Dreaming of a good night's rest?

By Lena Chen and Winnie Wong

Having a good night’s sleep is beneficial for our body and mind and can also be a luxury, especially for busy Singaporeans whose hectic lifestyles make it increasingly hard for them to enjoy 6-8 hours of proper sleep. It may come as a surprise to some that an average person spends up to a third of his life in dreamland. The benefits of sleep are: reducing or getting rid of fatigue, increasing concentration, increasing immunity, allowing physical and mental development and/or regeneration as well as beautifying one’s complexion. Indeed, a night of restful sleep can help a person to wake up feeling energized and ready to face any new challenges for the day!

Having a good night’s sleep is a top priority for maintaining our total well-being. As the Chinese ancients say, “Sleep can deter the rise of illness while loss of sleep will invite illnesses of many sorts, hence, seek not some magical remedy, but the remedy for sleep? Prolonged insomnia can be detrimental to our daily life, eventually resulting in the deterioration of immunity, declining of work productivity, continual fatigue, extreme mood swings, loss of concentration, memory lapses, as well as other physical symptoms such as dizziness, blurred vision, headaches and ringing in ears. In severe cases, it can even result in depression and immune dysfunction. Numerous studies show that sleep deprivation has been found to decrease natural killer cell responses which means that we are more susceptible towards illnesses and recovery time is much longer.

Sleep cures for the sleepless

What exactly is insomnia?

Signs of insomnia include

(i) Difficulty in falling asleep;

(ii) Inability to sleep deeply;

(iii) Difficulty in falling back asleep upon waking up before intended time;

(iv) Agitated waking after a nightmare and feeling as if one has spent his entire sleeping time having nightmares;

(v) Waking up feeling tired and lethargic, even though one was able to sleep through the night.

Possible ways to alleviate insomnia through restoring our body’s natural circadian rhythms are taking drugs or modifying our lifestyle habits. For those who are less inclined towards the use of sleep-inducing drugs, which may lead to dependency and worsening of the condition in the long term, mind-body techniques provide a safe, healthy and effective alternative.

What is mind-body medicine

Most of us intuitively know that anger is bad for health, and stress can make us more susceptible to illnesses. However, in the last couple of decades, what we used to know intuitively is now being scientifically proven by countless of studies done on the impact of stress and negative emotions on one’s physical health. Mind-body researchers at M. D. Anderson’s Integrative Medicine Program evaluated the scientific merit of various mind-body techniques, such as stress management, yoga, music therapy, meditation, expressive writing, and several other behavioral approaches. The results showed that patients who practiced mind-body techniques had better physical functioning and general health and significantly lower levels of sleep-related daytime dysfunction.

With the understanding of the potential that mind-body techniques has for improving one’s well-being and physical health, Mind-Body Medicine has become the main tool in Shan You Counselling Centre’s counselling service for its clients who come for mental and emotional problems in areas of health and interpersonal relationships, including insomnia.

In July this year, the Centre has officially launched a guided imagery audio CD “Sleep Solutions with Evidence-Based Mind-Body Medicine?that can be used as a self-help tool for those with insomnia to improve sleep through relaxation training. Guided imagery, one of the most well-researched mind-body techniques, has been shown to not only ameliorate sleep problems, but also help in reducing stress, wound healing, pain, anxiety and overall quality of life. One participant, who purchased our Sleep CD and used it regularly, shared with us that she was able to reduce the dosage of her sleep medication which she had to take daily, and she was still able to enjoy better quality of sleep.

Try it yourself!

One mind-body technique that can be very helpful in managing sleep problems is autogenic training. Sit in a comfortable position, and allow your body to relax, and then use the following script calmly, while breathing comfortably and easily

I am completely calm (once)

My right arm is very heavy (twice)

I am completely calm (once)

My right arm is very warm (twice)

I am completely calm (once)

My heart beats calmly and regularly (twice)

I am completely calm (once)

My breathing is calm and regular (twice)

I am completely calm (once)

My abdomen is flowingly warm (twice)

I am completely calm (once)

My forehead is pleasantly cool (twice)

I am completely calm (once)

My forehead is pleasantly cool (twice)

This is a very simple script which you could try at home, either by recording your own voice as you read the script in a calm, even tone, or by asking a loved one to read it to you just before bedtime. However, those who have not had any prior experience with such mind-body techniques are recommended to consult a trained psychologist or counsellor or listen to an audio CD with autogenic training scripts. After which, they may do these at home by listening to audio CDs while some may prefer to do their own recordings as they are more comfortable with listening to their own voice which is more familiar.

Live right, sleep tight

Aside from the use of mind-body techniques to better manage sleep problems, it is also important to evaluate one’s lifestyle habits. Insomnia could often be caused by maladaptive lifestyle habits such as a tendency to worry, drinking habits, poor stress management, pre-bedtime routines and others. For some people, insomnia could be caused by a myriad of factors, and this is where it would be helpful to have the support of a professional who can zoom into the actual causes and subsequently recommend the proper action to take.

If you have been bothered by sleep deprivation and nothing else seems to work, you may call Shan You Counselling Centre at 67419293, on Mon-Fri, 9 am - 6 pm, and arrange to meet one of the counsellors who have been trained to specifically help clients to deal with sleep problems using evidence-based mind-body medicine techniques with conventional counselling. Alternatively, you may come down to the Centre, which is located at Block 5 Upper Boon Keng Road #02-15 Singapore 380005, to purchase the guided-imagery audio CD “Sleep Solutions?at the price of $15.

Shan You Counselling Centre wishes for all readers, more restful nights of relaxed, deep sleep that renews and restores health!