Sleepless in Suffolk

Racing Welfare's Digital Marketing Executive, Parris Lane, blogs her way through sleep counselling.

Racing Welfare’s Digital Marketing Executive, Parris Lane, blogs her way through sleep counselling to help cure those pesky sleepless nights. Read her experience of the NHS-accredited sleep programme below.

It’s a wrap – Ssshhhh – I now sleep like a baby.

Thanks to sleep counselling, Parris is now sleeping soundly and equipped with a whole host of tools and techniques if she ever struggles with her sleep in the future.

I have now finished my eight-week programme with Sleepstation. At the end of the programme, they give you a report so you can see how well your sleep has improved and if your overall sleep efficiency score has gone up, which mine had!

The top things that I am going to take away from this programme is the sleep restriction. I have come to realise that just because I get into bed earlier, doesn’t mean I am going to get to sleep earlier and that it usually has the opposite effect. I need to push through and try and stick to a routine of going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time.

Another tool, one of which I have probably used the most throughout this process, is cognitive control. Whether that is the repetitive word method or the visualisation one, they both really work for me and I find help me to drift off a lot faster than normal.

Although I don’t think it is something that I will be able to continuously keep up, I will return to writing a diary about my day. Especially when I feel as though I have a busy period in my life, it felt good to just dump all my thoughts onto a page so that they were there in black and white. It was also a great way to help me realise the stuff that I had accomplished throughout the day or even the week. It definitely removed some of the worries I had when I would think about things that I didn’t get done or thought I hadn’t.

I can’t say that I have had a perfect night sleep every night since starting this programme, what with Coronavirus still around and the ever-changing lockdown rules, it would be hard for anyone to have a normal sleeping pattern throughout all of that. However, if I have had a bad night’s sleep I try and reflect on why. I think about what I did or maybe didn’t do and then try and rectify it. I still don’t really stick to the same bedtime at the weekends but I make sure I don’t stay up as late as I used to as I know this will have a knock-on effect on my sleep for the rest of the week.

This whole process has been a real eye-opener for me and has helped me to address sleep issues that I didn’t realise that I had as well as give me the tools to help me get the best sleep possible.

If you need help with your sleep and would like to find out more about Sleepstation you can call 0800 6300 443 or get in touch with your local welfare officer.

Part 7 – A simple message – move more, sleep better!
April 1, 2021

It’s the final week of my Sleepstation programme and we’ve been talking about the benefit of exercise on your sleep. Most people know that some kind of physical exercise is proven to help improve your sleep but Sleepstation goes into more depth and talks about how the level of intensity has a profound effect. According to the World Health Organisation we should do at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, but the harder you work the better your sleep will be.

Increasing your heart rate and getting out of breath increases daytime alertness which helps to improve fatigue. I am generally quite an active person. I exercise five times a week in various ways including running and weights but like many others I have found it hard to get motivated to move around in the day. Working from home has definitely decreased my step count. At the offcie, the walk from the car park, popping upstairs to one of the other offices or nipping into town to grab lunch all usually help me hit my step count. But when your office and kitchen are the same place it proves very difficult to get those steps up.

I’ve tried to make the conscious effort to go out for a walk on my lunch break and even though it’s not vigorous exercise it really helps with my mental health which in turn improves my sleep. I’m going to try and stick to these lunch walks, a sort of New Year’s resolution and hope that along with all the other techniques I have learnt from Sleepstation, my sleep will improve.

Find out more about Sleepstation here

Part 6 – Mindfulness and the power of calm
March 25, 2021

The cognitive control technique has really improved my sleep. I find that I can get to sleep faster than I did before I started this programme. However, I am still waking up in the night worrying about various things. The next technique that Sleepstation have introduced to me is mindfulness.

They talk about something called a body scan, where you lay down and focus on tensing and relaxing each part of your body from your toes to your head. I found this easiest when I had a bit of guidance, so I downloaded the Calm app which has some great meditation clips to go through the process with you.

I’ve also learnt that mindfulness isn’t just about meditating but also just slowing down and taking time to take everything in. Having a hot bath before bed has really helped me. It gives me that time to relax and go over my day in my head before I get into bed where it would usually end up keeping me awake.

