Maxine Cook is a psychologist, complementary therapist and sleep disorder treatment specialist. She works with clients that have a long-standing problem with sleep that has become a chronic condition.
People generally tend to grossly underestimate the importance of good sleep. I’ve had countless conversations with people who say to me, ‘Oh, I haven’t slept well for years!’ It is all too often dismissed with a bit of a chuckle and a wave of the hand as if it’s not that important.
That is, however, a situation where not realising how critical it is to get a good night’s sleep (not just occasionally but regularly) is, in fact, costing people their health and in some cases their lives.
Most people are not aware of the real science of sleep, and the extent to which restorative rest supports and maintains the immune system, organ function and emotional health.
We are biologically designed to heal ourselves through various automatic processes. A direct example of this is the body’s ability to seal off a break in the skin (with a scab), to help prevent infection. Another is the body’s manufacture of white blood cells that directly attack viruses and overcome bacteria that can impair or destroy the healing process.
It is all part of our biological barometer of homeostasis, where our bodies seek to systemically maintain us at an optimal level of temperature, satiety, hydration etc. Sleep is the biggest enabler of healing and homeostasis. We are pre-programmed to go down to a baseline level of sleep each night where the body and brain automatically repair and heal from a wide variety of emotional stressors and physical complaints.
For most people, however, modern life and the stresses and challenges they bring – act as direct blocks to us getting to that level. Sleep dysfunction is becoming a problem of epidemic proportions, all across the world, prompting scientists to learn more about what lack of sleep means in real terms for our health and wellbeing.
When we experience sleep deprivation, we tend to become well acquainted with the more salient aspects of it, such as irritability, exhaustion, and an inability to concentrate. We understand how that affects our reaction times, our thought processes, our ability to sustain healthy relationships and function well at work, etc. What we tend to be less aware of – is becoming disconnected from our homeostatic process and the systemic damage we incur as a result.
If sleeplessness goes on for a long time (as in more than a few days), we actively sabotage our own ability to heal. Our immune system, for example, literally loses its ability to protect us from infection. We also fail to remain robust enough to avoid emotional consequences as well, such as anxiety and depression. These can arise when the brain doesn’t get the chance to restore and strengthen mental functioning as one of the natural healing functions facilitated by good sleep.
Sleep is the most fundamental cornerstone of health and wellbeing. Regular good quality sleep is critical to maintaining health and optimising lifespan. Insomnia can directly and systematically sabotage both. In short, we can get sick when we don’t need to, and we can die years before we’re supposed to, as a direct result of not getting enough sleep.
Each person is individually affected by sleep dysfunction. There are different types of insomnia that affect people in different ways, at different times, and for different reasons. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ remedy, which is why I tailor specific Sleep Reset Programs to individual needs.
I carry out a comprehensive health, lifestyle, environmental and social assessment with each client to determine where they are currently at, how they got there, and what individual factors are contributing to their sleep problems. I look at symptomatology and how the client’s life and health are being affected, and I then set up a treatment protocol that will deal directly with the issues that a particular client is facing.
There may be a need for brainwave re-patterning (retraining the brain to go down to the optimal baseline level of restorative, healing sleep), circadian rhythm re-setting, lifestyle changes and cognitive reframing. It could be a combination of strategies, depending on the individual. Happily, for most people, these changes are not radical.
They are more of a gentle modification, a series of tweaks and re-balances that provide a more stable platform for the treatment program to work. For instance, someone may need to eat at a different time in the evening or stop drinking coffee at a specific time of the day. They may need to simply think differently about what it means to go to bed to sleep or adjust their expectations of the capabilities of their bodies and brains.
It takes the brain roughly 60 days to learn a new habit and get rid of an old one. My most popular program runs for eight weeks, after which the vast majority of my clients have learned to sleep properly again and also the necessary tools and strategies to ensure it stays that way.
I also have a more intensive 12-week program which is only needed by about 5% of clients. They often have a more deep-seated cognitive or psychological dysfunction (e.g. trauma response or PTSD) that requires more intensive psychological support. I offer complimentary preliminary assessments to people considering a Sleep Reset Program, where we identify the issues and discuss suitability.
The good news is that, barring an underlying medical problem, most sleep disorders are relatively easy and straightforward to correct. With time and commitment to the process, most people do resolve their sleep issues.
Maxine’s Top Tips For Better Sleep
Make sure you are adequately hydrated before going to bed. If your body needs the water, you won’t wake up in the night to go to the loo.
Sleep in a room at the optimal temperature on 18C which significantly increases the chances of good sleep.
Don’t wear restrictive clothing to bed and try to avoid synthetic fibres. The body operates well with natural materials such as cotton or silk.
Don’t read in bed to fall asleep. Read in another room, then when you feel sleepy, go to bed. The brain then learns to associate bed with sleep.
Use foam earplugs if you’re a light sleeper, as this will filter out specific noise frequencies that might keep you awake or wake you up.
Try to go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each day, this will help reset circadian rhythms.
Don’t eat a full meal late at night – aim to have your evening meal finished at least two and a half hours before going to bed.