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Between 30%-48% of UK adults suffer from insomnia. Are you one of them? Perhaps you find it hard to get off to sleep, have difficulty staying asleep, or wake frequently in the night and find you can’t get back to sleep. It’s a problem for me too. So, what can we do about insomnia? Dr Deborah Lee from the Dr Fox Online Pharmacy shared her ten top tips to help us all to get a better night’s sleep.


1. Get Some Sun First Thing In The Morning

Our bodies are programmed to work in conjunction with our own internal biological clock – known as Circadian rhythms. At night-time, the brain recognises the darkness and produces the sleep hormone, melatonin, which is the signal for sleep. But in the mornings, it needs to recognise the daylight, so this highlights the difference between night and day. If you can go out for a walk preferably within an hour of waking, without sunglasses, this will help prime the natural sleep cycle.


2. Create A Bedtime Routine

Never expect to get into bed and drop off straight away when your mind is whirling and tossing after the stress of the day. You need to wind down for sleep. Having a bedtime routine is important, as your brain knows what is coming next.


Set a bedtime and stick to it. Start getting ready for bed an hour or two before this. Turn off the TV screens, the computers, and mobile phones. For start, the blue light emitted by these devices inhibits the production of melatonin. But they also just keep stimulating your busy brain. Play some soft music or listen to something interesting on the radio. Take a warm bath or shower. Do some gentle stretching exercises. Read for half an hour in bed. Avoid caffeine and alcohol at least 6 hours before bedtime.


3. Write A List Before Bedtime

In a 2018 research study, those who wrote a list of plans and obligations for the following day before going to sleep fell asleep more quickly than those who wrote about what had happened during the previous day. Participants were asked to write for 5 minutes about what they planned to do the next day. Writing a ‘to do’ list is a simple way you can park your worries until the morning.


4. Keep A Gratitude Journal

Other research has shown that keeping a gratitude journal can aid sleep. In a 2011 study, a group of students with anxiety and sleep problems was found to worry less and sleep better after completing a gratitude writing task.


When we start to look around and take notice of all the things we are grateful for, and that we often take for granted, this helps us get things into perspective. Developing feelings of gratitude helps lower levels of anxiety and leads to more positive thought processes, which aid relaxation and sleep.


5. The Military Method

You may have heard of ‘the Military Method’, a method apparently used by the Army to help them fall asleep quickly when they have the opportunity. 96% of those who do this are said to fall asleep in 2 minutes –


Here’s how to do it:

  • Start by taking a few slow deep breaths.

  • Then consciously try to relax your face, neck, jaw, and shoulders. Continue with slow deep breaths.

  • Imagine a warm trickling sensation passing over your whole body, passing from the heart down to the toes.

  • Next, breathe in and out slowly and try to relax your body, arms, hands, legs, and feet.

  • You then try imagining you are in a canoe on a calm lake looking up at the blue sky, or, that you are lying on a black velvet hammock in a room that is pitch black

6. Cool Down

You might think you need to get nice and warm to go to sleep, but studies show that body temperature falls by 1-2 degrees when we sleep at night. A fall in temperature signals to the body that it is time for sleep. This is why it’s a good idea to keep your bedroom cool. Sleep with the windows open, or even use a gel pad on your pillow. Exercise heats up your body, which is one of the reasons why it’s not advisable to exercise too close to bedtime.


7. White Noise Or Pink Noise?

Some people swear they can only sleep in silence – which is often impossible in today’s world. In fact, certain types of noise can be helpful for sleep. White noise is a specific sound made up of every frequency of sound that can be heard by the human ear. It creates a background noise that dampens out any loud noises like a door banging or the sound of a car exhaust.


For hospital patients, a white noise machine produced a 40% improvement in the ability to fall asleep. It has also been shown to be effective in helping babies and small children sleep.


Pink noise is made up of a mixture of low-frequency and high-frequency tones. This is background noise like the sound of the wind in the trees or the waves on the ocean. Pink noise has also been found to be helpful in improving the ability to fall asleep, to sleep for longer periods, and have better quality sleep. (I listen to the radio in the night, at a very low volume, so it’s really a murmuring and I have to strain to hear it, but I find it helps.)


8. Only Use Your Bed For Sleeping

Experts are quite insistent that a bed should only be used for sleeping (and sex!). Now that many of us are working from home, it’s important not to work from your bed or bedroom. Your brain needs to know that when you go into the bedroom, it’s time for sleep, and not to associate your sleeping quarters with stress and work. Plus, not working in the bedroom helps you to achieve a work-life balance. It’s time to find another workspace if you want a better night’s sleep.


9. Cold Water And The Dive Reflex

It may be a surprise to know that the diving reflex can aid sleep. When you submerge your face in cold water, your body thinks you are about to dive and sets off a range of natural reflexes, which aid sleep. Your heart rate slows, and your blood pressure falls, as blood is rerouted from the limbs to the brain and the heart. The process activates the parasympathetic nervous system, inducing feelings of calm and relaxation. You can try holding your face under cold water for a few minutes before bedtime, or even going for a night time swim.


Final Thoughts

Falling asleep does not happen easily for many of us. But as you can see, there are many easy, inexpensive, tips and tricks you can use to help yourself fall asleep faster.


What changes could you make to help yourself get off to sleep more quickly?


About the Author – Dr Deborah Lee is from the Dr Fox Pharmacy, a fully regulated UK online doctor and pharmacy service managed by NHS GPs. She is a doctor and freelance writer who writes about all aspects of health.

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