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Struggling to fall asleep is a common issue in the UK, with the NHS stating that it’s a problem that regularly affects around one in every three people in the country.

Interestingly, this issue is particularly prevalent among the elderly population. While occasional bouts of insomnia can come and go without causing any significant issues, for some individuals, it can persist for months or even years. Insomnia lasting less than three months is referred to as short-term insomnia, while insomnia that persists for three months or more is known as long-term insomnia.

This condition can have a severe impact on an individual’s health, limiting their daily activities, affecting their mood, and potentially leading to relationship issues with friends, family, and colleagues. While there isn’t a universally recommended amount of sleep, seven to nine hours per night is generally considered normal. However, achieving this can be challenging for those who struggle to fall asleep, reports Gloucestershire Live.

To help with this, Sammy Margo, a sleep expert at Dreams, suggests a technique called the cognitive shuffle. Rooted in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), the cognitive shuffle is designed to distract the mind from thoughts that hinder sleep. It involves engaging in a mental task that is absorbing enough to reduce anxiety but simple enough to signal to the brain that it’s time to rest.

During Mental Health Awareness Week (May 13-19), an annual campaign aimed at raising public awareness about mental health and preventative measures, we’re reminded of the deep impact mental wellbeing has on various aspects of our lives, particularly sleep a crucial element of our overall health and vitality.

Sammy said: “Now, more than ever, it’s important to recognise the significance of prioritising our mental health. The way we think and feel strongly influences our sleep patterns, which in turn, affects our overall quality of life.”

But how do you perform a ‘Cognitive Shuffle’?

Identify negative thought patterns – Sammy says: “Begin by recognising the recurring negative thoughts or worries that may be affecting your sleep. These could include concerns about work, relationships, or uncertainties about the future. You should note how often they occur and the emotions they provoke. Being aware of these patterns is the first step towards addressing them.”

Challenge and reframe – Sammy shares: ‘’Once you’ve identified your negative thought patterns, it’s important to challenge them. Ask yourself questions like, is there any evidence to support this thought, or what advice would I give to a friend in this situation? This process of cognitive restructuring helps you to examine these thoughts more objectively. Then, reframe them into more positive or realistic alternatives. For example, if you’re worrying about an upcoming presentation, remind yourself that you’ve prepared thoroughly and are capable of handling it well.‘’

Practice mindfulness – Sammy comments: ’’Integrate mindfulness techniques into your daily routine to develop greater awareness of your thoughts and emotions without judgement. Set aside time each day for mindfulness practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and traditional yoga methods, such as alternate nostril breathing, which involves alternating between breathing through the left and right nostrils. During these practices, observe your thoughts as they arise, allowing them to pass without becoming entangled in them. This cultivates a sense of calm and non-reactivity, reducing the impact of negative thoughts on your sleep.”

Create a bedtime routine – Sammy advises: ‘’Establishing a bedtime routine that incorporates cognitive shuffling exercises to signal to your brain that it’s time to unwind and prepare for sleep. This routine might involve activities such as journaling about positive experiences from the day, practising gratitude, or engaging in relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation or visualisation. By incorporating these exercises into your nightly routine, you create a calming ritual that primes your mind for restful sleep.’’

Give it a go – Sammy recommends: “Tonight, consider engaging in a cognitive exercise by selecting a random word. From there, challenge yourself to brainstorm additional words, each starting with the letters of your chosen word, and then vividly visualise each of these objects. This process helps redirect the mind’s focus away from stress-inducing thoughts. The word needs to be completely neutral and have no repeating letters, let’s use ‘BED’ in this instance, think of words beginning with B and imagine them, e.g. bucket, binoculars, basketball, brush. If you can’t think of any more words for the letter, move on to the next letter in that word, and if you go through the whole word, pick another, and start the process again.’’

Do you think you may suffer from Insomnia and live in Florida, California or New York?

If so, please consider scheduling a proper virtual online Insomnia and Anxiety diagnosis with one of our physicians. Although we have an online ADHD and Anxiety diagnosis tool, a proper diagnosis from a Board-Certified Medical Doctor will help you know for sure. If appropriate, a customized treatment program will be recommended at the conclusion of that initial visit.

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