Psychodynamic Psychotherapist and Counsellor in Canterbury, Kent

As part of General Wellbeing Month at Psychotherabee, we’re sharing some ways you can improve your sleep as suggested by Dr Matthew Walker, renowned neuroscientist and psychologist. Try some of these tips and see what works for you.

Improve your sleep hygiene. This is probably the one you hear about most — don’t use your laptop in bed, use your bed only for sleeping in so your brain associates your bed with being asleep. If you experience middle of the night insomnia, try getting up and doing something quiet and retire to bed again when you feel tired. The more time you spend awake in bed, the more your brain will associate being in bed with being awake. Also try not to have any LED lights in the bedroom — these are bright and more damaging to sleep as the brightness tells the brain it’s time to be awake.

Establish a bedtime routine. We’re creatures of habit, our brains enjoy routine. For example, our brain knows that when it starts to get dark outside, we will be looking to sleep soon, which can explain why winter is a struggle for some folks. In establishing a routine for sleeping and waking up, the brain will fall easily into this routine, this making sleep easier.

Ditch the sleeping pills. Sleeping pills don’t generate sleep — nothing can do that. The chemicals in sleeping pills help to sedate the body, but they do not offer natural sleep, so when you take sleeping pills, you are not gaining the same benefits obtained by sleeping naturally. This might cause you to still feel tired in the morning.

Limit your caffeine intake. Better still, eliminate it altogether! Caffeine has a strange effect on the brain — it provides the ‘boost’ we feel we need, but the crash we might feel after the caffeine wears off will have us reaching for another coffee, and it becomes a vicious cycle until it is late in the evening and we are unable to sleep because the caffeine is still in our system, thus leading some to reach for the sleeping pills.

Keep your bedroom relatively cool. This one might sound counterintuitive, but our core body temperature drops a degree or two in preparation for sleep, so if your bedroom is relatively cool, this will help you get to sleep.

Mentally decelerate before bed. Whatever this looks like for you, whether it’s meditation, journalling, or some light reading, try and do what you can to shake off the day’s anxieties. This will help create a good headspace for going to sleep.

Hide any clocks in view. Are you ever up in the middle of the night, staring at your clock and counting how much sleep you would have if you fell asleep right then? This is counterproductive in helping us sleep. If this sounds like you, try and hide your clock faces at night to help any anxiety you might have about sleep.

Get some sun. Sunlight helps the brain cement the fact that it’s daytime and it’s time to be awake. Try and get at least a half hour of sun a day to help wake you up.

Avoid eating large meals and drinking lots before bed. Although we experience the inevitable food coma after eating so much, your tummy will keep you up in the night trying to digest all the food. Similarly, if you drink a lot before bed, including diuretics such as tea and hot chocolate, you will be up in the night needing the bathroom. Try to eat and drink a sensible amount before bed. Ideally you shouldn’t sleep an hour after eating anyway to minimise the chance of getting indigestion.

Exercise regularly but not before bed. Regular exercise is the key to deep sleep, better quality sleep, and shorter time falling asleep. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will sleep better on your workout days to your non-workout days, but rather that exercising regularly will improve your sleep overall. You shouldn’t exercise 2-3 hours before bed though, as your core body temperature needs to be relatively cool in order to fall asleep.

Don’t be disheartened if this doesn’t work for you immediately — like we said, it’s all about establishing routine, so give your body some time to adjust to the new sleep habits you’re scheduling. If all else fails, there’s always CBT-I, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia. This has been found to be more effective than sleeping pills.

Whether you have read this article for yourself or a loved one, we hope you have learnt something you didn’t know before! You can purchase a copy of Dr Walker’s Why We Sleep here to learn more about the importance of sleep and how we can harness it to get the most out of ourselves.

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