If you’ve ever had trouble getting to sleep, I feel your pain. I’ve found it difficult to drift off for as long as I can remember. More recently, I think it’s just been down to my routine. I work long hours in an office, my commute feels endless, and along with catching up with friends, housework and family responsibilities, there seems to be a constant stream of things that demand my attention and force me to push my bedtime later and later – every single night. (Well, that and Netflix.)
When I do finally get to bed, my mind whirs with a plethora of thoughts, images and emotions as it tries to process the day and anticipate what’s to come, delaying sleep even more. The next morning, I stumble into the shower and head off to work, strong coffee in hand, and spend the day munching on sugary snacks as I fight the inevitable tiredness that follows. It’s a vicious, sleep-free cycle.
The sad reality is, I know I’m not alone in my sleepy struggle. Professor Richard Wiseman is a leading psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, and author of numerous bestselling books. He conducted some research recently that showed we’re in the midst of a major epidemic of sleeplessness, mostly due to the pressures placed by modern life on our sleeping habits. From artificial light disrupting our circadian rhythm, to busy schedules that eat up our downtime, our culture is forever “switched on” – and as a result, many of us find it near impossible to relax and get some proper rest.
Because of all this, maintaining good mental and physical health and wellbeing can be tricky – a fact that I find very frustrating. Sleep deprivation has been linked to increased risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers, amongst other conditions. It also has a negative impact on our mood, productivity and creativity at work and home, putting us at a personal and professional disadvantage. Nothing too major then…
Now, thanks to my general interest in psychology, and frankly, my desperation to get a decent night’s kip, I’ve been on a bit of a research binge lately. Ironically enough, I found enough info to give me even more to think about at night, but that’s another story. In the midst, I discovered some really fascinating – yet simple – steps that are easy to digest, and thankfully, backed up by science.
The short videos below were made by Professor Wiseman for something known as the Sleep Smart campaign, by Bupa Global. They focus on easy, practical tips for falling asleep in the first place, and making the most of the sleep you do get. What’s interesting is, I found these tips have really changed the way I look at sleep. It’s all down to psychology and tapping into your brain, and it works.
The first video is called “Avoiding The Blues”. It outlines how light affects your body clock, and how you can prevent it disrupting your sleep:
- Avoid using your smartphone or tablet during the latter part of the evening
- If you want to use a night-light, swap any bright white LEDs for red or orange bulbs. Red and orange lights have the least power to suppress melatonin
- Avoid the temptation to check your email or social media during the night by not placing your smartphone or tablet on your bedside table
The next video is “The Paradox of Sleep”. It shows how a bit of simple reverse psychology can help you nod off when your mind is buzzing:
- It sounds strange, but actively try to stay awake. Remember, try to keep your eyes open (you are allowed to blink), but don’t read, watch television, use a computer, or move about
- To help prevent bad dreams and nightmares, don’t try to avoid thinking about your worries and concerns just before you go to sleep. Instead, simply allow these thoughts and images to gently and freely flow through your mind
- Finally, if you want to increase the chances of having a pleasant dream about your beloved or a certain celebrity, spend five minutes trying not to think about that person before you nod off!
Finally, there’s “Your Dream Solution”. This explains how you can harness the power of your dreams to find solutions to the very problems that may be troubling you and causing you to toss and turn in the first place:
- Briefly jot down your problem before you go to bed and if possible, find an object that is connected to the problem and place it on your bedside table
- Just as you are falling asleep, mentally tell yourself that you want to dream about some possible solutions. Once you get used to the technique, you can take it one stage further by actively telling yourself not to dream about possible solutions. According to research into paradoxical thinking, you will actually be more likely to dream about possible answers to your problem