Stress is one of the causes of short-term sleeping difficulties and in my work as a physiotherapist I’ve seen first hand how stress can trigger or cause sleeping problems. Common triggers include job-related pressures, a family, relationship or marriage problem, and a serious illness or death in the family. Usually the sleep problem disappears when the stressful situation passes. However, if short term sleep problems aren’t managed properly from the beginning, they can persist long after the original stress has passed. If you are under stress take some time to unwind properly before going to bed. Some people find visualization or deep breathing helpful or a cup of calming chamomile tea. If something is troubling you, and there is nothing you can do about it right away, try writing it down before going to bed and then tell yourself to deal with it tomorrow.

You need to avoid worries about work and other issues at bedtime. If your mind is too active you won’t be able to sleep well and may even wake up in the night with anxious thoughts. So try to calm your mind before going to bed. If there is anything that is worrying you, write it down and then schedule in a time tomorrow when you will address the problem. In this way you leave the problem with a piece of paper or your diary and not with your mind. You may want to make one of the following tension releasing techniques part of your bedtime routine as you lie in bed with the lights off:

  • Deep breathing: As you lie in bed take some deep breaths and concentrating only on your breathing can help induce relaxation or you may prefer to add a mantra each time you breathe in such as, ‘I’m feeling calm, peaceful and serene. I am falling asleep slowly.’
  • Visualisation: You may want to imagine yourself in a situation where you know you will feel content and happy; for example a tropical paradise, sailing on calm waters, walking through fields, flying in the air or feeling the warmth of the sun and hearing the gentle trickle of running water. You could also visualize a flickering candle in front of you. Focus your mind on the candle and watch it until it stops flickering and your mind becomes calm.
  • Think backwards: Try to remember your day backwards; sounds easy until you try it. Start from your bedtime routine and work your way backwards to when you woke up. You probably won’t make it to lunchtime!
  • Count sheep: This old technique can work for some people but others may find that counting actually wakes them up so find what works for you. If you want to give it a try it doesn’t have to be sheep you can count cows, hens, horses, chickens or dogs but you need to make the scene as uninteresting as possible so that you literally bore yourself to sleep.
  • PMR: Progression muscle relaxation (PMR) is a great way to help you unwind and prepare your body for sleep. As you lie in bed try tensing and relaxing your muscles in groups from your toes right up to your forehead. Squeeze each muscle group for a few seconds and release and relax for ten seconds after before moving on to the next.

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Useful tip: If you’re finding it hard to drift off try closing your eyes and rolling your eyeballs up three times as this happens naturally when you sleep and may help trigger the release of sleep chemicals, such as melatonin.