How to outwit insomnia

Most people suffer from a period of sleeplessness at some point in their lives. Whilst it's important to visit your GP to investigate potential underlying problems, the condition is often triggered or exacerbated by stress or anxiety.

Over time, those suffering can begin to 'dread' going to bed, and feel convinced they will be unable to sleep. In order to re-establish healthy sleep patterns, we need to break the vicious cycle and switch off the fear of the condition itself.

The gift of time

One way of diffusing the anxiety which often accompanies a period of insomnia is changing our reaction to it. If you find you can't drop off, get up and find something to do; try telling yourself that you've been given a gift of time - even if you feel far from grateful. At best, this will help you to diffuse feelings of dread; at worst you'll at least tick a few items off your 'to do' list!

Give yourself time to wind down

When tired, it's tempting to simply go to bed early. However, 30 minutes of wind-down time spent reading a good book, listening to music or meditating can provide the ideal start to a restful night. Try to switch off stimulating electronic devices such as the TV, your tablet or mobile phone during this time.

Keep to a set routine

Rather than being tempted to delay bedtime, try sticking to a regular routine. Establishing a pattern in which we go to bed at a set time can help our bodies to understand when it's time to switch off.

Back to black

Light pollution can interfere with our bodies' natural rhythms. If your room isn't dark at night, try investing in a blackout blind or sleep mask. When we are in darkness, our bodies release more melatonin - a hormone which promotes sleep. Light pollution can disrupt this process so it's important to keep our sleep environment as dark as possible.

Change your environment

If you find yourself stressed when going to bed, you may have developed a negative association between your sleeping environment and the insomnia. If you do wake in the night or find yourself unable to drift off, you take yourself into a different room for a period of time; then return to bed after thirty minutes.

In addition, subtle changes to your room may help to counter any negative associations you may have developed: try investing in an aromatherapy pillow spray (lavender is great for relaxation), rearranging your furniture or even sleeping on a different side of the bed.

Don't dwell on it

Horror stories about long-term insomnia abound on the internet. Try not to get drawn in, and remember that most people suffer from a bout of this frustrating condition from time to time. For the most part, people are able to resume restful nights in time.


Gillian Harvey is a freelance writer, qualified counsellor and mother-of-five young children, currently living in France. Follow her on twitter: @GillPlusFive