We all know that a hot, milky drink and a warm bath are supposed to relax you before bed, but many of us still can’t slip into slumber.
Ten million prescriptions for sleeping pills are written every year in England alone and a survey by Crampex has found that 86% of us suffer from sleep disturbance.
1. Inhale through your left nostril
This yoga method is thought to reduce blood pressure and calm you. Holistic sleep therapist Peter Smith says: “Lie on your left side, resting a finger on your right nostril to close it. Start slow, deep breathing in the left nostril.” Peter, author of Sleep Better With Natural Therapies (£13.99, Singing Dragon, out October 28), says this technique is particularly good when overheating or menopausal hot flushes are preventing sleep.
2. Squeeze and relax
Relaxing all your muscles can prepare your body for sleep. Anxiety expert Charles Linden says: “Lying on your back, take a deep, slow breath in through your nose and, at the same time, squeeze your toes tightly as if you are trying to curl them under your foot, then release the squeeze.”
The author of Stress Free in 30 Days (£7.12, Hay House) adds: “On another slow breath, curl your foot up toward your knee, then release. Breathe again, contract your calf muscles, then your thighs, buttocks, belly, chest, arms, and so on until you have moved all the way up your body, squeezing and releasing the muscles one by one.”
When you have gone from head to toe, your breathing should be steady and you should feel ready for sleep.
3. Try to stay awake
Challenge yourself to stay awake – your mind will rebel! It’s called the sleep paradox, says psychotherapist Julie Hirst (worklifebalancecentre.org). She explains: “Keep your eyes wide open, repeat to yourself ‘I will not sleep’. The brain doesn’t process negatives well, so interprets this as an instruction to sleep and eye muscles tire quickly as sleep creeps up.”
4. Rewind your day
Remembering the mundane detail in reverse order clears your mind of worries. Sammy Margo, author of The Good Sleep Guide (£10.99, Vermilion) says: “Recall conversations, sights and sounds as you go. It helps you to reach a mental state that’s ready for sleep.”
5. Roll your eyes
Sammy says that closing your eyes and rolling the balls up three times can do the job. She says: “It simulates what you do naturally when you fall asleep and may help trigger the release of your sleepy hormone, melatonin.”
6. Just imagine
Visualisation meditation works best when you use at least three senses. Sammy explains: “Imagine yourself in a situation where you feel content – a tropical paradise, sailing on calm waters, walking in flower fields.
“As you explore your ‘happy place’ imagine smelling flowers, feeling grass or sand under your feet and hearing water lap against the boat. You should soon feel relaxed and drift off.”
7. Hum to yourself
This yoga meditation generates an all-pervading sense of calm, says Dr Chris Idzikowski, Edinburgh Sleep Centre Director and author of Sound Asleep, The Expert Guide To Sleeping Well (£7.19, Watkins Publishing).
Sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes, drop your shoulders , relax your jaw, but keep your mouth gently closed. Breathe in through your nose as deeply as is comfortable, ensuring your abdomen, not chest, rises.
Dr Idzikowski says: “Breathe gently out of your mouth, lips together so you hum. Try to hum for the whole out-breath. Notice how it vibrates in your chest. Focus fully on this vibration over six breaths then sit quietly for a moment. Tell yourself ‘I am ready for sleep’, get up slowly and go to bed.”
8. Press here!
There are special points in the body which promote sleep when pressed gently but firmly. Dr Idzikowski suggests: “Put your thumb on the point between your eyebrows at the top of your nose, where there’s a slight indent. Hold for 20 seconds, release briefly and repeat twice more.
“Next, sit on the edge of the bed and put your right foot across your left knee. Find the slight indent between your big toe and second toe and press in the same way.
“Finally, still supporting your right foot, find the point just below the nail on the upper side of your second toe. Using the thumb and forefinger of your right hand, gently squeeze the toe.”
9. Find your trigger
The key to this trick is to start the habit as you drift off during a period when you are sleeping well, then you can use it when you have difficulty.
Do something unusual, such as stroking your own cheek, as you nod off, says hypnotherapist Sharon Stiles (sharonstiles.co.uk). “Focus all your attention on what the movement feels like,” says Sharon. Over successive nights, your body will learn to associate it with sleep and repeating it should convince your body it’s sleepy.
10. Take a breather
Breathing naturally slows as you fall asleep. The NightWave Sleep Assistant, £47.37 from Amazon.co.uk, projects a soft blue light, which slowly rises and falls on the ceiling. Synchronise your breathing with the wave as it becomes slower and you should fall asleep within a seven-minute cycle,
11. Make a worry list
Going over a to-do list in bed is a major cause of insomnia. Sharon Stiles says: “Often it’s because you’re frightened of forgetting what needs doing. So before bed, write your list on paper so you can forget it until next day. You could also imagine filing your thoughts in a cabinet. You’ll be calmer and more likely to sleep.”