– By Sharon Ashton and Raksha Dave-Gates (Counselling Psychologists)

Its 12:00 am and I am not asleep yet! Fortunately, this problem is transcient – I know I can catch up on a good night’s sleep tomorrow. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many. Some people experience short-term insomnia when sleep is disrupted due to an immediate stress in their life. Others confront chronic insomnia that disrupts sleep for extended periods. If chronic insomnia is challenging you, it may be important to examine a number of physical, life style, and/or psychological issues. As insomnia is often a symptom of another underlying issue, chronic pain, stress, depression, anxiety, diabetes, and menopause are important potential factors to explore.

In our practice, weoften encounter people who may prefer not to use medication or may have foundmedications to be ineffective for their sleep difficulties. Among thestrategies that they have found helpful include: relaxation strategies, changein cues that are negatively associated with sleep, and examining self-fulfillingprophecies about sleep or sleeplessness.

First, relaxation strategies have proven to be helpful both to induce sleep aswell as to manage stresses that may be linked to the insomnia. Anxiety andexcessive tension at bedtime can be reduced through varied techniques includingdeep abdominal breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, self-hypnosis, andvisualization. If you require assistance to learn these strategies, there aremany useful courses, self-help books, or even support through brief therapysessions with trained counsellors.

Second, controlling the stimuli that have become negatively associated withsleep can be helpful. That is, reduce the behaviours in your night routinesthat increase sleeplessness. Usually, these behaviours may be linked to either when or where you are sleeping. Are you someone who lies in bedreading a book or watching T.V. hoping it will get you to sleep? Or, do you laythere and remain preoccupied with worried thoughts about the day, about the dayto come, or simply if you will get to sleep tonight? Are you someone thatends up napping on the couch during the day? After all, you didn’t sleep thenight before! If you are, then this strategy is for you. To increaseassociations for successful sleep: Go to your bed only when sleepy, wake at ausual set time, get out of the bed when awake rather than lying there, do notread, watch T.V., or remain in preoccupied thoughts while in bed, and do yourvery best to not nap during the day; if you must sleep, sleep in yourbed.

Lastly, what do you predict to yourself about sleep or sleeplessness each night?Do you habitually go to bed saying, “Here we go, its going to be anothersleepless night?” or, do you equally prophesize sleeplessness by saying, “Oh,please let me sleep well tonight!” If you have read our columns before, you mayrecognize the theme related to the power of your thought. Rehearsing “I will sleep well tonight” each night can go a long way to reclaiming your power whenit comes to getting a restful night of sleep!

Consistent practice of these strategies as well as collaboration with yourphysician to rule out physical causes will be important as you begin to reclaimyour nights.