Poor/Lack of Sleep Making Life Impossible? Six Tips That WILL Help!

Many of my clients come to see me not being able to get a good night’s sleep. Many more come to see me with a different problem and in addition to that problem also have trouble with their sleep. When the sleep starts to improve the more prevalent problem disappears. We know that people who do not sleep enough, have broken sleep or can’t get to sleep are more likely to struggle with their weight and increase their risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Poor sleep also leads to an increase of inflammatory markers associated with a range of other chronic diseases. Which is worrying enough to stop us from sleeping… and so a negative spiral begins.

So what can you do to improve your sleep:

  1. Control your exposure to light – Light is probably the biggest factor in driving our circadian rhythms (the cycle the body and mind goes through on a daily basis). For this reason we have to treat light with respect. Try to make your bedroom as dark as possible at night. In the build up to bed time, soften the lights. All light is made up of the colours of the rainbow and it is the blue light in particular which drives wakefulness.
  2. Restrict your screen time – Use of screens at night can fool the brain in to thinking that we must stay awake. The red light has the least impact on our daily body rhythms and many devices come with  a screen filter which filters out the blue leaving more red light. However, this does not stop us seeing a Facebook post which annoys, frustrates or saddens us. It does not stop us from seeing the video which has been designed to grab our attention using more than just flashing light and quickly changing imagery. Ultimately the best option is to stop using all screens (including that pesky mobile phone!) in the last hour before bed.
  3. Sleep hygiene – This is all about having a good routine in the last hour or two before going to bed. Making sure we follow a similar one each night and making sure it involves some time to relax. When I am away lecturing I know that I am unlikely to arrive home at 1 am, after the drive from the airport, and be able to fall asleep straight away. It is better that I allow myself 20 minutes or more to relax (not looking at a screen!), before following my normal bed time routine before getting in to bed. The brain often likes routine and matches patterns of behaviour to bodily responses.
  4. Build in some me time during the day – Part of falling to sleep is relaxing. If we spend our whole day running from one place/task/appointment to the next we are not practising our ability to relax. It is no coincidence that people who meditate regularly are much better sleepers than those that don’t. Never tried meditation? I love this two minute myth busting instructional video from Happify.
  5. Include some physical exercise in your daily routine – this can often feel impossible if we are exhausted from not sleeping for weeks or months or years. A walk round the block is, in my opinion, the most under rated activity. For better sleep aim to do it first thing in the morning when the sun has come up. This maximises the amount of natural light early in the day helping to reset that body clock and bring things back in to line.
  6. Get up at the same time each morning – I know this can be difficult. Particularly for those that struggle to get to sleep in the first place, and then once asleep the thought of waking when the alarm goes off can be painful. However, one of the biggest factors that dictate when we will fall asleep is how long it has been since we woke up. And if we have overslept by an hour or two then we immediately push back the body’s/brain’s desire to fall asleep by a similar amount, leading to the same frustration that night. Overcoming this short term pin (doing at the weekend may be the best time) can reap many benefits.

If you have tried the above and it is making no difference, or it feels like something is stopping you from doing the above, it may be time to seek some additional help. There are many professionals out there who can help. You GP should of course be your first port of call. Solution focused hypnotherapy can be enormously powerful in helping people to create good positive habits that lead to better sleep. Studies have shown hypnotherapy helps in reducing the time taken for people to fall asleep in the first place, improve the ability to stay asleep throughout the night, and reduce the amount of time spent in wakefulness if they do wake in the night. And the effects last long after treatment finishes. It is no magic wand but with some commitment and a desire to make changes you could be sleeping like a baby again and enjoying the myriad of benefits that come with consistently good sleep.

Alex Brounger is a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist, Hypnotherapy Supervisor and Lecturer. He runs busy practices in Stroud and Cirencester in Gloucestershire. He also does Hypnotherapy Sessions online. You can find out more about him here: abHypnotherapy.co.uk

If you are interested in finding a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist near you: AfSFH.com


The Four Burners Theory!

