Sleepless in Summer: 6 Steps to Better Sleep in Sweden

Sleepless in Stockholm

What can I do to improve my sleep?
Is it normal to have trouble sleeping in the summer in Sweden?

Insomnia or having trouble sleeping is not just a summer problem for expats in Sweden. It extends to native Swedes and across the year. Every season I read similar stories in the Swedish press. Some struggle with winter sleep, when the days are short and darkness long. Others find it hard during the spring or fall (‘autumn’ to those of us not from America). For whatever reason, the turning of each season can have a similar disruptive influence.

But if you’re in Sweden and reading this between May through to July, chances are, like me, you’ll know what it’s like to be in bright sunlight at four in the morning or nine at night. I realise it’s even more extreme for those who live north of Stockholm. So I’ve put together a checklist of tips and included some links to products that might be useful…

1. Create a Good Sleep Environment

phillips wake up lightMake your bedroom as dark as possible and try to keep it cool. It’s worth investing in black-out blinds for summer in Sweden. They are quite inexpensive at IKEA. If you succeed in making your bedroom so dark that you can’t tell when it’s sunrise and sunset, you can create your own regularity with a wake up light. These are devices that simulate sunrise to help your body get into a more even rhythm. This Philips Wake-Up Light with Colored Sunrise Simulation is top of the range and comes with a choice of nature inspired wake up sounds, plus light and sound settings to help you go to sleep. Those who use wake-up lights tell me they are great and they are just as useful in the Swedish winter!

2. Avoid Stimulants Late in the Day

Obviously tea and coffee later in the day can mess with sleep patterns. As much as Swedes enjoy their fika, it might be worth declining those particular beverages after about 4pm. And I know they are difficult to avoid but computers, ipads, smart phones and television tend to emit light that also stimulates the brain. Save them for when you are not in the bed. If you like to read and it helps you to sleep, this Kindle Paperwhite doesn’t cause the strain of looking at a regular screen (Amazon offers a 30 day money back guarantee in any case). I’ve finally made the switch from paperbacks to a Kindle and I’m a complete convert to digital books now. And if you share a bed, it’s also less likely to bother the person beside you than having a light on.

3. Set a Routine for Going to Bed

Picture of a kindleMost of us followed a bed-time routine set by our parents when we were children. And those with children will know it works better than chaos. In addition to preparing the sleeping room and avoiding stimulants, this is an aspect of ‘Sleep Hygiene’. No, it doesn’t mean washing yourself before bed! It means having a ‘clean routine’. For some, a shower before bed helps but others find it makes them too ‘pigg’ (that’s Swedish for ‘alert’ or ‘peppy’). Discover what’s best for you. Our bodies have memory. They associate doing certain activities with required energy levels for certain times of the day. In short: we can train ourselves to sleep, even if we have developed some bad habits over the years.  Set yourself a series of steps and stick to the order of them. Some things to include are:

– Making a note of things to do in the morning (winding down for the day)
– Changing clothes into sleepwear
– Brushing teeth and going to the toilet (of course)
– Perhaps reading in bed (get a Kindle!) or listening to music using a digital timer that turns off the music after you have fallen asleep.

Jawbone Up BandIf you like gadgets, you might also like to take a look at the Jawbone Up Band. This amazing little device slips around your wrist and tracks your sleep quality including how often you wake up in the night and when. Knowledge is power! Apparently Rupert Murdoch tracks his movements using a Jawbone. You can set it to vibrate gently on your wrist within a range of time, ensuring you wake at your most refreshed (i.e. when you are in lighter sleep- it is very clever!). The Jawbone Up might also be a better alternative to the light device if you share your room with someone who wants to sleep in.

4. Keep Your Bed for Sleep (and Sex)

Anxiety is the enemy of a restful mind. If you are lying awake in the night worrying about not being able to sleep, it is probably better to get up out of bed and do something like read or listen to relaxing music. Keep your bed for sleep and sex. If you are agitated you could even do a little housework that doesn’t take much mental energy, but don’t take on any big projects. If your brain is usually in sleep mode in the early hours of the morning, then it won’t be working very logically at that time. Don’t make any important decisions at a time when you would normally be sleeping. And once again, avoid opening your computer in the night and definitely keep it out of the bed!

