What’s the best thing to do when you can’t sleep?


The logic of getting up and heading to another room comes from considering stimulus control (we learn to behave in a certain way in the presence of a certain stimulus). We want to pair sleep (rather than being awake) with the bedroom environment. Only return to the bedroom when you are ready to sleep.

Although people will differ in terms of what they want to do while up at night, some might be keen to try out relaxation techniques. Breathing exercises come in different forms, but one technique is to breathe in through your nose for the count of four (feeling your tummy fill with air) and then breathe out through your mouth for the count of four (stop immediately if you feel faint).

Mindfulness, which involves being in the moment, without judgment, can also help to reduce stress and support sleep, and some people enjoy taking part in guided meditations.

Mental imagery can also be helpful, and in a study by the eminent psychologist Dr Allison Harvey from the University of California, Berkeley, it was found that the participants of a study who were asked to remember a relaxing scene in detail (and considering how it impacted their different senses) fell asleep more quickly than those who were not asked to do this. One explanation is that the relaxing scene filled up ‘cognitive space’ that could not then be used to engage in stressful or distressing thoughts which could interfere with sleep.

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Asked by: Jasmine Harrington, via email

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