Insomnia – Alternatives to drugs: sophrology, self-hypnosis and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Published 2 Jan 2022 • By Candice Salomé
About 30% of people in the UK suffer from insomnia. Insomnia is a lack or poor quality of sleep that affects physical, mental and social daytime activities.
It can be transient, occurring from time to time without causing any impact, or chronic, when it occurs more than 3 times a week, and lasts for more than 3 months.
So what can we do about insomnia? How can we improve our sleep? What are the alternatives to drug treatments?
We tell you everything in our article!
What is insomnia?
Insomnia affects about 31% of the UK population. Insomnia is a decrease in the quality and quantity of sleep. Anyone can experience insomnia at any time. However, it becomes severe in 6 to 9% of cases.
There are two types of insomnia:
- Acute insomnia that lasts from 1 night to a few weeks,
- Chronic insomnia that occurs at least 3 nights a week and lasts for at least 3 months.
When insomnia becomes chronic, it can lead to mood swings, irritability, impaired alertness during the day, and reduced quality of life.
Insomnia can be the reason for absenteeism, accidents and relationship difficulties. It can also be the starting point for drug abuse.
Insomnia is defined as the feeling of having slept poorly due to:
- Difficulty falling asleep;
- And / or one or more nocturnal awakening(s);
- And / or waking up too early in the morning.
Anxiety and stress are the main causes of poor sleep quality. Other environmental factors, such as noise or inappropriate bed linen can also have an impact on the quality of sleep.
Certain medications, such as corticosteroids or decongestants, as well as smoking or consuming certain drinks (for example, tea and coffee) can provoke insomnia.
How to get rid of insomnia?
The key to getting rid of insomnia is to try to find the cause. The inability to fall sleep can be due to an illness or a disorder, such as sleep apnoea, chronic pain, or to the effects of certain medications. Insomnia can also be the result of mental problems (depression, anxiety disorders, etc.).
However, because mind and body are closely linked, insomnia caused by chronic pain can lead to depression, which in its turn will aggravate insomnia.
Thus, when insomnia is the consequence of an illness, you should start by treating or managing this illness first.
In case of chronic insomnia, your doctor may prescribe drug treatments.
What are the alternatives to drug treatments?
When we are sleeping, our body regenerates and repairs itself, our learning is consolidated and our emotions become more clear. The quality of sleep is therefore a decisive factor for maintaining good physical and mental health.
Several non-drug alternatives have been proven to be effective:
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), practiced by psychologists and other specialists, aims at modifying certain habits and erroneous thoughts. The goal of this therapy is to reduce anxiety generated by insomnia.
At the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Paris, Professor Léger, head of the sleep center, asks his patients to fill out a “sleep diary” daily, in which they identify bad habits and thoughts that provoke their insomnia. They then learn to alter them. Thus, by de-dramatising their sleep disorders, patients are able to reduce anxiety that disrupts their nights.
In order to gain serenity at bedtime, some relaxation techniques can be helpful.
Here are some simple exercises to practice daily:
To stop being irritated
- Shrug your shoulders to “get rid of things that annoy and irritate you”: stand up, legs hip-width apart, knees a little bent, head and back straight, shoulders relaxed, arms at your sides, hands open. Close your eyes and inhale through your nose, clenching your fists, as if to “crush” everything that annoys you.
- Block your breath and shrug your shoulders a few times, imagining how you release the stress. Breathe out, opening your fists, and at the same time imagine throwing all your problems to the ground.
This exercise is to be done 3 times, upon coming home from work "to create a decompression chamber between your workplace and your home", explains sophrologist Catherine Aliotta, then it should be repeated at bedtime.
Fall asleep in 4-7-8
- First, breathe out all the air you have in your lungs, through your mouth.
- Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose slowly, while counting to 4.
- Hold your breath and now count to 7.
- Finally, breathe out through your mouth, removing all the air from your lungs and counting to 8.
You won't fall asleep at the first try, you have to teach your body to fall asleep. However, by using this technique on a regular basis, you should see some changes within a week.
Self-hypnosis allows you to cut yourself off from the external stimuli that can interfere with your sleep. This technique helps with the most frequent causes of insomnia (stress, anxiety, ruminations, etc.). It allows us to be able to clear our head, let all the thoughts go away, and, therefore, to relax. Self-hypnosis alters automatic reflexes and negative thoughts that nourish your insomnia, such as "I will not be able fall asleep."
Carry out a simple self-hypnosis session
Get into your bed and stare at the ceiling with the lights off. Slowly breathe in and out, repeat 10 times. Feel each of your limbs, their weight and temperature.
When the urge to close your eyes comes, resist a bit and then let yourself go.
At the same time, imagine yourself in a quiet place, where it is dark and where you used to fall asleep well. Use all your senses to immerse yourself in it as much as possible: visualise what you like to see, hear and feel.
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