And be more productive during your working day.
For many of us, falling asleep at night can be a real challenge – especially given our busy lifestyles and the work stresses that come our way. Not to mention relationship issues – and partners who snore.
Not sleeping can make us less productive at work, more stressed, and further compound sleeplessness.
And everyone seems to offer different solutions to the problem. Our partners tell us to get off our phones, our colleagues tell us to try their home-brew herbal tea and our parents tell us to read books. But we’re still left tossing, turning and scratching our scalps.
So what does one do?
Well, according to specialists, if you’ve been thinking about how to actively help yourself fall asleep, there’s a good chance you’re doing it wrong.
“This will sound kind of weird, but just stop trying so hard,” says sleep expert and Sleep Hub owner Dr David Cunnington. If you are consciously trying to sleep, it’s almost a guarantee you won’t be able to.”
“We can’t force sleep to come,” he says. “That’s where the idea of counting sheep comes from. We become focused on the other task so we stop actively [trying to nod off].”
A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Cunnington has more than 25 years experience researching sleep, and is currently involved in a range of sleep research projects.
He proposes that the best way to avoid trying to sleep is to just... stay awake.
“Rather than go to bed early wishing to get to sleep, deliberately go to bed a bit later and be more tired than normal. Use that extra time in the evening for some stress management. Go out with some friends, see a movie or do something with your partner.”
Cunnington’s advice is based on a psychological principle called “paradoxical intention”. The theory goes that if you try and to stay awake as long as possible, the performance anxiety associated with trying to fall asleep will diminish.
Widespread research supports this technique as an effective treatment for sleep onset insomnia (difficulty falling asleep).
To improve your ability to get to sleep, Cunnington suggests maintaining “good physical and mental health” and practising “good stress management techniques”. And if all else fails, he recommends taking daytime naps to make up for missed shut-eye.
“If people have a nap in the middle of the day they do better work in the afternoon. Even people who don’t have trouble sleeping at night. There’s really good data showing that.”