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Published on May 22, 2019

5 Sleep Therapy Techniques for Better Overall Health And Wellness

5 Sleep Therapy Techniques for Better Overall Health And Wellness

While evidence continues to pile up that sleep is the very backbone of mental health, few of the many Americans who are having trouble getting proper shut-eye choose to try sleep therapy.

We’re sadly encouraged to boast about how busy we are or how little sleep we’re getting in a “do-more” culture. Combine busy schedules with caffeine, blue LEDs, ambient city noise, and a host of other maladaptive environmental factors and it’s no surprise that one in three adults is apparently failing to get even seven hours of sleep.[1]

Economically, one study estimates that inadequate sleep costs the U.S. $411 billion annually.[2] More importantly, under sleeping puts our health in jeopardy. Your immune system, memory, microbiome, emotional calibration, and rational-decision making all rely on good night’s sleep for proper functioning. In one shocking study, surgeons made 20% more errors when they’d under-slept when compared to their well-rested counterparts.[3]

Many people turn to sleeping pills to find some respite for their sleep ailments, but the problem with pills is that they simply sedate the cortex without providing natural biological rest. In other words, medications don’t necessarily improve the quality of sleep, just the amount of time you spend unconscious. Just as alcohol can make you drowsy while actually destroying your valuable REM periods of sleep, pills should not be your go-to either when it comes to finding more snooze time.

Why Is Sleep so Important?

“The decimation of sleep throughout industrialized nations is having a catastrophic impact on our health, our life expectancy, our safety, our productivity, and the education of our children.” – Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep

The importance of sleep is often overlooked in our busy modern lives. Yet the very fact that evolution couldn’t design an organism without it (even bacteria follow a circadian rhythm of activity) should tell us how important sleep is for our wellbeing.

Sleep has been shown to make us more creative, happier, more attractive, slimmer, less anxious, and more resistant to disease. Furthermore, it lowers the risk of heart attacks, enhances memory, and allows us to live longer. (For a full analysis of the scientifically-proven health benefits, I recommend reading Why We Sleep, written recently by a top neuroscientist sleep researcher.)

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Given our increasing understanding of the importance of sleep, it’s no surprise that sports teams, like Manchester United, have started hiring “sleep coaches” specifically to ensure that their players get the best night’s sleep possible. These coaches travel around with the team and ensure that air quality, lighting, mattress firmness, and a variety of other factors are optimized to ensure the best night’s sleep possible.

Sleep can not only give professional athletes a big edge over their competitors, but it can also give you a whole lot more mental clarity throughout the day. So if you’re waking up feeling groggy, generally lethargic throughout the day, or just not receiving those crucial eight hours of shut-eye, here are a few therapeutic solutions you might consider.

The Antidote

Luckily, there are effective sleep therapy techniques that can help even the most restless sleepers get more shuteye.

1. Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI)

The most widely-used method of sleep therapy is CBT, which has been shown effective in many patients after 5 to 8 weeks of treatment.

CBT addresses negative thought and behavioral patterns. If you’re tossing and turning in the sheets, it’s often a mental pattern, such as excessive stress or anxiety that’s contributing to the sleep problem. In short, the CBT method involves identifying negative thoughts and beliefs, challenging them, and establishing a more helpful way of thinking.

For example, many people who have traditionally had problems getting to sleep begin worrying and catastrophizing about their inability to get to sleep, which compounds the problem in a snowball effect. CBT allows patients to break out of this harmful routine and create a better relationship with their own mind.

This method is often more specifically applied to insomnia in what’s called Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI). You can read more about this method, here.

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2. Sleep Restriction Therapy (SRT)

The goal of this therapy is to limit the overall amount of time that the patient spent in bed not sleeping, creating a stronger association between bedtime and actual sleep.

Developed by legendary psychologist Arthur Spielman, SRT follows a strict schedule for gradually increasing the amount of time you’re allowed in bed. You begin with the amount of time actually spent sleeping each night on average.

Let’s say you go to bed at 10pm and wake up at 7am but only sleep for five hours. You’d start with 6 hours of allowed rest, going to bed at 11pm and waking up at 5am, for example. You then gradually add sleep in 15 minute or half hour increments each week until you’re sleeping a healthy amount. There are several variations on this procedure and you might consult a sleep doctor or therapist for more detail.

SRT has been shown to be the most effective sleep hygiene technique.[4] The downside, of course, is that it’s not a quick fix. It does take weeks of diligence to recondition your sleep schedule and see results.

