Guest post …by Julia Welstead
- decide on your ideal sleep slot eg 11pm to 7am and pledge to yourself that you’re going to stick with it until it works. Eight hours is recommended.
- don’t sleep outside of these desired hours (ie no afternoon napping!)
- minimise alcohol and caffeine, and no caffeine at all from lunchtime onwards
- don’t eat a heavy meal too late in the evening, but don’t go to bed hungry either
- have something warm and sweet (something like Ovaltine or Horlicks or hot water/milk with honey) in the hour before bedtime
- have a deep relaxing bath in the hour before bedtime
- don’t watch a screen (TV, computer, phone) in the hour before bedtime
- make sure the house is dark and quiet, and you are warm and comfortable
- get to bed with half an hour of reading time in hand, and a book you are enjoying
- once lights out, close your eyes and let your mind drift to a place where you feel relaxed and calm (beach or woodland walk, sunbathing, lying under a tree staring through the leaves etc). At this point some people find a ‘counting sheep’ type of exercise works (it doesn’t work for me as I used to be a sheep farmer and I start to worry that one is limping, another is stuck in the fence and so on!). Another good mental exercise is writing up numbers on a blackboard then rubbing them off: start at 100 and work backwards.
- if you aren’t asleep within about half an hour, or can’t settle, get up and do something that is boring and pointless to you, and do it standing up eg read a phone book, count random things around the house, dust the skirting boards, polish the windows (but if you are a lover of housework, don’t do these!). DO NOT let yourself get comfortable and engaged in something interesting or something worrying, don’t eat, don’t switch on a screen. The key here is that you must not reward your brain for being awake: you need it to decide that sleep is the more attractive option (ie treat your brain a bit like a young child!)
- Go back to bed when you feel ready and repeat from point 10 repeat 10 and 11 for as long as it takes
- whatever has happened through the night, make sure you get up at the appointed hour (eg 7am) and stay awake all day, however tired you feel: this is a vital part of night-sleep success.
Humans aren’t hard-wired to sleep through the night (we traditionally did a lot more short, catnapping type sleeps intermingled with checking for safety etc), it’s a fairly modern social construct, and we therefore have to train ourselves to do it if we want/need to fit in with life/work routines. So the above should be seen as a behavioural training schedule to capture the sleep response, ie it may not miraculously work on the first night! As with any training schedule, you have to stick with it.