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It can be extremely distressing not being able to sleep.

Fortunately, there are a number of things that you can do to try and improve your sleep.

These suggestions are not miracle cures, and they do require some effort. This is good advice for anybody who has a sleep problem.

  • Get into a routine with your sleep times. Get up at the same time each morning, even if you have not had a good night’s sleep. Don’t sleep during the day, and don’t go to bed early to try and get more sleep – you are likely just to lie in bed thinking over problems. Go to bed in the evening when you are tired.
  • Take some physical exercise during the day. This helps to make your body more tired in the evening and makes it easier to get to sleep. Exercise is good for you physically, and there’s also research that suggests that exercise can itself be antidepressant.
  • Avoid exercise two hours before bedtime. This is because exercise ‘activates’ the body, which can make it difficult to get off to sleep.
  • Avoid watching disturbing or violent films prior to bedtime.
  • Avoid drinking caffeine (tea, coffee, cola) in the evening after 6pm. Caffeine is a stimulant and can prevent sleep. Drink no more than four cups of tea, or of coffee, or cans of cola in a day.
  • Drink herbal teas or milky drinks such as Horlicks in the evening. Herbal teas don’t contain caffeine and milky drinks have been shown to be as good as sleeping tablets for many people. However, be aware that chocolate or cocoa milk drinks often contain caffeine.
  • Avoid heavy meals two hours before bedtime. It can be extremely difficult to get off to sleep with a full stomach.
  • Avoid alcohol in the evening. While alcohol is sedative, it is not a good idea to try to use it to sort out a sleep problem. This is because alcohol does not lead to normal restful sleep. In addition, alcohol causes you to pass increasing amounts of urine, which further disrupts sleep. Unfortunately, a significant number of people with depression develop an alcohol problem from using alcohol to help them sleep.
  • You should associate your room with sleep: avoid having a TV or radio in your bedroom.
  • Your bedroom should be warm and familiar with a comfortable bed and duvet, etc. Ideally, the room should be decorated in a relaxing way. This all helps in associating the room in your mind with restful sleep.
  • Use aromatic oils in the bath or on your pillow, such as lavender, which can help relaxation.
  • Use relaxation techniques, which you can learn from books, audiotapes or CDs. Reading in bed helps some people, but it can prevent others from getting off to sleep. If you do read in bed, only read light-hearted books or magazines.

If you are kept awake, or wake up worrying during the night, try the following.

  1. At least two hours before bedtime, write down the problems that keep you awake. Also write down the next step you need to take towards resolving each problem.
  2. If you find yourself thinking over the problems in bed, tell yourself you have the matter in hand and that going over it now will not help.
  3. If a new worry occurs during the night, write it down or commit it to memory and deal with it the next day.