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How to sleep better: Five things to try before sleeping pills

1. Change your expectation

Being an insomniac can become a way of life with your brain ‘expecting’ you not to sleep at night, even if you’re not consciously thinking it. What can really help is creating a different expectation – that you will in fact sleep really well. When you get into bed, tell yourself out loud that you are relaxed, comfortable and safe and that you are going to sleep really well and wake up to have a great day. Sounds bonkers, but persist because it really can work.

2. Distract your brain

Severe insomnia can sometimes cause your brain to think that being asleep isn’t safe for you. What can help with this is lulling your brain into such a state of deep boredom that it takes its focus off the thought that you’re going to end up dead if you fall asleep by thinking of a list of non-consequential things e.g. a hedgehog, a window, a mountain, a pencil, a fridge, a kite, a ladybird and so on. Because none of it means anything, your brain is encouraged not to form connections or thought processes and gives you permission to go to sleep. Winner.

3. Controlled napping

This is really hard when you’re not sleeping at night. That ‘I’ve been shot with a tranquiliser dart’ feeling is a very powerful one, but if you’re going to nap, try not to do it after 5pm and always make sure it’s no longer than half an hour at most. Otherwise you might experience sleep inertia, that horrible groggy feeling where your brain struggles to kick start being awake.

4. Wakey wakey

Again, this feels tough when you haven’t slept, but getting up at the same time every day can help reset the pendulum of your internal clock. You may feel like sleeping in after a bad night, but it won’t help reset the rhythm; you need to get into a pattern.

5. Exercise

This isn’t news, but regular exercise plays a significant role in getting a good night’s sleep. Fortunately scientists have discovered that moderate aerobic exercise, like walking, works best for insomniacs rather than knocking yourself out with weights or running. Relief.

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