10 steps to better sleep

Sleep is an issue for many people. They either can’t get to sleep, stay asleep or wake up early. Some sleep too little or too much. Here are ten tips to help you get the most out of your sleep.

How can I get the best sleep?
There are lots of things you can do to increase your chance of quality sleep.

1. Look at environmental factors. Sleep is much better if the room is cooler than when it is warm. Is the room too dark or too light? Generally, sleep is much better if the room is dark. Reduce noise. Noise can come from inside and outside. Think about what you can do to minimise the noise. Consider your sleeping arrangements if your partner snores or sleep talks in a way that is disturbing for you. Is your partner restless during the night and their toss and turnings disturb you? Consider whether it might be better to sleep in different rooms. It doesn’t stop you sharing a bed, just that if you want to go to sleep, one of you moves to a different bed or room. (Note: it is worth having snoring checked out as it often indicates poor quality sleep is going on).

2. Avoid screens. By this I mean screens from tech such as computers, tablets, phones and televisions etc. Screens emit blue light. Blue light indicates to your body that it is daytime and therefore time to be awake. Some tech now comes with a blue light filter to help. However, screens tend to be stimulating. Think about whether you really need to check your Instagram, Facebook or Twitter account just as you are going to bed.

3. Keep the bedroom for the “Three S’s”. I.e. Sleep, sex and stories! Stories should be relaxing stories, not over stimulating ones. Avoid using your room for things other than these, e.g. work or watching television so that it becomes associated as a sleepy place to be.

4. Avoid eating and drinking a lot in the hours leading up to sleep. Drinking can mean that you wake up in the night to go to the toilet. Caffeine is a stimulant that stays in your body for a few hours so is best avoided for several hours before you go to sleep. Eating food late a night can interfere with sleep. On the other hand, don’t go to bed ravenously hungry because that will not help you to sleep either!

5. Avoid alcohol and tobacco. Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking in the lead up to going to bed. Both alcohol and tobacco can interfere with your body’s ability to sleep.

6. Avoid exercise in the evening. Exercise is stimulating and releases feel good hormones. It is a great and important thing to do for our wellbeing and mental health. However, it can also wake you up. Doing a sensible amount of physical exercise during the day will also help you sleep. The exercise doesn’t necessarily need to be a heavy session at the gym it can be as simple as parking in a further away car parking space, not leaving things at the bottom of the stairs but taking them up straight away or going for a brisk 20 minute walk.

7. Keep a notepad by your bed. Perhaps you have one of those minds that likes to remind you of some important fact just before you go to sleep… and it is really important that you don’t forget to do it tomorrow! Keeping a notebook by your bed to write these things down so that you do not have to remember them is a really helpful tip.

8. Do not stay in bed if you can’t sleep. If you have not fallen asleep in 20 minutes, get up. Get up, leave the room and go and do something restful in a different room for quarter of an hour or so and then come back and try again. Give it another 20 minutes and then get up and leave the room. Go and do something restful in a different room for quarter of an hour and then come back. If you cannot sleep, try playing music at a volume that you can just hear. This is so that your bed becomes associated as a place to sleep.

9. Keep a routine. Our body and mind like routine. Ask the parents putting a baby or toddler to bed… there is a wind down time, bath and toothbrushing time, story time and bedtime in a darkened room. We take clues from what we are doing. Try doing the same thing as part of your routine and make sure that you go to bed and then get up at the same times each day if possible. Examples of things to include in your routine are a warm drink (caffeine free), warm bath or shower, listening to relaxing music. Start your routine about one and a half hours before you go to bed and include a relaxation exercise. Try not to nap during the day.

10. Be comfortable. Is your bed comfy? Maybe you need to consider a new bed or mattress that would be more comfortable to you. Increasing the amount of fun and nice activities that we do during the day and night helps us to relax. It doesn’t need to be anything major but can be small things like enjoying spending time with a little one. In these times of lock down maybe it is meeting up with a friend over the internet and having a virtual cuppa together.

If you have any comments or would like to make an enquiry, please email me at louise@newcastlecounselling.co.uk.

What is Sleep?

