If you get to the end of the day and fall asleep easily then find yourself bright-eyed in bed a few hours later, you could be suffering sleep maintenance insomnia (SMI).
SMI is defined as difficulty staying asleep or waking too early and struggling to get back to sleep, and it’s one of the most frustrating sleep habits going around.
“You build up your sleep pressure during the day and are often tired at night so you get to sleep easily but then during the night you don’t have as much sleep pressure,” Emeritus Professor Dorothy Bruck, sleep psychologist from the Sleep Health Foundation, told Coach.
“If you’re a little hyper aroused, you get that breakthrough wakefulness coming up.”
Here’s how to get a sound night’s sleep.
Don’t go to bed too early
It might seem counter-intuitive but if you’re waking up through the night, then Professor Bruck says you don’t want to spend too long in bed.
“People with insomnia often think they need an early night so they might spend nine or 10 hours in bed when they only need seven-and-a-half hours,” she explains.
“The first thing we do with people who have a problem with sleep maintenance insomnia is reduce their time in bed.”
The idea is that it will increase the “sleep pressure” so that your body is tired enough to stay zonked all night.
“If you have to get up at 7am, maybe you shouldn’t go to bed until a touch before midnight and see if you can get your sleep into a solid block and then start going to bed slightly earlier until you find your optimum,” Professor Bruck says.
Build sleep pressure
The tireder you get, the better you’re likely to sleep so Professor Bruck suggests thinking about your sleep in terms of your 24-hour behaviour – not just what happens at 3am.
“People who have a stressed nervous system are more likely to have that early morning awake thing,” Professor Bruck says.
“That’s when we try to get them to change what they do in the day to get more exercise, get more light and do more relaxation.”
Don’t look at the clock
As tempting as it is to repeatedly look at the time and count how many hours you have left before your alarm screeches, Professor Bruck says it’s fruitless.
“You look at the clock and you have an emotional reaction and think, ‘Oh god it’s only 3:50, what am I going to do for the next three hours?'” she points out.
“You want to try and be in the moment and think, ‘I’m here, I’m resting. I want to get myself into a dozey state’. Often that dozey state is something to aim for.”
Professor Bruck says that people often mistake dozing for being awake for hours – but sleep scans show that people are often asleep.
“If you are in a light sleep and are hyper-aroused, you can easily think you’re awake when you are actually asleep,” she says.
“People sometimes experience that themselves – they’ve looked at the clock and it’s four o’clock and they look at the clock again and it’s five o’clock and they thought they were awake the whole time but a whole hour has elapsed because they have dozed in and out of sleep and that’s perfectly acceptable.”
Write a worry journal
You might have heard suggestions to keep a notepad by your bed to write down things on your mind but Professor Bruck is not a fan of this technique, arguing that it gives you permission to do your worrying in bed.
Instead, she suggests setting aside a “worry time” during the day where you jot down what’s on your mind.
“Get a bit of paper, draw a line down the centre and put your worries down one side and options you might have for dealing with them on the other side,” she suggests.
“Even if it’s simple things like talking to someone about it or going to the bank to see if you can get more money. Move it away from bed so that when you are in bed you can just focus on relaxing and getting rest.”
Don’t use screens in bed
As much as you might find it relaxing to curl up in bed with your iPad for some binge TV watching, the blue light emitted from your screen can infiltrate your entire night’s sleep.
“Normally you have a rise in the hormone melatonin in the evening but when you are exposed to blue light, it suppresses it,” Professor Bruck says.
“That means it will be a bit lower across the night so you are going to have a lighter sleep.”
You still might find you fall asleep immediately after switching off but the lowered melatonin can come back to bite you later on.
“The sleep pressure that has built up in the day means you are ready to go to sleep but you can’t sustain a deep sleep,” Professor Bruck explains.
One way around this is to use the Nightshift screen mode, which changes your screen to make it emit red light instead.
Visualisation techniques can be helpful for sending you to sleep, and one of Professor Bruck’s favourites is to focus on slowing your breath then slowly counting to 10.
“Imagine each number is a colour then give the next number a different colour and really visualise it,” she says.
“Count up to 10 then start again. Choosing different colours means there is a bit of decision-making so you are keeping your mind a little bit active and you’re having a lot of visual imagery that we believe is good for kicking into sleep. You are also slowing down your breathing and that’s good for relaxing.”