5. Use Medications and Herbal Preparations with Caution

Valerian bottleTrauma, grief and loss, adjustment… Occasionally things can happen in life that make it difficult for us to sleep at a time when sleep is particularly important. Meds can help but some prescription sleeping medication can cause dependency, so it is important that you discuss your needs with a qualified and registered medical practitioner and don’t just buy something over the Internet. The use of strong sleeping medication needs to be monitored so talk with a GP if you think you might need it.

However preparations that are available over the counter in Sweden in a pharmacy or health food store are generally fine to use, but you should also investigate potential drug interactions first if you are taking other medications. A herbal preparation called Valerian is available to treat insomnia as an alternative to sedative drugs. Some people also report that Valerian helps to reduce anxiety.

Also available is Melatonin, a naturally occurring substance that has been demonstrated to advance the sleep phase, promoting the onset of earlier sleep and morning awakening. Some shift-workers use Melatonin when re-setting their body-clock.

6. Talk About Your Problems

Finally, if you are having trouble getting to sleep, waking through the night or unable to get back to sleep, it’s possible that it has more to do with what is on your mind than the very long daylight hours of a Swedish summer. It can be a difficult step to take, but talking about your concerns can be an effective way to get a better night’s sleep, particularly if it leads to working out a way to resolve particular issues. I’ve tried to make it easier for people to meet with me by offering online consultations over webcam or phone but it is also possible to write to me via email and receive a reply, if you need and prefer the time to get your thoughts together.

Contact me for appointment times or my fee schedule. And please share this post with others on Facebook or through Twitter if you found it helpful.

Life Coaching in English to Turn Your (Swedish) Life Around

motivation and life coaching in Sweden 2013

Not adjusting to life in Sweden? Worried about your mental health? Can’t concentrate and think you have ADD or ADHD? Struggling with the winter? Don’t let the darkness, Snökaos (snow chaos) or winter blues drive you to depression. Whether you choose to do it in-person or by webcam, you might just need a few sessions of life coaching to get back on track.

Here’s how therapy and life coaching with an English speaking coach and counsellor might make a difference to life in Sweden.

Bollplank, Sounding Board or Reflective Surface

Talking with your partner sometimes is not enough. Sometimes we are just too close to someone to offer a different perspective and it can seem like a lot of pressure if a sambo, husband or wife is the only one to talk with. The Swedes have an expression ‘bollplank’ which in English is akin to ‘sounding board’, someone or something we can throw our thoughts against to test them out. (Literally it is a plank of wood for kicking footballs against). In my work I call it the Reflective Surface.

There are many ways to employ a reflective surface: some people keep a journal or diary, video blog, artwork, cooking, craft… In fact any activity that combines structure and imagination with a product can provide a means to reflect your identity and ideas back to you in a positive, affirming way that supports change. A conversation can also be a reflective surface. In my office I use a whiteboard which is a literal reflective surface and sometimes I use it to hold onto the expressions or words that come up in a session. But even without the whiteboard, meeting with a coach serves the same ends because you hear yourself saying things and the coach can hold onto your words and ask you about them. A life coach can help with:

  • Sharing what has been happening
  • Working out what is important
  • Making goals
  • Following through with intentions
  • Acknowledging and celebrating progress.

If everything seems to be going well for your partner but not for you, don’t take it out on your sambo. Make it you New Years Resolution to get your own ‘bollplank’ and let the relationship be what it should be.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

A lot of people approach me thinking they have ADHD because they can’t concentrate at home or work, or both. And there is a lot of discussion at the moment about ADHD, particularly in Sweden where there is a huge expectation that people are on time, focussed and ‘get with the program’. The norms of behaviour in Sweden are very influential. If you have seen preschoolers being marched around the city in pairs, you will get what I mean. This is a society where, to a large extent, cooperation and compliance are unspoken rules. I mention this because it is important to understand that cultural influence and social expectations can play a part in how we feel and how quickly we adjust.

But difficulty concentrating can also be a symptom of depression. When we feel low, unmotivated, frustrated or insignificant, it can be harder to stay on task. In a way this is our instinct or animal side at work, trying to get our bodies moving again. Movement and exercise to treat Depression has been recommended.

