Three top tips for a better sleep

Stress and sleep

When we go through particularly distressful periods of time, our sleep is very often the first habit that can be affected. Given it’s strong role in nurturing our cognitive and physical skills in our daily life, it is important to take care of our sleep habits in exactly the same way we take care of other areas of our lives.

It can happen to anyone to go through particularly difficult periods of time and to experience occasional troubles sleeping.

Indeed, we could have problems falling asleep (the so-called initial insomnia), or we might wake up several times during the night and have problems falling asleep again (middle insomnia) or we might wake up too early in morning, not being able to fall asleep again (terminal insomnia).

Sometimes these problems could be triggered by specific stressful events, by bad habits regarding your sleeping routines or by distorted beliefs about sleep.

No matter what the cause is, if these troubles persist for at least one month and they have a significant impact in your daily life, it is recommended that you take care of the problem and consult a specialist, in order to avoid the chance of it becoming chronic.


Tips for a better sleep

Here are some of the little, but important, tips that are usually recommended in order to adopt a healthy sleep hygiene:

       Check the time spent in the bed

We should not stay in bed for too long if not asleep. Usually the 85% of the total time spent in bed should be ‘sleeping time’; this means that only 15% of this time should be spent awake.

As a consequence, the first tip to keep in mind is that we should spend as little time as possible awake in bed. If you find yourself for an extended period of time awake, with little chances of falling asleep, it is usually better to get out of bed, go to another room or the couch and do something else until you feel sleepy enough to go back to bed.

Why’s this? Our bed should be a stimulus associated only with sleeping. Usually when we have trouble sleeping, we tend to start thinking, worrying and ruminating, fostering our anxiety and waking up our sympathetic system (that definition is not an alli of relaxation and sleep). Spending too much time awake in bed implies indeed the risk of associating it with the experience of being awake and having stressful negative thoughts.

       Stop having naps

Having little naps during the day is not recommended if we tend to have trouble sleeping; think about naps as little thieves, every time we have a daily nap, a portion of our night sleep is stolen.

       Take care of your bedtime routines

If you have trouble sleeping, the preparation before going to bed is particularly important. Try to create some relaxing routines that your body will soon associate to ‘relax/sleep time’ and that can represent a sort of clear boundary between your day time and your night time. Examples could be:

  • having a bath or a particular washing routine
  • having a chamomile or another soothing drink
  • doing something relaxing before going to sleep (listening to music, relaxation techniques, reading a relaxing book etc.)


Looking after your sleep is important. If you feel that you have troubles doing it by yourself, seek help. A psychologist can help you understand the causes of your issues and work on your worries and on the bad habits that could continue to affect negatively your sleep.

Sleep Paralysis: an unsettling sensory experience

Sleep Paralysis

Sleep Paralysis is a very frightening experience that can sometimes happen during sleep.

Here it goes.

You are lying in bed in that special transitional state between sleep and wakefulness. You may be about to fall asleep, or you might have woken up in the middle of the night and are then trying to fall asleep again, or you may be just about to fully wake up in the morning.

In either case, what actually happens is that your mind is fully aware of being awake but your body is unable to move. It doesn’t matter how hard you try but no muscle will eventually respond to your orders. Obviously you might feel frightened and you will most likely have several thoughts crossing your mind, such as: What’s happening to me? Am I paralysed? I want to call for help but I’m not even able to open my mouth and utter a single word!

This temporary paralysis can last from a few seconds up to even 10-15 minutes. After a while you will eventually regain control of your own body but this represents quite a shocking experience that won’t easily be forgotten.

Another disquieting feature of sleep paralysis is the fact that most of the times it is accompanied by hallucinatory phenomena, adding to the experienced sense of fear.

The most common kind of hallucinatory phenomenon reported, is the perception of a threatening presence in the room, as if there were an intruder. Sometimes this presence is more intensively perceived through the senses than just merely detected: it could even be seen, heard or smelled. Those who have gone through this kind of unsettling experience can also report they were being touched or even attacked by this ‘alleged’ presence as though a weight was pressing them down on the chest, leaving them unable to move or preventing them from sitting up.

It is indeed quite a disturbing experience.

Another particular but less common hallucinatory phenomenon that can accompany Sleep Paralysis, is an Out-of-Body experience (OBE).

The person is paralysed in bed but has the feeling that their own soul is leaving the body, flying and floating in the room or even outside of the house, watching the body from an external perspective. Contrary to the intruder hallucination, this kind of experience is usually associated to very positive feelings.


Sleep paralysis seems to be caused by a REM-sleep intrusion into wakefulness. REM-sleep is a stage of sleep where our muscles are almost totally atonic.

It is rare yet it can occur if the transition between REM-sleep and wakefulness is quick and sudden; as a matter of fact, the brain maintains the body in an atonic state ‘by mistake’.

Some authors suggest that the reason why hallucinations tend to accompany sleep paralysis lies in the activation of the so called ‘vigilance system’. The potential threat of the sleep paralysis experience activates this system, whose aim is to scan and monitor the environment in search of potential dangers. In this singular and ambiguous situation, the brain may very easily misinterpret environmental signals (Cheyne, 2002; Cheyne, 2007).

Experiencing Sleep Paralysis once in a while shouldn’t worry you excessively.

Sleep deprivation, having an irregular sleep-wake rhythm or going through a stressful period can well trigger this phenomenon.

Furthermore, sleep paralysis is a frequent symptom of narcolepsy.

If this phenomenon is recurrent then consulting a sleep specialist is warmly recommended.

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