With around a third of the population experiencing the symptoms of insomnia at some point in their life, it is most likely that you’ve experienced some sleeplessness yourself. Although it may only last a short while, sometimes too much time can recur and become prolonged.
But don’t despair! There are plenty of simple things you can do to overcome sleeplessness and even prevent it from occurring in the first place. Here are The Insomnia Clinic’s top ten tips for a better night’s rest.
1 – Create a strong routine
A good routine is not just for kids – it’s also good for adults who want to sleep like a baby. The idea is to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. As our body is controlled by our internal clock, this regularity helps our bodies and minds to be sleepy at the same time each day and wake feeling more refreshed.
2 – Wind down before sleep
You come home late, exhausted and the first thing you want to do is get into bed and sleep. But it doesn’t happen. Why? Because your mind is still active from the day’s activity, and now that it’s free from distractions it will start to wander, and keep you awake. Before going to bed, set aside some time to unwind by reading a book or practising yoga. You may even want to consider starting a diary so you can unload your thoughts before getting your head down.
3 – Avoid screens and electronic devices
Electronic screens on TVs, smartphones and laptops give off blue light which reduces the body’s production of melatonin. We need melatonin as it is the sleep-inducing hormone so keep the screens turned off while you are sleeping and avoid their use close to bedtime.
4 – Avoid smoking and alcohol around bedtime
If you are a smoker, you might think of a cigarette before bedtime as a good way to unwind. However, nicotine is a stimulant and more likely to keep you awake. So if you can’t quit smoking, then you should at least refrain from smoking within 2 hours of bedtime. Similarly, although alcohol helps many people unwind, after drinking, the quality of sleep is much poorer than without, so avoid alcohol if sleeplessness is a problem.
5 – Keep your bed for sleep and intimacy
By performing other activities in bed, such as watching TV or listening to music/podcasts you subconsciously start to attach these activities to your bed. The result is that when you get into bed, your body starts to prepare for some, input and is less likely to associate bed with sleep. Be sure to restrict your bedtime activities to sleep and sex.
6 – The twenty-minute rule
If you’re lying in bed awake, there is a danger your body will begin to associate the bed with being awake. You should, therefore, give yourself around twenty minutes – try not to check the clock, rather estimate how long you have been lying there for – to get to sleep. If, after this time you are still awake, get out of bed and leave the bedroom and do something relaxing like reading. Stay out of bed until you feel sleepy and this way you are less likely to associate your bed with feeling frustrated and tossing and turning. Keep repeating this cycle until you fall asleep.
7 – Don’t spend too long in bed
If you’re struggling to sleep, it can be all too tempting to compensate with a late rise in the morning. However, this could start to become routine as, by rising late, you will be less tired by bedtime, leading to further sleeplessness. Set your alarm for the same time every day and try to be disciplined in getting up when it goes off. The benefit of spending less time in bed is that it helps to build up a good ‘sleep drive,’ basically, an appetite for sleep making you more likely to fall asleep easily at bedtime.
8 – Take fewer naps
Although the effects of sleep loss can make you feel tired during the day, it is important that you try to resist the temptation to take a nap as this will make you feel less tired at bedtime. If you are feeling dangerously tired, then, of course, take a short nap, but try to restrict it to just 20 minutes to recharge your batteries without falling into a deep sleep.
9 – Manage your worries
One of the most common causes of insomnia is stress. When we are worried about something we tend to lie in bed thinking about it and in then can’t sleep. The sleeplessness causes us more anxiety, and the cycle continues. Try allocating time each day to sit down and write down your thoughts. Get into the habit of labelling worries as either ‘hypothetical’ or ‘real’ worries. If they are hypothetical, then learn to let these go and if they are real then create a plan of action. If you suffer from anxiety and feel it is affecting your sleep, then look to courses of cognitive behaviour therapy for anxiety as this can help you to tackle your unhelpful thinking styles.
10 – Be realistic about your sleep goals
This is one of the most common issues for poor sleepers as they tend to expect 8 hours every night. It’s true that some need 8 hours and can easily get it but for many of us, less is also adequate. Quality is more important than quantity and by trying to get more sleep than your body can manage leaves you lying in bed staring at the ceiling. As we get older, it is normal to find that we sleep for less time and less deeply, so it is important to readjust our expectations.
While these ten things can be done yourself, without the need for intervention, if you are struggling with, don’t suffer in silence. Contact your GP for more information.