When asked the question “So are you busy?” most of us, unless on holidays, boastfully answer, albeit with complete exasperation, “Yes I am run off my feet!”. Although this response is considered ‘normal’ and being busy is seen as virtuous and productive, it’s not necessarily good for our long-term health and wellbeing.
In fact research has shown that ongoing periods of stress can lead to chronic health problems including insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Sleep physician Dr David Cunnington revealed in research published in 2014 ‘Sleep’ Christopher Drake and the team at Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, showed a strong risk factor for the development of chronic insomnia (trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep for more than 3 months) is ongoing stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Whilst episodes of acute stress can throw sleep out for days, once those episodes pass, sleep usually returns to normal. But, if their acute stress episodes occur on a back of being busy, or chronic stress, people were more likely to develop chronic insomnia.
Keeping our busy lives in check is difficult but being mindful of the importance of sleep in general wellbeing is an important step in avoiding the development of chronic insomnia, depression, anxiety, and other illnesses. Clinical Psychologist Kathryn Smith has treated insomnia for over 10 years, and she says seeking help from a health professional before sleeplessness becomes a chronic problem is a smart move, as early intervention can prevent the downward spiral of mental and physical health.
Ms Smith says “Understanding that a lot of the tiredness in insomnia is not from lack of sleep, but from worry about not sleeping or too much ‘nervous energy’, is an important concept and can shift the focus on to strategies that work, rather than continuing to get more anxious and focused on sleep”.
It’s easy to say ‘slow down’ but actually doing it is more difficult. Understanding that by reducing the ‘nervous energy’ that keeps us powering through the day we will improve the quality of sleep at night is the first step.
Dr Curt Gray, Psychiatrist and long standing facilitator of sleep programme Towards Better Sleep provides 5 tips for keeping our busy lives in check and sleep intact:
- Stop focusing on the night and start thinking about what you are doing during the day. Overanalysing the night routine and obsessing over how much sleep you’re getting exacerbates the problem. Focus on being more relaxed, healthy and mindful during the day and leave your work woes at the front door.
- Eat breakfast, it awakens the senses and lets your body know it’s the start of the day. Eating at regular times and not within an hour of bedtime is also recommended.
- Take 10 minutes during the day to be mindful of daily stress and pressure and try to put it in perspective. Take some time to yourself to sit, relax, take a walk or meditate.
- Take regular exercise but not within a few hours of bedtime. I’m too busy to exercise I hear you say? Even incidental exercise has been proven to reduce stress and improve sleep, so take the stairs or get off the bus one stop early.
- Lastly, take time out for yourself, even 10 minutes a day. ‘Time out’ comes in many forms and is different for everyone, you will know what is right for you.
If you are finding ongoing sleeplessness is affecting your health and wellbeing, talking to a Clinical Psychologist can be helpful in developing practical long-term strategies to manage insomnia. The use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to treat insomnia has proven effective in that it takes a holistic approach looking at social, emotional and environmental aspects of a person’s life to unfold what is causing the sleep problem.
Dr David Cunnington has been involved in ongoing research on using CBT for insomnia. Recent research published in June in Annals of Internal Medicine showed that on average people went to sleep 19 minutes faster and stayed asleep 16 minutes longer after CBT. This is similar to the effects of sleeping tablets but without the long lasting negative effects.
Group programs like Towards Better Sleep, utilise CBT and focus on sleep education, behavioural techniques, correcting faulty thinking and relaxation strategies. Group therapy in treating insomnia has proven effective as it offers participants the opportunity to share stories and learn from the experiences and ideas of other insomnia sufferers, in a private and confidential setting. It also allows therapists to treat more people in a cost effective way. To register for the next programme visit Towards Better Sleep
You can also visit Dr David Cunnington’s website for more information on sleep, health and wellbeing http://sleephub.com.au