levels are strongly linked to light. But if we are staring into the light of a computer screen or TV set late into the night then we are actually inhibiting the production of melatonin, making it harder to get to sleep later on.
To sleep well you need to create good 'sleep habits'.
The first thing to do is to set up an ideal sleeping environment. Your bedroom should be dark, quiet, comfortable and only used for sleep (or possibly lovemaking! J). Computers, work files and other associations with daytime focus should be kept out of your sleeping den. If you do get up in the night, keep lighting dim - you don't want to tamper with your melatonin levels.
As far as possible, stick to consistent bed and wake times. Work with your natural hormone responses to light and dark. Remember that sleep-inducing melatonin floods your system when darkness triggers it. So limit the amount of light stimulation which blocks melatonin production and don't watch TV or surf the internet at least an hour before you retire.
Wind down from the day. Create a night time winding down ritual. Stop working or watching TV as far in advance of going to bed as possible. Limit food or alcohol intake over the evening so that sleep isn't compromised by having to digest a heavy meal or absorb copious amounts of drink. You could also read a book before sleeping. This helps stimulate your imagination and lets you forget the outside real world - exactly what happens as you start to drift into sleep.
But as well as taking sensible physical precautions before going to bed such as limiting or switching off sources of light stimulation like computer and TV there is, of course, a massive psychological aspect to going to sleep.
Many sleep deprived clients have desperately told me they 'can't switch off' enough to go to sleep. But in fact sleep is not the completely passive, inert state it's often assumed to be.
Rather than 'switching off', your brain switches on certain activities when you begin to sleep. Your brain is active during sleep, but is now responding to internal stimuli rather than external. It is taking care of the needs of your body and emotional mind. And sleep isn't just one thing; there are different layers and components to any night's sleep.
Your natural sleep pattern progresses through three stages, each of which has its own typical cycle of 'light REM sleep' and 'deep slow-wave sleep'.
When you first fall asleep, you enter a 'light sleep' phase known as the dream-fragment, or hypnagogic or REM phase (from the typical rapid eye movements of the sleeper). This phase very closely mirrors hypnosis. This dream sleep is not restful in itself. You can be woken easily and your body and mind are not 'resting' in the way you might assume you would be when asleep. You pass through a REM phase of sleep to get to the deeper stages of restorative slow-wave sleep. This is when you can be said to be 'out like a light' and when your body is repairing and healing from the day's exertions.
The first stage of your sleep has the greatest proportion of deeply restful slow-wave sleep and the smallest proportion of light REM sleep.
The middle part has a roughly even balance of both types of sleep.
The last part, as you come towards morning, has a much higher proportion of light REM sleep than of deep sleep and typically just before you wake up naturally you would be in dream sleep.
REM sleep is characterized by increases of heart rate, respiration and muscle and brain activity, making it easier to awaken from this more 'alert' kind of sleep.
Good sleep is not a matter of numbers of hours (though the number also matters) but how many cycles of sleep you get, and what the balance is between your REM sleep and your deep sleep.
To feel physically and mentally restored by sleep, about one third of overall sleep time should be spent in the less restful REM state. It's interesting to note that depressed people spend a much greater proportion of sleep time in REM sleep; up to 75% of their overall sleep time. This means they get much less of the slow wave deep restful sleep. No wonder depression is exhausting!
If you ever have trouble winding down and falling asleep you can encourage sleep onset with self hypnosis. I've already said that sleep starts to happen when mental focus switches from external to internal reality. When you naturally start to cross the divide from wakefulness into sleep, your mind starts to generate images which come from the part of your brain that dreams and imagines. So purposefully making yourself imagine things can encourage sleep onset. However, choose the content of your imaginings carefully! Worrying uses the imagination, of course, but it produces stress hormones that make us more alert, so this type of internal focus doesn't lead to sleep.
Instead, close your eyes and exercise your imagination in a way that makes you feel good. On no account try to sleep, because trying too hard can just drive it away. Just focus on exercising your imagination and let sleep be a happy by-product if it chooses to be. And if you succeed in relaxing yourself deeply but remain awake for a little while, you are still getting all the physical and mental benefits of rest. So relax!
Counting sheep is a classic self-hypnotic sleep-inducing technique whereby the purposeful activation of the imagination triggers the natural dream-fragment phase which is the natural start of the sleep cycle. But you don't have to stick to sheep.
You can imagine watching a favorite gentle activity, or maybe a beach scene or somewhere else pleasant in your mind. Notice the colors and sounds. Notice any people who are present and what they are doing in your mind. Imagine the sensations of being in that place - the coolness or warmth of the air, maybe the glittering evening light playing on the surface of the water. Really start to enjoy the wonderful tool that is your imagination. If I am feeling too wound up to sleep immediately, I might imagine watching a fast soccer or basketball game in my mind - as I become more tired, the game winds down and I find myself visualizing increasingly slow and gentle images.
But there's another vital aspect to sleep that can be directly linked to a very easy self-hypnotic technique.
During the day, core body heat rises, peaking during the mid-afternoon. Then, in the evening, core body temperature begins to fall gradually, but the temperature rises in the limbs. This pattern is associated with sleep onset. Researchers have established that circulation to the periphery, to your hands and feet, increases just before you fall asleep. Wearing socks in bed, or even just imagining that your hands and feet are getting warmer, can significantly speed up sleep onset.
So here's an extra tip: as you lie in bed imagine warming your hands around an open fire - because this drives blood into the hands and therefore warms them up. Begin to visualize a cozy room with a wonderful open log fire. Imagine it's really cold outside but now you're in the warm. See the orange and yellow flames from the open fire. Imagine the heat around the fire warming up the air around your hands, and now starting to feel your hands getting warmer...
This means that, comparatively, your core body temperature cools in relation to your extremities - which naturally happens when you drift off to sleep. So by hypnotically warming your hands you immediately start to feel much sleepier.
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