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How to sleep

A frequently asked question for a sleep expert?!

As a sleep specialist I'm often asked what are my top 'x' tips for sleep? The short answer is that there is not a general answer that will suits everyone!

A step-wise approach is sensible. At the self-help level follow the advice that is sometimes called sleep hygiene (below). Buy books on the subject (mine are here). Consider cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), though this may be hard to find. Ask your GP whether they offer it? Nurses can be trained to provide it. Group teaching has also been devised.

Sleep hygiene (more or less after Hauri 1977 - used for experimental testing; to be amended/rewritten)

  1. "Sleep as much as needed to feel refreshed and healthy during the following day, but not more. Curtailing time in bed a bit seems to solidify sleep; excessively long times in bed seem related to fragmented and shallow sleep."

  2. A regular wake-up time in the morning seems to strengthen 24 hour rhythms so leads to regular times of sleep onset.

  3. A steady daily amount of exercise probably deepens sleep over time, but occasional intensive exercise prior to sleep is as likely to disturb it as it is to promote it.

  4. Noise disturb sleep even in people who do not awaken because of the noises and cannot remember them in the morning. Double- or triple-glazing the bedroom might be advisable for people who have to sleep close to excessive noise.

  5. Although an excessively warm room disturbs sleep, there is no evidence that an excessively cold room sleep, as has been claimed.

  6. Hunger may disturb sleep. A light bedtime snack (especially warm milk or similar drink) seems to help many individuals sleep.

  7. An occasional sleeping pill may be of some benefit, but the chronic use of hypnotics is ineffective at most and detrimental in some insomniacs.

  8. Caffeine in the evening disturbs sleep, even in persons who do not feel it does.

  9. Alcohol helps tense people to fall asleep fast, but the ensuing sleep is then fragmented.

  10. Rather than trying harder and harder to fall asleep during a poor night, switching on the light and doing

    something else may help the individual who feels angry, frustrated, or tense about being unable to sleep.


Hauri P. Current Concepts: The Sleep Disorders. The Upjohn Company, Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1977.

Edward J. Stepanski and James K. Wyatt Use of sleep hygiene in the treatment of insomnia. Sleep Medicine Reviews, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp 215±225, 2003  doi:10.1053/smrv.2001.0246

Compare AASM tips

SLEEPWALKERS - advice here.

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