Techniques for coping with sleeplessness at bedtime

We have good news! The techniques being used to combat wakefulness at bedtime are so easily adopted, you can embrace them starting tonight.

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There are some of us who are lucky enough to fall asleep the moment their head hits the pillow, while others end up tossing and turning all night. As we’ve discussed, sleep is a critical part of our health and wellbeing, so it’s important to get into the right habits and routine to make it a nightly occurrence. The good news is that the techniques being used to combat wakefulness at bedtime are so easily adopted, you can embrace them starting tonight.

Sleep Troubles

To date, a common treatment for insomnia (a sleep disorder where you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or waking too early and can’t fall back to sleep) has been the use of sleeping pills. Leading researchers in this field have discovered however that sleeping pills only produce slight improvements in the time it takes to fall asleep and do not produce the same effects as deep sleep brought on naturally¹. Research has found that natural deep sleep cements new memory traces² while sleep brought on by sleeping pills doesn’t carry the same benefits of memory consolidation³. This is why the modern approach to treating insomnia now involves taking a behavioural approach to help form good sleep habits and to break the conditioned response of associating bed with wakefulness and anxiety, and instead create a strong association between bed and sleep⁴.

Bed = Sleep

Part of creating good sleep habits according to cognitive behavioural therapy involves using stimulus control techniques to help pair bed with sleep⁴. These techniques are easily adopted, and can help to make sleep a more consistent part of your routine. Try these four approaches to help address insomnia. 

Sleep regularity

Aim to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day (yes, even on the weekend). Maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle helps regulate our internal body clock, which in turn regulates our circadian rhythm.


An afternoon snooze is tempting but as much as possible avoid napping during the day as this can compromise the quality of your sleep at night. If you do have to nap, keep it to no more than 20 minutes and avoid napping beyond 3pm. The best time to nap is between 12-3pm.

Reserve the bedroom for sleep/sex

Avoid scrolling through your phone or watching TV in the bedroom as this can break the association between bed and sleep. It’s important to turn off any cognitive processing before bed and to lower our heart rate to help get a good night’s rest.

Don’t stay in bed if you can’t sleep

If you’re unable to fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed, get up and go to a quiet place in your home. Do something relaxing (the more boring the better). Only go back to bed when you feel sleepy and don’t sleep anywhere other than your bed (except when you’re on holiday, of course). It’s important to do this so as not to associate your bed with wakefulness and the stress of being unable to fall asleep.


What’s next? 

Changing your sleep starts with altering your behaviour. Aim to address sleep the way you would other aspects of your health such as diet and exercise and make it a priority. Sleep is such a critical part of our lives that it underpins every other aspect of our wellbeing, so it’s important to commit to making the necessary changes to ensure that you optimise the amount of sleep you’re getting every night.

Smart Change

Introduce one of the above practices into your routine (choose the one most relevant to you) and commit to doing it for one week. 

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