Written by:
Emma Naughton
Published on:
January 25, 2022

How to sleep better

We all want to have a good nights sleep, so why do we often find it so hard? If you have found yourself laying awake in the middle of the night, wide awake, restless and unable to get back to sleep you are not alone. I completely sympathise as my own relationship with sleep has been a turbulent one. From as far back as I remember I have struggled to sleep a whole night. The issues really started to effect me in my mid-twenties though when I would get stretches of terrible insomnia that would last two or three weeks at a time, leaving me barely functioning in the day time utterly exhausted, then dreading the night ahead of me. I tried everything, windows open, ear plugs, eye masks, sprays, calming music – nothing seemed to work. I always assumed it was just me, I was just a bad sleeper. I got used to being awake in the night. Until a few years ago, but it wasn’t what I expected that finally gave me my sleep back!

How do we actually fall asleep?

You may already be familiar with the term circadian cycles; these are humans natural sleep patterns. Way back at the start of the human race, way before electricity was invented and the working week existed, we would sleep when our body told us to. When dusk starts and the light begins to fade this triggers our brain to produce melatonin -  a hormone that is produced in the brain and released into the body. Our circadian cycles are roughly 24 hours - which mirrors the earths rotation.

While melatonin isn't responsible for us actually falling asleep, its the cue that tells us its time to actually go to bed. There is another hormone, adenosine which builds up in our body, starting from the moment we wake up and the eventual increase in the adenosine levels signals the body to become drowsy. During our sleep our adenosine levels drop again until we wake up feeling more energetic ready to face the day.

White light sends a trigger to our brain to stop producing Melatonin and end the relaxing sleep state we are in. *Important information covered in what stops us sleeping.

What happens in your brain and body when you sleep?

During the night we have multiple sleep cycles which last roughly 90 mins, during this we have 4 brain phases – different things start happening in our brain and body during each of these phases, the first 3 are NREM but the most important phase for our brain and in turn our mental wellbeing is the REM phase – Rapid Eye Movement.

Just before we go into REM our brain sends a signal to our body to paralyse us – this is important to stop us acting out our dreams!

REM is the most active phase for our brains during sleep and during this phase our thoughts and emotional memories from the day are processed and either stored in the significant or insignificant folders in our brain.

You might have experienced this before, say you have had a challenging day at work, something happened in a meeting, someone might have disagreed with you but you are absolutely sure you are right. You get home from work and discuss it with your partner, they say oh I don’t know why you are still going on about this does it really matter, but you just can’t let it go it’s really bothering you. You feel irritated for the rest of the evening and can’t really relax. When it’s time to go to bed you lay there thinking about that conversation, going over it and questioning whether you are right, if you could have said anything different to prove your case. Eventually you fall asleep, during the sleep cycle you go into the REM stage, this is where your brain starts to process the thoughts and emotional feelings from the meeting, moving them from the emotional and original part of our brains into our intelligent and problem-solving area – the pre-frontal cortex. Here we take control of these thoughts and turn them into a narrative or dream. When our intellectual and sensible brain has got hold of the information it starts to make a proper assessment and most likely decides to file the memory as insignificant and not a priority of our cognitive focus right now (we can only really focus on a couple of things at a time so we have to pick which get our attention). You wake up  the next morning and might remember having a strange dream where you were at work but it wasn’t your building and there was a character from the TV show you watched before bed in the meeting, and you all went out for ice cream. You might think that is strange I wonder what I was dreaming that for? But you probably won’t still be raging about the meeting, you may still be slightly irritated by it but its significance in your thoughts has gone down and you don’t have that same emotional response.

We do this every night for multiple memories and events from our days and weeks, sometimes even things from way back in the past.

Sleep is so important as we not only feel more rested but our brains actually function better and we are more creative, able to solve problems. It leaves more room to cope and make better decisions the next day and re-focus our attention onto things that are helpful. Losing even one hour of a sleep a night over a few weeks can affect our concentration and ability to learn and retain information.

During the night other amazing things are happening, a lot of our hormones are going through homeostasis and correcting themselves after the day. Two of these are Ghrelin and Leptin; responsible for our hunger and appetite, so both play a big part in our eating habits. If you don’t get enough sleep then you end up with reduced levels of Leptin and increased levels of Ghrelin and this can leave you feeling hungry and not satisfied meaning you are more likely to make unhealthy food choices and eat more than you need.

What prevents us sleeping well?

Well as I mentioned some hormones are responsible for interrupting our sleep, these include cortisol, adrenaline, Ghrelin. But over the counter medicines can also have an effect as well as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Alcohol interrupts our REM sleep cycles and when we don’t get enough REM we don’t process enough of our ‘unhelpful’ thoughts which can leave us feeling anxious and irritable the next day.

Bad habits also interfere with our sleep, staying up late watching tv, endless scrolling on your phone before bed, this will affect the production of Melatonin and in turn make it much harder to get your body and mind rested and send the triggers to fall asleep.

Shift work can also affect our body’s natural ability to fall asleep as the triggers to produce melatonin will be missing.

There are medical reasons that we might not be sleeping and it is always a good idea to get those things checked by a doctor – such as hyperthyroidism and rheumatoid arthritis.

