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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 August 20, 2019

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality.)

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

The Worrier is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

This is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

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This person can be set off by words or feelings, and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier; and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

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“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • They rile up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

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For example:

If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tension

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

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Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

For the Sleep Depriver

(They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
  • Shut down your thinking.
  • Calm your feelings.
  • Simply focus on the present moment. 

The Bottom Line

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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