If you have difficulty falling asleep, a regular bedtime routine will help you wind down and prepare for bed.
Few people manage to stick to strict bedtime routines. This is not much of a problem for most people, but for people with insomnia, irregular sleeping hours are unhelpful.
Your routine depends on what works for you, but the most important thing is working out a routine and sticking to it.
Sleep at regular times
First of all, keep regular sleeping hours. This programmes the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine.
Most adults need between 6 and 9 hours of sleep every night. By working out what time you need to wake up, you can set a regular bedtime schedule.
It is also important to try and wake up at the same time every day. While it may seem like a good idea to try to catch up on sleep after a bad night, doing so on a regular basis can also disrupt your sleep routine.
Make sure you wind down
Winding down is a critical stage in preparing for bed. There are lots of ways to relax:
- a warm bath (not hot) will help your body reach a temperature that's ideal for rest
- writing "to do" lists for the next day can organise your thoughts and clear your mind of any distractions
- relaxation exercises, such as light yoga stretches, help to relax the muscles. Do not exercise vigorously, as it will have the opposite effect
- relaxation CDs work by using a carefully narrated script, gentle hypnotic music and sound effects to relax you
- reading a book or listening to the radio relaxes the mind by distracting it
- there are a number of apps designed to help with sleep. See the NHS Apps Library
- avoid using smartphones, tablets or other electronic devices for an hour or so before you go to bed as the light from the screen on these devices may have a negative effect on sleep
If you need more ideas, you can get help and advice from a GP.
The sleepstation website also provides a range of useful articles and resources designed to aid sleep.
You should also contact your GP if you have insomnia that lasts for more than 4 weeks.
Make your bedroom sleep-friendly
Your bedroom should be a relaxing environment. Experts claim there's a strong association in people's minds between sleep and the bedroom.
However, certain things weaken that association, such as TVs and other electronic gadgets, light, noise, and a bad mattress or bed.
Keep your bedroom just for sleep and sex (or masturbation). Unlike most vigorous physical activity, sex makes us sleepy. This has evolved in humans over thousands of years.
Your bedroom ideally needs to be dark, quiet, tidy and be kept at a temperature of between 18C and 24C.
Fit some thick curtains if you do not have any. If you're disturbed by noise, consider investing in double glazing or, for a cheaper option, use earplugs.
Keep a sleep diary
It can be a good idea to keep a sleep diary. It may uncover lifestyle habits or daily activities that contribute to your sleeplessness.
If you see your GP or a sleep expert they will probably ask you to keep a sleep diary to help them diagnose your sleep problems.
A sleep diary can also reveal underlying conditions that explain your insomnia, such as stress or medicine.