Many teachers report having insomnia at some time throughout their career.  Insomnia is the experience of difficulty getting to or staying asleep, and the subsequent sleep deprivation that results can further add to the stress a teacher already experiences.

When someone finds it difficult to sleep, they often also experience a degree of anxiety and/or stress. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘fight and flight’ response. The body changes that occur during the flight and fight response include an increase in heart rate, tense muscles, increased speed of thoughts and feeling jumpy/jittery. If these bodily changes become a pattern or habitual response to stress, it can prove more and more difficult for a person to recognise the signs of its onset.  An accurate predictor of a switched on ‘fight and flight’ is when the brain feels like it is ‘active and on alert’.

In order to sleep, the ‘rest and digest’ response in the body needs to be activated. This body state involves resting and relaxation of muscles and the nervous system, and a slowing down of the brain.

Relying solely on thinking strategies to stimulate ‘rest and digest’ and slow down the mind can be very difficult and not always very effective in the moment. If only it was that easy to turn down stress by thinking ‘I will now stop thinking about work and relax!’ Instead, techniques that work by relaxing the body will then in turn relax the mind and allow the brain to switch off and sleep.

Listed below are 5 strategies to try to help improve sleep, from an intervention known as Sensory Modulation. Sensory Modulation uses your senses to change how you feel.

Change how you feel: difficulty sleeping

1. Stand by bed

·         Stand by the bed in the dark, until you feel the need to sit down. Then lie back down in bed.

2. Icy water to invoke dive reflex

·         Use cold temperature to evoke the mammalian dive response. Use a cold gel pack, zip lock bag or sink filled with water or cold wet washer, place over eyes and hold breath. Note: this is contraindicated for people with heart problems or anorexia

·         This strategy is particularly useful if feeling anxious or just woken up from a nightmare

3. Change the room or the bed

·         Adjust the temperature e.g. open the windows, turn on a fan, put on a doona, cold or warm face washer, or a heat gel cream or electric hot water bottle.

·         If experiencing night sweats, try sleeping in thermals that will absorb the sweat without feeling cold. Or try a chilly towel or piece of flannel that has been wet and rung out.

·         Use a white noise machine or slow music or ear plugs.

·         Eye mask to block light.

4. Deep Pressure

·         Use a weighted cushion prior to bed

·         Do some stretches

·         Sit with your pet dog or cat on your lap

5. Swinging, Rocking

·         Hammocks, swing chairs, floating bed, in-yard swing, rocking chair before bed.

For further information on Sensory Modulation, see the book Sensory Modulation Resource Manual, available as a paperback or e-book.

‘Change how you feel series’

Five Sensory Modulation Strategies for Managing Intense Emotions and Challenging Scenarios

The ‘Change how you feel ‘series is available at as a chapter in the Sensory Modulation Resource Manual or as a PDF document of just the chapter. (search for Change how you feel series)

This series outlines a number of challenging scenarios and intense emotional states where sensory modulation may be useful to alleviate distress and enhance functioning. For each scenario, five sensory tips are suggested. Trialing these sensory tips will assist a person to get started with sensory modulation, build confidence and promote active self-management skills. As proficiency and confidence increases, additional sensory modulation strategies can be explored and included.

Many of the sensory modulation strategies suggested for each scenario will overlap and be effective for more than one emotional state, because they are strongly based on the power sensations of:

  • proprioception

  • vestibular

  • tactile

 The ‘change how you feel ‘series includes:

Change how you feel: panic, anxiety and stress

Change how you feel: grounding

Change how you feel: anger and agitation

Change how you feel: self-harm

Change how you feel: for people with dementia

Change how you feel: enhance feelings of safety

Change how you feel: cigarette cravings

Change how you feel: pain

Change how you feel: difficulty sleeping

Change how you feel: cravings for substances

Change how you feel: waiting room design

Change how you feel: feeling numb

Change how you feel: auditory hallucinations (A.H)


It is important to always remember that all sensory modulation strategies need to be:

  • Safe: emotionally and physically

  • Appropriate: age, gender, culture, identity, environment, affordable

  • Individualised: tailored to the persons unique preferences

  • Meaningful: do they know why it is being offered? Does it make sense to them?