3. Meditation/Yoga Nidra

Meditation can also be used as a form of sleep therapy. Mindfulness, a state of mind achieved through meditation, has been defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a molecular biologist who created Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), as,[5]

“the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgmentally.”

By learning to experience one’s thoughts, emotions, and sensations closely without judging them, meditators can calm down and prepare their minds for sleep.

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Mindfulness meditation allows individuals to shine a light into their inner mental programs in what’s called introspective metacognitive awareness. In doing so, you’re able to form a better relationship with your thoughts, ease anxiety and alleviate a host of other mental turmoil that may be preventing sleep.

There’s a specific method of Vedic meditation called Yoga Nidra that is an excellent way to slip into sleep.[6] The practice involves breathing deeply, setting an intention, rotating one’s awareness around the body (which tires out the somatomotor regions of the brain, which process sensory information, and then often counting backward.

The practice may also include visualizations, depending on the particular set of instructions. Yoga Nidra has been practiced for thousands of years and is effective at shutting off the “narrating mind,” the voice in your head that won’t keep quiet when you’re trying to get to sleep. Especially in the early stages of doing Yoga Nidra, it’s helpful to listen to a teacher or guided audio recording.

Here’s an example of Yoga Nidra:

4. Hypnosis

Hypnotic techniques put patients into a relaxed and suggestible state wherein their thoughts and beliefs can readily become “reprogrammed.” For those unable to change their harmful negative thought loops using CBT, they may find hypnosis a suitable alternative.

The hypnotherapist employs subtle suggestions to “relax,” “let go,” and other trigger words. While your brain’s rational CEO in the neocortex is largely responsible for rumination and other thought patterns that might be keeping you awake, hypnosis allows the hypnotherapist to permeate your subconscious mind and plant code there that will help you fall asleep quicker.

5. Breathing Exercises

Breathing directly affects your autonomic nervous system, which in turn influences your mental activity. Sometimes, trouble getting to sleep is associated with an over-active “fight or flight” sympathy nervous system, and breathing is a quick way to put the breaks on this mechanism.

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There are several aspects of the breath that influence your mind-body system. Here are 3 important aspects of a calming breath that can immediately influence how your mental state:

  • Breathe smoothly: The opposite of this would be a jerky, staccato breath. Rather, you’d like there to be a constant flow of air entering and leaving your lungs between pauses.
  • Breathe rhythmically: What’s important here is that your breath has a consistent ratio of inhale to exhale. To further calm yourself, you might try exhaling for longer than the inhale in a fixed ratio of say 4:6. Four seconds of inhalation, followed by 6 seconds of exhalation. When practicing, it can help to use a metronome to find a rhythm at first (free phone apps are available).
  • Breathe into your belly: So-called “belly breathing” uses your full diaphragm and ensures that you’re using your lungs as they are designed. If you’d like to see proper diaphragmatic breathing just watch how a baby breathes naturally.

All three aspects of breath work to activate the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system, calming down your body and mind.

Bonus Sleep Tips

You also might consider these sleep hygiene strategies to improve your sleep, which include:

  • Going to bed and wake up at the same time every day
  • Making your room as dark as possible and relatively cool in temperature
  • Avoiding your bed unless you’re sleeping
  • Not eating or exercising right before bed
  • Taking a hot shower before bed
  • Getting sun exposure in the morning
  • Journaling your thoughts before bed or reading fiction
  • Avoiding naps after 3pm
  • Avoiding alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and other drugs
  • Dimming house lights and shutting off electronic screens two hours before bedtime, or at the least use a blue light filter like f.lux
  • Bonus: using a white noise machine if you live in a noisy neighborhood

If problems persist after implementing these changes, it might be worth contacting a professional sleep physician or specialist to improve your sleep.

The Bottom Line

Sleep is not just a “hack,” it’s a necessity. While people spend billions on supplements, exercise machines, and diet books, there’s a free area of great improvement that would benefit many.

In my opinion, if there’s one aspect of our lives we don’t pay enough attention to, it’s the whole third of our lives (if you’re getting enough of it!) spent slumbering on the pillow.

After reading this article, you have all the tools you need to optimize your sleep and, in doing so, potentially transform the quality of your waking hours.

Featured photo credit: Zohre Nemati via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] CDC: 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep
[2] Rand: Sleep Report
[3] The Lancet: Sleep Deprived Versus Rested Surgeons
[4] Kaiser Permanente: Sleep Restriction Therapy
[5] Front Behav Neurosci.: Into the Moment
[6] Yoga International: 5 Benefits of Yoga Nidra

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Liam McClintock

Founder of FitMind, Corporate Mental Wellness

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Last Updated on December 2, 2019

10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

Plato knew that the body and mind are intimately linked. And in the late 1800s, the Mayo brothers, famous physicians, estimated that over half of all hospital beds are filled with people suffering from frustration, anxiety, worry and despair. Causes of worry are everywhere, in our relationships and our jobs, so it’s key we find ways to take charge of the stress.

