It’s 3.30 am and you are tossing and turning in your bed. You really want to sleep but you feel fully awake. What to do?
Not being able to get a full night’s sleep can be a temporary problem, for example, due to stress or illness. When lack of sleep becomes chronic, insomnia sets in. Chronic sleeplessness may be diagnosed by a medical professional as insomnia after 30 consecutive days following an in-depth assessment.
Insomnia can have negative effects on physical and mental health and it’s important to prioritise a good night’s sleep as much as a balanced diet and regular exercise to stay healthy (see also Harvard University’s findings on sleep). Studies found that insomnia is linked with lack of concentration and memory, slow reaction to stimuli and drowsiness, increased appetite and tiredness.
Sleep deprivation can trigger different biochemical responses that may weaken the body’s immune system, making you less protected against infection. Insomnia can cause a reduced production of antibodies, which are responsible for fighting viruses and infections.
On the other hand, restorative and uninterrupted sleep will make you feel alert and productive during the day, making you more resilient physically and mentally. Good quality sleep is linked with good overall health (see for example this study on sleep and the immune system).
We discussed the importance of sleep in a previous article, where we also looked at the circadian rhythm and all the physiological processes that take place during sleep such as repairing and restoring body and mind.
The circadian rhythm is how our body functions during the course of 24 hours, with peaks and troughs of energy and varying hormone levels to help us perform different tasks. By understanding our circadian rhythm, we can structure our day to optimise it for sleep, for example by avoiding stimulants like coffee or high intensity exercise a few hours before bed.
Relaxation and Sleep
Our sleep is also a reflection of how we live our days, how we are able to process our experiences and emotions. A relaxed state of body and mind during the day and before going to bed is conducive to a good night’s sleep. If life is busy and there are many challenges to face during the day, taking a few minutes’ break to lower your stress levels can make a big difference to your sleep.
The more intense our days are, the more important it is to stay fully connected to how we feel to avoid winding up the day feeling totally exhausted, agitated, worried or emotionally challenged. It is important to notice if your body is becoming tense and your breath shallow, if you feel tired or if your levels of anxiety are getting higher for example.
As soon as you detect signs of tension or stress, it’s time to turn the dial down on your stress to keep things under control, so taking a short break to relax and focus on your breathing can really make a difference in the way you will sleep later.
How To Beat Insomnia Using Sophrology
Sophrology is a dynamic relaxation technique to access an instant state of calm that is ideal for inducing and regulating sleep. Sophrology is both a simple and powerful modern meditation to help overcome stress and tiredness, calm the mind, gain clarity and increase positivity in your life.
Originating from a clinical background, Sophrology was founded by neuropsychiatrist Alfonso Caycedo in Spain in 1960 to support mental health patients and promote a feeling of empowerment in mind and body, drawing from Western medicine approaches and Eastern traditions such as yoga and meditation.
Professor Caycedo developed the discipline further over the years to give it structure and to widen its scope – now it applies to fields such as sports and corporate wellness.
Sophrology can be helpful to bring comfort and peace to a racing mind using gentle movement, breathing and visualisation to achieve a calm state and get you ready for sleep in the evening. When we feel stressed or anxious, our minds go into overdrive and we might allow worries to monopolise our thoughts. If we go to bed feeling worried, our racing mind will keep us alert and we may find it difficult to fall asleep, or we might wake up in the middle of the night.
Movement is an important component of Sophrology because it helps to shift the focus from an overactive mind to an awareness of the body, bringing mind and body together in harmony. You are positively encouraged to listen to body sensations, acknowledge any areas of tension and then let them go through breathing and visualisation.
By listening to the sensations from your body, your mind is engaged without going around in circles worrying about the future. When you are in a relaxed state only the present moment exists and matters, and this in itself is soothing for the mind. Relaxation has a positive effect on the central nervous system and blood pressure and through the combination of movement and breathing you reach a meditative state quickly, which is restorative and healing.
With practice, you can notice when you start feeling too stressed before it gets out of control and you can take positive steps to adapt and adjust.
As you enjoy a sense of relaxation, ask yourself what you can do to get a good night’s sleep and programme your mind to start getting ready for bed. Visualise sleeping deeply and calmly without interruptions. This is called ‘futurization’ in Sophrology: it is the process of visualising a positive outcome.
Sophrology – A Natural Insomnia Treatment
A number of reasons can cause insomnia, stress being the most common cause. There are many forms of treatment for insomnia and Sophrology can be useful alongside more traditional approaches: in fact, Sophrology is used successfully in sleep centres in Europe to treat insomnia.
Before starting your Sophrology practice, your therapist will take an in-depth medical history and ask you lifestyle questions to tailor the treatment to your specific needs. The practitioner will design a programme consisting of a short daily practice structured along with exercises that will help you slow down before going to bed.
In Sophrology we acknowledge the thoughts that want attention and areas of tension in our body taking the observer’s perspective. Unsolved problems that we were too busy to tackle during the day have a tendency to rear their ugly heads at night-time.
During a Sophrology session we watch our thoughts come and go, we feel the sensations in our body, and we don’t judge them. We are spectators of thoughts and sensations but don’t engage with them; instead we allow them to wash away, witnessing the empty space that remains, which is a state of relaxation and awareness.
You should be able to feel the benefits from the first session and after about six consecutive sessions you may see further positive and lasting changes.
A Sophrology treatment for insomnia will be personalised to your individual needs, therefore it will include a mix of different exercises to take into consideration your stress triggers.
An important part of the practice is abdominal breathing and tense and release exercises, in which you inhale deeply, tense up all your muscles while holding your breath, and release the muscles when you exhale. Visualisation will help you to look forward to bedtime without feelings of anxiety and to get you into healthy habits that will naturally make you drift off into deep sleep.
For example, a suggested course of Sophrology sessions may include exercises such as The Bubble in which you visualise a protective bubble all around you, a safe place sheltering you from stress and anxiety. The sequence of exercises will combine standing and seated poses to gently engage the muscles.
You can find more information on these exercises including audio guides in The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology the BeSophro online courses or you can download a dedicated audio for sleep here.
Please remember that there is help out there: you can browse our website for more information and if you need a consultation you can contact us at [email protected].