Not being able to sleep is a problem that blights the lives of many more women than men.
Research suggests that from adolescence to their early-50s, for every two men with insomnia there are three women.
Behavioural sleep expert Dr Shelby Harris, who has written The Women’s Guide To Overcoming Insomnia, says: “Women, unlike men, are susceptible to significant hormonal fluctuations throughout the lifespan,” explains Harris. “When combined with life stressors of work, family and trying to fit everything in at once, it should be no surprise that women struggle with turning off their brains to obtain a solid, quality night of sleep on a regular basis.”
She says one of the most effective treatments for insomnia is stimulus control, in which the body and mind are trained the bed is for sleep, thus helping to gradually shift the active brain into a quieter state when it gets into bed.
Harris shares four stimulus control methods to help you get a consistently good night’s sleep...
1. Go to bed only when sleepy
When we begin to have trouble with sleep, we stay in bed, tossing and turning and wait for sleep to come. This teaches the body that the bed is a place for forcing sleep to happen, even if not sleepy.
Instead, go to bed when you’re sufficiently sleepy - not just tired but actually sleepy (yawning, can’t keep your eyes open), as you’ll fall asleep much faster, night after night.
2. The bed is only for sleep
If you only use the bed for sleep, your body begins to re-learn that those are the activities allowed in bed.
To do this, get in bed when you’re sleepy. Don’t look at the clock. If you feel your brain is too active, you begin to get frustrated, so get up and sit in a different room. Do something quiet, calm and relaxing in dim light, but avoid screens as that can wake you up more. Return to bed only when you’re sleepy.
You might have to do this a few times - but eventually, your body will hopefully learn that the bed is only for sleep and sex.
3. The clock is - and isn’t - your friend
Keep a consistent bed and wake time as much as possible, as this helps keep your body clock set overall. Set the alarm clock for the same time every single morning - seven days a week. Our bodies don’t have a weekday and weekend clock that’s different internally.
Once you get in bed, don’t look at it until the alarm goes off in the morning. Don’t calculate how long you’ve been awake for or how long you have until you need to get up in the morning. That creates more difficulty with falling asleep.
4. Don’t start your day until the alarm clock’s gone off in the morning
If you awaken routinely earlier than the alarm are active, you’re beginning to teach yourself that the day is now starting earlier than you’d like. Instead, find something quiet, calm and relaxing to do in dim light to pass the time.
The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia: Get A Good Night’s Sleep Without Relying On Medication by Dr Shelby Harris is published by WW Norton, priced £12.50. Available now.