Number one

Promoting Better Sleep

In November I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful sleep seminar by Kathy Somers of the “Stress Management and High Performance Clinic” in Guelph. I thought that in this busy, high-pressure season it might be useful to pass on the tips she shared and Ms. Somers kindly gave me permission to do so.

Unless there are medical reasons (such as thyroid issues) for sleep disturbances, the most common reasons for sleeplessness are mental and/or habitual and as such are surmountable. Here are some tips as suggested by the experts.

Keep a sleep diary.

Note any patterns and influences on sleep.

Optimize health.

Decrease pain, stress, anxiety, depression, calcium deficiency, etc.

Have good lifestyle habits.

Be active. Avoid caffeine & alcohol long before bed. Avoid fluids of any kind for 1-2 hours before bed if the need to urinate often wakes you. Expose yourself to 1-2 hours of natural light per day (even if it’s through a window) to reset your internal clock. Turn off the phone 1 hour before bed – it can wait until the morning. Have a small protein & carbohydrate snack before bed (yogurt and fruit, crackers and cheese or peanut butter) and avoid very sugary or highly processed foods. Don’t raise your core temperature before bed (vigorous exercise, sauna, etc.)

Sleep strengthening behaviours (Bootzin’s stimulus control strategies).

  • Get up at the same time every day. Even slight changes act like ‘mini jet lags’.
  • No naps. Or if you must nap, keep it to 20 -25 minutes or less. The exception is shift workers who should get a total of at least 6 hours in a 24 hour period and it can be in chunks.
  • Avoid looking at the clock. Anxiety leads to the release of adrenaline which makes it take 3x longer to fall asleep. Turn your clock to face the wall so you can’t see it if you waken.
  • Have a bedtime routine prior to bed and in bed.
  • Associate your bed with sleep/rest.
    • Find other places to study, chat on the phone, worry, plan tomorrow, review the day, solve the lab problem, etc.
    • If not asleep in about 30 minutes, get up and do something to calm your mind/body (reading, crosswords), then return to bed to rest, repeating this as often as necessary.
    • Thinking is not resting. Tell yourself that it is okay to just rest. It is normal to have thoughts arise but tell yourself that you need to put daytime thoughts away with the daytime clothes.

Relax the body … BMW

  • Breathing – slow and steady with a peaceful, sleep-like rhythm (try counting backward from 60 with each exhale)
  • Muscles – especially helpful to smooth the jaw, tongue, eyes (try consciously contracting the forehead and relaxing it, then the tongue, then the jaw, then the shoulders and on down the body)
  • Warm – relax to warm your extremities or imagine a time when cozy & warm (as you contract and relax each body part, tell yourself “My ____________ is comfortably warm. My __________ is smooth and calm”.)

Relax the mind.

  • Unwind for half an hour before bed.
  • Permission – Give the okay that it’s time to put all other thoughts aside and rest. (The goal is to REST, not sleep.) “What a pleasure it is just to rest…”
  • PARK IT – Imagine putting daytime thoughts away with the daytime clothes.
  • Curb worry – STOP these thoughts. Write them down. Record how you will prevent “it” from happening, or cope with “it” if it does happen. (Expert worriers should do this at suppertime, then mentally put it away until the next day.)
  • Clear the mind.
    • a) Replace myths about sleep with more realistic self-talk.

      MYTHS: “I should fall asleep right away.” “I’ve got to have 8 hours of sleep.” “I should sleep through the night without waking.” – All of these thoughts increase anxiety and therefore adrenaline levels making it harder to fall asleep.

      REALITY: Understand that 6-9 hours is a sufficient amount of sleep for most people and it is normal to wake throughout the night. If you receive 5 hours of sleep per night, you have achieved your “core” sleep. It is abnormal to take more than 25 minutes to fall back to sleep, however, which is where the healthy habits listed here are useful. One night of poor sleep creates biological pressure to sleep better the next night. You are probably getting more sleep than you think.

      b) Replace busy thoughts with neutral or relaxing ones.

      Eg. Imagine you say, hear, see the words of a relaxation technique listed in BMW above

      Eg. Actually calmly say relaxation instructions aloud

      Eg. Imagery (eg. Imagine a circle changing into a square, a triangle…)

      Eg. Bedtime Feldenkrais exercises or clock exercise (move your hand clockwise and draw the number six with your foot at the same time)

      Eg. “Is my mind where my body is?” Think only of BMW relaxation.

Keep in mind that the goal at bedtime is not necessarily to sleep but rather to rest. These techniques have worked for others and they can work for you, too! Try to make 2-3 changes and repeat them consistently for 1 month then make 2-3 more changes (logging the results in a diary) until you achieve the level of rest you desire.

Good luck and sweet dreams!

To contact Kathy Somers directly please call 519-824-4120 ext. 52662 or try