I was first introduced to good sleep hygiene after being referred by my doctor at the time to a private specialist in London's Harley Street.
The specialist explained that while specific tests were carried out – checking thyroid activity, testing for potentially fatal diseases and abnormal brain activity – I was to work with a sleep hygiene therapist to retrain my body to sleep normally.
The therapist had trained as a psychologist, but had gone on to study in the field of sleep hygiene, which at the time was being introduced as a new approach to insomnia.
I was hesitant at first, viewing her skeptically as a “shrink”, thinking that I was about to undergo psychiatric questioning – I had been persuaded to see a counselor by my local doctor previously to check to see if my insomnia was depression related, and so understandably I would have been annoyed having to go over the same questions again.
Don't get me wrong, I found the Freudian-like questioning interesting, but unhelpful in terms of getting what I really needed – a good night’s sleep!
But what followed was truly eye opening. The first thing the sleep therapist explained was that sleep problems were for the most part a modern day phenomenon, and very curable with compliance and commitment from the patient.
She explained that prior to my visit she had seen two professional sportsman suffering insomnia, which was comforting at the time because I began to realize I wasn’t abnormal after all.
Over the coming weeks she taught me the basics of sleep hygiene and how the body works in terms of sleep and wakefulness. She helped me understand the circadian rhythm and how day and night affect the brain and the release of specific hormones such as melatonin.
She taught me ways of guiding my body back to normal sleep, and ways of training the brain to associate bedtime with sleeping. I was gripped and fascinated, and after my sessions began studying sleep and brain activity at the local library.
The most valuable tool the sleep hygiene therapist gave me was the ability to take sleep into my own hands. I no longer felt at the mercy of sleeping pills, or my local GP and his unhelpful advice. I was now in control.
I was beginning to sleep better, and when my sleep began to go through a bad patch, I knew what I had to do to correct it.
What is Good Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is the process of optimizing your sleep condition by implementing positive habitual lifestyle changes. The basis of sleep hygiene is to sleep in line with the body’s natural clock (its circadian rhythm).
The process reprograms the body to react appropriately to night and day, and to bedtime and the things associated with going to sleep. Sleep hygiene also crosses over into learning to deal with an overactive mind, stress and sleep anxiety,
The basic problem in the modern era is that so many things we are exposed to negatively affect the body’s sleep programming. These things include:
- Electricity (unnatural light)
- Unnatural diet
- Abnormal work hours
- Heightened stress and anxiety
- WIFI and mobile devices
- Central heating/air conditioning
- Pollution; air and noise
This list is endless. There are so many things disrupting our sleep that it's a wonder we get any sleep at all. For those who are serial good sleepers, many of this modern day interferences will seem irrelevant, but for those who are sensitive to disruption of the sleep-wake cycle disruption, the modern world can become a wakeful nightmare.
So why does poor sleep hygiene affect some people so badly and barely affect others at all?
Why Certain People Must Commit to Good Sleep Hygiene
On the whole insomnia, and poor-quality sleep in general, tends to affect those with an overactive mind; those who are creatively driven, emotionally charged, easily stressed or high-energy.
When this type of personality is combined with a lifestyle that negatively impacts the sleep-wake cycle, insomnia is likely to occur. It is therefore important that this demographic maintain a healthy level of sleep hygiene in order to avoid falling into an unhealthy sleep pattern that could worsen and develop into insomnia.
The majority of people, however, will experience poor sleep at one time or another, be it through times of stress, financial hardship, caring for a young family or menopause (women). During such times, good sleep hygiene practice will help stabilise a healthy sleep pattern, and also correct a disrupted one.
In our busy lives it is becoming increasingly difficult to switch off the voice in our head, and becoming increasingly difficult to avoid disruption to the sleep-wake cycle. People who have slept well their entire life may suddenly find themselves devastated by insomnia for seemingly no apparent reason.
However, upon analysis what usually transpires is a recent history of bad sleep hygiene that has taken its toll on the body's ability to sleep well. In short, the body forgets how to sleep properly and begins to suffer from the inability to fall asleep quickly and periodic mid-sleep waking.
Once insomnia sets in the cycle is hard to break, taking its toll both physically and mentally on the body.
The problem with sleep is that it's very easy to fall out of a good sleep pattern but far more difficult to fall back in to one. This is because a psychological hindrance develops on top of the underlying sleep issues, as the person begins to obsess over not being able to sleep, which further manifests the insomnia.
How I Developed My Own Good Sleep Hygiene System
I took the basic principles learned from my sleep hygiene therapist and expanded my knowledge through years of study. I studied sleep through the ages; from the hunter-gatherer to modern man.
I studied changes in man's lifestyle since the agricultural revolution and analysed aspects of sleep such as light, diet, exercise, technology and more. I used myself as a guinea pig to A-B test the way I slept under varying lifestyle conditions.
Once I discovered a routine that positively enhanced my sleep, I then took things a step further, introducing sleep hypnosis and binaural beats technology to my program.
This brain entrainment provided the icing on the cake as it were, eliminating psychological aversion around sleep. Fast-forward to 2014 and over 100,000 people have used my sleep hygiene research as a successful insomnia treatment.
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