On Thursday 10th September, we held our first ever live digital event, Sleep Well. Bringing together key figures from the world of sleep, we wanted to bring you tips, advice and more if you’ve been struggling to sleep lately. If you missed the event, or just want to catch up on some of the key takeaways, then keep on reading.
Panel: Is your sleep affecting your mental health?
Max Kirsten. Max is an award-winning clinical hypnotherapist, sleep coach, NLP success coach, and author. He practices all the latest transformational change techniques, including cognitive hypnosis and advanced stress management at his hypnotherapy NLP clinic in London. Max has been practising NLP and clinical hypnotherapy in London for over 18 years, and has worked with some of the biggest names in the fields of film, music, fashion, television, media, politics, and sport.
Heather Darwall-Smith. Heather is a sleep psychotherapist at the London Sleep Centre. She has a private practice in Oxford and works online with international clients. Heather knows that the path to recovery and wellbeing lies in a good night’s sleep, but the reasons for poor sleep can be complicated. Currently studying Sleep Medicine at the University of Oxford, an essential part of her ongoing clinical research addresses the cyclical question: what comes first, poor sleep or poor mental health? In 2021, Heather will be publishing an educational self-help book about sleep in the UK and USA.
Hi Max and Heather! Thanks for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Max: Hi everyone! I first started to work with sleep around 2003, after my own sleep got worse around that time. I specialise in anxiety-related insomnia, and as a coach I see people for a variety of other things too.
Heather: Hi guys! I’m a psychotherapist trained in mindfulness at the London Sleep Centre, looking at the psychological part of sleep. Before retraining as a psychotherapist, I was in design and marketing. There was very much a culture of ‘sleep when you’re dead’. It was very dangerous. I remember reading about how ineffective you are when you get less than six hours’ sleep and started training from there.
So how and why do we sleep? Why is it so important we do it properly?
Heather: If sleep doesn’t accomplish anything, it’s the biggest mistake nature’s ever made. It affects our immunity, our mental health, tissue repair, brain health, endurance, absolutely everything we do depends on sleep.
Is there such a thing as a ‘normal’ sleep cycle?
Max: Everyone is different. There is no perfect or normal sleep. The eight hours thing is a bit of a myth, but certain things have to happen in your sleep cycles to give you effective sleep. If we don’t get the right kind of sleep, life becomes difficult.
How does sleep relate to mental health?
Heather: If we don’t sleep, the next day we don’t feel great. And if we worry about it happening again the next night, we can get into a cycle of anxiety. We know that poor sleep can trigger depression and anxiety and vice versa, so it’s a complicated question. It’s not a simple answer.
Max: I absolutely agree. It’s difficult to pull them apart. Even my mental health is worse if I don’t get a good night’s sleep.
How have people been sleeping under lockdown?
Heather: We’re living in a state of unknown at the moment. And one of the first things that starts to go when we wobble is our sleep. It’s now eased a little bit but at the beginning things were particularly bad with people watching a lot of the news and spending a lot of time on social media. We also saw people with a lot of really vivid nightmares because of the fear and anxiety surrounding the pandemic. On the other hand, sleep improved radically for some people as they were able to get more sleep because of not having to commute and things like that.
Max: The rhythm of our lives was completely disrupted. As a result, some people ended up doing things like drinking alcohol and caffeine more than usual. They had a lot on their mind anyway, and these things disrupted their sleep too.
How have peoples' new working environments impacted their sleep and mental health?
Heather: There's a huge lack of boundaries. There’s something quite powerful in the transition of getting to and from work, but now you finish and walk into the next room and that’s it. Depending on whether you live alone or with your family, it can have all sorts of different effects. If you have a family, it can be quite chaotic. If you live alone, you aren’t getting that social interaction that you need. But there has to be some demarcation between work and home.
What are some of the most common mistakes people make in terms of lifestyle choices that can affect their sleep?
Heather: We do what we do as coping mechanisms. If we’re tired, we’ll have a coffee. If we want to chill out, we’ll have a glass of wine. All these things are a way to make ourselves feel better, but they do have ramifications. It’s maybe not so good to define them as mistakes, but as things we do to help ourselves feel better.
Max: I think one of the simplest things we can do is address the need for daylight. Getting that blue light in the morning is very important, and it will help signal the sleep cycle in the right way in the evening when that light goes away. There’s a saying that goes: “Every great night’s sleep starts the day before.”
Can you both tell us about the methods you practise to help people sleep?
Max: I really deal with the anxiety stuff. I try to teach people how to stop being in their heads, and how to get back into their bodies. Instead of looking for sleep to happen, I’m looking for people to rest and relax, as this will cause people to drift off.
Heather: I work with CBTI (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia). One of the things I talk about a lot is taking white space. So right now this means things like not going back-to-back on Zoom calls. Take three to five minutes between each session, look out the window and just breathe. If you can do that across the day, you can end up accumulating an hour’s break.
What top tips do you have for people to get better sleep?
Heather: Exercise is great. But you have to be careful about intensity and timing. For example, doing a HIIT class can really spike your cortisol (the stress hormone), so timing that to give yourself space to wind down after is really important. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is also really vital. We thrive on routine. We need it. It helps us know where we are.
Yoga nidra practical session
After the panel discussion, Kanan Thakerar (@kananyogabliss) led us through a yoga nidra session. Also known as yogic sleep, yoga nidra is a guided meditation that helps us relax and rest, enabling us to get a better, more restful night’s sleep.
If you’re interested in trying out yoga nidra, be sure to check out the classes on Kanan’s website.
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Tonight at 6.30pm see’s the start of my new Yoga Nidra series - each series runs for 6 weeks and has a blend of philosophy to it. The practice itself is so simple - all you have to do is lie still, keep warm and allow your body to slumber whilst keeping your mind alert. The befits are phenomenal - once you have done an hour of this beautiful practice you will feel as though you have slept for around 4 hours and experienced the kind of sleep that is a restorative. The body will feel calmer and relaxed as well as released! It’s the perfect practice on a Sunday evening. Join me - all details are in the link in my bio ;-) #yoganidra #therelaxseries #taketime #foru #toletgoandunwind #setanintention #getcosy #experiencethedifference #wonderfulbenefits 🙏🏽🌸❤️