I have long been a fan of James Clear’s blog. His regular emails have survived many an unsubscribe cull over the years as he has written so much good material. One of my favourites is his explanation of the Four Burners Theory. His full article can be found here and I would highly recommend you read it: jamesclear.com/four-burners-theory.

In brief he describes the theory that we can look at our lives as a four burner stove. One burner is our family; one our work; one our friends and one our health. Essentially there is only a limited supply of gas. If we are to become true experts in any one of these four quadrants we have to  turn off one or even two of them to allow a greater flow of gas to the remaining burners and have them consistently burn at full strength.

We are all constantly looking for the right balance and are of course having to make trade offs or compromises between quadrants in order to remain sane and meet our responsibilities. If we are lucky we have a lot of control over which ones we have burning most brightly at any one time. Even the most casual observer might recognise that the first burner to be turned down when others (often work) need more heat is our health.

However, I think there is an extra element to this which is important we take in to account. I often talk to my customers about a stress bucket and how things that need to be processed by the brain (very often negatives such as set backs, losses, painful experiences etc) end up in the bucket. We know the subconscious will process these things during downtime, when accessing a positive trance state and, most importantly, during REM sleep. All these things will lighten the load in the bucket.

However, when the bucket gets too full the brain will work less effectively, we will be more likely to suffer mood swings, anger, anxiety, low mood and a whole host of other negative side affects. We will be less focused and our performance may suffer at work, we may feel less connected to our friends and family and looking after our health becomes an even greater chore. In short the weight of the bucket restricts the supply of gas to all the burners meaning none of them will burn as brightly as we would like. Frustratingly this can create a negative thought loop (“I am not doing enough/performing as well as I know I can” etc) which continues to pile more things in to the bucket cutting the gas supply further.


171116 Four Burner Stress Bucket Picture

There are of course ways to reduce the amount that goes in to the bucket. Skills we can practice, things we can do or perceive differently. Ultimately though it is often crucial that we find a way to redirect some additional gas to the health burner, because this will have a direct impact on the weight of the bucket too. The temptation to cut the gas supply to this burner is a very short term way of thinking.

Need help getting your stress bucket under control or working towards having a better supply of gas to the burner of your choice? Alex Brounger is a Clinical Hypnotherapist with clinics in Stroud and Cirencester in Gloucestershire. If you do not live near Stroud or Cirencester visit the AfSFH’s (Association for Solution Focused Hypnotherapy) web page: afsfh.com or contact Alex for further help. Alex is the Chief Executive for the AfSFH.


10 Reasons You Should See A (Qualified) Hypnotherapist Now

There still remains a lot of mystery and myth around Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy. The fact remains that good quality scientific evidence is building and continuing to support this talking therapy as an effective way to help people cope with a wide range of symptoms and conditions.  So look past the nonsense and learn how hypnotherapy can help you. Here are 10 reasons why you should visit a Hypnotherapist sooner rather than later:

Hypnotherapy can help you sleep better:

Good sleep is a cornerstone for good health. By entering in to a meditative or hypnotic trance state we are effectively practising the pre-cursor stages of sleep, which means that when it comes to bed time we are better able to drift off. Hypnosis also accurately replicates the same processes that take place during REM sleep which means we can have less REM sleep during the night. Having too much REM sleep at night can wake us up, resulting in a disturbed sleep pattern. Sleep well and you will find it easier to maintain a healthy weight, cope with stress better and wake feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day.

Hypnotherapy can make you more confident:

Hypnosis can help release us from fear (even if we don’t recognise it as such) and gain access to the solution finding brilliance of the intellectual brain. This results in feelings of confidence and empowerment as we become better adept at coping with life’s challenges. Self doubt slips away as it becomes easier to do those positive things that result in the release of natural feel good chemicals in the brain. Don’t just survive… thrive!

Hypnotherapy can make you less irritable:

Irritability, or flashes of anger, result from an over activation of the amygdala in the brain. Hypnosis encourages the amygdala to calm down which become less trigger happy. This means we are less likely to have these moments.

