There are few things more frustrating than not being able to sleep. Like grabbing at a bar of soap – the harder you try, the more it seems to escape you.

In the silence of the night, your worries and doubts become exaggerated. Without distractions, it can be hard to switch off your racing mind as you toss and turn, considering the catastrophes of the day or the potential disasters of tomorrow. Constantly checking the clock and calculating how little sleep you’re now able to get only makes things worse.

Everyone experiences disrupted sleep at times; but issues getting to sleep, staying asleep, or waking up at a ridiculous hour are experienced by most people with mental health conditions (people with depression may also sleep too much). Getting on top of your sleep is an important part of managing your mental health; research shows that quality sleep at night helps you better manage your emotions during the day.

The good news is that there are evidence-based strategies for dealing with issues sleeping. These focus on creating habits that better associate your bed with sleep.

An illustration of a lady going through her bedtime routine 

So if you’re tired of waking up tired, here are three rules for getting that good night’s sleep.

Start calming your mind and body in the afternoon

  • Tiring yourself through exercise will help but try to do it in the first half of the day.
  • 4-6 hours before bed, limit your intake of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine.
  • Two hours before bed, avoid using your devices. Screen light and apps are designed to trigger hormones in your brain that keep you alert.

Be consistent around bedtime

  • Avoid napping during the day.
  • Develop a bedtime routine and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day (even on weekends).
  • Keep your bed for sleeping only; don’t read, watch TV or use your phone in bed.

Get out of bed if you can’t sleep

  • If you haven’t been able to sleep after 20 minutes, get up and do something boring in dim light until you’re tired and then try again. And repeat as often as needed. It may take a few tough nights sticking to this rule to see results, but it can be the most effective strategy of the lot.
  • Write down any thoughts you’re stuck on in a notepad to get them out of your head.

Working on improving your sleep may require your lifestyle to be a little more dull than you’d like for a while – so continue to remind yourself about why getting more sleep is important to you.

Experiment with some of these strategies and see what works best for you. If sleep continues to be an issue, it’s worth talking to a specialist and finding about the full range of treatment options available.

Related reading: Finding the work-life balance sweet spot

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