This guest blog is part two by Bill Merrington. The first part can be found here.
I recently became a grandfather for the first time and have been reminded of the impact of a new born on the life of parents. I can see already that my son is beginning to form those parental ‘bags under the eyes,’ through lack of sleep. Whenever we have new challenges in life, we seem to be able to cope with short periods of disruptive sleep. But when it persists it soon can affect our judgment, creativity, mental flexibility and mood. When sleep disruption lasts for longer than a month, we are heading for insomnia.
Insomnia is usually accompanied by reports of daytime fatigue, mixed anxiety and mood disturbances such as irritability. The good news is that most people overestimate the time spent awake during the night and underestimate the time spent asleep. For a short period, sleeping pills are often prescribed in order to provide some solid nights of sleep, so that worry about insomnia does not start to maintain insomnia.
The danger is that we end up with a cycle of disturbance. We are aroused by some physical or cognitive (over thinking and worrying) or emotional (I must get more sleep or else tomorrow will be horrible) issues. This leads to some negative thinking, rumination over the consequences of the lack of sleep. What often follows is excessive time in bed or forming an irregular sleep schedule and daytime napping. This naturally leads to more mood disturbances, fatigue, impairments in performance at work and general social discomfort. treatments can include psycho-education, sleep hygiene, relaxation techniques, stimulus control (behavioural changes), sleep restriction and self-hypnosis training.
However, the first thing to do is to keep a sleep diary. This monitors any perceptual distortions. Secondly, we need to think about our sleep hygiene. This is simply looking at well-established ‘common sense’ principles for overcoming insomnia that focus upon changing your behavior in relation to sleep.
It is important that we do not underestimate these simple recommendations. It does require motivation to solve your problem by making a few small changes to your daily life.
Begin with caffeine reduction. Caffeine is stimulant drug. It can be found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, some ‘drowsy’ medicines and chocolate. Even decaffeinated coffee still contains some caffeine. Caffeine keeps you awake and makes your muscles tense. But do reduce your caffeine gradually as you can experience withdrawal symptoms. Also, avoid any kind of stimulants including cigarettes, as they increase your heart rate. Next, remember that bulky or sugary food and drinks will make it harder to sleep.
Aim to eat your main meal earlier in the day and avoid lots of drink late at night, as you will find yourself disturbed by going to the toilet. Alcohol can also cause insomnia; it actually makes the quality of sleep poor and interferes with natural bodily cycles of sleep.
Following on from this, see if you can create a regular daily routine as sleep follows the law of habit. Constant changes confuse the body and make sleeping properly difficult. So be more predictable in regard to eating, working, taking exercises at the same time each day. Become a creature of habit. Encourage yourself to engage in a quiet period of non-stimulation, tranquil, relaxing activities, late in the evening. This allows the body to begin to wind down from the business of the day.
We too easily think we should just instantly go from being awake and active to suddenly asleep. Unfortunately, healthy sleep doesn’t work this way. So, prepare your sleep by trying relaxation techniques. There are various audio recording you can listen to. A therapist can teach you a variety of relaxation techniques. Dr Edmund Jacobson developed what is called progressive muscle relaxation. This is where a person is trained to tense and relax groups of muscles releasing tension. He found that facial relaxation was particularly affective for insomnia. Christian hypnotherapy can also aid in breaking unhealthy habits using auto-suggestive tapes. Today we can personalise this on a mobile phone.
If you are still struggling, it is worth getting your GP to check your general health. A therapist can help you by doing an insomnia assessment; looking at the things you are worrying about and looking for ‘thinking errors’ or unhealthy patterns. A personalised schedule can be produced using CBT and Christian hypnotherapy to begin to provide quality sleep. This involves using evidence-based techniques. First, reducing the amount of time you spend in bed, contracting your sleep pattern with a commitment to getting up each morning at the same time, regardless of how much sleep you think you have achieved. Usually 5-6 sessions will produce very effective results. The good news is that my grandson is now sleeping for 4 hourly periods, enough for my son and partner to survive.
Canon Dr Bill Merrington, PhD, Hon PhD, MPhil, BSc (Hons), CPsychol, PGCE, FHEA, Dip-CBT-Hypnotherapy
Bill has over 30 years of experience in handling loss issues. As a Minister of the Church of England, he has worked in city, town, rural and chaplaincy settings of a hospital, university and high security prison. He has a PhD from Warwick University in the subject of understanding parental child loss cross-culturally where he carried out research in the UK, Africa, Lebanon and Japan. He has specialised in counselling parents bereaved of children and bereaved children. He has written several books on various subjects relating to bereavement, counselling and pastoral care. Bill is a Chartered Psychologist and counselling supervisor with the Association of Christian Counsellors (ACC). Bill served on the board of ACC and was made a life honorary member in 2019 as well as awarded a Hon. Doctorate from Bournemouth University for his work as a chaplain. Bill has lectured nationally at conferences, universities and theological colleges on pastoral care, counselling and bereavement. He has also spoken internationally on the subject of bereavement.