Here are some other signs and symptoms that you might not be alright:

  • You are spending all day inside and not going out at all
  • Mood swings or constant irritability
  • Feeling like a zombie or not feeling anything at all
  • Eating constantly and more than you need to (or a loss of appetite)
  • Drinking alcohol everyday or most days on your own
  • Not engaging with friends
  • Ruminating thoughts, ‘overthinking’ and dwelling on failure
  • Less attention to self care or neglecting basic hygiene (not showering, brushing teeth or changing clothes)

The good news is that you don’t necessarily need a psychologist or to go on medication simply because some of these are present. The benefit of working with me is you can tell your friends / family / sambo that you are seeing a coach for adjusting to life in Sweden. You can even meet me online, over webcam or for instant message counselling if you don’t want to take on the snökaos or you are living in Uppsala, Västerås, Nyköping or otherwise on the outskirts of Stockholm. Likewise if you are in Malmö, Gothenburg or Umeå or somewhere more remote, online coaching means you save the travelling time and can get help from the warmth and comfort of your own home.

Of course, if you are at any serious risk or your health is deteriorating quickly, you should not hesitate to consult a GP.

From Therapy for Depression or Adjustment to Coaching for Life Goals

When life seems to be stuck or falling apart, it can help to talk it over, make a plan and have someone to engage with and help you to monitor progress. A lot of people start to meet with me for therapy around a particular issue and end up feeling better to the point that our sessions become more about coaching and moving forward. Recently I have been speaking with people about:

If you have found me through ForwardTherapy.se price and cost of coaching might not be your main concern. You are probably more interested in finding a professional who understands what you are going through and offers the advantage of sessions in English. But just send me an email (preferred) or call and leave a message for a callback if you would like more information about my fees and payment options.

Engelsktalande Samtalsterapeut (English Speaking Counsellor): A Word For Spouses and Sambos

If you think your partner, wife or husband might benefit from coaching, kognitiv beteende terapi / cognitive behaviour therapy with an english speaking coach (kbt på engelska) or just a bollplank with someone other than yourself, feel free to send me an enquiry. I am used to working with people in relationships where one partner is struggling with culture or climate or relocation adjustment and there is some conflict in the relationship as a result. There is more information here på svenska.

Next year I will be relocating my office from Kungsholmen to Södermalm in Stockholm. But you can make a start now and put yourself on a better track for 2013. Start making your New Years Resolutions.

Write to me and I will send you full details of availability, fees and answer any questions you have. Please let me know if you prefer in-person (face to face in Stockholm) or online consultations.

Therapy for Winter Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in Stockholm

candles

candlesDepression? Seasonal Affective Disorder? The cold and darkness of Sweden at the end of the year is one of the hardest issues for expats. For those of us from relatively warm countries (take note Aussies and South Africans) and others who have never lived this far north, the Swedish climate can be a real shock.

 

In Stockholm in December it is dark by early in the afternoon. I’ve talked to many expats who really struggle at this time of year. Some have even internalised the problem and have started to think they are depressed or have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Actually, it is really normal and natural to have trouble with the Swedish winter even if you have been here a long time. I’ve gathered the advice of a range of expats and long term visitors to Sweden who I have met in my counselling work as a therapist. Here are their practical suggestions.

1. Get Active

Jawbone Up BandIt’s natural to not be as active at this time of year but it’s also good to still move your body. Too cold outside? Try training indoors. Friskis och Svettis offer lower cost fitness memberships that include classes for around 3000 crowns a year (even less if you are a student). That’s not even the cost of 1 glass of wine each week! And you don’t have to be particularly athletic to get something therapeutic out of a gym. Try a 30 minute brisk treadmill walk while listening to your favourite music on an iphone or mp3 player. Taking in the scenery of everyone else working out while you go at your own pace can make you feel alive again. Get a Jawbone and set a goal of 10,000 steps a day on your Jawbone. There are plenty of sports you can do in winter as well, like indoor volleyball and swimming. This is the time of year that hot saunas are really appreciated.

2. Rug Up

Feeling colder can make a difference to your mood so it is worth making the effort to be as warm and cosy as you can when you are walking around outside. We lose most of our body heat through our extremities so pull on a wooly hat that covers your ears (called a mössa in Swedish), gloves, warm footwear and a scarf. Have you discovered the advantages of long underwear yet? A decent winter coat is also helpful of course.

