How to sleep: Seven simple steps to achieve ‘stimulus control’ for a good night’s sleep

Doctor explains why you should ‘never sleep in the nude’

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Few people manage to stick to strict bedtime routines. This is not much of a problem for most people, but for people with insomnia, irregular sleeping hours are unhelpful. Your routine depends on what works for you, but the most important thing is working out a routine and sticking to it.

One of the UK’s leading authorities on sleep and nutrition, Greg Potter, helps high performance athletes and military divisions to sustainably improve their health and performance.

The special adviser to US Naval Warfare told that for some, the best way to start sleeping better is to take advantage of “stimulus control of behaviour”.

“The premise is simple,” said Mr Potter, who is also the co-founder and Chief Science Officer at Resilient Nutrition.

“Through experience, we learn to engage in specific behaviours in response to certain stimuli – if you are driving and approach a red light (the stimulus), you brake (the behaviour).”

The health expert continued to explain that sometimes the associations we learn work against us – maybe one has learned to associate your bed (stimulus) with being awake (behaviour).

Mr Potter specialises in stimulus control psychology and believes this behaviour is the best way to control sleep. The main goal in stimulus control therapy is to reduce the anxiety or conditioned arousal individuals may feel when attempting to go to bed.

Specifically, a set of instructions designed to re-associate the bed/bedroom with sleep and to re-establish a consistent sleep schedule are implemented.

“If so, you need to relearn to associate your bed with sleep,” Mr Potter said.

In order to do so, the expert revealed seven simple steps to help tackle insomnia:

  • Save your bed for sex and sleep only – no smartphone use, arguing with your spouse, etc.
  • Stop napping.
  • Only go to bed when you’re actually sleepy.
  • If you’ve been in bed for 15 minutes and haven’t yet fallen asleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing in dim lighting, such as reading a book.
  • Only return to bed when you’re sleepy.
  • Repeat four and five as necessary.
  • Set an alarm and get out of bed at the same time each day, regardless of how much you slept.

Mr Potter, whose research has been featured in dozens of international news outlets, including the BBC and The Washington Post, was also the sleep expert on Channel 4 documentary How To Lose Weight Well.

Mr Potter told that when people struggling to sleep use these simple strategies, they wake up less during the night, get more sleep, and reduce their reliance on other sleep aids.

As well as the aforementioned steps to take, Mr Potter also advised other techniques you can use to help you wind down.

Make your bedroom sleep-friendly

Your bedroom should be a relaxing environment. Experts claim there is a strong association in people’s minds between sleep and the bedroom.

However, certain things weaken that association, such as televisions and other electronic gadgets, light, noise, and a bad mattress or bed.

Your bedroom ideally needs to be dark, quiet, tidy and be kept at a temperature of between 18°C and 24°C.

Fitting some thick curtains may also help, Mr Potter said. If you are disturbed by noise, consider investing in double glazing or, for a cheaper option, use earplugs.

Keep a sleep diary

It can be a good idea to keep a sleep diary. It may uncover lifestyle habits or daily activities that contribute to your sleeplessness.

If you see your GP they will probably ask you to keep a sleep diary to help them diagnose your sleep problems.

A sleep diary can also reveal underlying conditions that explain your insomnia, such as stress or medicine. 

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