Sleep is vital to our overall health and mental wellbeing, yet many Americans struggle to get proper shut-eye. In a fast-paced, do-more culture, we’re encouraged to boast about how busy we are and how little sleep we’re getting, and this can have serious implications on our health and productivity.
The importance of sleep cannot be overstated. Evolution couldn’t have designed an organism without it, and even bacteria follow a circadian rhythm of activity. Sleep makes us more creative, happier, more attractive, slimmer, less anxious, and more resistant to disease. It lowers the risk of heart attacks, enhances memory, and lengthens our lifespan.
Despite all this, research indicates that one in three adults isn’t getting even seven hours of sleep. The economic cost of inadequate sleep is estimated at $411 billion annually, and understressed and overworked people are more prone to errors and accidents. Surgeons made 20% more errors when they’d under-slept compared to well-rested colleagues.
For those suffering from sleep problems, sleeping pills are not necessarily an effective solution. They sedate the cortex without providing natural biological rest, and they don’t improve the quality of sleep. Pills should not be the go-to option for those seeking more snooze time.
Sleep therapy techniques can be a much better approach. They can help restless sleepers get more shuteye without resorting to medication, and improve the quality and duration of sleep. Here are five therapeutic solutions to consider.
1. Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI)
CBTI is the most widely-used method of sleep therapy. It addresses negative thought and behavioral patterns. For example, many people tossing and turning in bed begin worrying and catastrophizing about their inability to fall asleep, 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 mind.
This method can be specifically applied to insomnia in what’s called Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI).
2. Sleep Restriction Therapy (SRT)
SRT’s goal is to limit the overall amount of time the patient spends in bed not sleeping, creating a stronger association between bedtime and actual sleep. SRT follows a strict schedule for gradually increasing the amount of time one is allowed in bed. You start with the actual time spent sleeping each night on average, and gradually add sleep time every week until a healthy amount of sleep is reached.
SRT has been shown to be the most effective sleep hygiene technique, but it takes a few weeks of diligence to see results.
3. Meditation/Yoga Nidra
Mindfulness, achieved through meditation, can calm down and prepare your mind for sleep. Mindfulness meditation allows closeness to your thoughts, emotions, and sensations without judging them, helping to ease anxiety and other mental turmoil that may be preventing sleep.
Yoga Nidra, a specific method of Vedic meditation, is an excellent way to slip into sleep. It tenses and relaxes the somatomotor regions of the brain, processes sensory information, and often involves counting backward to fall asleep.
Hypnotic techniques put patients into a relaxed and suggestible state wherein their thoughts and beliefs can readily become reprogrammed. If you’re unable to change harmful negative thought patterns using CBT, hypnosis may be a suitable alternative. Hypnotherapists use subtle suggestions to “relax,” “let go,” and other trigger words.
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” sympathetic nervous system, and breathing is a quick way to put the brakes on this mechanism. Here are three aspects of calming breathing that can immediately influence your mental state:
Breathe smoothly: There should be a constant flow of air entering and leaving your lungs.
Breathe rhythmically: Your breath’s inhaled and exhaled ratio should be consistent. To calm yourself further, try exhaling for longer than inhaling in a fixed ratio of say 4:6.
Breathe deeply: Deep breathing sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax.
Therapeutic sleep solutions like CBTI, SRT, Yoga Nidra, Hypnosis, and Breathing exercises can help insomniacs and restless sleepers improve their sleep quality and duration. It’s time to give priority to your sleep hygiene, so you can lead a healthier and happier life.