Dr. Charlotte Howard, a psychologist at Deep Eddy Psychotherapy in Austin, TX, talks about the importance of sleep and how we can softly speak to our unconscious, amongst other things, to induce a good night’s sleep.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of the Unconscious Mind
People really underestimate the power of the unconscious in terms of sleep. Say you have a flight early in the morning and then you set your alarm; sometimes you wake up right before it, even if it’s 3 hours before you normally wake up and you wake up the same time every day. Your unconscious is working even when you are asleep, which is amazing, so it has noted that you have to leave for a flight at 5 in the morning and you have to wake up at 4 and it’s waking you up a little bit before your alarm goes off. And that’s amazing if you think that your whole body is relaxed and asleep but your unconscious is monitoring in that kind of way.
Talk to Yourself Before Falling Asleep
If you think about that with people who wake up in the night, off and on, or have any other sleep issues, maybe they can’t fall asleep or maybe they wake up very early and can’t go back to sleep, it is clear why it is so important to tell yourself the right messages before falling asleep. Talk with your unconscious and say that it’s really safe to sleep soundly, all the way through the night; that anything that’s on your mind can be dealt with in the morning.
Giving Your Body and Mind Messages to Sleep
The unconscious hears you through a more relaxed state, so you don’t talk to it in an abrupt or arousing tone. You speak very gently and will be responsive the more relaxed you are. This is why hypnosis works. Hypnosis is basically deep relaxation paired with the messages you want your body, the unconscious, to hear. So, it is advantageous to sink into a more quiet and deep place and then talk to your body from that place with a soft tone. You’re telling yourself, “I know there’s a lot going on, but everything that we need to think about we can think about tomorrow. For now, you can just completely relax and have a deep sleep all the way through the night.”
Tips for Falling Asleep
It’s almost hypnotic messages that you want to give your body. Of course, there are a lot of little tips out there, like having the lighting down at least a half hour before bed. Also, circadian rhythms respond to temperature—going from warm to cool. Evolutionarily, since it is cooler at night, going from warm to cool tells your body it’s time to find somewhere safe and get some sleep if you are going to survive and pass on your genes. That’s why sometimes a warm bath will work and then as your body is cooling down that’s a great time to fall asleep.
If you have trouble falling asleep combining the things we just discussed can help. One other tip is: No screens before bed because they activate the brain in a way that makes it hard to unwind. Even if you do fall asleep, you don’t reach the deeper sleep states as well. So, it does interrupt sleep to have any kind of screen time before bed. Avoiding screens for half an hour before bed can help you avoid that.
Therapy is About Exploring Why You Can’t Sleep
A lot of times there are deep unconscious reasons that we are not sleeping well. Seeing a therapist about it and really exploring, “What is all this backlog of stuff that I’m holding that’s then haunting me at night and interrupting my sleep?” Sometimes you have to do the deep work to heal your sleep patterns. And you might possibly need medication because sleep is so important. If people miss just a few nights of sleep, they can start to have psychotic symptoms. I mean literally we just really, really need our sleep for our brains to function. Things fall apart without it, so I think it’s something for people to really take seriously and get help with if they need it.
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