1. Harmonise with Your Diurnal Cycle. Are you a morning person or night owl? Have a look at the diagram below to ascertain which one describes you better. A morning person will go to bed and get up early and have lots of energy in the morning but flag during the later part of the day. A night owl will go to bed and wake up late, feel sluggish in the morning but really get going as the evening progresses and into the night. The idea behind it is to match your daily activities to your body’s natural rhythms throughout the day. Some points to remember are:
- Exercise: Getting 45 minutes to an hour of vigorous exercise at the time of day you have the most energy will make you physically tired, which helps you get to sleep.
- Eating: Avoid eating too much before bedtime, or going to bed hungry. Have meals at the same time every day to get your body into a routine.
- Avoid Nanna Naps: they can cause you to not feel tired at bedtime.
- Sex: Just before sleep (when physically & emotionally satisfying) helps you feel sleepy.
2. Establish a Sleep Routine: Doing the same thing every day sends signals to your body to physically prepare itself for each stage of the day. When preparing for bedtime, the body knows to wind down, increase the production of melatonin that is associated with sleep and release muscle tension. Some of the daily things to do are:
- Regular Bedtimes: make sure you go to bed and get up at the same time.
- Develop a sleep ritual: During the last hour of the day, do the same things to signal that it’s bedtime. For example drink a glass of warm milk, have a shower or bath, listen to relaxing music, brush your teeth, change into your pyjamas and read your favourite, uplifting book. All these things will prepare you for sleep.
- Avoid: vigorous physical or mental activity, and emotional upsets close to bedtime.
3. Drugs and Remedies: When encouraging yourself to sleep there are some substances that can be harmful and some that can be beneficial. For example:
- Alcohol: Avoid alcohol consumption before bedtime because although it can help you to drift off initially, it can also wake you up again after a few hours. Not only will you need to use the toilet but your body will wind up again as the effects of the alcohol start to wear off.
- Stimulants: Reduce caffeine (eg, coffee and chocolate) and nicotine consumption as much as possible because they keep you awake! If you must have coffee, have it only in the morning.
- Pain: If pain is causing sleeplessness, analgesics can be just as effective and with fewer side effects than sleeping pills. For example Panadeine contains codeine and can make you feel sleepy.
- Natural Supplements: Try natural supplements that foster sleep, eg, valerian, camomile tea or Chinese herbs. The protein tryptophan found in turkey and milk can also assist your body’s production of melatonin for night time sleep.
4. Establish that Bed = Sleep. A bit like Pavlov’s dogs who salivated every time a bell rang because it signalled the imminent arrival of food, when you create an association between your bed and sleep, you encourage your body to become sleepy automatically when it encounters these specific cues.
- Say no to forcefulness: Don’t try to make yourself fall asleep. If you’re unable to fall asleep after 20 – 30 minutes in bed, leave your bed, engage in some low energy activity (eg, washing up, reading a book, writing a letter) and do not return to bed until you’re sleepy.
- Eliminate non-sleep activities in bed: (such as writing or working on your laptop computer) to strengthen the association between bed and sleeping – unless these activities are part of your sleep ritual.
- Only have a Bed in the Bedroom: take out the TV as this can interrupt your sleep patterns. Mirrors can also be a source of agitation and any other activity or object that isn’t sleep or sex-related.
5. Practical Issues need to be addressed as they can have an impact on sleep.
- Mattress: Try varying the firmness of your mattress, by adding a board underneath.
- Noise: Reduce noise through the use of ear plugs.
- Temperature: Keep your room temperature moderate; too hot or cold tends to interfere with sleep.
- Snoring: If you have a partner and he or she snores, have separate beds.
- Aesthetics: Have soothing smells in your room, eg lavender. Decorate your room in colours that make you feel peaceful and relaxed.
6. Emotional Issues
- Don’t fight insomnia: Accept those nights when you don’t sleep well. You can still function the next day, even if you’ve only had a couple of hours of sleep. The less you fight, resist, or fear sleeplessness, the more it will tend to go away the following night.
- A troubled mind: If emotional problems are causing sleeplessness, consult a therapist. Depression and anxiety disorders commonly produce insomnia. Getting more emotional support and expressing your feelings often will help you sleep. Henshaw Consulting Therapists are highly trained to listen, be supportive, caring as well as offer helpful suggestions.
- Stressed? Learn to relax! For relaxing tense muscles or a racing mind, use deep relaxation techniques such as “Present Moment Awareness”, “Breath Meditation” or “The 3 Second Breathing Technique”.
1. Bourne, E. (1995). The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook. NY: New Harbinger Publications