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Last Updated on January 11, 2021

5 Sleep Therapy Techniques for Better Overall Health And Wellness

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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.

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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

More by this author

Liam McClintock

Founder of FitMind, Corporate Mental Wellness

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Published on November 30, 2021

Entrepreneurial Burnout: 6 Ways to Avoid And Overcome It

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Entrepreneurial Burnout: 6 Ways to Avoid And Overcome It

Burnout became an especially painful issue during the pandemic when the majority of people worked from home, finding it difficult to draw the line between work and private life. However, entrepreneur burnout has been less discussed, despite evidence that entrepreneurs are at a higher risk of burning out.[1]

It may seem that as the boss, you are more in control of your time and work duties. Feeling stressed? Take a day off. Don’t feel like doing something? Give the task to someone else. But in reality, the responsibility of leading a company weighs heavy on many company owners.

In addition, when you’re passionate about growing your business, it can be tricky to notice the symptoms of burnout. It may take long months or even years of putting yourself through survival mode before you notice that your body or mind has raised a white flag.

The tips compiled here will help you avoid entrepreneur burnout and tackle already existing burnout symptoms, like exhaustion, sleep problems, irritability, weakened immune system, and others. However, if you feel that these have already become serious issues, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor or a psychotherapist in addition to following these tips.

1. Find a Reliable Business Partner

There’s a reason why most startups nowadays have at least two or three people on the founding team. Starting and growing a business is a challenging endeavor and can become a gargantuan task if you sign up to do it alone. Even if it may seem doable at first, new responsibilities, needs, and issues will arise as your company grows.

If you’re lucky, you already have a trustworthy partner to share the highs and lows of managing a business. If you’re going at it solo but would like to find a business partner, look for someone who:

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  • you trust and, ideally, have already worked with, either as colleagues or co-founders;
  • has a complementary skillset and temper;
  • has similar work habits and ethics;
  • will be equally invested in the business, both financially, practically, and emotionally.

Rihards Piks, the co-founder of on-demand supplement fulfillment service Supliful, shares that he and his business partner Martins were childhood friends and had already worked on several business ideas together before Supliful. Their close-knit partnership played a crucial role when their previous business was facing bankruptcy: “When we decided to take out personal loans to save our business from going under, we both took an equal share of the risk – and an equal share of the loan. Neither Martins nor I became a tag-along co-founder.”[2]

2. Set Your Priorities as Soon as Possible

When starting your business, the list of tasks and plans seems endless, and it’s clear as day that it’s not humanly possible to attend to all of them. That’s why priority setting is so important when you’re a company owner. In other words, take small but focused steps in the right direction.

If your company is still at a very early stage, prioritize the tasks that help you create a Minimum Viable Product or MVP to kick your business off and start attracting customers. An MVP is the most basic version of your business idea that can operate. Gather the first clients, and get valuable feedback.

If you’re leading an already established business, think about slowly transferring operational tasks to others, keeping the focus on company goals and other crucial aspects of your business.

Jonna Piira, the founder of Kali, worked on too many projects until she was forced to take some time off due to an unfortunate fall down the stairs. That’s when she realized she was experiencing entrepreneur burnout and decided to take a critical look at her list of priorities: “I reviewed everything that I was doing. I listed all of my commitments from most fulfilling to least. I then reviewed how much time each commitment was taking each week. Then I cut out the items at the bottom of my list.”[3]

3. Delegate Instead of Micromanaging

First-time founders are at the highest risk of entrepreneur burnout simply because they operate in high uncertainty and thus, feel they have to be responsible for every aspect of the business and control everything. More experienced business owners know that it’s impossible—and unnecessary—to participate in every process and decision within the company.

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Instead of trying to control everything, follow these tactics:

  • Hire great people and trust them to fulfill their responsibilities.
  • Remember the list of your priorities and focus on them instead of constantly checking your team’s performance.
  • If necessary, schedule weekly or monthly meetings with different teams and employees to stay in the loop about the most critical processes.
  • Delegate straightforward manual tasks to freelancers (e.g., from platforms like Fiverr or Upwork).
  • Prepare documentation to streamline how processes run within the company (more on this in the next section).

