There are few things worse than regularly being unable to sleep. Lack of sleep impairs cognitive function, which can lead to irritability and poor decision making. The less well we sleep the less well we tend to cope with work. This causes us to worry more and this in turn prevents us sleeping. It’s a vicious circle that is often difficult to break. Believe me I know!
Since my burn-out in 2006/7, I have learned a number of tips and techniques that aid a good night’s sleep. Not everything works for everyone and some of them are pretty much common sense, but when you are tired or stressed the obvious can easily pass us by.
1. Keep a note pad and pen by your bed. I used to wake in the night with an idea or something that I needed to remember for the following day. Worrying that I would forget it, I would struggle to get back to sleep. Just writing a word or even a squiggle on the notepad will serve as a visual cue, allowing you to park the idea and get back to sleep.
2. Cover up your alarm clock. I would often wake in the night and check the time. If it was anything later than 4.00am, a part of my brain would tell me that it was not worth going back to sleep as I had to get up in couple of hours and so I would lie awake going over the day ahead. By covering the alarm, you do not know what the time is and whether it is worth going back to sleep or not and, therefore, you are more likely to doze back off.
3. Count backwards. I don’t know about you but counting sheep never worked for me. The hypnotist, Paul McKenna suggests that counting backwards from a large number, (I use 500) down to 1, is more effective. This seems counter-intuitive as you are heading towards a finite point, but most people cannot get much beyond 350 before they find themselves repeating sequences of numbers or their thoughts start drifting into a dream-like state.
4. Listen to the sound of ocean waves. I would often wake in the night worrying about something that had happened yesterday or something that I had to face the following day. Things often seemed worse in the dead of night. When you worry like that, your heart rate increases, and your breathing becomes more rapid. Neither of which, are conducive to getting back to sleep. Try downloading a free app to your phone or tablet such as ‘RelaxMeditation’ which give a number of ‘looped’ nature sounds. Select ocean waves and listen either out loud or through in-ear headphones. The sound of waves gently lapping on the shore, closely mimics the pattern of human breathing at rest. After a few minutes most, people find that their breathing rate adapts to the pattern of the waves, placing them in a more relaxed state.
5. Play Positive Movies. I lost count of the number of times I woke in the night after a difficult encounter with a parent or member of staff. I would re-live the conversation in a loop either bridling at some injustice or wondering if I could have handled the situation better. If you end up ruminating on a negative encounter, concentrate instead on a memory of when you were successful and happy. Re-play as a movie, remembering the conversations, the sights and sounds and how you felt. It is a good distraction technique at night if you find yourself thinking about things you would rather not.
See all James's blog posts
For more tips and advice on getting a good night’s sleep, see the ‘Take Control of Sleep’ section of my first book, Leading from the Edge’