Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Quieting the hamsters in your mind - Sleep tips for children and adults

When I was a kid, I had a very hard time falling asleep at night. I'd toss, turn, count sheep, look at my clock, panic, start to cry, and then wake my mom up to share my misery with her. She would calmly get up, go into the kitchen, and make a cup of special tea called Sleepytime Tea that seemed to have a magical effect on me. I'd be asleep very soon after returning to bed. 

I work with sleep issues in both adults and children fairly frequently in my practice. In addition to the hypnosis work we do, the following are a few tips that I share with my clients that can be helpful in creating the best environment for successful sleep:
  • Stop the "hamsters running on wheels" in your mind. This is what I call it when your mind just jumps from one thought to another to another. Maybe you're worried about something, maybe you're replaying an event or conversation from your day, or maybe your mind is obsessing over something else. Keep a notepad and pen by your bed and when the hamsters start running, write down whatever thought or idea or worry is popping into your mind. Then assign a time the next day to address that thought. You may have several or just one. It doesn't matter how big or insignificant, just write it down and assign a time to think about it the next day. This exercise assures your subconscious that you are acknowledging the thought and will give it the proper attention at a more appropriate time. That way your subconscious can "let go" and help you relax into sleep. The next day look at your list and, if necessary, do what you need to do to address those issues. Sometimes that which seems so worrisome at 2:00 AM is totally insignificant in the light of day.
  • Practice relaxation techniques before bedtime. Take some time to unwind and release the stress and anxiety from the day. I give my clients a free relaxation CD that I recorded with instructions to get into the habit of listening to it every day until they are able to relax on their own. I am happy to email an MP3 version of the recording, so if you'd like one please contact me at marti@harmonythroughhypnosis.com
  • Limit the amount of negative information you encounter right before bedtime whether it be the news, television programs, newspapers, magazines, or internet. Too much negativity right before you go to sleep will really keep those hamsters running.
  • Keep your bedroom a place for sleep and bedroom-related activities. You want your mind to associate your bed and bedroom as a place of rest and sleep. Bills, work, studying, TV, computer time, etc., should be done in another room. If that's not possible, then at least do them away from the bed.
  • Keep the clock out of sight. Some people, especially children, can get even more stressed out as they watch the hours pass by still wide awake. "Now I'm only getting four hours of sleep! Oh no, now I'm down to three and a half hours of sleep!"
Tips specifically for children:
  • If your child is worried about being too tired to perform well the next day, reassure your child that as long as he or she is lying still in their beds with their eyes closed their bodies are still resting and it's the next best thing to actually sleeping. This removes some worry about being too tired to function the next day, and it gets them back to bed.
  • If you are concerned about your child's performance the next day due to lack of sleep, keep it to yourself. If your child is already worried about not sleeping, adding your concerns on top of theirs only compounds the problem.
  • Placebos work very well with children. My mom didn't even know about the placebo effect yet she demonstrated it every time she'd make the Sleepytime Tea. Certainly the tea itself had herbs that were calming, but the fact that she presented it as "just as good as taking a sleeping pill" was all I needed to fall asleep quickly after drinking it. I recommend trying this yourself, either with a similar type tea (make sure there's no caffeine in it) or warm milk, which is also known to help induce sleep.
 Additional reminders:
  • Caffeine and other stimulants can have an affect on our sleep. Consider cutting them out earlier in the day.
  • Avoid eating heavy meals close to bedtime. Sometimes the act of digestion can keep you awake.
  • Regular exercise can help deepen sleep. If you work out right before going to bed and find you have problems falling asleep, experiment with working out earlier in the day.
  • Some people feel that alcohol helps them fall asleep. Alcohol does have a sleep-inducing effect, but it's not usually a good sleep, and too much can cause a wake-up effect after a few hours.