Toms Panders, co-founder and CEO of ad tech startup Setupad, said: “Prior to launching Setupad, I had spent almost 10 years in the advertising industry, so I felt that I knew how to do things the right way and wanted to participate in every decision made within the company. However, as the company was quickly growing, I realized that I must release the reins and trust my team if I want to stay sane and avoid burning out. I also realized that micromanaging is an overhead cost. I prefer to invest in improving the hiring process and education.”

4. Document Processes and Guidelines

To avoid having to participate in every process within the company, it’s a smart move to streamline your company’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) as soon as possible. These are the documented processes specific to your industry or type of work and describe the steps necessary to complete tasks according to industry regulations.

SOPs are crucial for running a smooth business operation and for onboarding new employees as swiftly as possible. Following such step-by-step documentation, anyone can complete tasks and lead basic projects.

When starting a small business, it may seem that SOPs aren’t necessary, but as your company grows, you’ll see that such documentation saves your valuable time that you’d have to spend mentoring instead of tending to other business goals. Now, this is not to say that SOPs substitute all human interaction during onboarding and delegating tasks, but they are a huge help and time-saver.

5. Use Apps That Save Time and Automate Tasks

Automation can help your business scale without you having to be involved in the mundane and repetitive part of it. Whenever you feel like you’re spending too much time doing something manually, check if there isn’t an app to do it for you! Chances are, there’s already existing technology that will solve your problem and automate processes without requiring much effort and time from you or your team, while you focus on creating value for your clients.

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For example, there’s no need to manage and assign tasks manually and control who’s responsible for what when there are so many great project management apps out there. Why create attendance shifts and issue invoices manually when effective time management tools can do it for you? Many of these tools offer free trials, so you can test them out before committing to a purchase.

Julia Gifford, co-founder of PR and content marketing agency Truesix shared with us: “I can’t emphasize how much time and nerves I saved when I switched from manually creating invoices in Google Docs to using invoicing software. It seemed inconsequential at first, which is why it took so long to make the switch. But it’s the little things that are done automatically that really ended up making a difference – like setting the date, due date, calculating totals, calculating VAT. It has made invoicing so much faster, not to mention with significantly fewer errors. Now I don’t dread this task every month like I used to, and am a much happier person for it.”

6. Nourish Your Life Outside of Work

Here’s a universal truth that many entrepreneurs have learned the hard way: it’s rarely only work that causes entrepreneur burnout. Usually, it’s a combination of different external factors, lifestyle aspects, and personality traits.

For one, the health of your mind is directly linked to the health of your body. Neglecting physical activities, eating unhealthy food, sleeping too little, smoking, and drinking too much—all these contribute to burnout.

If you experience stress, it’s crucial to learn to deal with it healthily, whether it’s through meditation, sports, massage, or something else that relaxes you. In addition, make sure you take sufficient breaks and exercise or at least take a walk also during work hours.

Armands Broks, the founder of fintech company TWINO, shares how he experienced burnout back in 2017: “I had to turn my company around and basically start from scratch. As burnout wasn’t a widely discussed topic back then, I went through it all alone. This experience taught me that to maintain mental health, all areas of life need to be in balance. You cannot focus only on work, neglecting your body or your emotions. If you cannot hold that balance, getting burned out is only a matter of time.”[4]

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That said, many passionate and ambitious entrepreneurs and especially startup founders find it hard to slow down and stop working when they still feel they could do so much. Armands Broks told us, “One of the difficult decisions I had to make was handing over the reins of my business to another person. I delegated my operational responsibilities, deciding to focus only on business strategy and growth agenda.”

Learning from his struggles, Armands has emphasized his company’s employee wellbeing strategy, placing even greater emphasis on mental health. For example, employees are allowed to take some days off for the sake of their mental health or simply resting.

Watch Out for Entrepreneur Burnout

Entrepreneur burnout can creep up on people who are ambitious and excited about what they do. In addition, entrepreneur burnout doesn’t happen only when things aren’t going well. Many company founders running successful businesses can be just as susceptible to this modern plague.

On the bright side, experiencing burnout often teaches a valuable lesson and forces people to switch to more balanced and healthy lifestyles. If you feel burned out now right now, follow these tips and hang in there! Chances are, you’ll come out of this stronger, calmer, and with a new set of priorities.

More Tips For Entrepreneurs

Featured photo credit: LinkedIn Sales Solutions via unsplash.com

Reference

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