Moodzone: Sleep problems 

Dr Chris Williams explains what you can do to give yourself the best chance of a good night's sleep. This podcast is one of an eight-part series for Moodzone.

How to get a better sleep

Transcript of Moodzone: Sleep problems


Sleep problems

Welcome. I'm Dr Chris Williams, and I'm here to help you

to help yourself through some common life difficulties.

In this session, we're focusing on how to sleep better.

Sleep is crucial to all of us. We need it in order to feel well physically,

as well as to boost how we feel emotionally.

We can all identify with not sleeping properly for a night or two,

when perhaps something exciting,

like a birthday or a holiday, is about to occur.

Or if there's something we're worried or concerned about,

like an interview or a family crisis.

And not sleeping properly is a bad start to any day.

But if it just lasts for a day or two, most people can put up with it.

But it's when we can't sleep properly for several days or weeks

that it gets harder and harder to cope.

So, this session will help build your understanding

of ways to get a restful night's sleep.

And we'll point out some easy and practical things that can help.

Here's a typical example of someone

who's not been sleeping well for several weeks.

Simon's studying for exams,

and has been spending a lot of time in his bedroom, working hard.

He's also been using energy drinks and coffee to keep focused as he works.

And this is hyping him up so much that,

although he's feeling exhausted when he gets into bed,

he finds he's not able to fall asleep.

He ends up tossing and turning in bed, watching the clock.

And then finds it difficult getting up in the morning

because he feels so tired.

Do you ever feel like this?

The good news is that there are lots of things you can do

that might help you sleep better.

It's a matter of breaking things down

and making small changes that will all add up.

First, you need to plan how you go to sleep.

Get into a sleep routine. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.

And don't lie in or nap when you should be awake.

This upsets your body clock and makes it harder to drop off.

Also, be good to yourself and gently wind down for half an hour before bed.

Maybe have a warm bath with bubbles or salts,

or sip a nice, warm, milky drink and listen to some soothing music.

If you find that reading relaxes you, read a happy book,

but maybe not a thriller.

Make sure your bedroom's warm and cosy and dark.

If the bed's chilly, add a blanket or another duvet

and go back to the hot water bottle you used to love as a kid.

If it's just too hot, use a fan,

or get one of those Cherry Stone pillows you can cool down in the freezer.

And open the window, drop the duvet and sleep under a sheet.

Is the bed itself really comfy?

If not, change your pillows or try turning the mattress.

Or maybe the curtains are a bit thin.

In which case, try thicker ones or black-out linings.

Perhaps things are a bit noisy outside.

Maybe get some earplugs from the chemist.

Some people find that alcohol seems to make them feel sleepy.

But do remember it's just a shallow sleep that doesn't last for long.

You'll probably find that you have to get up in the night to go to the loo.

So, try not to drink alcohol in the hour or so before bed.

Exercise is also a bad idea just before bed.

Although getting physically tired might seem OK,

actually, it's not as good as slowly winding down.

So, again, try not to do anything strenuous near bedtime.

And don't smoke, either, because smoking wakes you up.

If you do smoke, have your last cigarette

at least half an hour or so before your bath.

Watching TV in bed is also a no-no.

Perhaps watch it to calm down a little bit before your bath,

but try and get rid of the television in your bedroom.

And think about losing the radio, too.

Or at least, don't listen to it just before sleeping

or in the middle of the night.

And take those books downstairs

because reading in bed is also against the rules, as is eating.

I hope you're getting the idea that there's only two things allowed in bed,

sleep and sex.

And now you're bathed and have a nice warm, comfy bedroom,

you might just do a little bit more of both.

But at first, even after winding down with your warm bath

and warm milky drink,

you may still be turning things over again and again in your mind.

So here's what to do.

Keep a pen and paper by the side of the bed.

And if you have worries going round and round in your head

that are keeping you awake, sit up, turn on the light,

or instead leave the room if you have a partner,

and get that piece of paper.

Cut it into strips and write down one thing that's worrying you on each strip.

And just doing this,

separating out each of the things you're worrying about,

will help you untangle them and make them easier to cope with.

Next, give each worry a day and a time from tomorrow morning onwards,

when you're going to sit down and really work on sorting it out.

So, your first strip might say, "I think Mary's upset with me."

"I'll think that through at 3:00 on Thursday."

And perhaps the second might be,

"I don't feel as if I'm appreciated at work."

"I'm going to tackle that at 6:00 on Wednesday evening."

Try and do this for all the worries left over,

until you have a number of slips with thoughts and days and times on them.

Look at the slips and promise yourself

that you're going to think about each problem

on the day you've written them down, but not until then.

Now, put the slips somewhere where you won't lose them

and go back to bed.

You've nothing on your worry schedule at the moment,

so you're officially entitled to get some rest.

And if you've tried all these different things and still aren't sleeping,

then get up.

And I know it sounds crazy, doesn't it,

but get up and go downstairs and sit in a comfy chair

and read a book, or watch telly, or listen to some music.

And do this until you feel sleepy tired.

Then go back to bed.

If you choose to do this

each time you've been in bed awake for more than, say, 20 minutes,

you'll quite quickly break the cycle of lying there and getting upset,

as you watch the minutes tick by all night.

You've made a great start here by completing this session,

but please remember that if these simple tips don't help,

and if a lack of sleep is affecting your daily life,

then it might be time to talk to your GP.

Thanks for listening.

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