Sleeping . . . it’s simple right? You get out of bed in the morning, stay active for around 16 hours, then go back to bed and fall asleep. Simple.
If a child has problems sleeping we tell them to count sheep, offer a glass of warm milk, or set their room to a mild temperature. These techniques can help to calm their mind and allow sleep to come more naturally.
But what does an adult do when sleep is hard to come by? What should we do when sleep is hard to find? Sleep can be especially difficult for those affected by mental illness, as an individual's symptoms, or the side-effects of medication, can sometimes interfere.
There's no universal solution, but the SANE Helpline encourages our callers to go back to the 10 golden rules of 'sleep hygiene'.
1. Be regular – Train your body to sleep by going to bed and getting up at the same time everyday, even on weekends. You can develop your own sleep rituals, such as stretches, breathing exercises, meditation, or sitting calmly with a cup of caffeine-free tea.
2. Sleep when sleepy – Don’t spend too much time lying awake in bed, only go to bed when you feel tired.
3. Get up and try again – If you haven’t fallen asleep within half an hour, get up and do something calm until you feel sleepy. Sit with the lights dimmed and read something boring (preferably in print not on a screen). Try to avoid anything overly interesting or stimulating; as this could wake you up even more.
4. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol – It is best to avoid consuming these substances at least 4-6 hours before bed. They can act as stimulants that keep you awake and disturb the quality of your sleep.
5. Bed is for sleeping – Only use your bed for what it's intended, so your body associates bed with sleep. If you watch TV, eat, read, or work on your laptop, your body may not learn this connection. Leave your phone outside the bedroom too.
6. No naps – Avoid naps during the day to ensure you are tired at bedtime. If you can’t make it through the day, ensure your nap is for less than an hour and before 3pm.
7. Bath time – Having a bath 1-2 hours before bedtime can help. The bath raises your body temperature, and you begin to feel sleepy as your temperature drops.
8. No clock-watching – It’s natural, but try not to watch the clock. Checking the time wakes you up and reinforces negative thoughts such as ‘oh no it’s so late, I’ll never get to sleep’.
9. Use a sleep diary or app – This is a valuable way to track your sleep patterns. Depending on the cause of your insomnia, a GP or psychologist can use this information to get a better understanding of what is happening, or they can refer you to a sleep specialist for further assessment.
10. Exercise – Regular exercise is good for your physical and mental health, but it is also good when it comes to sleep. Burning energy during the day can help to ensure you don’t feel restless in the evening. Try not to do strenuous exercise in the 4 hours before bedtime.
Remember your sleeping pattern can be a good indication as to how you are travelling physically and mentally - a barometer or warning sign to take notice of other symptoms or unhealthy lifestyle choices.
So if you are experiencing sleep difficulties use these rules and remember to talk to your GP or other health professional if you continue to have difficulties with your sleep.
Do you have any advice, tips or tricks for fighting insomnia? Add your voice to the SANE Forums discussion on sleep.