Tips to beat insomnia and sleep better
by Clinical Psychologist David Norman
Sleep is just as important for our health as is fitness and nutrition, according to the Sleep Health Foundation. But you are not alone if you are having difficulties with insomnia – research by the Sleep Health Foundation in 2010 using 1512 people (males and females, of different ages, and from different locations in Australia) found that 20% of respondents had frequent difficulty falling asleep, and 35% reported frequent waking during the night.
Sleep problems are quite common, but there are some things you can do to help. Here are three.
1) Challenge myths about sleep
Your beliefs about sleep can either help you or get in the way of a good night’s sleep. It is important to rethink some of those unhelpful beliefs, as this can produce a real change in your sleep quality. We’ve listed some of the more common myths and the truth about these below:
2) Improve your “sleep hygiene”
Engaging in healthy habits associated with your sleep can make a difference to the quality and length of your sleep. Most of these habits are common sense, but it can be helpful to brush up on them by checking the following list:
- Avoid stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine close to bedtime.
- Check that the conditions for sleep are as best as you can make them. For example, make sure you are not too hot or too cold, your mattress and pillow are comfortable, noise is minimised, and light is minimised.
- Try to get some (sun-safe!) exposure to sunlight during waking hours. This helps to regulate the melatonin levels in your body – an important hormone associated with the sleep cycle.
- Avoid heavy or rich foods before sleep as they can lead to heartburn that disrupts sleep.
- Try not to use electronic devices with screens on the bed. Using a device is likely to increase your emotional and/or cognitive levels, and increase activation because of the increased light. Furthermore, you may be weakening the association the mind makes that “bed = sleep.”
- Try to avoid naps if it is less than 6-8 hours before your normal sleep time.
- Try to have a regular night-time routine.
- Try not to keep watching the clock if you are having trouble sleeping.
- If you aren’t asleep within what feels like 20 minutes in bed, go to another room with minimal stimulation until you feel like sleeping again.
3) Visit a health professional
Sleep disturbances could be associated with a range of psychological, physiological, or medical issues. There has also been increasing awareness that sleep disturbances can be issues in their own right – in fact, the DSM-V identifies 10 sleep-wake disorder groups, such as insomnia disorder, breathing-related sleep disorders, and circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders. If you are concerned about your sleep, then it would be a good idea to talk to your GP or psychologist and they can help to accurately assess your difficulties and provide you with evidence-based treatment options such as Sleep Hygiene, Sleep Scheduling, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness Meditation, among others.