The last few nights I’ve felt really relaxed going to bed. Usually I would feel anxious about going to bed as I would worry about whether or not I would be able to sleep and if I was going to feel tired the next day, but these techniques are really helping so slow down my thoughts and prepare me for a good night’s sleep.

I have also discovered that rain sounds also help me relax, these are also available on the Calm app. I only use the free version which still has loads of great resources but you can pay extra for even more including sleep audio books.

Find out more about Sleepstation here

Part 5 – Are you going bananas trying to sleep? Try this!
March 19, 2021

After the past few weeks of the Sleepstation programme, it has become clear that most of my sleep issues stem from overthinking. It is not uncommon for me to wake up multiple times a night, worrying or thinking about different things. I’m sure this is a common problem for a lot of people, and I think the current pandemic has definitely worsened it.

This week Sleepstation introduced me to cognitive control in the way of thought blocking. I mentioned at the start of this programme that one of my sleep advisers talked to me about using the repetitive word technique, but these are a bit more in depth than that. Obviously, everyone is different and Sleepstation works with you to find what techniques you will benefit from the most.

I am quite a visual person so they suggested that when I cannot get to sleep I try and really visualise an object, something that isn’t emotionally connected to anything, such as a banana, and try and visualise the whole thing from tip to end. Once I have that visual you then change the colour and re-visualise it all over again. This method is meant to stop the mind from filling up with emotion.

Sleepstation also introduced me to two other techniques, a word one and a number one but I decided to stick with the visualisation. I’ve tried this for the past two nights and it seems to be working okay, I do find my mind wandering back to my worries, which the advisers said isn’t uncommon, but I just try and get back to the cognitive control.

It is quite a hard technique to master as you almost feel as though your brain shouldn’t be working this hard before bed but like I said as it’s not an emotive subject/object, you’re not likely to wake up worrying about what colour the banana should be like! What I do like about this technique is that it doesn’t feel like a sleep technique, unlike counting sheep, it’s not something you automatically relate to sleep which in turn gets rid of those ‘how many hours sleep am I going to get’ thoughts.

Find out more about Sleepstation here

Part 4 – Dear Diary…
March 12, 2021

I’ve always heard of people having notepads beside their beds to write down thoughts and ideas when they wake up at night, but it has never really worked for me. Sleepstation’s next piece of guidance for me was to do a diary that was to be completed at least an hour before I went to bed. There were four sections to this diary; the first was to write down what I had managed to achieve that day, no matter how big or small. Next up was a list of the things I needed to get done the following day, followed by the actions I had put in place to help me achieve them. Finally, I had to write down how I’d been feeling that day.

This technique really helped me with the spiralling thoughts that I tend to get when trying to get to sleep, worrying about what I had on the following day. I don’t think this is something that I can keep up all the time but especially on those days where I feel as though things are getting on top of me and life feels a bit hectic. I’ve felt that it has helped me sleep better as all those worries that I usually have are down on paper.  I don’t have to worry if I have forgotten to do something and I worry less about what I need to do as I know that I have my list and plans in place to achieve them the following day.

At the end of week four, my bedtime has become earlier; I can get into bed no earlier than 10.30pm which was not far off what time I would get into bed before I started the programme. I have found that this later bedtime is definitely decreasing the time I spend tossing and turning trying to get to sleep.

Find out more about Sleepstation here

Part 3 – Sleep cravings and positive changes
March 5, 2021

I am into the third week of my Sleepstation programme now and am continuing to restrict my time spent in bed but it’s not as harsh as last week. Even though it was difficult to begin with and I struggled not to fall asleep on the sofa most nights, it seemed to work well and I have noticed that I fall asleep a lot quicker than I did before starting this programme. Isn’t it strange how as soon as I was told I couldn’t go to bed I was really tired, suppose it’s similar to a diet! When you can’t have chocolate, it’s all you crave!! Every few days my schedule gets reviewed and I get given a slightly earlier time that I can get into bed, which makes me very happy! My partner has ended up joining me for the sleep restriction as he has now found it difficult to get to sleep without me being there.