Sleep. We all know that we need it: we feel out of sorts when we don’t have enough quality sleep and feel refreshed when we do. But what is it about sleep that makes it so important? How much is enough? What can we do to get the most out of our sleep?

What is sleep?

Wikipedia defines sleep as a naturally recurring state of mind and body, characterized by altered consciousness, relatively inhibited sensory activity, reduced muscle activity and inhibition of nearly all voluntary muscles during rapid eye movement sleep, and reduced interactions with surroundings. It is distinguished from wakefulness by a decreased ability to react to stimuli, but more reactive than a coma or disorders of consciousness, with sleep displaying very different and active brain patterns.

What does this mean?

During sleep we go through several phases of sleep: pre-sleep, light sleep, deep sleep (also known as slow wave sleep) and REM (Rapid eye movement sleep). Each of these phases has specific qualities.

During pre-sleep our body slows down, heart rate and breathing rates slow and our muscles start to relax. We are not properly asleep during this phase, alternating between sleeping and being awake.

During light sleep, we are properly asleep, however it is easy for us to wake and when we do we have a good sense of our surroundings.

During deep sleep it is hard for us to awaken and when we do we tend to feel confused and disorientated. Deep sleep should encompass the biggest proportion of our sleep.

During REM sleep (which takes up about 20% of our sleep time) we dream.

It is common that we wake for a few seconds every couple of hours

Why do we sleep?
Sleep is a mysterious activity. In evolutionary terms it might be seen to make little sense – when we sleep we are open to attack by predators. So, why haven’t we evolved in a way that minimised or eliminated it?

What we do know about sleep is that it somehow allows us to process the day’s activities and thoughts, to repair our bodies and ensure that our hormones and internal biochemistry is working the best it can be.

We also know the effects of too little quality sleep: poor concentration, feeling tired, low mood, grumpy, forgetfulness, stress etc. We also know that lack of sleep makes us more prone to health issues such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease etc.

How much sleep do we need?
It is commonly quoted that people need 8 hours sleep. This is an average amount and the real need is dependent on each individual with some people only needing a few hours and others 10 or 12 hours.

See my next blog to see how you can get the most out of your sleep: Ten steps to better sleep.

If you have any comments or enquiries, please email me at louise@newcastlecounselling.co.uk.

How many chimney pots?

Hi, Louise here from Newcastle Counselling. I am a counsellor and EFT practitioner based in Newcastle upon Tyne.

As autumn approaches, I’ve been enjoying the light as it plays down on buildings and through the leaves on trees. I’ve been reflecting on how it can help ease the feelings of stress in our lives.

The benefits of exercise are well known. Going for a walk can help us when we feel down, release tension when we feel stressed and give our minds greater clarity. I would like to suggest a small change to the way you walk so that you can reap even greater benefits.

When you walk, I would like you to count the chimney pots! Or look at the light through the leaves on the trees. Or decipher the clouds into mythical creatures. Try this for a week and notice any changes in your mood.

We don’t just communicate with others by our body language, we also communicate with ourselves. Did you know that when people were asked to hold a pen between their teeth whilst a joke was told, they found the joke funnier than those who just heard it? The reason is that your face is ”forced” into a smile. There is feedback from the smile which the brain interprets as something being funny.

Spend a moment reflecting on phrases we use that describe body language. “Things were looking up…” when things are going well. “He was downcast” when he was feeling low. “On their knees…” when they were feeling desperate. There are many of them.

If we walk looking up, then our spirits will be lifted too. I am not saying that this will fix all your ills and make life perfect, but it is a helpful tool to have in your kit. It can help lift low mood and relieve stress and anxiety. However, do watch where you are walking so you don’t fall down a manhole!

I work with folk who are feeling stressed and anxious or are overwhelmed with life. I help them through counselling and EFT (which is a bit like acupuncture for emotions where you tap on parts of your body rather than use needles) to develop strategies to help them deal with stress, anxiety and low mood.

If you feel you would like some help, then please get in touch with me at Newcastle Counselling: 07901 218 165 or louise@newcastlecounselling.co.uk (see the contact page). I have bases in Gosforth and Jesmond. I also offer on-line counselling services.

 

Are You Missing Out?