Hypnotherapy can help you get some energy back:

Hypnosis activates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest response) which in very basic terms is the opposite to the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response). The rest and digest response is, broadly speaking, regenerative or energy giving. The fight flight response is generally energy sapping. By accessing a state of hypnosis we restore our natural balance between these two parts of the nervous system which results in better energy levels.

Hypnotherapy can help you gain control over the things you want to gain control over

People often suggest they do not like the idea of hypnosis and hypnotherapy because it involves giving up control of their mind to someone else. This is of course complete nonsense. In fact Dr. David Spiegel, Associate Chair of Psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine suggests: “…hypnosis is not mind control. It’s a naturally occurring state of concentration; it’s actually a means of enhancing your control over both your mind and your body.”

Hypnotherapy can help you think more clearly

A relaxed mind is a clear mind. By entering in to a state of focused attention (hypnosis) our mind can relax and put our worries and fears to one side for a little while. Our primitive mind, or limbic system, becomes less active enabling resources to be sent to those areas of the brain which are better able to come up with solutions. This allows us to consider our worries and troubles from a different, more confident perspective allowing the brain space and time to find its own solutions.

Hypnotherapy can make you more positive

Anything can be improved through practice. Positivity is no different. A good hypnotherapist will want you to practice being positive. (For more tips on positivity see this article) allowing us to more readily identify the good things that are going on in our lives.

It can help improve your relationships

Relationships driven by irritability, lack of sleep and negativity are rarely good ones! Primitive brain responses to our loved ones comments and actions (or lack of) do not lead to a positive relationship either and sometimes we can be so lost in our own previous patterns of behaviour we do not notice when it is us that are being the bad guys. Accessing our intellectual capacity more frequently through hypnotherapy and we are better able to manage disagreements, keep things in perspective and work towards conversations that work for everyone.

You’ll enjoy it!

Modern therapy should be enjoyable. We learn better when we are in a positive and relaxed frame of mind and modern therapy is often about learning new ways of doing, thinking and interacting. Hypnosis itself certainly should be a positive and enjoyable experience if we are to get the most out of it.

It can make you look younger

OK so I have to be a bit careful what I say here, especially as I am not aware of any studies which have actually proved this. However, I can say with complete confidence that people who come to see me for their last session typically look younger than they did when they came to see me for their first session! It can probably put down to getting benefit from reasons 1-9 above.

How will hypnotherapy help you?

It can be surprising how hypnotherapy can help people. Often people come for a specific reason and many of the above manifestations appear as a lovely side affect. In many cases people come precisely for one or more of the reasons given above. Ultimately any appointment with a good hypnotherapist should be an enjoyable and positive experience which benefits you in hoped for and surprising ways.

If you are in or near Stroud or Cirencester in Gloucestershire and would like to book an appointment with Alex, take a look at his website here: abHypnotherapy.co.uk. If you live further afield visit the AfSFH’s (Association for Solution Focused Hypnotherapy) web page: afsfh.com or contact Alex for further help. Alex is the Chief Executive for the AfSFH.

Why are you the way you are… and why do you need to know?

Estonian-American Neuroscientist and psychobiologist, Jaak Panksepp from Bowling Green State University argues that the brain is in many ways a seeking system. He suggests we all have an innate drive to discover and learn, to satisfy our curiosity and to understand why something is the way it is. More so if that something is related to ourselves. We may ask: “Why do I do that?” or “why am I the way I am?”. Not unnecessarily bad questions to ask ourselves but frustrating if we can not find an answer.

The psychologist Jerome Kagan also argues that uncertainty resolution is one of the biggest determinants of our behaviour. He suggests we want to relieve the distress of the unknown. This can of course lead us to difficulties if we are struggling with a condition or set of symptoms which our GP or other medical practitioner can not explain. The answer can often be found in neuroscience and for this reason I will often have brain based conversations with my clients, utilising the very latest in neuroscience research. By explaining, in simple terms, how the brain works, how we can struggle with some of the more, and less, well known symptoms, my clients and customers often have a moment of relief, a moment of understanding which allows them to realise that they are normal. This usually results in an immediate reduction in anxiety levels and an increase in hope. We are all looking for, to use Arie Kruglanski’s term, “cognitive closure”.

