When you’re stressed, emotionally drained or physically exhausted, sometimes it’s difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. And sometimes, your dreams can give more distress than relief.
Sleep science has come a long way in the last decade and we finally have access to more consistent remedies than warm milk and honey or chamomile tea – both of which are still recommended by Moms everywhere for occasional sleeplessness.
But if you’ve gone days or weeks without a proper nights rest, you need some serious help. Sleep is critical to your physical, mental and emotional well being and getting enough of it, especially in times of stress, should be high your list of things to do.
A visit to your doctor may well be in order, but if you can’t get there quickly enough, or you want to try something else first, I’ve done some research for you.
A literature review providing a comprehensive overview of both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical methods that ranks the efficacy of various methods and provides recommendations is here.
If you don’t feel like slogging through the academic stuff, there are two techniques you can use today, on your own, that have very good results.
Practice Dreaming to Stop Nightmares
The first is called Image Rehearsal Therapy (IRT) and it’s pretty straightforward. During the day, when you are fully awake, you recall as much of the nightmare as possible and write it down, but as you write it down, you change key details of the experience so that it has a happy, pleasant or triumphant ending or a different theme altogether. However you need to change it to make it meaningful, empowering and positive for yourself.
Once you have it sufficiently altered, you rehearse it: go over the new dream two or three times, trying to visualize it as best you can (tie in previous “nightmare” images and then create powerful new “dream” images that grow from them)
It is recommended that you hand write your dream rather than type, as the act of writing by hand has been shown to have some significant cognitive benefits over typing specifically with regard to learning and retention as well as creativity.
This whole technique should take between 10 and 20 minutes and has been shown to be effective at nightmare reduction after only one session for people with diagnosed Nightmare Disorder and/or moderate to severe PTSD symptoms (though it’s recommended you practice it daily, or every time a nightmare or anxiety dream occurs for at least three months.)
Progressive Deep Muscle Relaxation To Fall Asleep Faster
Good Sleep Hygiene for Over All Well Being
Sleep hygiene sounds a little odd, doesn’t it? Clean sleep? Well, yes, actually that’s just what it is. A way to ‘clean up’ your sleep so its better. Basically, sleep hygiene is a consistent bedtime routine including (but not necessary limited to)
- A regular bed time and wake up time
- Limit or eliminate caffeine
- Darkened room (including small lights such as from an electric clock, which have been proven to disrupt sleep patterns, if you must have one, make sure the light is red, not blue or green)
- Cool room, but not too cool
- No television or other screen time for at least 45 min prior to bed (yes, this means your cell phone, Kindle and iPad, too – read a paper book or listen to calming music, draw or journal) This is because of the blue light that’s emitted.
- White noise in the background (a fan or white noise generator can be helpful for some, I personally find crickets to be very soothing, whatever works for you)
- Ritual: brushing and flossing, self affirmations, five minutes of full body stretching, meditating, tidying up the house, doing the dishes, setting out clothes for the next day can all be part of your nighttime ritual and therefore incorporated into yoursleep hygiene. Just be sure to order them from most active, engaging to least – whatever way works best for you.