Updated: May 20, 2021
Many of my clients, friends and family tell me they aren't able to get a good nights sleep. Some go as far as to say they suffer from insomnia on a regular basis.
We all know how essential sleep and rest is for both our physical and mental health so I thought I would share a few of the tips and techniques I tell my clients to try.
Go to bed when you are tired
Sounds obvious right? but many of us don't do it! There is no point heading up to bed when you are wide awake as the temptation to play on your phone or read half a book will be too compelling!
Equally try to avoid staying up far beyond feeling tired as this is also counterproductive to getting a good nights sleep. Plus you are far more likely to have an accidental sofa snooze before heading up to bed if you stay up late- sofa snoozes often work like a power nap and make you feel re energised rather than ready for your 6 hours minimum beauty sleep.
Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and sugar close to bed time. Remember caffeine can take up to 8 hours to leave your system so ideally it should be avoided after lunch. Often it helps to set a curfew time for yourself- e.g. no sugar or caffeine intake after 4pm. If you really can't cope all afternoon and evening without a brew then try to switch to decaff.
Equally you should avoid relying on alcohol or drugs to calm down before bed, yes they may assist you to get off to sleep but the quality of that sleep is likely to be very poor.
The bedroom should be a sanctuary
Avoid watching TV, reading, the use of phones or tablets or working in the bedroom. The bedroom should be kept for sleeping (and intimacy of course- which is also great for a good nights sleep!) With so many of us working from home now the temptation can be to check those emails in bed, resist if at all possible or your brain may find it hard to switch off and be calm enough for sleep.
Keep the clutter to a minimum in the bedroom for the same reasons- a calm, clutter free space will help you to drift off more easily.
Even the colour of your room can effect how relaxed you become and thus how well you sleep, for example many people have red in their bedrooms as a feature wall or in accessories as it's the colour of romance. It's also subconsciously for us all the colour of danger so it's not very conducive to a good nights sleep! So next time you are decorating think about which colours keep you calm and tranquil and maybe opt for them in the boudoir!
What if I can't get to sleep?
If you can't get to sleep in the first place or you wake up and can't drift back off it can be really frustrating. Try 7/11 breathing or muscle relaxation.
7/11 breathing is breathing in for a count of 7 and out for a count of 11, the important thing is to elongate the out breath. (If you can't quite manage 7/11 try 3/5 instead.)
Muscle relaxation- take 2 or 3 deep breaths and then tense your toes and feet, hold for 5 seconds and relax. Next tense your toes, feet and lower legs, hold for 5 seconds and relax. Then tense your toes, feet lower and upper legs, hold for 5 seconds and relax. And so on until you are tensing your whole body, (except your head- that could give you a headache!)
If you still can't sleep after trying the above then get up and do something really boring- finish a task you have been putting off, fold the washing, list out as many types of insects that you can (unless of course insects are your passion!). Do not reward your brain and body for waking up with things like food or with fun/stimulants like watching TV or playing on your phone.
Once you feel tried again return to bed and if you still don't get to sleep within 30 minutes get up again and do some more boring tasks until you feel tired. Repeat as needed. This helps to reaffirm to your brain and body that sleep time is exactly that or it has to face a very boring alternative- basically you are training your brain to behave the way you want it to!
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
Diet and exercise are really important to achieving a good nights sleep.
Eating a well balanced, healthy diet will properly fuel your mind and body. Regular gentle exercise will help you to feel physically tired enough to sleep well.
Author: Gill Jackson of Gill Jackson Therapeutic Counselling, BA Hons Counselling, Diploma in Couples and Family Therapy, CIPD, SMACCPH
Bio: I am a Therapist/Psychotherapist and Accredited Mentor in private practice in the UK. Qualified since 2007. Working with adults, young adults and children. I specialise in Anxiety Disorders and Depression.
This article is not intended as a replacement for medical advice, if you are suffering from any physical or mental ill health please seek advice of your Doctor where necessary.