Wednesday 24 July 2019

Allison Keating: How to improve your chances of a good slumber

The pace of modern life can work against a good night's sleep, but there are steps you can take to bolster your chances of a restful night, says psychologist Allison Keating

If you want to sleep better at night, make sure to practice some compassionate sleep hygiene
If you want to sleep better at night, make sure to practice some compassionate sleep hygiene

Allison Keating

Sleep is essential for our mental health. We all know that horrible groggy feeling that comes with interrupted and poor quality sleep, but we can be less cognisant of the mental and emotional toll that it has on us. In my clinical experience two things are major triggers that often preclude the onset of anxiety and panic attacks - the use of substances such as drugs or alcohol and a sustained period of poor quality sleep.

When you are not sleeping, you have to look at what is driving the behaviour.

How you experience your day, will in turn, equate to your sleep quality tonight.

Practising non-reactivity

We live in a world where busyness is valued and correlated with your personal productivity and success, often making up a big part of how you view yourself. We appear to value a culture hyped on reactivity. Bing, your phone beeps, pick it up, bing, a new email, check it. So all this talk of sleep hygiene needs to bring some daytime mindfulness to overstimulated and overactive brains and bodies.

The concept of rest, relaxation, sleep and slowing down with a night-time routine is all well and good but, you can't just slam the brakes one hour before bed and expect to catch perfect Z's as soon as your head hits the pillow.

The frenetic daytime pace needs to be questioned, identified and changed.

How do you do this?

You practice non-reactivity for every bid for your attention and you see work and rest as partners as opposed to competitors.

If you want to sleep well tonight, what did you do in your day to aid the process of sleep? Did you have any downtime?

Were you a multi-tasking task-bot, switching mediums, from phone to computer, to chatting with your boss, to the kids?

Out of all the roles you played today when did you pause, breathe and smell the proverbial roses. Or if you were presented with a nanosecond of free time did you scroll it away?

The good news is, that you can take control of this.

Make a new plan for how you want to live your day-to-day life. Put in restrictions and times when you check your mail. Cordon off part of your day for uninterrupted productivity sessions.

Start your day with a meditation: it will impact how you react in your day and how you are at night. Practice non-reactivity. Become aware of the instinct to respond or react immediately. Feel where the tension is in your body. What thoughts accompany it 'I have to get this done' or 'they need this now.' Pause and breathe, internally say 'breath in' 'breath out'.

Recognise how your brain works, technology understands your neurology and has been specifically engineered to know how to get your brains attention. Knowing this, make times in the day where your email and phone are on silent. You will get more done, and feel less stress.

What does this have to do with sleep?

Well, just about everything.

Never mind the 3 o'clock coffee embargo - while it's a good idea - what you need to work in is some time in your day where there are periods of rest whilst you work. Not only will you work more effectively, but you will be more creative and better at problem solving. If it's just a movement break from your desk, a quick walk around your building, a mere stretch in the swivel chair or just doing four breaths in, hold for four and breathe out for four it will really count at night. Your sleep hygiene starts in your day. That ferocious need for time to yourself at night that causes you to stay up late is often because you didn't have any mental free space during the day. The following points will help.

Bedtime for adults:

◊ What time do you want to go to bed?

◊ Why do you want to get more sleep?

◊ Write down your new bedtime routine. It starts with how you are during your day.

◊ Practice non-reactivity during the day and especially if you can't sleep at night. If you can't sleep, acknowledge that you are resting.

◊ When your sleep routine slips, just start again.

Compassionate sleep hygiene:

◊ Recognise that you will resist with every fibre of your being going to bed and will want to watch just one more Netflix, take on the role of 'mammy' and send yourself to bed, you'll thank me, not tonight, but tomorrow.

◊ Phone curfew from 9.45pm, blue lights out.

◊ Put your phone on silent mode.

◊ Set your alarm for the morning and hide your phone.

◊ TV off by 10.30 pm.

◊ Tidy your room, a cluttered room is hard to sleep in.

◊ Don't have the room too hot and make it as dark as possible.

◊ Fresh sheets are always a winner, you will sleep better.

◊ Make the next part about self-care and create a dreamy sleep ritual.

◊ Washing your face, teeth & getting dressed for bed should be seen as self-care and part of your sleep ritual.

◊ Do it mindfully and slowly.

◊ Before you sleep you can read, have sex, do a meditation or body scan. A body scan is a head to toe 'scan' of how your body feels. It comes from mindfulness. You start at your head, feel your head on your pillow, notice any tension etc. all the way down. You release any parts that feel tight or tense.

◊ Grab yourself a spritz from This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray.

◊ Neom is a scent to sleep oil, it smells heavenly and does the job.

◊ Try Dr. Weil's sleep breathing; Exhale through your mouth. Breathe in for four through your nose. Hold breath for seven and exhale making a whoosh sound for the count of eight. (4-7-8)

◊ Your intent is to let go of the day and transition yourself with your breath to the night.

◊ Sleep meditations, seven day sleep meditations, body scans -

◊ Fall in love with sleep again.

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