Are you focusing on the wood amongst the trees and missing out on seeing the deer?

 

When I was at primary school, the bell would ring three times to mark a change in lessons.  Whenever there was a fire drill, the same bell would ring continuously for a time.  If it was a lesson change-over or lunch time you had to line up by the classroom door.  If it was the fire drill you lined up at the fire-door in alphabetical order.  Sometimes I would be confused and line up at the wrong door.  The thing is, I was picked on and called names because of this.  Why?  My surname began with an ‘A’ so it was obvious I had gone to the wrong place!

Moving forward in time.

At university, I would go out to clubs and pubs.  I particularly hated going to night clubs.  I am short.  All my friends where somewhat taller than me (not hard!).  Night clubs are noisy, any conversation took place above my ears so it was hard for me to hear.

Moving forward in time again.  I started my counselling training.  I seemed to find it harder to hear discussions taking place in a big room more than most.  By this time in my life I had realised that my hearing was not as good as other people’s.  I had just accepted how things were as I could hear well enough.  However, once I was practising counselling skills while training I thought it would be worth seeing if my hearing was actually worse than I had realised.

Guess what?  I have significant hearing loss.  In truth, this loss had not been a big problem beyond awkwardness and embarrassment at giving the wrong or bizarre comments in conversations.  I did not know anything different.  I had done well at school, university and enjoyed different hobbies.  I had had a successful career as a dentist.  I had an eclectic taste in music.

I will never forget the day I got my hearing aids.  It was a beautiful spring day.  A friend came with me and thought I was hilarious.  You see, I did not know that the indicators tick in a car.  I did not know you can hear puddles when you drive through them.  I did not realise how loud pedestrian crossing beeps are.  Every time I had a new sound I couldn’t help but comment on it!

When I got home and opened the car door I froze in my tracks.  We have birds that nest in the front garden.  The sound they make is beautiful and I have always enjoyed it.  This time was different.  I had no idea how musical they were.  It was astounding!  All these notes!  It was the most amazing sound I have ever heard and I sat in the car with the door open listening to it for 15 minutes before I could drag myself away.

Over the next few days I found other sounds and qualities of sound.  Music gained more dimensions.  I misinterpreted less words.  Don’t get me wrong – it was strange and took a while to adjust to but there was a new world for me to discover that I did not know existed.

 

My question to you…

What are you missing out on?

Are you blinded by work?

Are you deaf to the child within you that is pleading to be heard?

Are you overwhelmed by stress?

Have the expectations of others (or yourself) put you in a box so that that is your world?

 

Perhaps it would be worth spending a little time reflecting, listening and looking to see.

 

If you would like help to explore these then give me a call and arrange an initial free chat to see if counselling is for you on 07901 218 165.

A Game of Chess Anyone?

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As anyone knows who has played me chess with me, I have one strategy, split into two parts.

  • Get both Queens off the board as soon as possible.
  • Eliminate at least half the pieces on each side as soon as possible.

For me, the only way for me to find a way through the game is to clear some space.

It’s not a bad analogy for life (at least the way I play chess: I know grandmasters will disagree).  Chess is complicated with thousands of different combinations of movement of pieces available for each game.  So it is in life.  In chess some moves may be inconsequential, whilst others are key.  So it is in life.  In chess some of the key moves involve a lowly pawn and the “neither here nor there” move uses a high piece.  So it is in life.  Sometimes choices are to be made where it really doesn’t matter and other times it is and it is not always the big decisions that have the most significance in our lives.  Sometimes, sacrifices have to be made.  So it is in life.

There are fundamental differences between life and a chess board (just in case you haven’t noticed!).  We do not have to move in a prescribed fashion, nor is the function of our life to obliterate the other side (whatever the other side is), nor is our world black and white.  However, what many of us share is the desire to achieve a goal.

Some of our local schools are running chess competitions and I know a few of the kids taking part.  Listening to them exchanging strategies and de-constructing games played to see how they can improve is fascinating.

What is your strategy to reach your goal?  Have you actually thought about it or just jumped in with both feet?  Which decisions really matter and which can you relax about?

