Most people who seek help getting to sleep, or staying asleep long enough to feel refreshed, reveal common myths about sleep. The trouble is, these myths end up keeping them awake at night because they lead to false hopes and unrealistic expectations such as:
- I MUST get 8 hours of sleep every night
- I should never wake up at night
- If I'm groggy in the morning I won't be able to cope
- When I can't sleep I should stay in bed and try harder
- I have to nap to make up for lost sleep
Insomnia is thought to affect around one in every three people. It's not always clear what triggers it, but it's often associated with stress and anxiety, mental health conditions such as depression and schizophrenia, and sometimes physical health conditions such as heart problems and hormonal changes.
Doug was a 31-year-old banker who said he wasn't getting any sleep. When we looked into it, it became clear he was sabotaging a good night's rest. He kept his laptop in his bedroom and when he woke in the night, would check the financial markets 'just in case'. As he lay awake he worried he wouldn't be able to cope at work, and would lose his job. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on helping people 'train away' bad sleeping habits and put in place healthy ones.
Here's some pointers:
- The bed and bedroom should only be for sleeping and sex. There should be no lights from computers, TV, phones
- Monitor your sleep for a week and make regular sleep times - don't try to make up for lost sleep with naps or sleeping in
- Listen to things you are saying to yourself when you are struggling to sleep. We all worry, but bed is not the place for that. Attend to those worries with pen and paper in the morning. Get out of bed if you are unable to sleep, and return when your body tells you it wants rest
- Check the facts: is it true that you are unable to cope after a bad night's sleep? Doug conceded he copes, albeit feeling tired
- Falling asleep happens unconsciously. Resolve to rest rather than torment yourself with 'I must sleep' thoughts.
Lorna Damiani is a sleep expert and cognitive behavioural therapist at The Priory Hospital in Chelmsford.
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