September 21, 2020

SLEEP HYGIENE & HELPFUL HINTS – FOR THOSE WHO HAVE DIFFICULTY WITH SLEEPING WELL

© 2020 E. HITCHCOCK SCOTT, PHD, LPCC917

LUCID DREAMING by Ericha Scott

Many people struggle with sleep at some point in their lives, whether it is going to sleep at a decent hour, staying asleep until it is time to wake up, disturbed sleep, nightmares, night terrors or sleep walking.

Our world, with the current levels of high stress, tragedy and drama – drama that seems to arrive minute by minute in our email boxes, has impacted the sleep patterns of many. The roots of sleeplessness are multifaceted. Sleeplessness or sleep problems can be due to stress in your life with regard to income, the economy, security, work, relationships, chronic pain, aging, addiction, trauma, health and physical illness. 

Sleeplessness in adulthood may also be related to stress in childhood, even though it is understandable to question how childhood stress could trigger sleeplessness in adulthood, since it was long ago.

In my own family, both of my parents were night owls and I could hear them up in the house, late at night, from my bedroom. I did not find this comforting or reassuring because often – they were not getting along. In childhood, I learned to be wakeful or watchful. My autonomic nervous system was on high alert. This is a pattern that I learned and carried well into my adult life.

A web site blog cannot provide counseling, especially of the depth needed for the issues mentioned above, but I can offer several practical coping skills that may help you, or at least help you cope until you find a good therapist or medical doctor.

Some of the suggested interventions listed here are very personal, idiosyncratic, and may not work for you. The point is to try a variety of solutions and probably more than one solution at a time. It seems as if those who develop a personal sleep hygiene protocol or routine, have the best results, especially if your sleep is easily interrupted.