When we are faced with situations in which we are unable to achieve “cognitive closure” it can affect our mood, our actions and our choices. It can feed in to the obsessional nature of the primitive brain preventing us from seeing the bigger picture and beyond the problem, thereby making the problem worse.

In addition, by explaining to clients in general terms what they should be doing more (and less!) of, without advising them to do something specific, my clients come to understand how they can better engage their own intellectual and mental resources to see a way forward which may not have been obvious to them previously.

Generally speaking I make sure that clients have a very thorough understanding of how our minds works and how, if we are not careful, it can trip us up. This knowledge stays with them long after a series of sessions is completed which can lead to long term well-being rather than just a short term fix.

Alex Brounger is a full time Solution Focused Hypnotherapist with practices in Cirencester and Stroud, Gloucestershire. His website is: abHypnotherapy.co.uk

Alex is also a Hypnotherapy Supervisor and is a Senior Lecturer for CPHTBelfast.co.uk

Does Hypnotherapy Work? – CORP research programme

I am often asked “Does hypnotherapy work for …?” or “Can hypnotherapy help with …?” or just simply “Does hypnotherapy work?”.  I normally answer with something along the lines that I don’t have a magic wand but if people come to see me open to making changes and with a willingness to take on board the evidence, as revealed by the latest neuroscience, on how the brain works then you can be confident that hypnotherapy will make a very real difference to your well-being. And that’s regardless of the reason you have expressed an interest in the first place.

My Clients tell me hypnotherapy has worked for them – but is that enough?:

Of course, I have many client examples of how successful my work with them has been.  I don’t blame those people who are cynical (I was a cynic about hypnosis and hypnotherapy once!) and I know anecdotes do not make the best evidence, especially if those come from the mouth of an enthusiastic practitioner like myself.  There is already a huge amount of evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of hypnotherapy, but it is important we continue to uncover more.  It was for this reason I chose to become part of an excellent research programme which was created to demonstrate the effectiveness of Solution Focused Hypnotherapy for a variety of conditions.

The Research Programme:

The programme is called CORP (Clifton Practice Rating Outcome Programme).  I ask my customers to rate themselves against the following scales (either on a piece of paper or, more usually, on a piece of software of the same name) during the Initial Consultation and at the end of each session after that.  The seven scales are:

1/ Thoughts – How positive have your thoughts been?

2/ Interaction – How interactive have you been with others?

3/ Activity – How would you rate your level of activity?

4/ Confidence – How would you rate your confidence?

5/ Strengths & Resources – How well are you utilising your strengths and resources?

6/ Achievement – How much have you achieved?

7/ Happiness – How would you rate your level of happiness?

The information gathering fits seamlessly in to our sessions.  Once customers have indicated, on a bar, where they feel they fall, between two points (for example, my thoughts have been very negative at one end to very positive at the other), the software allocates a score out of 10. The scores from all the questions are added together to give a result out of 70.  In this way changes over time are measured and illustrated in the form of a graph.  Customers can then see by how much they have improved on these scales in the time they have been to see me.  I can also monitor how well I am doing across my whole client population and my results contribute to the broader results of the research which, at the time of writing, includes more than 80 Solution Focused Hypnotherapists nationally. As a result, of a volume of results are being collected giving a statistically significant indicator of the success of Solution Focused Hypnotherapy.

Solution focused therapy, by its very nature, is not problem focused.  This can make it difficult to measure its effectiveness without focusing on problems or symptoms.  By choosing these outcome rating scales rather than more problem specific ones negates this difficulty, and encourages clients to focus on those areas which will, with appropriate effort, inevitably lead to an improvement in their condition.

Who Benefits?

