For those that have suffered from it, insomnia is often described as a particularly horrendous form of torture. You want to drop off – and yet you can’t. You finally fall into a doze, only to wake up and find you feel no more refreshed than when you fell asleep. So what can be done without resorting to tablets, drugs or alcohol?
Insomnia will often improve by making changes to your bedtime habits. Set a specific time for going to bed and getting up each morning. Try to stick to this time, seven days a week, even if you feel that you haven’t had enough sleep.
Don’t take a nap during the day. This is vital. If you do feel tired (and it’s very likely that you will if you aren’t getting enough sleep at night) then go for a walk. The fresh air will also help with sleeping when night-time comes.
Take some form of fairly energetic exercise every day, such as 30 minutes brisk walking or cycling. Making this part of your commute to work is ideal. Swimming is also a really good form of exercise which many find can make you much more likely to feel worn-out at night. But don’t exercise in the evening, because the chemical changes that exercise induces may make it more difficult to fall asleep easily.
Stop drinking tea and coffee for a few hours before bedtime. If this is an essential part of your evening, then swap to a decaffeinated drink. Many people have found that milky drinks have a soporific effect so if you were previously drinking a black expresso every evening, then change this to a decaffeinated coffee with lots of milk.
Alcohol and smoking in the evenings have also been shown by many studies to prevent restful sleep. And don’t eat a big meal just before bedtime. You may feel lethargic straight afterwards, but your gut will not be able to process all the food you have eaten and you are much more likely to wake up with indigestion in the early hours of the morning.
Don’t use any back-lit devices just before going to bed. Time and time again studies have shown that televisions, phones and tablets in the bedroom are not a good thing and yet we are so addicted to them that we find their flickering lure very hard to resist.
Music as you drop off can be calming. Tuning your radio to Radio 3 or Classic FM at a low volume, helps many people to relax and drop off naturally. And if you can have it plugged into a timer so it turns off automatically after 30 minutes or so, then that is even better.
In your bedroom, use thick blackout blinds or heavy curtains. Make sure the room is at a comfortable temperature for sleeping – slightly on the chilly side is actually better than too warm. Wear ear plugs if noise is likely to be a problem and make sure your mattress and pillow are really comfortable. A cooler room with plenty of blankets on your bed is much more conducive to a good night’s sleep than a hot room with just a light cover.
If you’ve done all of the above and you still can’t sleep, then don’t lie in bed feeling anxious. Get up and go to another room for about 20 minutes and do something else, such as reading before trying again. And write a list of your worries and any ideas to solve them before you go to bed. This may well help you forget about them until the morning.
And it starts with a simple shake.