But the number one culprit of being woken up in the night and finding it difficult to get back to sleep is – our overwhelming negative and unhelpful thoughts. Mental hyperarousal, frequently marked by worry, has been identified as a key factor behind insomnia. People with anxiety disorders are inclined to have higher sleep reactivity, so when going through a period of intense of prolonged stress our sleep seriously suffers.

Sleeping difficulties have been found for people with various types of anxiety including generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, and PTSD. In several studies, over 90% of people with PTSD associated with military combat have reported symptoms of insomnia.

I discussed REM and its purpose in emptying our stress buckets which are filled with our negative thoughts, these buckets in people suffering any of the above are likely to be overflowing. Unfortunately, REM is only limited to about 20% of our sleep, this is because it uses a huge amount of energy, and we can’t spend too long in this phase. If you have too much to process, then the brain has to stop this cycle in order to save energy and it will wake you up. We know that this can then cause a viscous cycle, lying awake in the night, thinking of all the problems from the day, or negatively forecasting what might happen tomorrow when you haven’t slept enough again. Our buckets are barely empty, and they are filling back up. So the next day we have the anxiety caused by a full bucket and no space to concentrate on the important things we need to do, tiredness which makes go into our emotional and reward focused brain and slip into bad habits which are more likely to negatively affect our sleep and the learned experience of waking up worrying – which adds to our already full bucket.

How can hypnotherapy help you get a better night’s sleep?

Using solutions focused positive techniques and tools to help us empty our stress buckets we can go to bed with less to process. When our REM is working with a manageable workload then we are less likely to wake up in the night from overworking our brains capacity. We also use trance which allows you to focus on positive visualisations and sends safe and calming messages to your brain allowing you to switch off and relax. This aides a better nights sleep as you are already in the best conditions to sleep.

Trance is a great tool for those who lay in bed with a million thoughts going round their head about the events of the day or what they have to do tomorrow.

The combination of an emptier bucket along with a more relaxed state will really support a good nights sleep. The benefits are endless, positive actions encourage more of the same, we can be more creative, make better decisions and feel happier and calmer. Never underestimate how important sleep is in your ability to feel able to cope with day-to-day life.

Researchers from around the world have already studied the benefits of sleep hypnosis in different populations, including:

  • Sleep disturbances caused by menopause
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Irritable bowl syndrome
  • PTSD - sleep disorders resulting from trauma
  • Cancer patients
  • Pain related sleep disturbances
  • Sleep bruxism (grinding of the teeth)

 Many of my clients report getting much better sleep and find that the more they listen to the audio at night the faster they fall asleep.

10 ways to improve your sleep

1.    Routine – if you set a last call for bedtime and try and stick to it you are creating that association and telling your brain now it’s time to rest.

2.    Start to wind down before the last call, try and dim the lights, remove as much white light as possible so you have the best chance of producing Melatonin.

3.    Try some light stretching or yoga, calm and relaxing movements are good to relax the muscles and release some tension. Exercise also increase adenoisne production.

4.    Reading a book before bed, I have got into the habit of reading for 10 minutes every night, this gives my brain something to focus on and I enjoy it so I get a nice reward

5.    No caffeine too close to the wind down time.

6.    Create your own serotonin and dopamine by thinking about good and positive things, this allows us to enter the creative and rational area of our brain.

7.    Relaxing music or meditation – to take our brains away from the background noise of life.

8.    Trance – as above this is so beneficial to calming and relaxing you before bed.

9.    Self hypnosis - by transporting yourself to one of you happy, calm and relaxed space, the sounds, the smells, the colours, the more vividly you imagine it the more relaxed you feel.

10.  Open a window, cool environments promote Melatonin and sleep.

 The key is not to focus too much on the goal being sleep (don’t obsess over what time you drift off and wake up), but more to build better habits in the evening that promote relaxation and positive thinking/feelings.That is more important and the results will become better sleep. Consistency is key to setting better routine.

Joe Wicks recently posted on Instagram that he had been going to bed earlier and that the benefits not just on his energy levels but his habits were amazing.

“I set myself two main goals when I landed in LA three months ago. No 1 was to get more sleep because back home my sleep isn’t consistent and I don’t get enough. I spend too long sitting up on my phone working, watching late night TV or playing Call of Duty with my mates online until midnight. The 2nd goal was to get stronger. To lift heavier weights and get progressively stronger each week just by adding a few extra kilograms or pushing out a few extra reps. What I’ve realised more than ever is that sleep is the foundation that everything stands on. When I sleep better and consistentlyI wake up with more energy to train harder. When I’ve slept well I also make better food choices. I’ve been asleep about 9.30pm most nights and trained consistently 6 days a week at 6am for 3 months. The challenge for me when I’m back home is to maintain this routine. I’m going to do my best to stick to it because i’m fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been and the sacrifices feel worth it 🙌🏽”

Joe Wicks  - @thebodycoach

We don’t always have to go to bed super early, but our sleep habits do effect our mental health and the better you make them and more consistent you are the more benefits you will get.

If you want to explore how trance and hypnotherapy can support you to get a better nights sleep then contact me. I also have a free audio to download on the homepage which you can listen to every night and will support a more rested sleep.

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