Set up a strict routine involving regular and adequate sleeping times. Allocate a time for sleeping, for example, 11pm to 7am, and don’t use this time for anything else. Avoid daytime naps, or make them short and regular. If you had a bad night, avoid sleeping late, as this makes it more difficult to fall asleep the following night.
Devise a relaxing bedtime routine that enables you to wind down before bedtime. This may involve breathing exercises or meditation or simply reading a book or listening to some music. A hot bath can be helpful: by diverting blood to the periphery, it leads to a drop in core temperature once out of the bath, which in turn encourages sleep. Looking at bright screens before going to sleep can play havoc with your circadian rhythm, so avoid TV, computers, and phones.
Enjoy a hot, non-caffeinated drink such as herbal tea or hot chocolate. In time, your hot drink could serve as a sleeping cue.
Sleep in a familiar, dark, and quiet room that is adequately ventilated and neither too hot nor too cold. Try to use this room for sleeping only, so that you come to associate it with sleep. In time, your room could become another sleeping cue. If necessary, wear a sleep mask and earplugs. And switch off your phone.
If sleep doesn’t come, don’t get anxious or annoyed and try to force yourself to sleep. The more aggravated your become, the less likely you are to fall asleep. Instead, try to clear your mind and relax. I find that making myself feel grateful soon sends me off to sleep—it might also work for you. Alternatively, get up and do something relaxing and enjoyable for half an hour before giving it another go.
Exercise regularly. Exercise reduces arousal and anxiety and also helps with other aspects such as mood and physical health. But don’t workout too close to bedtime as the short-term alerting effects of exercise may make it harder to fall asleep.
Reduce your overall stress. At the same time, try to do something fulfilling each day. As Leonardo da Vinci said, a well-spent day brings happy sleep.
Eat a wholesome evening meal with a good balance of protein and complex carbohydrates. Eating too much can make it difficult to fall asleep; eating too little can disturb your sleep and decrease its quality.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol, particularly in the evening. Levels of adenosine in the brain rise with prolonged wakefulness and lead to sleepiness. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, which makes it harder to fall asleep and decreases overall length and quality of sleep. Alcohol may make it easier to fall asleep, but, like caffeine, decreases overall length and quality of sleep, especially restorative REM sleep.
If insomnia persists despite these measures, speak to your doctor. In some cases, insomnia has a very specific cause such as a physical problem or an adverse effect of medication that requires your doctor’s attention. While sleeping tablets may seem like a solution, they are best avoided in the longer term because of their adverse effects and high potential for tolerance (needing more and more to produce the same effect) and dependence/addiction. Non-pharmacological alternatives to sleeping tablets include sleep restriction therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Remember, sleep is your friend, not your enemy. If you’ve found something in life that’s better than sleeping, you’re already a huge success.