The consequences of chronic sleep deprivation are quite serious. Among the greatest health risk is the increase in the risk of accidents: those with insomnia are 2.5 to 4.5 times more likely to have an accident. Not enough sleep has been linked to impaired mood, memory and concentration and has even been shown to dampen immune systems. Yet despite the frequency of insomnia and the severity of side effects, few people are seeking adequate treatment: in the same study mentioned above, the authors noted that only 13% sought help from a health professional and 10% had used medication. Perhaps it is because this is such a common problem, that we have just grown accustomed to this being the new reality (I know you new parents out there are thinking that!). Among many of the treatment options out there, there is evidence to support both biofeedback and behavioural changes as an effective solution to insomnia.
In my practice, where people come to me for help with dysfunctional breathing, there is often an underlying component of poor sleep. The story is almost always the same, in addition to breathing problems, there are issues with "busy brain" - those that think and worry all the time - and difficulties either falling asleep or staying asleep (or both). And what I have found is that for these people, they haven't experienced true rest for a very long time. Sure, they lay down, watch TV, read a book, maybe even meditate. But they very rarely, "let go." Tension in the jaw and neck, upper chest persists. Breathing rates stay high. The chest heaves up and down with each breath. There is no way the body can relax and let go if this is the pattern that dominates. I use a combination of biofeedback and breathing behaviour changes to try to restore what we call "physiological calm" - the true state of rest and relaxation. And more often than not, one of the responses I will get from my patients is that they are experiencing better sleep.
The next time you find yourself lying in bed, mind chattering away at you, heart racing, try this simple exercise to bring your body back to a state of physiological calm:
- Lie on your back with your hands resting lightly on your belly
- Breathe in softly and quietly through your nose and feel your belly rise under your hands
- Breathe out gently - you should not hear your breath coming out, nor should you feel a "breeze" from it
- Feel yourself let go of any tension in your arms
- Repeat the inhale breath, and this time as you breathe out gently, feel the tension release in your shoulders - allow yourself to sink into your bed
- Repeat the inhale breath to the belly; this time breathe out and feel the tension melt from your jaw and face
- Continue to breathe in softly to the belly and out gently allowing yourself to release tension anywhere you feel it
- If thoughts come in to your mind, refocus to the sensations of your breathing