07/02/2012 17:30 GMT | Updated 08/04/2012 06:12 BST

Are You Feeling Sleepy? The Effects of Stress on Sleep Patterns

In amongst my usual client work, this week I have mostly been thinking about sleep. Not just because my two young children still deprive me of enough of it, but because many of the people who come to my Cognitive Hypnotherapy practice for seemingly unrelated reasons, also report that they have difficulty sleeping. In fact statistics show that 25% of the population of the UK suffer from a sleep disorder of one kind or another, resulting in them feeling tired during the daytime. Astonishingly, that's one quarter of everyone out there. Luckily though, many of these can be cured relatively easily through the right emotional and lifestyle adjustments.

Stress can be a huge factor in affecting our sleep patterns. When we are stressed the sympathetic nervous system reacts as if we are facing a threat and sets off the fight or flight response. If we spend most of the day stressed it can lead to a slow drip of this effect. This can cause long term health problems, but also really affects our ability to wind down at the end of the day and to experience a good night's sleep.

Did you know that the only sense that doesn't fully rest when we sleep is our hearing? If we are in this stress-response, how exhausting for our unconscious minds to be continually listening out for perceived threats all night long, even if those 'threats' are the cat, or our children, or a car driving by.

So what can be done to switch off that red alert? It's all to do with unwinding that coil of tension, and setting the scene for sleep. Here are some suggestions that you might try:

1. Practice feeling relaxed. It doesn't come naturally to everyone so think of it as a project. Some people choose to have a warm bubble bath, or to do yoga, or for others it's simple breathing techniques such as the one explained here. Just commit to doing something more than nothing to take you closer to that relaxed you.

2. Get smelling. For many people smell anchors are great ways to get into a different state. Did you ever walk into a room and get transported back to being a child by something with a particular scent? Did someone ever walk past you wearing a perfume that reminded you instantly of somebody you used to know? The next time you are feeling really relaxed have a scent that you like to smell by your side and inhale deeply. Then you can use this scent to take you to that place again. If you are stuck for what to use, lavender oil is a good one to start with. Try it, it really works!

3. Set a regular bedtime. It can be hard to achieve, but as much as possible set regular times for going to sleep and waking up. We all have really quite impressive internal clocks (think jet-lag!) and setting them for sleep can be one of the most helpful things you can do. Although you might want to lie in if you've had a bad night's sleep do try and get up at your usual time. It really will make all the difference.

4. Avoid stimulants. Amongst other things, caffeine increases your heart-rate, providing a similar physiological responses to stress. It also stays in your system for many hours. After 6pm, rather than tea, coffee or cola drinks, try herb teas, water etc.

I wish you a good night and sweet dreams. And please, if you are worried about your sleep pattern, it is always worth checking with a medical professional to ensure that there aren't any underlying issues.