Personally, I probably need to de-clutter; metaphorically and literally, just as I do when I play chess.  Being in a room that is full of unfinished paperwork, half-drunk cups of tea and general-untidiness, is not good for me.  Perhaps I need to pay attention to my chess strategy and create some space so that I can see what I have, what I haven’t and where I need to go next.

The only problem in writing this blog is that I have now given away my one and only strategy for chess!  Game anyone?

 

 

If you would like some help to explore issues you are having in life, then please do get in touch by email: louise@newcastlecounselling.co.uk or phone 07901 218 165

“In the Middle of Difficulty Lies Opportunity”

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Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

However, sometimes, the path seems long.  In fact, not only is it long and full of challenging obstacles to cross but it’s uphill with the end not in sight.

It is really important in those times to look after yourself, to take a break, look around you for support.  The person in the photographs appears to be alone.  It must be hard to cross a fast flowing river on your own, especially when ahead there is only fog, mist and a mountain to climb.  It must feel overwhelming.

Yet, he is not really alone.  There is at least one other person there: the one who took the photograph.  By talking to that person, perhaps together they can support each other, bringing comfort and a different perspective.

Sometimes, the path can be too difficult or dangerous to travel at this time.  Perhaps you haven’t yet developed the skills, are not strong enough or perhaps you need more help.  In the middle of photo-1433878455169-4698e60005b1this difficulty is opportunity.  Opportunity to learn something about yourself, to be real with yourself and opportunity to learn something about others.  Allowing yourself to step back and see things from a distance away can enable you to do that with greater clarity.  You may identify strengths you didn’t know you had, see support where you felt there was none or a sign pointing in which direction you should travel.

The quote, “Every cloud has a silver lining,” can feel so unhelpful at times and as a colleague pointed out, it more often feels like, “Every silver lining has a cloud!”

Both can be helpful.  Both give an opportunity to learn.  We learn as much from the hard stuff as the good, be it the cloud giving us insight or the joy of finding the silver lining under the cloud.

Are you finding opportunities in the midst of difficulty with clouds and silver linings, whichever combination they appear in?

 

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If you would like to explore difficulty and opportunity in your life further with me, then please drop me an email on louise@newcastlecounselling.co.uk or call me on 07901 218 165.

 

 

What does this picture say to you?

I have asked a few people about this picture and it has been described in different ways. Some talked about the “physical properties” of the picture (for example, it’s a trike outside a house,” others talked about the trike, for others the photo provoked their own memories or caused them to project stories onto the image. It was interesting to see how thoughts changed as they examined the photograph more carefully.

Some people saw the image as sad: a trike chained so it can’t be played with. Others saw it as full of love: a trike chained so it wouldn’t be stolen. Some noticed straightaway that there was a broken rear wheel, missing handlebar tassel and possible missing pedal; others took a little while. All agreed that the wheels seem to be somewhat bent, the handlebars rusting (one missing a tassel), the paint work is generally in a good state with the seat saddle looking pristine and the owner’s name clearly written on the wheel.

What do you see when you look at it?
A story?
A memory?
A metaphor?

For me, this photo conjures up an image of a much loved trike, racing around corners, coming close to knocking people over whilst a friend rides on the steps on the back clinging onto the driver whilst squealing in delight at the race.

I noticed the wonkiness of the wheels. Perhaps there was a tumble: cut knees and grazed elbows, shock and tears. Then, more tears as the realisation dawns that the beloved trike is damaged. I wondered if the owner was fearful of how their carers’ might respond to the carnage of damaged trike and hurt people. Perhaps they had already been warned not to go too fast? Perhaps they had been sent to on an errand and were later home than agreed?

The trike is very securely secured to a post of some sort. Very securely! A heavy duty chain with an even heavier duty padlock. The message is sent, “I am off limits, leave me alone!”

On the post itself, there is a huge plaster… the kind that you stick over a cut knee. I wonder whether it is there as an assurance to the trike’s owner that just as their wounds are being tended to, their trike will not be forgotten either and is being kept safe until it is time to look at it.

I may be a soppy over thinker but I think there is a metaphor for life here.

