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A Way Back to Restful Sleep

Ginger car sleeping restfully in her basket

Sleep is nature’s reward, or so the proverb goes. After a hard day’s work, few things are more sublime than a weary body sinking into a soft mattress, with the mind drifting into a world of dreams. The aches and pains of the day melt away, and we detach for a time from our troubles. Eventually we stir again to wakefulness, with feelings of renewal and refreshment. It all sounds so relaxing.

However, you would not be alone in struggling to recognise this description, as sleep has become a precious rarity in the rigmarole of 21st century life. Pushed and squeezed within the hustle and bustle of the modern world, restful sleep has all but been lost, as many struggle through disorders of insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, night terrors and more. We heave ourselves into bed and awaken with sore eyes, more exhausted than the day before. How did we get to this sorry state of affairs?

Man working overtime at his computer

Working to Live?

So many juggle two or more jobs, with partners acting like ships that pass each other in the night. Reacting to the stress of targets, outcomes and appraisals, the strain on physical and mental health has become endemic. Careers that were to bring joy, success and productivity frequently yield quite the opposite - more fatigue, less rest; longer hours, less energy; more rush, less patience. Parting company with the philosophy of working to live, and having traded this for living to work, we have lost balance.

Frequently delayed and interrupted, sleep initially gives us the benefit of doubt, waiting patiently to be acknowledged and accepted. If ignored for too long, it abandons us, to such an extent that even seeking for its return, sleep fails to come or visits only half-heartedly. Medication, which may help initially, soon loses its potency. Our overactive lives lose their innate sense of homeostasis.

Woman walking out of her bedroom after restful sleep

Sleep is a tonic

Sleep is a tonic like no other, it heals blood vessels, replenishes hormones and strengthens the immune system. It restores the body and mind to optimal functionality. Sleep, as Carl Jung once explained, is the meeting point of the conscious and sub-conscious mind, wherein we relate to, and make sense of, experience. Sigmund Freud spoke of it as the place where repressed desires are worked through, in the form of dreams. Physically, emotionally and psychologically, sleep renews and prepares us to live another day.

Tips for promoting better sleep

To help with settling to bed at night, just consider these basic changes:-

  1. The physical landscape of the bedroom is key. Just consider how comfortable your bedroom is. Are you happy with the bedding and your pillow – what about the temperature and light? Ear plugs, eye masks and layers that include warmer and lighter quilts or blankets will help with the changeable climate.

  2. Keep your sleeping space uncluttered. Ensure work items don’t enter this area. Clear the floors and any surfaces of unnecessary belongings, which could be placed elsewhere. If that means giving a little more to your local charity shop, so be it. It helps to have a small makeover, so the room has a more calm ambience, and makes it inviting.

  3. Consider your level of physical activity in the day - we store up stress and tension when we are cooped up behind a desk, engage in mundane and repetitive tasks or exhaust ourselves in front of a screen. It's the kind of tiredness that spoils sleep, rather than embracing it. Walks in the fresh air, perhaps even a jog or some home based exercise will help release those physical knots, and engage the bodies natural antidepressants we call endorphins.

  4. Watch how much caffeine and sugar you take in through the day, and increase your water intake. Too much tea, coffee, chocolate and heavily carbohydrate based diets make the body and mind sluggish. Caffeine is also a diuretic, which means more visits to the loo - not great if it disrupts sleep, and also not helpful if you take in too little water already. A hydrated body demands less food, and adds to our sense of refreshment and lightness. A healthy body, makes for a healthy mind, and vice versa. A little care over what you put into the body, will make a difference at night.

  5. Work on your body clock– a regular bed-time and wake-time helps no end. If you struggle with getting to sleep and end up active later at night, try regardless to wake at an earlier time in the morning. It may feel counterintuitive because you are effectively getting even less sleep! But within a few days, your body and mind will want to retire at an earlier point in the evening. Wake time is known to be a much more powerful modulator for sleep, than bedtime (although a decent bedtime is needed too...eventually).

  6. Before settling to bed, create a relaxing wind down routine for the body. Eat earlier in the evening, to avoid the body having to keep digesting food through the night. Also, in the 30-40mins before bed, take a hot shower, followed by a milky drink (or warm water) - this will dilate the blood vessels, reduce blood pressure and reduce body tension. It also reminds you of being pampered as a child - and if you are fortunate, those memories will be happy ones.

  7. You also need to quieten mental activity. This includes putting away screens 60mins before bedtime. Avoid watching the 10pm news!!!! If you like to be aware of current affairs, the news rarely changes before breakfast, so leave it until then. Instead, some slow breathing exercises, meditation practice or gratitude journaling will settle the mind – these can be done whilst sitting in bed, or on a comfy chair if you have one. Music that is relaxing, could also be played - some people use Apps that play the sounds of nature - rain, streams and the like, which you can try. Equally, reading a few pages of a calming book, is a great recipe to settle the mind. A personal development book can be ideal, as it will feed you with positive messages.

  8. If you have worries, especially about the day ahead, try to trust yourself, by reassuring your mind that you will find a way, as you always have done until now! The problems won’t get any smaller through stressing about them. Tell yourself that you will deal with tomorrow, tomorrow – it does not need to encroach upon today. The breathing exercise can help here too – think of a happy time in your life, and breathe in the joy. When you breathe out, feel you are letting go of worries as they exit the body and mind on the outward breath. A few minutes of this practice, can do wonders.

  9. Stressing about the stress of not sleeping, makes sleeping even harder. Work on the underlying causes, as discussed in the points above, as this will make a difference. When we get the basics or foundations right, the rest builds more easily.

  10. Finally, each day, do at least one thing that makes your heart sing. When we revel in things we enjoy, this activity naturally lightens our load. We feel less burdened, more hopeful and more at ease.

Positive intention

With improved sleep, you will be able to take a more productive approach to work, because a rested mind and body can do more, in less time! Restful sleep will also help you to be more responsive and loving in your home, personal and social life. Moreover, you will increasingly feel more at peace in your own company. As these positive gains emerge, they will reinforce your ability to settle to bed without fear, regret or remorse, thereby enjoying the benefits that sleep brings. You will wake re-energized and ready to transform the world, through every person and circumstance you happen to meet! It may sound optimistic, especially if sleep has been a challenge for you, but there is great power in positive intentions, and visualizing a preferred way of being. The reality tends to catch up with our intentions if we hold to them with courage and conviction.

Further help

If these strategies get you there with restful sleep, that is great. If they help move you part of the way, and you need more support, please get in touch with Solihull Well Being Clinic, where we have a range of therapies from Hypnotherapy, Sophrology and Relaxation Therapy to tailored therapies for Anxiety and Depression, which can sometimes becoming complicating factors in our ability to sleep. If the issues that trouble you are family based, we have Family Therapists and Couple Therapists, who can help. Holistic approaches like Reiki and Acupunture are also available, as complimentary treatments. If you need support with Nutrition, we have practitioners who can help here too. We can offer these services in person, or some can even be done online.

Image of Dr Bobby Sura, Consultant Clinical Psychologist

Dr Bobby Sura

Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist

Dr Bobby Sura is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist specialising within the field of lifespan and family based mental health needs. He has over 25yrs NHS experience and 18yrs in the private sector, being the founder of Clinical Psychology Direct and Director for Solihull Well Being Clinic. Bobby is Chartered with the British Psychological Society (BPS), Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP), Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) with eligibility for registration with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and Association of Family Therapy (AFT). He manages a large service in Hall Green, Birmingham, with a range of Counsellors, Psychotherapists, Psychologists and Holistic Practitioners who offer their services on a private, fee paying basis.


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