Seven ways to address insomnia

Kehinde Fehintoluwa

Kehinde Fehintoluwa

From ditching curry and booze to keeping your eyes off the clock, here is a guide for anyone suffering sleepless nights

Sort out your bedroom

Your bedroom is for sleep, right?* So stop using it as your living room. It is your sanctuary: keep it tranquil and dark. Your body needs darkness to release melatonin, which in turn helps you sleep – so invest in blackout blinds or an eye mask. Switch off mobile phones and computer screens, as their LED screen blue light is particularly unhelpful for melatonin production. If you need a new mattress, spend time choosing one that is appropriate, and make sure your duvet is the right tog for the season.

Stick to a regular bedtime routine

The buzz phrase is sleep hygiene, meaning don’t do anything during the day that might inhibit your sleep later on, and slow down at bedtime. So avoid naps, and go to bed and get up at roughly the same time each day. Enjoy your night-time routine: have a hot bath (it raises your body temperature, which helps you nod off), switch off your devices at least 40 minutes before you turn in, read a book, play soothing music or listen to a “nodcast”.

Watch what you eat and drink

Alcohol can interfere with your sleep cycle – it helps you sleep initially, but wakes you up a few hours later. Avoid big meals in the evening, especially rich, heavy or spicy foods that can cause heartburn and stomach trouble. Don’t drink coffee after lunchtime – 2017 research found caffeine reduces your sleep time and quality.

Don’t check the clock

Part of what keeps us awake at night is stress about being awake. So resist the temptation to clock-watch, which can make you anxious: instead, luxuriate in feeling comfortable, safe and warm. Revisit happy memories and tell yourself that you will still function fine tomorrow.

If you really can’t sleep, get up

If you often lie awake for more than half an hour, either when you first go to bed or if you wake in the night, get up and make yourself comfortable somewhere else with a book or some music. Return to bed when you feel tired – this will help you associate bed with sleep and not with wakefulness.

Get the Sleepio App

Available on the NHS if you live in Thames Valley, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire or Oxfordshire, Sleepio is a digital programme based on cognitive behavioural therapy that helps you discover your ideal personal sleep pattern. Designed to help reduce dependence on sleeping pills, research has shown it can help more than 75% of insomnia sufferers achieve normal sleep.

Keep a sleep diary

Record your sleep habits over a fortnight: when you go to bed, how long it takes you to sleep, whether you wake in the night. Look for patterns you can change – maybe you sleep best when you’ve exercised. A sleep diary can also help a doctor pinpoint what’s wrong. If all else fails, get checked out insomnia is linked with depression, and for some people sleep disruption is an early sign.

  • This article was amended on 6 November 2018. The original said that the Sleepio app was available on the NHS “if you live in the home counties”. In fact, it is only offered by the NHS if you live in Thames Valley: Berkshire, Buckinghamshire or Oxfordshire. The original also suggested the app was available to buy online, but this is no longer the case.


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