Using CBT to manage stress and fall asleep

Fatmata Kamara, Specialist Nurse Adviser

Almost everyone knows what stress feels like. It can make you feel irritated, worried or anxious and impact your life in many ways. You may feel like you’re unable to switch off and have trouble sleeping. But there are ways you can manage your stress, so you can get a good night’s sleep.

There are plenty of relaxation techniques to try before going to bed. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of talking therapy, which helps you change how you think, feel and behave. If you’re feeling stressed, CBT can help you manage it by identifying any negative or unhelpful thinking patterns. CBT works by replacing these with positive ones. You can practice CBT with a therapist or you can try using self-help books.

Try these CBT techniques to manage your stress before bed:

Recognise your thoughts

There are lots of reasons why you feel stressed, so it’s important to identify them. Think about what’s making you worried and anxious; perhaps it’s a deadline at work or a particular relationship. If you can recognise the source of your stress, you can make small changes to help you feel better. A good way to do this is to note down your thoughts and feelings, as this could make it easier to identify your stressors.

Break your thoughts down

Write down when you’re feeling distressed, what’s triggered this and your mood and thoughts at the time. You will learn to make sense of your thoughts and actions by breaking them down into smaller areas. Try creating a sleep diary to share your thoughts before bed.

Change the way you think

Once you’ve challenged your negative thoughts, you will learn to react more positively and explore other ways of dealing with a distressing situation. For example, if you’re struggling to fall asleep, try to remember that most of us find it hard to sleep from time to time and include some calming breathing exercises in your bedtime routine to help clear your head and relax.

Be sensible with your routine

There are lots of ways you can help prepare your body for bed. Try to regularly exercise during the day, as this can relieve stress, anxiety and improve sleep. Avoid late meals within two hours of bed. Stimulants like caffeine and alcohol can also interfere with the quality of sleep.

Using mindfulness to help you sleep

Fatmata Kamara, Specialist Nurse Adviser

If you’re finding it hard to drift off, relaxation techniques like mindfulness can help quiet your mind and calm your body before bed. Practicing mindfulness can help you positively change the way you think, help you to feel less overwhelmed and improve your sleep quality. So here we share some mindfulness techniques to help you get a better night’s rest.

Relax before bed

Get into a routine to ease your mind before bed by switching off your electronic devices, dimming the lights and having a hot bath. Everyone’s idea of relaxation is different, so try to find activities that unwind your body and relax your mind.

Once you’ve started your routine, give it your full attention. If you’re having a nice warm bath notice how the water feels on your skin, observe the bubbles and enjoy the smell of the soap.

Watch your thoughts go by

If you’re full of worries when you’re lying in bed, mindfulness can help ease these thoughts. Don’t try to stop these thoughts or ignore them. Instead, be aware of them, as this will help us build awareness of how we think. It may help to see these thoughts as passing trains too. Imagine you’re standing on the platform, and as each train races by, you can decide whether to get on board and how long to stay there. You can always hop off that thought at the next station. Or you could simply watch it go past you. So instead of avoiding these negative thoughts that are keeping you awake, you’re dealing with them by watching them drift by.

Breathing mindfully

Focusing on your breathing and allowing your body to drift into its own rhythm can also help you relax before falling asleep. Place your hands on your stomach, so you can feel your breath going in and out.

Try our mindfulness podcasts to help guide you on what you need to do.

What are the consequences of a bad night’s sleep on your health?

Hope Bastine, Mindful Sleep Psychologist at Simba Sleep

Being sleep deprived can make you feel groggy. And if it becomes a problem over a longer period of time, it can lead to chronic health problems and affect your quality of life.

The odd bad night’s sleep here and there is common, and happens to most people. Usually you can expect to feel less alert and struggle to concentrate the next day.

Here we talk about some of the things lack of sleep can impact if it becomes a long term problem.

Your immune system

When you’re asleep, your immune system is usually working hard to protect you. It produces infection-fighting antibodies and cells which are used to fend off bacteria and viruses that stop you from catching illnesses.

If you’re not getting enough sleep, your immune system doesn’t get the same chance to produce these protective cells, so your body won’t be able to fend off nasty infections and you may be more likely to become unwell.

It can cause high blood pressure

People who are sleep deprived may also be at higher risk of developing high blood pressure. Sleep can help your nervous system to remain healthy and regulate stress hormones. So if lack of sleep becomes a problem, it could hurt your body’s ability to regulate these hormones, leading to high blood pressure.

Your skin

Another reason to take sleep more seriously is that studies have linked sleep deprivation to causing your skin to age faster. Some experts think that a good night’s sleep helps promote good skin health. When you’re tired, your body makes more of the stress hormone cortisol. And increased levels of cortisol can lead to stress and inflammation in the body, which can harm your skin’s quality.

Your weight

The number of hour’s rest you get each night doesn’t only affect your mood and productivity, but researchers have found it can affect your metabolism too. If your body hasn’t had the rest it needs, it can slow down your metabolism which in the long term can cause problems managing your weight.

Stop stress from keeping you up at night

Poor sleep is a common side effect of stress , which can make you feel even worse. Around a third of people in the UK have trouble sleeping. It can feel like a vicious cycle, as you might feel more stressed from sleep loss and feeling tired.

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