Sleep as the greatest medication


People often do not link the coffee they had in the afternoon to their terrible night sleep, but caffeine has a half life (how long it takes for 50% to exit your system) of 5-7 hours, so the hormone that encourages sleep in your brain will still be fighting the caffeine molecules into the early hours of the morning. Caffeine is in many teas, energy drinks as well as medications. Also decaffeinated coffee, does not mean it contains no caffeine. If you are struggling to sleep it’s inportant to become very mindful of your caffeine consumption.

Getting 8 hours sleep a night is so essential to almost every mental and physical function. Seeing as we spend about 1/3 of our lives sleeping it’s not surprising that it is the greatest medication and rejuvenation that we can give ourselves every day, as otherwise it would have been weaned out through natural selection. If you need caffeine before midday to function properly you are most likely masking your sleep depravation. If you didn’t set an alarm clock would you sleep past that time? If the answer is yes, this is a good indicator that you might be sleep deprived. Do you find yourself re-reading a sentence? This too is a sign your brain is sleep deprived.

Every night we experience sleep cycles and at the beginning of the night you experience more NRem sleep which weeds out connections that we do not need, While Rem sleep is in a higher percentage later on in the sleep cycle and this strengthens pathways and memories. Thus, by either going to bed late or waking up early you are shortchanging your brain out of the full benefit of one of those key processes and the likely result is that of physical and mental complications. I have found a book on audible called ‘Why we Sleep’ by Matthew Walker fascinating to understand the sleep cycle and functionality of sleep. He states that “when it comes to sleep, there is no such thing as burning the candle at both ends, or one end, and getting away with it”.

Sleeping pills, like alcohol, sedate you and do not allow natural sleep cycles and do not consolidate memory to the same extent and have been suggested to in fact erase them. They also lead to cycles of sleeping pills – next day grogginess – increased caffeine intake – more sleeping pills – it often perpetuates the insomnia. This is in addition to rebound insomnia when you stop the medication, due to withdrawal.

Some things that people find useful if they are struggling to sleep:

Avoid caffeine (including chocolates), nicotine (this is a stimulant and can result in waking up early) and alcohol (this keeps you in the light stages of sleep and results in waking up as alcohol wears off).

Decelerate mental activity before bed- ie. Don’t work right up until sleeping or do anything increasing thoughts, anxiety, or heart rate. A relaxing activity like reading, listening to music should be part of your bedtime.

Increase your physical activity per day, but two to three hours before bed. But it’s often been found that sleep has more of an influence on exercise than vice versa. A sedinentary life has a large effect on quantity and quality of sleep.

Have a cool room and darkeness. Also ear plugs and an eye mask can be useful.

Have sun exposure, it’s key for sleep patterns. Try to get morning sun.

Set a regular bed time and wake up time, even on weekends no matter what – most significant one. Set an alarm for bedtime.

Avoid sleeping on sofa in the evening and daytime napping if you are struggling to sleep at night.

Prevent clock watching anxiety at night by removing clocks.

Some medications you might be taking  might effect your sleep patterns so it’s worth checking with your GP.

Set an alarm that deprives you of sleep slightly, so that a hormone that encourages sleep builds up over time. Limit to 6 hours for example.

Avoid going to bed too full or hungry and avoid a bias towards sugar and carbohydrates.

No use of phones 45 mins before bed

No use of social media before bed

A hot bath before bed with candles and dimmed lights.

The ‘Head Space’ App for Sleep

Peppermint tea

Listening to podcasts, audio books, David Attenborough or Blue Planet. I in fact found that listening to the audio book mentioned above on sleep strangely sent me immediately to sleep at night or if I was struggling to sleep in the early hours.

If you work from home or work for yourself, why not try and be attuned to what your sleep cycle is, are you a ‘morning lark’ or ‘night owl’? Why not allow yourself to fall in line with your sleep cycle, you will feel better for it.

Then obviosuly I would recommend therapy over sleeping pills for continued improved sleep and to avoid the side effects of sleeping pills.



Emmy Van Deurzen in Paradox & Passion

“Even at the best of times, life is a constant cycle of ups and downs, achievements and failures, encounters and separations, joys and sorrows, hopes and disappointments. Exposure to these contradictions generates emotions that can easily swing us out of our precarious balance, bouncing us out of our comfort zone, pushing us towards the abyss. There are times when we just seem to hit one obstacle after another until we reach a new zentith of experience where we feel quite lost, despondent and at the mercy of fate” (p2).


Family Systems

black sheep

This week I attended a course on family systems and the thing that stood out most was the ‘identified patient’ within families. So often one member of the family is seen as ill and acts as the scapegoat for the family’s problems, when in fact it is a family, systemic problem and all members are playing a role in the maintenance of this.  In fact, the ‘patient’s’ expressions of illness or madness are often adaptive attempts to survive in an intolerable situation and upon exploration make complete sense. Each family has its own ‘official story’ and this includes each individual members’ roles, where and with whom the problem lies and with this comes certain expectations and assumptions. What is your family’s story? What are your implicit family rules and values? For example, how might you answer:

We are the family that always….

We are the family that values…. and never is one that….

Families resist change and try to keep the homeostasis, so inevitably if you start to change, the system is required to change and the functionality of the family will be reflected in its ability to adapt to the changing needs of individual members.

Here are some questions that I found useful to consider:

What does family mean to you? What strengths have you gained from it, as well as how has it hindered the way you relate and see yourself, others and the world? Who is included in your family – are friends, cousins, or just immediate family? How do members in your family tend to communicate? How is conflict managed? Who makes the decisions and when? Where are the coalitions and who feels responsible for whom? As a child how were you responded to when you cried or expressed a feeling and what did you need? How has this informed the way that you manage feelings and express feelings today? How has your sibling position effected who you are today? We tend to operate in triangles where there are always two insiders and one outsider, but the switch between these dynamics can happen quickly. Where do the triangles exist within your family and what is it like to be in such triangles? What are the benefits and costs to your family role and how could you change your position?

We so often reenact our family roles in new groups and relationships. Where do you tend to respond in your family role? How is your identity informed by and differentiated to your family’s?

Where is home for you? Is it one place or multiple? Is it a physical place or an inner sense of home that you take with you? Where and who with do you feel a sense of belonging, if at all?

If you would like to explore some questions like these or do a Genogram of your family in a session just let me know.

The idea that the scapegoat, or identified patient, holds the family’s pain, when in fact each member of the family is hurting in their own individual way and it is pain and problems that has so often been passed down across generations, makes it so important to decentre the problem from one individual. The idea of reframing difficulties and understanding the personal meaning of symptoms and madness, though unrelated to families and family therapy, reminded me of a brilliant Ted Talk by Eleanor Longden on hearing voices:


Some interesting pioneers who researched into families and conducted family therapy:

Salvador Minuchin

Virginia Satir

Jay Haley

Ronald Laing

Gregory Bateson

Murray Bowen

Don Jackson




Procrastination and putting off making a decision is so often linked to a fear of making a mistake. That by choosing, you may choose the wrong direction and have to experience regret and loss. But with every choice and opportunity we take, we are closing the door to some other possibilities and we have to face those limits and losses. A choice is better than no choice, because even if it turns out to be a mistake new learning has occurred that can further inform your next choice. Spinning in circles trying to analyse how to make the perfect choice, keeping options open and by not choosing you end up just teetering on the edge of life. As C.G. Jung said “The right way to wholeness is made up of fateful detours and wrong turnings”.