Brain Optimization Therapist and Coach Brad Pendergraft shared tips for curing insomnia.
According to the National Institutes of Health, 50 to 70 million Americans are affected by chronic sleep disorders and intermittent sleep problems that can significantly diminish health, alertness and safety. Insufficient sleep has been linked to chronic health disorders such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, depression, anxiety, increased risk for accidents and other significant health issues. Your sleep matters!
Understand insomnia. Some people think insomnia is associated only with difficulty in getting to sleep. This is only one form of insomnia. Even if you fall right to sleep, you may still be experiencing insomnia if you wake during the night and can’t return to sleep, or if you sleep only in short bursts during the night. If you regularly lie awake at any point in the night, or awake feeling tired, you need to take action to improve your sleep.
There is hope! Most sleep issues can be addressed with behavioral and cognitive changes. While some issues require medical attention (difficulty in breathing or excessive snoring can be signs to see your doctor), most sleep issues are learned behaviors. Most insomnia sufferers have developed habits that maintain the problems, and even make them worse! Here are some tips to make a change:
1. Measure, measure, measure. It is hard to change anything that we don’t measure, especially sleep. There are now lots of options. Use a smart phone app (many work by being placed under your mattress), a device that measures your brain waves, or just a good old-fashioned sleep diary. Start today by keeping track of your hours in bed, any information available on how long you slept, and information about your evening and your thoughts.
2. Start good “sleep hygiene.” Make it a priority. Eliminate or reduce evening caffeine, alcohol, and stimulating activities. Studies show that up to 90% of insomnia sufferers engage in stimulating activities within an hour of bedtime, with TV being the most common. Create a habit of relaxation for the last hour, with steadily decreasing exposure to light, especially TV and computer screens. Use relaxation, meditation, warm baths, and keep your bedroom dark.
3. Get out of bed! What? Yes, most insomnia sufferers actually spend too much time in bed …… doing things other than sleeping. Train your brain to associate your bed to sleep only, and to break the associations to other activities such as thinking, reading, watching TV, arguing, etc. (You can make an exception for sexual activities.) It is especially important to get out of bed whenever you have been “trying” to sleep for more than 20 minutes.
4. Control your mind. Your thoughts can be the most stimulating element in your environment. In addition to writing down your sleep related thoughts in your sleep diary, and challenging their truthfulness, there is a strategy you can use during the night. Instead of focusing on the content of your thoughts, just focus on the speed and volume of your internal voice. Practice speeding up and slowing down your internal monologue until you can easily control its pace and volume. Then turn it all down! Keep talking to yourself in your head, but make the inner voice slloooowwww and soft. This sends a message to the brain that it’s time to sleep.
5. Fool your brain. Sometimes nighttime visits to the bathroom spark a pattern of wakefulness that goes on for hours. You can prevent this by a simple “charade” of sleepiness. No matter how awake you actually feel, act as if you are so tired you aren’t sure you can even make it to the bathroom and back. Move slowly and sluggishly, and rest often on your way. This silly sounding behavior can trigger brain patterns that support putting your body back to sleep.
6. Explore technology and supplements. Neurofeedback can help optimize your brain patterns for sleep. Some herbal supplement can be effective in supporting your circadian rhythms and restoring sleep patterns.
Maintain hope. Be a “scientist” in your own life, and slowly make changes and keep track of the results. You can get the sleep you need!