For the next part of the programme, Sleepstation wants me to review my bedroom set up. This means looking at things such as light, clocks, noise and pets. Thankfully my bedroom isn’t too bad. I don’t have an alarm clock in my room as I know I am the sort of person to clock watch when I wake up at night so I just use my phone as an alarm which I now set to ‘Do not disturb’ mode as soon as I get into bed to prevent notifications from waking me up. If I do wake up in the night, I make a conscious effort to not check the time. As the clocks haven’t gone back yet, light isn’t much of an issue and I make sure all lights are off at night. In the summer I’m going to try and use an eye mask to help me sleep for longer. We own two little fur babies, our cats Arlo and Luna. Luckily Luna is like me and likes to have plenty of space to sleep so rarely comes on the bed at night. Arlo, however, loves a cuddle at night but tends to stick to my partner’s side of the bed, I think I probably fidget too much. Sleepstation does recommend that you try and limit pets in the bedroom as they can disturb your sleep, so we have tried to have a few nights a week where we keep them shut downstairs, much to their dismay.

I have always been a really light sleeper so actually thinking about how some of these things can affect my sleep has encouraged me to make positive changes to my bedroom and sleep set up. Sleepstation also provide some great resources and videos about sleep, I’ve learnt more about how blue light can affect your sleep, so I try and keep off my phone an hour before bed but I have also activated the ‘Night Shift’ mode on my iPhone which automatically shifts the colour of your display to the warmer end of the colour spectrum after dark and reduce the amount of blue light you see.

Find out more about Sleepstation here

Part 2 – Stress levels, sleep and a strict routine!
February 25, 2021

I have just finished my first week of sleep logs and have had my sleep reviewed by Sleepstation. My sleep score wasn’t too bad, which I expected after having a fairly good week of sleep, but there are still clearly some issues which need to be resolved. The report also picked up on my stress levels as being high which is a contributing factor to my poor sleep. I can now start the main Sleepstation programme, the referral has been passed on to Racing Welfare and I can now start with my tailored plan which will include tips and guidance to help improve my sleep.

The first part of my plan is to try Sleep restriction. From my logs, they can see that I have a lot of time in bed but little time actually sleeping. This technique means reducing my hours in bed, so I will have to get up at the same time every day, even on weekends and get into bed at the same time every night. The plan will mean that I only have 8 hours in bed whereas I would usually have almost 10 hours. This process is strictest for the first week and is meant to help my body get into a better sleep routine. My partner usually goes to bed around 10 pm and falls asleep within 30 seconds! So I’ll try and use this extra hour to read or do an activity that will help me wind down.

Find out more about Sleepstation here

Part 1 – Sleep and the snowball effect of life’s anxieties
February 18, 2021

I am halfway through my first week of Sleepstation. The week started off with a review of my sleep over the last month and any problems that I have had. The questions go through your normal routine including work and health for them to get a better idea of your lifestyle. I have now started my sleep diary, each morning I log how I slept the night before, including how many times I woke up throughout the night. Typically, this week, my sleep has been pretty good compared to normal. My sleep can vary, some nights I can get a good eight hours other time it won’t even be six.

Sleepstation has a great chat service with multiple Sleep Coaches on hand to answer any questions you may have about the programme and your sleep. One of my main problems with sleep is the inability to switch off and stop overthinking. I mentioned this in one of my logs and one of the coaches sent me a message with some information on ‘thought blocking’. Thought blocking works in a similar way as to when you repeat something to yourself to remember it whilst you’re trying to find a pen, for example, it stops any other thoughts coming into your head. The word they suggested was ‘the’ as it has no connection to anything specific.

Last night, as the sleep anxiety crept over me and my brain started working overtime, I decided to try it. Luckily, they suggest saying the word in your head otherwise my partner probably would have thought that I had finally lost it! My sleep anxiety is caused by several things; work, family, general life stresses, all of which tend to snowball into one. It was a struggle to block other thoughts out to begin with, but I persevered and eventually fell asleep. I still woke up a few times in the night, but I am not expecting to snap my fingers and be automatically cured of my sleep problems.

Find out more about Sleepstation here