• 1 in 3 adults have trouble sleeping 

  • John McKenzie offers 10 simple self-care tips to help you get a good night's sleep

  • If you have insomnia, therapy can help. Find a therapist here

Around a third of adults have periods of Insomnia, rising to half in those over sixty. Insomnia itself can have a range of causes – illness, the menopause, anxiety, and the side-effects of certain medication. What’s common though is the debilitating effect that lack of sleep has on people’s physical as well as mental health.

When I see people about insomnia and disturbed sleep I always go through the following 10 self-care steps with them. That’s about making sure that their ‘sleep hygiene’ isn’t the issue – essentially that they aren’t unwittingly prolonging their insomnia.

1. Reducing caffeine and sugar

If your sleep pattern is poor avoid using caffeine and sugar to give you a lift in the afternoon. Although you’ll get an energy boost at the time these will affect your sleep again that evening.

2. Reducing blue light

Avoid blue light, the kind emitted by smartphones, tablets, and some LED lighting, for 2 hours before bedtime. It’s light like this that directly affects your body clock, and cause problems sleeping.

3. Not using alcohol

Don’t use alcohol to help you get to sleep. Alcohol robs you of quality sleep, disrupting your essential REM dream sleep.

4. Bedtime snacks

Try eating a small amount of carbohydrate rich food before bed, like toast or cereal. The milk with the cereal also contains tryptophan, which promotes sleep.

5. Bedroom environment

For the best chance of good sleep your bedroom needs to be dark, quiet, and at a neutral temperature – for most people this means around 18°C in their bedroom.

6. Having a bath

Following a hot bath your core body temperature starts to fall, and return to normal. Your core body temperature also cools as you fall asleep, which is why taking a bath before bed promotes sleep.

7. Using ‘hypnotics’

Hypnotics are oils like lavender or neroli, which improve the time taken to get to sleep, and the quality of sleep. Try them in a diffuser, or in your bath.

8. Exercise

Exercise promotes sleep too. Ideally it should finish no earlier than 6 hours before your bedtime, to allow enough time for your body become rested again.

9. The bedside clock

If the bedside clock is a constant reminder of your time spent awake then the answer is easy – put it where you can’t see it.

10. Consistency

Not keeping the same bedtime and getting up time every day, including the weekends, is a common problem. This means not ‘catching up’ on your sleep with lie-ins, early nights, or afternoon naps as these all perpetuate your disturbed sleep pattern. Having taken all 10 of these steps there will still be times when you have insomnia, especially at the beginning. How you tackle this depends upon how long you’re awake.

If it’s been less than 20 minutes then try some moderately difficult mental arithmetic. Tests show that this helps people with insomnia fall asleep more quickly. An alternative is to try to stay awake and not let yourself drop off – for many people this has the opposite effect of promoting sleepiness.

If it’s been over 20 minutes you should get up, leave the bedroom, have a hot drink, and engage in some non-stimulating activity for 20 or 30 minutes. The aim here is to prevent bed becoming associated with feelings of anxiety about sleep.

John McKenzie is a verified welldoing.org therapist in Altrincham

Further reading

Meet the therapist: John McKenzie

Insomnia: all in the mind?

How sleep affects our diet

Do prebiotics help with sleep?

How to get a good night's sleep

This article was originally published as part of welldoing.org's partnership with Health Unlocked