The short answer is everybody!  But most importantly, my clients benefit.  The programme allows them to monitor their own progress in a way which may not be obvious when relying on pure feelings and emotion at that moment, whilst trying to compare that with their feelings and emotions of a few weeks ago. It also enables me in many situations to indicate (by showing the graph of past results) how quickly and to what extent they might expect to see an improvement across those measures.  Moreover, customers complete this shortly before leaving the clinical environment which serves as a nice reminder of where their focus should be to continue to move forwards.

I benefit, and so do my clients, by being able to compare my performance against the global average of other Solution Focused Hypnotherapists across the country.  This helps keep me sharp and encourages me to stay on top of my game!

And of course, hypnotherapy generally benefits.  The greater the base of evidence, the more we can prove that hypnosis and its associated ideas are an effective, helpful and powerful set of tools for improved wellbeing, overcoming symptoms and a driver for good health the more it will become mainstream and the more people can benefit from it.

The Three Mistakes People Make in Trying to Think Positively

In my work as a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist I will often talk to my customers about the importance of positive thinking. We know by thinking positively we start utilising different areas of the brain to those we use when we are thinking negatively. Those same areas that are able to cope with things much better with modern life, rather than those areas that respond with panic, anxiety, depression or a myriad of other uncomfortable symptoms and illness. As with any habit or skill the more we practise the better at it we get and the easier it becomes to access the coping areas of the brain. But are you getting it right?

I will occasionally see people in my clinic who are already very good at thinking positively and this always gives us a bit of a head start in getting them to where they want to be. I also see a few who profess to be great at positive thinking before it becomes clear that they have either lost the habit or they were never really getting it right in the first place. I also see plenty who just own up to being rubbish at it.

So here as some of the mistakes I have noticed people make in trying to think positively:

Looking for the Silver Lining:

This of course is an integral part of positive thinking and I am not saying that we should not engage in it. Taking a bad situation (or the big back cloud) and trying to find the positives (the silver lining) is always important in helping us to cope. However, all the time we are looking for the silver lining we are still staring at the big black cloud! We know that when the brain perceives trouble it tends to focus on that trouble whilst zoning out anything else that might be interesting. A few thousand years ago if you’re walking through the jungle and you hear a twig snap all your attention would go to establishing what it was that broke the twig. The fact that the sun is setting away to the west in the most beautiful array of wonderful colours will be completely lost on you. Now this of course is great when we spent much of our lives running away from lions and tigers, but having panic tunnel vision about the cancerous lump is not going to allow us to relax enough to overcome our fear of the MRI scanner to help get it surgically removed. On the other hand spending time enjoying that wonderful sunset, relaxing body and soul in the process may well allow you to relax sufficiently to get your treatment completed.

Of greater importance than finding the silver lining is to be looking for the blue sky (that sunset). Finding those things that are going well or the little moments of joy. By doing so we activate those areas of the brain that have the wherewithal to: remember we have an umbrella somewhere, to go find it and to put it up in time. Of course the black cloud may still rain on us but at least we’re not going to get as wet!

Looking for the Big Things:

People often think that it is only the big things that count. The new car, their baby taking their first steps or saying their first word, they’ve won another contract at work or they’re going on holiday next week. Of course these things are nice but they don’t happen very often. If we spend our time focusing on trying to find these big things we may go a very long time before finding the next one. Perhaps more useful is taking pleasure from the small good things such as the smile on a stranger’s face, a leaf falling from a tree, the fact that they found a car parking space close to the clinic or the taste of the first cup of coffee in the morning. These smaller things happen more frequently, but can so often be taken for granted. I always know a client is on the right lines when they precursor a good thing with “its a silly small thing but…”. Life becomes far easier to cope with when we notice a few little things happening throughout the day rather than longing for the next big thing.

 Being too General

Comments such as “everything at work is good”, is a nice thing to be able to say but actually it’s not going to have the same impact on the workings of the brain as being able to say “I had a really lovely conversation with the new bloke at work about xyz” or “I am really pleased with the email I sent to my boss”. The aim in thinking positively is to generate positive neurotransmitters in the brain which have a very real impact on the way we feel. Being able to draw on the details of specific moments has a far greater impact than general statements that might be hiding a delusion.

