It's 3am, you are lying awake and you've just checked the time yet again to see how many more hours you have to try and force yourself to sleep until your alarm goes off.
Sounds familiar? You're not alone - a lot of us have periods of insomnia at some point in our lives, particularly during stressful periods, and the current pandemic has affected sleep patterns for many of us.
However, good sleep is more in your control than you might think. Reseachers have identified a variety of practices and habits known as "sleep hygiene". Following these habits can help you to improve the quality of your sleep.
Here are eight simple sleep hygiene tips from the experts for you to try:
1. Set a consistent sleep schedule
Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day sets your body’s internal clock to expect sleep at a certain time. Although it's very tempting to lie in at the weekends, try to stick as closely as possible to your routine on Saturdays and Sundays to avoid a Monday morning sleep hangover.
Waking up at the same time each day is the very best way to set your clock. Even if you did not sleep well the night before, keeping your routine the same will help you to consolidate sleep the following night.
2. Establish a pre-sleep routine
A consistent, relaxing pre-sleep routine helps your body to recognise when it's time to go to sleep, and can help you to wind down and set yourself up for a better sleep.
Turn your TV and computer off an hour before bedtime, and limit the use of your mobile phone. If you need to use your phone, set it to night mode, as the blue light emitted from screens can suppress your melatonin levels - the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle.
Avoid doing any work, discussing emotional issues, or doing any stressful activities - these could cause your body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to increase alertness.
Wind down by reading a book, taking a bath (the rise and fall in body temperature promotes drowsiness), writing in a journal or doing some gentle relaxation exercises. Check out the meditation and mindfulness classes on We Connect here.
3. Turn your bedroom into a haven for sleep
Your bedroom environment can help to promote a restful night - it should be cool, dark and quiet. Keep the room well ventilated and the temperature cool, and make sure that your bedding is not too heavy.
Block light by using a blackout blind, heavy curtains or an eye mask, and block out external noise with earplugs or a white noise generating machine.
You should have an alarm clock (with the time facing away from you) next to your bed rather than using your phone as an alarm. This will mean you are not tempted to check your phone in the night - the stimulation and the light from the screen will make you more awake. You could consider buying a sunrise simulating alarm clock to wake you up gently and naturally.
If your pet regularly wakes you during the night you may want to consider keeping it out of the bedroom. Keeping computers, TVs and work materials out of the bedroom will strengthen the mental association that your bedroom is for sleep and sex only.
4. Limit your intake of substances that interfere with sleep
Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake, so avoid coffee, tea, chocolate and fizzy drinks (and some pain relievers) for four to six hours before bedtime.
As tobacco is also a stimulant, smokers should refrain from using tobacco products too close to bedtime.
Although alcohol may make you feel drowsy and help you fall asleep easily, after a few hours it acts as a stimulant - increasing the number of times you wake up and decreasing the quality of sleep later in the night. It is therefore best to avoid drinking alcohol within three hours of bedtime.
5. Use light to help your internal clock
Exposure to natural light can help to keep your internal clock on a healthy sleep/wake cycle. Let light into your bedroom as soon as you wake up, sit next to a window whilst you are working if possible, and get out into the sunlight on your lunch break. If you are struggling to expose yourself to enough light in the daytime, consider buying a light therapy lamp.
6. Nap effectively
If you must nap in the day, keep it to 45 minutes or less, and before 5pm. Naps later in the day will likely intefere with your sleep that night.
7. Eat light evening meals and balance your fluid intake
It's very hard to find a comfortable sleeping position with a full stomach, and your body is working hard to try to digest your food.
Finish your dinner several hours before bedtime, and avoid heavy foods that cause indigestion. If you get hungry later in the evening, snack on light foods that you know from experience won't disturb your sleep.
Drink enough fluid to keep you from waking up thirsty in the night, but not so much and so close to bedtime that you will wake up needing to go to the bathroom.
8. Exercise earlier in the day
Exercise is an excellent tool to help you sleep more soundly and to fall asleep faster. However, exercise stimulates cortisol, the stress hormone which increases alertness. Therefore you should try to finish exercising at least three hours before bedtime, or exercise in the morning to help to set you up for the day ahead.
Some of these tips will be easier for you to implement than others. Always be kind and patient with yourself, but especially at the moment. If you stick with practicing good sleep hygiene, your chances of sleeping more soundly will improve.
That being said, some serious ongoing sleep problems need to be raised with your GP, as you may be experiencing a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome or another clinical sleep issue.