Life can be fun, racing round, carrying friends, friends carrying you. Sometimes it gets a little scary as you round a corner too quickly. Sometimes you make an error of judgement and don’t stop quickly to avoid collision or stop too early before the finish line and not reaping your rewards. Other times, life plain gets in the way and you hit a pothole which send you flying.

It is important to surround ourselves with people who can help us put ourselves back together again, giving us the TLC we need so we can get back on the bike. Perhaps, it is not just you but your trike that needs attention? Perhaps you need to stop and check your brakes and that your wheels are on straight so that you can get the most out of life. Perhaps too, we don’t need to spend too much time worrying about the aesthetics of life… do unpolished handlebars really matter when you are doing what you need to do, playing (taking account of others) and having fun at the same time.

When you see a snap shot in time of life, what assumptions do you make about it? Is it really representative of what it appears to encapsulate. Photographs lie but can also tell the truth. To help work out which, you need to know the story behind it. My challenge to you?… Don’t make assumptions that things are rosy because they look rosy or bleak because they look bleak. Look at what is in front and behind and see what can be learned from.

“Live Life as though nobody is watching, and express yourself as though everyone is listening”

Nelson Mandela.

 

 

When we were growing up we had a cat.  She had a beautiful nature: she’d come and find you when you were upset, she never bit or scratched but would walk away when annoyed.

When she got older it was as if she decided that she had to be more serious.  She stopped behaving like a kitten, chasing leaves, feathers and toys around the house.  Except… except when she thought no-one was looking!

Sometimes, when I had been alone and quiet in the house I would hear her going nuts running around the house.  I’d walk into the kitchen and she’d stop and look at me as if to say, “it wasn’t me, honest!”  Other times we would see her in the garden chasing leaves but as soon as we went out she’d stop and walk away disinterested in the leaf.

There were times we would play with her, dancing tin-foil balls on strings.  She would love it and then suddenly realise what she was doing and stop.

The cat loved playing those games and we loved watching her.  However, as she got older it was as if having fun was something you did when no-one was watching.

On another occasion, I remember listening at the door to children playing a game.  They were totally disinhibited.  The sounds were of animated discussion, raucous laughter and serious points of opinion being expressed about how the princesses were to be saved by the knight from the big monster.  They were so engaged, they hadn’t spotted me.  Suddenly, they did.  Their faces blushed and the noise quietened.  I commented that the game they were playing sounded great fun and said that there was no need to stop playing (and by the way, here are biscuits and drinks).  They returned to their game but a little more inhibited it than when they were unaware that someone was listening.

I think that there are lessons to be learned here.  Of course we need to be aware of our surroundings and take them into account in our behaviour and attitudes.  However, there are times we need to just “let our hair down” (for those of us who have hair) and relax, be ourselves.  Perhaps, in doing so, we might even discover more about who we are.

If you feel you would like to explore more about who you are or would like to find out more about whether counselling is right for you, email me at louise@newcastlecounselling.co.uk.

 

Newcastle Counselling, meeting you wherever you are on your personal journey.

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Are you up for some criticism?

Or, when criticism comes do you feel like hiding?

 

When a person feels valued, they are more likely to be open and receptive to what is said to them.

Have you ever been in the position where someone is giving you some well-meaning advice?  Perhaps that advice is sorely needed (making mistakes and needing guidance is a normal part of human life).  Perhaps you don’t actually need the advice but they are the type of person who has an innate need to give it to you anyway.

 

How do you respond when that advice is given?

Do you nod your head in appreciation of their wise thoughtful comments?

Do you give them the impression that you are listening, giving careful consideration to their thoughts whilst internally screaming at them to, “Shut up!”

Do you tell them what you think?

Are you so used to hearing well-meant suggestions and criticism that you doubt your ability to effectively deal with the scenario or activity at hand?

Have you been in the reverse situation where you have been giving a friend, colleague or family member some sound advice?  How have they responded?

 

Being able to give advice or constructive criticism is a valuable skill to have in life.  No one likes to hear they are doing something badly. Imagine a teacher who tells a pupil that they work hard, their spelling could be better but the imaginative story lines they come up with are great.  That teacher will likely get a more positive response from the child than the one who only points out the spelling errors.

