Do you struggle to get to sleep? We’ve all had nights where we can’t switch off, or wake up frequently. But if you’re regularly not able to sleep well it’s called insomnia, and it can affect your daily life. You might find it difficult to concentrate or remember things, and have more negative thoughts. Disturbed sleep can also impact relationships and make everyday tasks challenging.
Insomnia can have lots of possible causes, and worrying about not sleeping can itself make it harder to go to sleep. But there are things you can do to help relax your mind and body so you can drift off more easily, and sleep better through the night:
1. Make time for a pre-sleep routine
Set aside a ‘relaxation hour’ before bed every evening to unwind. Do things you find relaxing during this time, perhaps taking a warm bath or reading. Or try relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation. Giving yourself time to relax helps you go to bed in a peaceful state of mind, rather than one that’s still buzzing with the events of the day.
If your insomnia is caused by stress or anxiety, breathing and mindfulness exercises before bed can also keep worries at bay. These techniques can help you focus on your body, which quietens your mind ready for sleep.
2. Seek help from a professional
Your GP may be able to identify and help resolve any underlying physical issues that are affecting your sleep. And if your sleep problems are related to your mental health, seeing a counsellor can be helpful. In therapy you have the chance to talk in confidence, so you can identify and address the causes for your current difficulties.
Hypnotherapy can be very effective for treating sleep problems too, because it helps you learn to ease yourself into a relaxed state. A hypnotherapist can also help you put a stop to habits and thought patterns that cause your insomnia.
3. Keep regular hours
Try to go to sleep at around the same time each night, and set your alarm for the same time each morning. This helps regulate your body clock, the internal system that makes your levels of alertness rise and dip over the course of the day. Not only does a routine help you go to sleep faster, but you’re more likely to sleep straight through the night.
If you can, try to avoid naps too, especially in the afternoon. This can disrupt your body clock and make it more difficult to fall asleep at bedtime.
4. Create a comfy sleeping environment
If your bedroom isn’t comfortable, this can affect how well you sleep. Your mattress can have a big impact on sleep quality, so it’s a good idea to try a different one if you’re not comfy at night. And if you suffer from chronic pain, get professional help to find the right one. Clutter can increase stress levels, so spring-cleaning your bedroom is another way to create a restful environment.
Studies have shown we sleep better when it’s cool (6-18C), so consider turning down the thermostat before bed, too.
5. Free yourself from distractions
We’re biologically programmed to sleep when it’s dark and wake when it’s light. So at bedtime, cut out the light completely. Invest in blackout curtains or blinds, or use an eye mask. And in the morning try to access plenty of daylight; open your curtains or go outside.
It’s also helpful to cut out any distracting noise at night-time. Try keeping your phone on silent, and use thick curtains or earplugs to block out traffic sounds.
6. Cut down on caffeine and alcohol
It’s natural to crave caffeine to help you power through the day if you’re feeling exhausted, and resort to a nightcap to help you drift off. But try to resist: caffeine will make you more alert, anxious and make it harder to relax when you need to. And while alcohol can make you fall asleep faster it’s likely to disrupt your sleep later on. Consider having a warm, milky drink or herbal tea instead.
7. Turn off the tech
Tech devices like phones and laptops stimulate the mind and keep you alert. The harsh light and the wavelengths given off by electronic devices also suppress your body’s sleep inducing hormone melatonin, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
Limit your exposure to your phone before bed and consider listening to the radio or reading a book instead. Reading can actually help relax your mind by distracting it.
8. Write down your worries
Do you lie awake at night-time worrying about the future? If you’re under stress or have a busy schedule, it’s easy to fixate on worries at night when there are less distractions. But if you write down your worries you can gain perspective over them.
Set aside time before bed to write in a journal. You could include to-do lists for the next day, any worries you’ve been experiencing, or upcoming events. This will help put your mind at ease, organise your thoughts and reduce the stress.
9. If all else fails, get up!
If you’ve been lying in bed for a while and feeling frustrated because you can’t sleep, get up and do something else. Avoid your phone, but try something calming like making yourself a warm drink or reading a book for a few minutes. Return to your bed when you feel relaxed enough to try again. This works because it stops your body associating stress and sleeplessness with your bed, and you start to associate it with being relaxed instead.
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful and you enjoy a good night’s sleep very soon. For more ideas on how to sleep well, take a look at the links below.
Would you like to talk to someone about your sleeping problems? I’m here to help you. I’m a person-centred counsellor and hypnotherapist based in Manchester. I also offer online and telephone counselling UK wide. If you want to discuss anything in confidence, you’re welcome to get in touch with me.
NHS Sleep Diary – This is a good way to track your sleeping patterns and identify lifestyle habits that contribute to your sleeplessness.
National Counselling Society – The society for counsellors and therapists has a database of trained, registered counsellors. It’s searchable by area.
Sleep by Headspace – If you miss your phone too much to switch it off at bedtime, these relaxing sleepcasts from the Headspace mediation app are currently available for free on YouTube
The Sleep Council – This is an impartial, advisory organisation that provides advice and tips on how to improve sleep quality. It also has a helpful directory of resources for various sleep conditions.