A note on sleep

If what we do in the hour before sleep lays a blueprint for how we sleep, how are you preparing your brain for slumber? Is what you are doing saying, "time to wind down", or something else entirely?


Check your sleeping environment: is your mattress suitable for your weight and frame? Ensure that the room is adequately dark and the right temperature for you, have earplugs and water nearby if you need them so that you don't have to get out of bed in the night and wake yourself up.

Often, we are stimulating the brain too much right before we go to bed.

This is by; watching TV, using the phone, having arguments, exercising, eating, drinking caffeine or alcohol, showering, going to bed when you are not sleepy.

If you have ever changed a habit or created a new one, then you have successfully reconditioned yourself and creating better sleep by tweaking your bedtime routine is just the same. Repetition is key. Repeating a behaviour until it is safely committed into our unconscious minds is the surefire way to create change. Neurons that fire together, wire together.      

You need to ensure your mind associates bedtime with relaxation and sleep! Not doing work, watching TV or worrying excessively.

Woman asleep under the duvet

Healthy bedtime routine

Some suggestions for a more suitable bedtime routine include:

  1. Setting ‘worry time’ at intervals during the day. If worries creep in when you are in bed at night, park them until ‘worry time’ the next day.
  2. Create and repeat a bedtime routine. 30-60 mins winding down time before bed can include: gentle, soothing practices such as meditation, a warm bath, yoga, reading (book not phone).
  3. Interrupt bedtime thinking by acknowledging where the mind has wandered to and return to the breath e.g. “planning, now returning to breathing”…“frustration, now returning to breathing”.
  4. Repeating the mantra "Mind slowing down, body slowing down", this helps you work on soothing and relaxing, and gives gentle instruction to the parasympathetic nervous system that it is time for ‘rest and digest’.
  5. Stop looking at the clock! It’s irrelevant and unhelpful and feeds the expectation that you feel you should be asleep by now; it feeds your feeling of frustration which is the opposite effect of relaxing you! This might activate the sympathetic nervous system and flood your system with hormones that increase alertness and heart rate. 
  6. A rest with your eyes closed is really useful even if you do not fall asleep. Trust your body to take the sleep it needs. Try not to let your thinking get in the way, it tends to make a really big deal of this and a lot of other stuff!
  7. Use a visualisation technique to imagine your worries as leaves passing by in the stream or as clouds passing by in the sky, there they go, far far away, into the distance.

Pick some of these suggestions and make time for them daily - if you can't do 30-60 minutes, can you do 15? Repeat the routine and stick to it for 30-90 days.  

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Sutton, SM1
Written by Claire Deane, BSc (Hons) Dip. CBT, MBACP (Accred)
Sutton, SM1

Degree level BACP registered Counsellor I provide private support to long or short term clients weekly, face to face and over skype. Clients can self-refer or access support via healthcare providers or EAP. I work with mild to moderate mental health issues including substance use and co-morbid disorders.

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