To set your sleep timings, you need to understand the process working behind it. Your internal biological clock sets your sleep timing. Once the sleep cycle is regularized at a particular timing, it takes some time to change the already set sleep pattern. Initially, when you try to change this natural sleep cycle, you may face difficulty but once your biological clock gets harmonized and it is adjusted to your daily routine, you can re-schedule your sleep time.
A client with difficulty to set a routine sleep timing approached me who was unable to initiate sleep at night. At morning timing, he felt sleepy and hence needed to complete his sleep. This pattern was so disturbing for him because he couldn’t perform daily life activities. His schedule became so upset that his educational, family and social life was at stake. All day he remained worried about his sleep problem, his life going nowhere, and what will happen in the future if the same pattern continues. He was observing himself being tense, anxious and depressed.
Mr X was psycho-educated about the sleep cycle and how the biological clock sets a person’s sleep schedule. He applied this fact to his condition. For instance, he started waking up before 10 am (or whatever timing he felt suitable for him) by setting the alarm or telling someone to wake him up. He was committed to waking himself up whatever it takes him to do. Gradually he started feeling sleepy before 2 am to complete his sleeping hours. Initially, he felt difficulty, but with regular practice, it became his routine.
The case mentioned above was initially a simple sleep-wake cycle problem which then was about to convert into more severe problems like depression and anxiety. Generally, people who work at night shifts, face difficulty to initiate sleep at night when they are at vacations. Sleep-wake cycle issue is commonly seen among adolescents who prefer late night stays among friends’ gatherings and among those students who consistently prefer working or studying late night. When such a pattern is followed over a longer period, then it becomes automated in a person’s internal biological clock. Those who work in alternate shifts or those who have developed sleep-wake cycle issues may try some additional strategies to cater their difficulty to initiate sleep before it converts into depression/anxiety.
Here I’m advising you a few techniques to help you initiate sleep at a suitable time.
1. As you have trouble in initiating sleep, do relaxation exercise/ deep breathing to calm you down and initiate sleep. Do it in a sitting position just before you go to bed or you can do it while you are lying on the bed.
- Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and focus on the air going in and out.
- Correct breathing pattern: inhale through your nose, fill the air in your stomach just as you fill in a balloon, hold it for 5 sec in the belly, and then exhale the air slowly from your mouth
- Focus on your head muscles and relax them, focus on facial muscles and relax, similarly relax every group of muscles in neck, shoulders, arms, chest, abdomen, legs, and foot. From the hairs of your head to the tip of your foot fingers you are relaxed now.
- While focusing on your breathing and air going in and out, imagine something positive.
- Do this exercise daily. You can also do it during the day time because it will help you relax and reduce your tension, so you can improve your focus/concentration over your work/daily tasks.
2. Everyone has positive experiences in life. Try to imagine those moments when you are having disturbing thoughts. (Don’t ruminate upon your negative past experiences or ponder on unseen future happening. It will do nothing positive to you but increase your anxiety/tension/depress feelings for sure which may be the reason behind your sleep problem).
3. When you are stressed, instead of overthinking, just do problem-solving to overcome life problems. Sit calmly and think about how you can solve the problem at hand. Find as many solutions as possible no matter small or big. Then pick up the best solution and start working on it to solve your problem gradually. If you can’t focus, take a piece of paper to write down problems and solutions.
4. Learn time management skills. Make a schedule and strictly follow it. Set your daily goals and set your priorities by focusing on what’s most urgent and what can you delay without bad consequences happening. Make a daily to-do-list and mark the tasks you have completed so that you stay focused on those tasks you are planning to do further.
5. Include some pleasurable activities in your daily schedule. It can be anything you enjoy. For example, listen to music, walk/exercise, read books, eat a favourite food, wear a favourite dress or aromas, go out with friends, etc.
Do seek professional help when things are not working on your own. It’s never too late. Getting help from a psychologist is no more stigma in an educated and sober society.
Dr Mehwish Mursaleen
PhD in Clinical Psychology