The hectic pace of life we lead causes our stress and anxiety levels to rise to high peaks.
To combat anxiety and stress is essential to disconnect. But, on many occasions, we cannot switch off, which prevents us from sleeping well.
Reported insomnia prevalence in the general Irish population is 6% to 15% states this study in the National Library of Medicine by Harold et al 2020.
A research published by the Mental Health Foundation stated that millions of people in the UK say that poor sleep has negatively affected their mental health. More than a third of adults (35%) said that poor sleeping made them feel more anxious in this study and I am sure we can all relate to higher levels of anxiety when we have not slept well the night before.
The NHS in the UK states that one in 3 of us suffers from poor sleep, with stress, computers and taking work home often blamed. If you are in this group, you will find these tips useful.
Surprisingly Belfast is the most sleep-deprived city in the UK according to a report published by UK mattress firm OTTY last March so hopefully the below tips will help our neighbours in Northern Ireland to combat the ongoing struggle with sleep.
How Sleep Deprivation Affects your Health
Sleep deprivation affects your Physical and Mental Health: the immune system in the short term. In the long term, Sleep deprivation can contribute to major illnesses such as :
- Heart diseases
- High Blood Pressure
Sometimes it is thought that poor sleep is the cause of the problems, but the reality is that the thing that is going on is the cause of the sleep issue, and we need to identify the root. When you question deeper, most of the time, you will find that an anxiety problem is the main cause of someone struggling to sleep. Then, it starts to become a vicious cycle: When you have a bad night's sleep, the next day can feel like quite a challenge as you battle lethargy and all the other symptoms that come from a night spent tossing and turning.
Once you fight anxiety, sleep comes easier! So, here we will give you 6 top relaxing techniques to fall asleep:
1. Write down your thoughts to relax your mind.
Racing mind at night? You are not alone! Many of us have many ideas and endless mental lists in our heads when lying in bed. It can be mental notes for work, tasks you have to do the next day. In either of the cases, the best you can do is write them down. Writing down all the information can help reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety. It also helps you to improve your focus and productivity levels. If you have a full list of tasks in your head to do for the next day, making little lists before bed will help you feel that you won't forget them and park them until the next day. Be kind and give your brain a break!!
For those who suffer from depression or high anxiety levels, these thoughts can be negative and obstructive. In this case, we recommend you to use the Automatic Thoughts Technique that you can find in our Wellness Toolkit (You can download it for free when subscribing to our newsletter). This exercise will help you to detect the trigger of your negative thoughts and create new positive thoughts to fight them.
2. Deep breathing: 4-7-8 breathing technique
Once you have an emptier mind, we can start working on relaxing our bodies! One of the best ways to relax your body is to breathe deeply. The 4-7-8 breathing technique aims to reduce anxiety and relax your body. Take a comfortable position and concentrate on the breath:
- Inhale deeply through the nose for 4 seconds
- Hold the air for 7 seconds
- Exhale through the mouth for a full 8 seconds, making a whooshing sound throughout.
Focus on how the air enters through your nose, passes through your body and leaves through the mouth. You can learn more breathing techniques for anxiety here.
3. Visualization exercises
Once you feel a little more relaxed after concentrating on your breathing, you can try visualization exercises. These techniques are based on using mental images to transport you to relaxing scenarios to create a sense of calm in your body. Your unique place of relaxation could be a place close to the sea, hearing the sound of the waves, walking through a beautiful forest in the mountains with nature sounds, a room with candles or any scenery that brings you calm.
4. Body Scan Meditation
Another exercise you can practice after concentrating on your breathing is a body scan meditation exercise. This technique relies on focusing your attention on specific parts of your body, travelling through your body with your mind. Move your attention into your breathing, your stomach, your toes, your elbows, fingers... You will be surprised by how bringing awareness to each part of your body brings you a feeling of calm.
There are many guided body scan meditations on YouTube that you can practice. Here is a fantastic Body Scan Guided Meditation that also includes the visualization exercise by The Honest Guys from the UK. Listen to this video to wind down before sleeping:
5. Deep Touch Pressure
Deep Pressure stimulation is basically the stimulation of your pressure points, which helps relax your body deeply. The stimulation can be provided with a hug, a massage or self soothing tools such as Kocoono Weighted Blankets. We don't always have someone beside us to give us a massage or hug, so Kocoono Weighted Blankets provide this stimulation for the whole night and help calm your body in combination with the relaxing tools explained above.
When Kocoono stimulates your pressure points with its distributed weight, your body switches off your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which controls "fight-or-flight" responses and stimulates your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), which leads to a "rest and digest" response. The activation of the PNS slows your heart rate, making you feel embraced, comforted and reduces cortisol levels associated with stress, which naturally relax your body, helping sleep.
Another self-soothing item that can be used during the relaxing techniques is the Kocoono Weighted Eye Pillow. The Kocoono Eye Pillow weighs 50g and is designed to be placed on your eyes. It applies a gentle pressure therapy over your eyes, which stimulates the vagus nerve, which is the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system and rests on your eyelids.
6. Relax and don't over plan your sleep
Once you have good sleep hygiene practices, try to not excessively plan your sleep or get obsessed with how many hours you have left to sleep or how rested you will wake up the next day. Focus on relaxing and prepare your body for the sleep to occur!
We hope you find these relaxing techniques helpful to combat anxiety and sleep better. If however you are really struggling with your sleep, then I recommend you to contact your doctor to help you.
Relax and let your body receive the sleep it needs. Wishing you and your family more relaxing days ahead