I once heard a statistic that for every positive comment a child hears, they hear ten negative ones.  That is not just from teachers but parents, family, friends, strangers, the world.  Is it not surprising that their eyes glaze over when we point out they would have a fully charged phone if their room was tidy enough to find the charger in the first place!

Just stop and think for a moment.  Who in your life (real or imagined/fictional) are you most likely to listen to what they say, receive it and then weigh it up to see if it applies to you in your situation?  What were they like?  How did they treat you?  How did they speak to you?

I am guessing that they are someone who listened to you, would have heard your opinion and, most importantly, communicated that you are a valuable person.

Why not spend a little time imagining the “perfect” characteristics that would allow you to be receptive to advice that is being offered.  That doesn’t mean that the advice given is correct but that you can hear it, consider it and weigh up whether it is appropriate and then feel free to act as you choose.

Having spent some time thinking about how you would like to be advised, spend some time contemplating the other side of the coin and how you could better communicate ideas to others.

 

As an aside to all this; if you are someone who does not love or respect yourself it is hard to love and respect others.  Struggling with self-hate and self-name-calling sabotages our ability to live life to the full and affects our relationships with others.  Learning to love and respect yourself is not about becoming selfish or self-centred, it is about becoming self-aware and learning how to grow as a person and setting yourself free from yourself.

Just as a child will often hear ten negative comments for every single positive, the same was probably true for you when you were a child.  These words are “graffiti” written on our hearts and can become incorporated into our identity.  The good news is that they don’t have to stay there!

 

If you would like to explore more, then please contact me on louise@newcastlecounselling.co.uk

 

Newcastle Counselling, helping you to explore wherever you are on your person journey.


 

“If you have nothing to dance about, find a reason to sing.”

Melody Carstairs

People have always sung.  All cultures do it; perhaps by humming a repetitive tone, creating a beat or fluttering melodies.  Singing (and music) is known to be beneficial.  It makes us feel good.  You can’t turn on the television without there being some kind or music or talent show.  The radio is full of music.  People are walking around with their headphones glued to their ears listening to music.  Why would we do this if it wasn’t so pleasant?  The answer is that we wouldn’t.

Singing is thought to release endorphins and oxytocin.  These are chemicals that are produced by the body in times of stress and distress.  Broadly speaking, they help to alleviate stress and anxiety.  Endorphins also are the body’s natural painkillers (they work in a similar way to codeine and morphine without the addictive side-effects).  They can create feelings of euphoria and wellbeing.

If you want to think of other examples where singing has been therapeutic just consider the times that a baby is sung to sleep or comforted by a song.  All of us have an inner child (even if we don’t want to admit it).

I was thinking of a teenager I know who struggles with anxiety.  She discovered that playing the piano and singing would make her feel better much quicker than moping about in her room.  Being a teenager, part of her wanted to mope and that was fine but sometimes it got in the way of doing things she wanted to do.  She discovered that singing One Direction songs loudly served two purposes… it punished her brother and made her feel much better.  Her parents will now suggest she goes for a “sing” in her room.

Why not try having a “good old sing-song” yourself?  It’s great because not only does it release these “feel good” hormones, it helps you to control your breathing.  You don’t need to know the words, la la la is fine, as is humming.  If you are finding that you are stuttering over your words, you may find that singing them helps you to get then out easily.

Any song works.  I know someone who sings “Jingle Bells” at any time of year.  If you don’t know what to sing or perhaps life is too hard or sad to sing then sing a song about that.  Country music and blues are full of songs about hard times.  If singing the song means that you start to cry, then that can be cathartic too.  Allow yourself to express your joy, anger, excitement and sadness.  What you are feeling is what you are feeling.

If you want to maximise the positive effects of singing, consider joining a group.  Singing in a group is known to have an especially positive effect.  You don’t need to be good.  The others in the group don’t need to be good.  The group doesn’t need to be good!  Just singing together, as a unit is positive.  It is possible that this is to do with creating a sense of belonging and community.  We all like to know we belong.

If you feel that you would like to explore things further with me, then please contact me at: louise@newcastlecounselling.co.uk.

@FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Stuart Miles