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7 Steps to beat insomnia

Can't get no sleep? You're not alone. On World Sleep Day we chatted to a sleep expert about how to pandemic-proof our Z-time. Want to beat those bleary-eyed starts? Read on.

A year of general pandemic anxiety, coping with homeschooling, juggling Zoom calls and goodness knows what else, has left many of us lying awake at night, wide-eyed.

In the past year the hashtag ‘can’t sleep’ has been trending like crazy, with 2.3m people posting about their inability to nod off (and 3.7 million posting under ‘insomnia’). We are the new woke generation – and not in a good way.

Even in ‘normal’ times, approximately up to 35 percent of the population experiences acute, or short-term, insomnia (according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine) so it’s little wonder that our disrupted schedules and anxieties have created the perfect storm of sleep problems.

We caught up with Kathryn Pinkham, Founder of The Insomnia Clinic and a consultant Sleep Specialist for the NHS for her tips on cracking sleepless nights.

She says: “Even for the most laid back of us, it is difficult not to feel worried about the future. We may be gradually coming out of lockdown now but the pandemic has made many of us feel incredibly stressed, there’s no magic wand to make that disappear overnight.

“Social-distancing, relationship woes, irritable kids, financial worries and a change in normal routine can profoundly affect your sleep.

“But it’s important to acknowledge that this is ok, and that it’s really normal. We are designed to cope with periods of sleep loss. For some people, the threat of illness is a trigger for sleep anxiety – the belief that we need to get more sleep to fight illness kicks in. And of course, this is true to a certain extent, as good quality sleep can help us to develop a stronger immune system. However, what is important to note is that it’s quality of sleep and not quantity of sleep which counts.”.


1. Don’t spend too long in bed. The first thing we do when we can’t sleep is start going to bed earlier to try and increase our hours of sleep. Reduce the amount of time you spend in bed awake, go to bed later and get up earlier, this will encourage your body’s natural sleep drive to kick in. By reducing the time you spend in bed you will crave more sleep, fall asleep faster and find your quality of sleep improving.

2. Keep to a routine. Set your alarm and get up at your usual time. Resist the temptation to lie in as this will affect your ability to build a drive to sleep the next night. If you are self isolating, then try to stick with a normal routine. Don’t spend lots of time in your pyjamas or watching TV in your bedroom instead, as far as you can, keep your bedroom for sleeping.

3. Stop clock watching. It is very tempting to look at the clock every time we wake up to monitor how little sleep we are getting. However, this then increases the pressure to fall back to sleep and makes it less likely. Set your alarm for the morning then avoid looking at the time again.

4. Don’t lie in bed awake. If you can’t get to sleep or have woken up in the middle of night, get out of bed. The longer we lie in bed trying to fall back to sleep the more frustrated we get. This, in turn, means we begin to subconsciously relate bed to feeling stressed and being awake rather than asleep. Leave the bedroom and do something relaxing like read a book downstairs, then when you are tired go back to bed.

5. Manage your thoughts. A busy mind is one of the most common culprits in keeping us awake at night, so start by writing things down. Make time to list what is on your mind, this can be therapeutic as it is a way of getting things out of your head. When you write down your worries in black and white, you can make a plan about what you are in control of. Ask yourself, how many of the worries are hypothetical (haven’t yet happened) and how is worrying about them affecting you?

6. Get outdoors. Within government guidelines get as much exercise as you can. If you have a private garden or open space nearby, get outside every day. You need the fresh air to keep you healthy as being inside too long can make it hard to sleep well, and also affect your mood. You also need the daylight to regulate and keep your body clock in sync, so as a minimum make sure all curtains and blinds are fully open during the day. From March 29 a wide range of outdoor adult sports will reopen, including tennis, basketball courts, golf and grass roots football. Why not think taking up a new sport you’ve not tried before? Or join that local tennis club you’ve often thought about.

7. Tap into a mindfulness or meditation app. You can also find help online, there are lots of apps for inducing sleep and reducing anxiety. (Muddy loves Headspace, the free version has “sleepcasts,” which are 45-55 minutes and like adult bedtime stories, and Noisli which lets you choose your favourite sounds. Check out the reassuring murmour of a coffee shop). Or the Insomnia Clinic offers a free sleep webinar too, which will provide further tips on improving your sleep.

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