It is 1 a.m. and you have been laying there for an hour and a half, unable to sleep.
Of course, nothing guarantees a good night, but you can at least improve your chances by trying the following:
Get into a routine. The body loves routine.
But if you start napping during the day, or going to bed and getting up at erratic times, your mind will struggle to regulate its sleep patterns. Gaining control over the light/dark cycle is key. A certain amount of darkness is necessary if the body is to produce the sleep hormone melatonin. So get out of bed at the same time every morning, then go outside and put your face up to the sun. At night, go to bed at the same time and make sure your room is as dark as possible.
Have a settling down period.
For at least an hour before you go to bed, you need to calm the mind and nervous system. Think of your mind as a snow globe that has been shaken by the events of the day. If you are to sleep, you need those little flakes of snow to settle back down. Switch off all screens, whether that be TVs, smartphones, or laptops. And do not listen to the radio. Instead, do some gentle yoga and meditation, or read a book. If you do read, choose something light and gentle- P. G. Wodehouse for example.
The benefits of exercise can hardly be exaggerated. First, it will tire your body. Second, it will reduce anxiety and calm the nervous system. And, third, it will reduce depression. But take your exercise out of doors and try and do it during the day. The more light exposure you get, the more your body will desensitize to the artificial light of evening. Far too many people go to a late exercise class. Leaping about in a brightly lit hall a couple of hours before bed will make sleep harder, not easier.
Turn your bedroom into a sacred space.
Do all you can to make your sleeping place suitable. Most people find a messy bedroom more difficult to sleep in than a clean and tidy one. If possible, transform it into a minimalist space, removing heavy furniture, piles of old clothes, and anything else you can see. Next, make sure it is quiet and peaceful. If you have noisy neighbors, try masking their noise with earplugs. These do not always work, so try a CD recording of gentle rainfall or sea sounds as well. Finally, make sure it is dark and cool. During the summer months, you could even buy some black-out curtains.
Be careful what you eat last at night.
Eating a big meal just before going to bed is like stoking up the engine of a steam train before halting at a station. Above all, do not eat foods hard to digest, and stay away from alcohol and refined sugar. Obviously, caffeine should be avoided, and not only last at night. Research suggests that even the caffeine ingested at lunchtime can interfere with sleep. However, do not go to bed hungry either. Try a glass of warm milk, or herbal tea, plus a ripe banana and a handful of walnuts and almonds; these will supply you with tryptophan and magnesium, both of which relax and soothe the nervous system.
Insomnia is best tackled via a combination of things. So make your room cool and dark, minimize noise, take plenty of exercise during the day, go to bed at the same time, switch off all screens an hour before bed, practise a little yoga, and then eat a banana and drink some warm milk. And never forget that sleep is not some luxurious state. It is natural. Give your body time and help and eventually you will sleep.