In any mosaic there will be colours we like and those we don’t. Rather than just assuming that there are plenty of the fragments of colours we like it is better to go and find them. The more you look for something inevitably the more you will find of it and the more you find of the specifics the more you realise that there is plenty of things to feel good about at work, or at home or where-ever. Self delusion then becomes impossible.

So why not go on ahead and practice your positive thinking. What’s been good with you in the last week or so?

Alex Brounger is a full time Solution Focused Hypnotherapist with practices in Stroud and Cirencester, Gloucestershire. His website is abHypnotherapy.co.uk.

Alex is also a Hypnotherapy Supervisor and a Senior Lecturer for CPHTBelfast.co.uk


So What is Solution Focused Hypnotherapy?

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is a modern talking therapy designed primarily by a man called David Newton, one of the world’s most highly reputable hypnotherapists. David began his career as an analytical hypnotherapist before realising that he could help more people, more effectively and with less chance of causing harm by using more modern methods of talking therapy.

Over his 30,000+ clinical hours, David developed a new form of talking therapy taking the very best tools and ideas from other models and combining them in to his own.

The approach takes lessons learnt from positive psychology, neuroscience, solution focused brief therapy, NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and of course it also utilises the power of hypnosis, but without assuming that this alone can be the magic wand which cures all ills.

What Happens in a Typical Solution Focused Hypnotherapy Session?

Following an Initial Consultation,  a practitioner of solution focused hypnotherapy will usually start each new session by encouraging a client (or a customer as a solution focused hypnotherapist might call them) to identify what has been good in the previous week or so. This sounds like simple exercise and it is simple, although that does not always make it easy. In my experience if you ask someone who is NOT struggling from anxiety or depression to find something that’s been good, or something that they are pleased has happened in the last week, may well struggle. Add anxiety, depression, grief, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or any other of the myriad of anxiety related (or exacerbated) conditions out there and things get difficult. Include in the mix the expectation that at least ten good things will be found and the challenge really does ramp up somewhat.

The interesting thing is that this exercise alone can be enormously powerful in improving someone’s mood as one good thing begins to roll out after another. Of course with a bit of practice over a number of weeks this simple exercise becomes just exactly that, even for those that have been given a  diagnosis of depression by their GP.

Following this a solution focused hypnotherapist will want to make sure their customer is reminded of how the brain works. They might want to remind their clients about the different areas of the brain, and/or the primitive opt out clauses of anxiety, depression and anger and the other characteristics of the primitive mind that can cause us so much discomfort. They might go on to explain the stress bucket and its implications for problem creation before also discussing the importance of sleep. Finally they may want to reiterate the importance of the holy grail of skills: positive thinking, positive action and positive interaction.

A solution focused hypnotherapist will not typically advise a client as to what they should or should not do, on the basis that the only expert of the customers life is the customer. However, they are particularly adept at helping the customer identify for themselves what next small step they can take in order to help themselves empty the stress bucket. And this is the next step in the process: identifying what small step can be taken to move us towards where the customer wants to be. We know when the stress bucket is empty we can cope so much better with life and this is the aim, helping people cope better so problems appear and become less intrusive and eventually disappear.

Finally a solution focused hypnotherapist will want to move the customer in to a wonderful state of relaxed awareness. We know hypnosis is not a magic wand for most people, but we know it is still enormously powerful and can be extremely useful, especially when used following the previously described steps, in creating a step change in the way people think of the world around them and of themselves.

The feeling of hypnosis is unique to the individual and often unique each time the individual does it. Some people describe the feeling as similar to lying on their bed and getting absorbed in their favourite music, others report hallucinations, although this is rare and usually takes some considerable practice. A solution focused hypnotherapist will usually create the state of hypnosis through the use of positive visualisations.

Alex Brounger is a full time Solution Focused Hypnotherapist with practices in Stroud and Cirencester, Gloucestershire. His website is abHypnotherapy.co.uk. He is also a Hypnotherapy Supervisor and a Senior Lecturer for CPHTBelfast.co.uk