Strategies for Combating
Stress Related Insomnia

Let’s take a look at some strategies for combating stress-related insomnia and getting the balancing benefits of sleep:

  • People who know how to release stress throughout the day are often able to sleep more deeply and efficiently. In general it is always a good idea to take some time to deeply relax when you first get into bed. Here are two simple methods you can use:
    1. Tense your whole body, hold it for a moment, and then completely relax. Then, tense again, half as much as the time before, hold, then relax deeply again. Then for a third time, tense half as much as the time before, hold it, and then deeply, completely relax.
    2. Imagine that your body is like an ice field, and that your mind and breath are like warm sunlight. Using your breath to help your awareness to focus and flow throughout your body, gently allow your awareness to travel through your body like a warm breeze flowing through the ice, warming and dissolving any places of tightness or tension. Continue to sweep the warmth of your awareness through your whole body until you are deeply relaxed or fall asleep. If your body quivers or twitches, or if you notice any deep sighs, ahhhh, recognize these as signs of tension being released.

  • Note: If you suffer from chronic or severe stress-related insomnia, talk to your doctor or make an appointment for an evaluation at a sleep disorders clinic.
  • Each of us is different and must learn to understand our own natural cycles, and needs for sleep. Some people need nine hours of sleep to function optimally--even if they think they should only get five. One classic example is a woman who was a client of ours. She had a German husband who insisted that they needed no more than six hours of sleep each night. When she came to see us for treatment, she was a nervous wreck. She hadn’t slept more than six hours for many years and was suffering from many stress-related symptoms. As we worked together, we came to recognize that she was deeply exhausted. We offered her some suggestions for resetting her internal clock. As she got more sleep, her symptoms went away, and she felt much more energized, hospitable, and alive.
  • Keep in mind that your biological clock is calibrated by your exposure to light. If possible, avoid the common practice of blasting yourself with bright lights--like when you turn on the bathroom lights to brush your teeth-- for at least an hour before you plan to go to sleep. If possible, put dimmers on the lights in the rooms you spend time in prior to sleep, or simply use a soft night light rather than the regular lights.
  • If possible, sleep in a quiet, dark room, with some fresh air at about 60 degrees.
  • Use quilts or blankets and avoid electric blankets that create considerable imbalance in your body’s own bioelectric field. In a pinch, use an electric blanket to heat up a cold bed and then unplug it during your sleeping time.
  • Establish a regular sleeping schedule, but don’t go to bed until you are sleepy. If you can’t fall asleep within twenty minutes, get up and return when you are sleepy.
  • A “nightcap” before sleep does not improve sleep. Though it may help you to relax and fall asleep, your sleep will be less deep and restful, and more easily interrupted.
  • Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages for at least four hours before bedtime. And keep in mind that nicotine is also a stimulant that will interfere with restful sleep.
  • If at all possible, avoid sleeping pills and learn skills to sleep more naturally. Sleeping pills can be addictive and should be used for very short periods of time only--never more than three nights in a row. They also lead to imbalanced sleep cycles and daytime fatigue that then is often worsened by using caffeine. Never combine sleeping pills with alcohol!
  • Since the mind entering into sleep is highly suggestible to the images you feed it, avoid watching TV just before bed, or of falling asleep with the TV or the radio on. Instead, we suggest that you either fall asleep quietly, or if you prefer, with soothing and uplifting music. You might also experiment with reading something that is inspiring or that nourishes your soul before you go to sleep. We often read to each other before bed, or give each other a foot rub or back rub to relax, and when we do this is a very special time. You will be amazed at the balance this can offer to the frenetic pace of life, and at the difference that this can make in how well you sleep.
  • Sleeping with your head to the North optimizes the quality of your rest. Your body is actually charged like a big bioelectric magnet. Your head has an electrical polarity similar to the north pole, while your feet have a polarity like the south pole. If you could imagine your body floating in a pool of water like the needle of a compass, your body would naturally come to rest in alignment and in synch with the geomagnetic environment when your head is toward the north and your feet to the south. Thus, sleeping with your head to the north aligns your body in a naturally balanced way with your larger environment. This alignment is more deeply restful than if you were to sleep oriented in another direction. If it is difficult to orient yourself to sleep with your head to the north, east is your second best choice.
  • If you are so inclined, taking some time for prayer or meditation before sleep can greatly improve the quality and depth of your sleep.
  • Upon awakening, remember that a study showed that people who woke up with an alarm, leaped out of bed and charged off to work were actually less productive during the day than people who got off to a slower and more mindful start. So take time to meditate, stretch, or do yoga or tai chi, spend quality time with the people you love, go for a walk, etc. In the long run, such “time-wasters” will actually enhance the quality of balance, effectiveness, and productivity you bring to a busy day at work.

[Adapted from the book "Living in Balance" by Joel Levey
and Michelle Levey

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