I’ve had problems sleeping in the past, and discovered some handy dos and don’ts for avoiding/ameliorating insomnia:
* Do get plenty of exercise, and get it in the afternoon/early evening – it tires your body out and makes it easier to sleep. Conversely, don’t exercise late in the evening before bed, because it may just wake you up.
* The only exception to the above is Yoga – I tried it a few years ago and it’s incredibly relaxing. In fact it’s so relaxing I had to stop, because I’d leave the class at 19:00 and want to go straight to bed.
* Don’t do anything in your bedroom except sleep. If you work from home, work in another room. If you watch TV or surf the net, do it in another room. If your brain associates your bed or bedroom with activity, alertness or thinking hard, you’ll find it harder to get to sleep. If your brain associates the bed/bedroom only with sleeping, you’ll find that merely laying down on the bed helps to kick your brain into feeling sleepy.
* Avoid programming (or anything which works your brain hard) late in the evening. I find that after programming I’m alert and my mental clock-speed is elevated – I usually need at least a couple of hours for it to wind down again before I can even think about going to sleep. I also have this problem with reading (I read fast, and speed up the longer I’m reading), but my GF actually finds reading slows her brain down, so this one can go either way. Certainly if you read for a bit and find yourself sitting up in bed rather than your eyes getting heavy, stop it. 😉
* Try putting something on to watch/listen to while you drift off to sleep. I found the worst thing about insomnia was when you start noticing how you’re still awake, then Doing The Maths (“how little sleep would I get if I fell asleep right now? And now? And how about now?“) – you start to worry about how you can’t get to sleep and how you’ll be knackered the next day, then worrying wakes you up, so you’re less sleepy, so you worry more, etc. Putting something on to watch or listen to gives you something for your brain to latch onto besides this feedback loop – for maximum benefit, use something fairly calming, and something you’ve already seen/heard before (so it’s not novel or exciting, which can wake you up more). I use random episodes of Futurama, because they’re comfortable, not suspenseful and I’ve seen them all so many times I don’t care if I fall asleep in the middle of one).
* Another way to avoid Doing The Maths is to turn your clock to the wall before you go to sleep. If you don’t know what time it is you can’t worry about the time. It sounds silly, but it short-circuits the whole process and this single change helped immensely when I had sleeping problems.
* Eat plenty of fresh fruit and veg – everyone says this and it always seems silly, but it does/did seem to have a slight but long-term effect.