Those who have trouble sleeping will know there’s nothing more frustrating than lying in bed wide awake while the whole world is fast asleep.
Sleeping expert Kathryn Pinkham, from London, is the founder of the Insomnia Clinic, which works towards helping people experiencing sleeping troubles and insomnia by providing tips and counselling.
As part of her collaboration with Boots on their Reboot Campaign, she shared the eight steps to a good night’s sleep with Femail.
Kathryn, whose work has been praised by clients and fellow specialists alike, also broke some of the misconceptions surrounding insomnia, such as the belief that going to bed early after a bad night will regulate your sleeping cycle.
1. Avoid looking at the time
‘Avoid looking at the time when you wake up in the night. Each time you check the time you are creating a routine and habit to keep on waking at the same time,’ Kathryn said.
‘It also makes you more likely to start thinking/worrying once you have seen the time and leads to worries about being tired the next day and the pressure to get back to sleep,’ she added.
‘I advise people to set an alarm and then turn to the wall or put your phone on the other side of the room so that you are not so tempted to check the time’.
2. Strengthen your sleep drive
Sleeping well all starts with our sleep drive – how much our body needs to sleep,’ Kathryn explained.
‘Our appetite for sleep is built up by how much time we spend out of bed.
‘If you get into a habit of going to bed early and waking later, then you will find that you either struggle to fall asleep, or end up waking up throughout the night (or both) as your sleep drive is simply not strong enough,’ she said.
‘To combat insomnia try going to bed later and setting your alarm earlier. Even if this is only 30 minutes each end of your sleep window; what you are doing is creating a much stronger sleep drive which results in better quality of sleep,’ she said.
3. Don’t stay in bed wide awake
‘When we’re going through insomnia, we can be tempted to wait for sleep to come to us by staying in bed, but this is a treacherous habit’, Kathryn said.
‘Avoid staying in bed when you are wide awake tossing and turning. This creates an association between your bed and these negative feelings and over time you find that just going to bed will start to make you feel awake and anxious,’ she advised.
‘Instead, leave the room and watch TV or read until sleepy and you will find you are more likely to drop off quicker than if you stay in bed,’ she added.
4. Empty your mind before bed
Often we don’t sleep because of mind refuses to ‘turn off’ and relax. There are things we can do during the day to help.
‘If you struggle with a racing mind and wake during the night then a really effective step you can take is to get into the habit of emptying your mind during the day. Allocate a short 20 window of time each day (early evening perhaps) and write down everything which is on your mind,’ Kathryn said.
‘These can be worries or fears or even just thoughts or your to do list but the aim is to acknowledge the things which are on your mind and get them out of your head onto paper,’ she added.
She added that ignoring our thoughts and worries during the day could come to haunt us back at night.
‘Once you have written down your thoughts, you can then spend some time problem-solving or challenging your worries, but once the 20 minutes is up, just close the notebook and do something else,’ Kathryn said.
‘This is a proactive way of saying to your mind that you are not ignoring or trying to distract yourself from your worries, rather you are allocating a specific time to think about them.
‘Getting into this habit daily will make intrusive thoughts less likely to bother you when you are in bed.’
Kathryn explained that sleep is not the cure to everything, and probably will not leave us feel refreshed if we are overworked, stressed and neglecting our well-being.
‘Try to find time each day to simply rest your mind. You can use mindfulness techniques to ground yourself in the present moment and simply observe your thoughts rather than engaging in them,’ she said.
‘Or, carve out some time for yourself to do whatever you find relaxing, maybe a bubble bath with some relaxing oils or just light a candle and take some time out. Regular rest will help your mind slow down and this helps boost energy levels alongside good, quality sleep.’
6. Don’t go to bed early to recover from a bad night’s sleep
‘What’s one thing you shouldn’t do to try and recover from insomnia? Go to bed too early!
‘This is the often first thing we do after a few bad nights of sleep as we want to try and increase our opportunity for more sleep.
‘However, if we go to bed too early we haven’t built up an adequate ‘appetite’ for sleep so we end up lying in bed, wide awake. This then creates an association between bed and being awake, leading to more sleep loss.’
7. Ditch sleeping pills
Kathryn explained why you shouldn’t rely on sleeping pills to recover from regular insomnia.
‘Sleeping pills can be very effective but are only designed to be used for no longer than 2 weeks. The problem people find with pills is that over time they have to take a higher dose to get the same effect and eventually they stop working altogether,’ she said.
‘This usually leaves the user with even worse sleep issues plus anxiety as they have become reliant on sleeping pills.
8. Talk to your GP
When insomnia affects your mood regularly and is detrimental to your mental health, it’s time to head to the GP, Kathryn said.
‘If you are feeling low in mood or very anxious about your poor sleep and it is starting to affect your daytime function, then this is a sign that your insomnia could become more of a problem.
‘CBT for insomnia techniques can be used at any stage in a sleep problem, but the earlier you try them the quicker you can get back into a good routine which is beneficial for both your physical and mental health.
‘When should I see my GP about insomnia? As above, but I would add that if you have any thoughts of self-harm or suicide as a result of sleep loss then visit your GP or emergency service for support.’