How can I get to sleep at night?

This week, we're looking at the issue of sleep during and after pregnancy. As a new mum it’s more important than ever to make sure you get enough sleep. For those of you asking 'but HOW can I get to sleep at night?' Dr Guy Meadows gives us his advice.

As I mentioned in my post about struggling to sleep earlier this week, your inability to get to sleep may lead you to think worrisome thoughts and will probably make you more awake.

So I teach many new mums to let go of struggling with their sleep and allow it to emerge naturally over time by re-establishing the connection between the night time and sleepiness.

This approach works by increasing peoples’ willingness to experience the discomfort of not sleeping and being able to make space for all of the unwanted thoughts and sensations. The paradox being that when you can choose to notice such unhelpful thoughts and not fight against them, they disappear on their own accord and no longer activate the waking systems of the brain.

One technique I use is mindfulness, which is a non judgmental awareness of the present moment. It teaches people to observe their thoughts and sensations in an objective way and then return back to some form of present moment anchor. For example, you might try to describe the touch of your pillow on your face, the duvet touching your toes or the movement of your breath in your mind whilst lying in bed (e.g. 'I can feel the pillow touching my jaw and cheeks, my toes on the duvet and the movement of air in and out of my nose').

As you do this your mind will undoubtedly wander off onto a thought and when this happens, greet it by saying "Thank you, thinking mind" and then returning back to what ever you were observing at the time of distraction. It does not matter how many times your mind wanders off, but more that you notice it wandering and bring it back. The aim is to cultivate a gentle relationship with the discomfort of not sleeping and therefore inform the brain that it no longer needs to keep you awake.

Other tips for how to get to sleep include keeping a regular sleep wake cycle and avoiding the temptation of trying to catch up on sleep at other times during the day. Whilst it might feel beneficial to go to bed early, lie in late or nap during the day, often this will only help to confuse your body clock and weaken the nocturnal drive to sleep. If you do need a nap then limit it to no more than 20 minutes at a time.

Dr Guy Meadows has been studying human physiology for 15 years of which 10 years has been devoted to sleep research and the prevention of sleep disorders. For more information about Guy and The Sleep School, please visit: www.thesleepschool.org

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