In his classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie offers tools to ditch excessive worrying that help you make a worry-free environment for your private and professional life.

These are the top 10 tips to grab worry by the horns and wrestle it to the ground:

1. Make Your Decision and Never Look Back

Have you ever made a decision in life only to second-guess it afterwards? Of course you have! It’s hard not to wonder whether you’ve done the right thing and whether there might still be time to take another path.

But keep this in mind: you’ve already made your decision, so act decisively on it and dismiss all your anxiety about it.

Don’t stop to hesitate, to reconsider, or to retrace your steps. Once you’ve chosen a course of action, stick to it and never waver.

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2. Live for Today, Package Things up in “Day-Tight Compartments”

You know that feeling: tossing, turning and worrying over something that happened or something that might, well into the wee hours. To avoid this pointless worrying, you need “day-tight compartments”. Much as a ship has different watertight compartments, your own “day-tight” ones are a way to limit your attention to the present day.

The rule is simple: whatever happened in the past or might happen in the future must not intrude upon today. Everything else has to wait its turn for tomorrow’s box or stay stuck in the past.

3. Embrace the Worst-Case Scenario and Strategize to Offset It

If you’re worried about something, ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Could you lose your job? Be jailed? Get killed?

Whatever the “worst” might be, it’s probably not so world-ending. You could probably even bounce back from it!

If, for example, you lose your job, you could always find another. Once you accept the worst-case scenario and get thinking about contingency plans, you’ll feel calmer.

4. Put a Lid on Your Worrying

Sometimes we stress endlessly about negative experiences when just walking away from them would serve us far better.

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To make squashing that worry easier, try this strategy, straight from stock traders: it’s called the “stop-loss” order, where shares are bought at a certain price, and then their price development is observed. If things go badly and the share price hits a certain point, they are sold off immediately. This stops the loss from increasing further.

In the same manner, you can put a stop-loss order on things that cause you stress and grief.

5. Fake It ‘Til You Make It – Happiness, That Is

We can’t directly influence how we feel, but we can nudge ourselves to change through how we think and act.

If you’re feeling sad or low, slap a big grin on your face and whistle a chipper tune. You’ll find it impossible to be blue when acting cheerful. But you don’t necessarily need to act outwardly happy; you can simply think happier thoughts instead.

Marcus Aurelius summed it up aptly:

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

6. Give for the Joy of Giving

When we perform acts of kindness, we often do so with the expectation of gratitude. But harboring such expectations will probably leave you disappointed.

One person well aware of this fact was the lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. Over the course of his career, Leibowitz saved 78 people from going to the electric chair. Guess how many thanked him? None.

So stop expecting gratitude when you’re kind to someone. Instead, take joy from the act yourself.

7. Dump Envy – Enjoy Being Uniquely You

Your genes are completely unique. Even if someone had the same parents as you, the likelihood of someone identical to you being born is just one in 300,000 billion.

Despite this amazing fact, many of us long to be someone else, thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But living your life this way is pointless. Embrace your uniqueness and get comfortable with who you really are: How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

8. Haters Will Hate — It Just Means You’re Doing It Right

When you’re criticized, it often means you’re accomplishing something noteworthy. In fact, let’s take it a step further and consider this: the more you’re criticized, the more influential and important a person you likely are.

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So the next time somebody talks you down, don’t let it get to you. Take it as a compliment!

9. Chill Out! Learn to Rest Before You Get Tired

Scientists agree that emotions are the most common cause of fatigue. And it works the other way around, too: fatigue produces more worries and negative emotions.

It should be clear, therefore, that you’ve got to relax regularly before you feel tired. Otherwise, worries and fatigue will accumulate on top of each other.

It’s impossible to worry when you are relaxed, and regular rest helps you maintain your ability to work effectively.

10. Get Organized and Enjoy Your Work

There are few greater sources of misery in life than having to work, day in, day out, in a job you despise. It would make sense then that you shouldn’t pick a job you hate, or even just dislike doing.

But say you already have a job. How can you make it more enjoyable and worry-free? One way is to stay organized: a desk full of unanswered mails and memos is sure to breed worries.

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Better yet, rethink about the job you’re doing: What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Want a Successful Career

More About Living a Fulfilling Life

Featured photo credit: Tyler Nix via unsplash.com

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