3. Go easy on the grog (and the glögg)

The end of the year is a time for celebration but keep in mind that alcohol is a depressant. Bottled spirits tend to lift our own spirits for a short time but the after effects can pull us down the next day or for several days after a few too many. Drinking more than usual will lead to swings in mood and, in the absence of other helpful strategies, some people develop a dependency on alcohol that can create real problems for them, their partners and families (and I am not referring to Systembolaget being closed on a Sunday). Other ways of picking yourself up include exercising regularly, spending time with friends, attending expat group events and…

4. Getting yourself into the light

phillips wake up lightFortunately Stockholm is not completely dark in winter (some places in Sweden are). But the daylight doesn’t last for long. Make sure you make the most of the light and walk around in it during the day if you can. There is some evidence that even a few minutes a day direct daylight on exposed skin (i.e. your face) can make a difference to your physiology and mood. It costs nothing but your time (most of which involves putting on and taking off your warm clothes). Some people use wake up lights and special desk lamps that reproduce the tone of daylight to enlighten their winter days. For example, the Philips Wake-Up Light (available here from Amazon) has a number of settings to replicate sunrise and and even a selection of natural sounds.

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5. Make plans and look forward to them

Fellow expats agree there is nothing like a break for a week or two somewhere warm and sunny to change your perspective. Swedes know the advantages of travelling during the darker months and flock to the Canaries (no pun intended!), Egypt and even farther destinations like India, Thailand and Vietnam during December and January. Book your tickets early to get the cheap deals. If you don’t mind the snow, there are some great ski-fields within Sweden. Or you can jump on a party boat to Helsinki, Tallin or Riga. If you can’t afford the time or cost of getting away, make plans to do some exotic activities at home or treat yourself to some special meals. Apparently the restaurant Koh Phangan on Skånegatan makes you feel you are really in Thailand.

6. It’s okay to hibernate a little

Winter is a time of closing down in contrast to the expansiveness of summer. In many ways we have lost touch with the natural rhythms that we see in the animal world. So what if you want to sleep 10 hours instead of 8? That’s how it goes with the cold and darkness. You aren’t depressed and you don’t need medication just because you don’t feel like going out and want to stay in bed more than usual. Lower your Expectations and stop giving yourself a hard time. You can make up for it in the Spring. That brings me to…

7. Embracing the experience

Canon CameraIf you can’t beat it, make the most of it. Not all the Swedes take off to sun and sand in wintertime yet they still manage to stay sane and get on with their lives. It might take some time to get the knack of it but those who emigrated to Sweden a number of years ago tell me that there is something to be said for embracing the climate at this time of year. They have taken up photography or cross-country skiing (even with the skis that use little wheels when there is no snow), planned Melodifestival parties, visited the Christmas markets, lit up their apartments with small candles, played and recorded music, painted, drawn, read and written books. The Swedes are a nation of creatives. Even if you just document what you are seeing or hearing around you and how you are feeling in a journal or blog you will be in the company of many who have gone before you in the great musical, literary and artistic traditions of Scandinavia.

8. Remember: It will pass!

From 22 December the nights are shorter and the days start to get longer. When the snow arrives, it can make a difference as well, reflecting daylight or streetlights and generally making everything a bit brighter. Many people do find January is the worst month for them simply because they have endured the darkness and low temperatures for so long. So even getting a sense of the length of winter can help and this often happens for expats once they have been in Sweden for a couple of cold seasons.

If being in Sweden has lost its purpose for you at this dark time of the year, maybe it is time for a meaning-recovering conversation over a hot cup of tea or coffee. Narrative therapy and other collaborative counselling practices can provide you with the opportunity to reconnect with your motivation and find a new lease of life to last through winter. If you want some practical help, together we can construct a plan or strategy to get you through to lighter times. Contact me through the website or call and leave a message on 08-559 22 636 if you would like to make an appointment.

Thanks to Elin, Steve, Evelyn, Barbara, Marie, Matthew, Janet, Paul and Rob for their contributions as well as to all my clients who have found or are finding their own ways of dealing with the darkness and cold.