  1. Please be careful about consuming stimulating drinks such as caffeinated sodas, coffee, teas and especially energy drinks. The caffeine in coffee has a long half-life and so it can be surprising how long it takes to wear off. As I sit here drinking the last swallows of my coffee at six in the evening, I know that I am pushing the edge of my safety zone for good sleep. Usually, I will not drink coffee or tea after 4 PM. These times vary from person to person and season to season depending upon genetics, physical health, body weight, the level of stress you carry in your life today, etc. You might have to experiment to see what are the best times to cut off your stimulating drinks. Please don’t forget chocolate, although it is not a stimulating drink, it can be a stimulating food.
  2. It seems as if alcohol would HELP you sleep better, it is a depressant, but I have found from my own experience and from client reports that this does not prove to be true. Even if you do seem to sleep soundly, it is not a restful sleep. Instead of waking up refreshed and sharp, people – even if not hung over – tend to feel sluggish and lethargic. I do not know about you, but this is not how I want to start my day.
  3. Computer and telephone screens, iPads, tablets, and the news are all stimulating and they all have the ability to encroach on your sound sleep patterns. In an effort to avoid a cut off time for screens, I bought a very expensive pair of glasses just for my computer. Honestly, they help a little, but not enough. So, if you are serious about good sleep hygiene then just like caffeine, there needs to be a cut off time for all computer screens. DANG right? Again these cut off times vary from person to person so experiment and see what works best for you. Try not to cheat. You may worry about what to do with your newly found free time which is now unencumbered by blue screens and the media. Especially if you are sequestered at home, what can you do during this free time? Here are a few options 1) you may write in your personal journal about your day, week, year or your dreams for the future, you might make up a short story, write lyrics and/or poetry, 2) painting, drawing, sculpting (you can imitate the work of Andy Goldsworthy and make art with objects of nature or Joseph Cornell and make shadow boxes), 3) magazine collage or an altered book, 4) music (listening, playing or writing), 5) meditation, chanting, praying, 6) cards, solitaire, games, 7) gentle exercise at night such as yoga, walking, or swimming in a warm pool, 8) stargazing, 9) a hot shower or a salt and mineral bath with essential oils.
  4. If you take a multivitamin, especially with a B complex, it is best to take those in the morning if you are able to do so. I find that an electrolyte drink at night, if I forgot to take it earlier in the day, is able to help me sleep a little bit better.
  5. Herbal teas… there is a wide variety of organic choices that are soothing and calming.
  6. I have clients who find that crystals and stones are grounding and soothing. If you find this interesting you can go to a crystal store and check out the objects that calm you. If you are not sure, ask the staff if they can help you. On a trip to Mexico, I found many old pieces of Obsidian, some raw rocks and other pieces were carved stone from 1,500 years ago. This lava rock seems to ground me energetically.
  7. Breathwork, there are many traditions and forms of it, can help you rest. Be careful and select wisely, some breathing techniques are stimulating…. you are seeking traditions that are calming and soothing. The simplest technique that I know is to slowly breathe in and without pausing, slowly breathe out, then without pausing, slowly breathe in and keep going back and forth until you feel sleepy.
  8. I have already mentioned journal writing, but this technique is so helpful that it also deserves its own category. My deceased husband was brilliant. He was a researcher for NASA on the Galileo project. His focus was the ice surface of Europa. His theory, regarding the cracks in the ice surface, was one of the first to reveal that there could be life on Europa. His mind was busy all of the time 24/7. He tended to wake up in the middle of the night with his creative scientific ideas. This was fine, the problem was that he could not always go back to sleep. I taught him to get up all the way out bed, sit in a chair at his desk, write down in a lot of detail all of his brilliant ideas and also any other extraneous thoughts that crossed his mind, even if they did not seem important. He was to write until he felt sleepy, or his eyes started to droop, or his head seemed to feel heavy and then, and only then, was he to return to bed. Within a few weeks, his sleep returned to normal.
  9. A daily gratitude list of 5-10 items, from small to big, is a lovely daily practice that is able to enhance contentment and help calm the nervous system.
  10. Self-hypnosis: I just love this simple technique. To start, you are to think of or imagine – 3 positive images, 3 positive sounds, and then 3 positive physical sensations. If you are not asleep yet, then imagine two of each, then if you are not asleep yet, one of each. I have never made through a full round of one of each. Sometimes people need to do a few complete rounds and that is OK. Take the time you need to calm your body so that you can sleep in a way that is restorative.
  11. Massages can help calm and sooth the body and enhance restorative sleep.
  12. One time when visiting a friend, I noticed that her front door did not have an adequate bolt lock. She needed a bolt lock that was un-keyed. She had a military background, a weapon, and this did not concern her. I kept asking her about it until she had one installed and guess what, to her surprise, she began to sleep better. Our subconscious mind pays attention, even if we do not. If you are having trouble sleeping please reflect on whether or not you feel safe in your home and why, look at your security system, and increase your security – by adding bolt locks, alarms, hidden cameras, or a security company – even if it feels silly to do so. Please do not buy weapons if you do not have adequate training in how to maintain, store and use a weapon. You also need to be informed about the laws regarding weapons in your state.
  13. If you have difficulty sleeping and interventions have not helped. please take a good look around your bedroom. Check to be sure that your bedroom is quiet enough for deep sleep. If your neighbors, children or pets are loud, try ear plugs or a white noise sound machine. Check to be sure that the light in your room can be dimmed, or even better, completely blacked out. If you need to keep a night light on for safety, consider wearing an eye mask. Vibrations from traffic, trains, trucks or neighbors can wake up a sensitive person. Try to secure the bed so that it does not shake much. Temperature is important. On hot nights, before air conditioning, people used to sleep on their porches. While this is no longer practical for most people, think of similar but safe types of solutions, maybe a small fan. If the air quality is musty or polluted, consider a filter and/or a diffuser for essential oils. Please check out your mattress. If you can buy an organic mattress that is ideal. If your mattress is too hard or lumpy and you cannot buy a new one, then consider adding a mattress pad, or extra blankets underneath the sheets. This is all to say, we spend a significant amount of time sleeping, and the environment needs to be arranged to enhance the potential for good sleep. The sleep environment needs to be calming so that you will be more likely to wake up refreshed.
  14. Keep a dream journal in the morning and write down the themes, recurring topics, and patterns of your dreams. While the theories of dream analysis are disputed, documenting the trajectory and waves of disturbing dreams followed by transcendent dreams can help you keep tabs in your well being. It is normal to have both, alternating, the disturbing or at least uncomfortable dreams followed by fairly lucid and transcendent dreams. Please remember that the language of the subconscious is very different than the language of the literal and concrete world. Therefore, dreams that can seem very dark and ominous are not always negative. For example, sometimes a death in a dream, is the death of an old habit or a self-destructive belief system or behavior.
  15. If you work with your ego-states (we all have them) please be sure to comfort your inner child ego-states, offer them transitional objects or reassurance, and at the same time strengthen your healthy adult self. Sometimes child parts love to hear bedtime stories, say a bedtime prayer, or imagine angels watching over them as they sleep.

Most of us cannot practice all of these suggestions, there is not time enough in a day. Consider this list to be your cafeteria buffet of good sleep hygiene ideas and tools, to use or discard as you see fit. If one idea does not work, try another. If one alone does not work, try two, three or four of the suggestions all at once. If that does not work, then please talk to your medical doctor or a therapist to explore the possibility that there is something – physical or emotional – holding you back from the success that you deserve. 

Not everyone can afford therapy, but if sleep is a chronic problem, I urge you to find a competent licensed counselor who fits your pocket book. More than a few times, I have found that counselors on the front lines of the city, those who work for government funded programs, were the most competent. So please do not assume that expensive counseling fees means that the counselor is more skilled, or that less expensive fees means that the counselor is less skilled.

Again, I urge you to go explore why sleep is difficult, because sleep is critical to your well being, and too many sleep aids have potential habituation or addiction risks.

This brief article represents my wish for you to have healthy and restorative sleep that nourishes your life and helps you have the energy and clarity to manifest your future dreams.

Dr. Ericha Scott, licensed as E. Hitchcock Scott, LPCC917, ATR-BC, REAT is a Fellow for the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. She has been a professional in the fields of mental health and addiction for 36 years.

Trauma, Mental Health and Addiction Services for 36 Years, Fellow for the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation, Planning Chair for the Creative and Expressive Arts Therapies Educational Track for the WCSAD 2018-2020.

310-880-9761

www.drerichascott.com

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