What are your sleep rules? Do you have a very careful pre-sleep routine? Thinking about sleep through the day?

Sleep rulesOne of the first things people do when they’re not sleeping well is to introduce rules around sleep and make their sleeping environment perfect for sleep. Not eating too late, avoiding caffeine, not exercising in the evening, wearing earplugs, buying a new pillow, getting a new mattress, fitting blackout curtains. Whilst these things can help with sleep to some extent, often people try too hard and these rules become part of the problem.

We need to respect sleep

Sleep problems or insomnia can start when people aren’t respectful of sleep. Working right up until the time for bed and not winding down, drinking too much coffee, not managing stress, drinking too much, poor physical or mental health. If this is the case, introducing some rules around sleep can help. These measures are called sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene includes:

  • Avoiding too much caffeine
  • Not exercising too late at night
  • Managing the bedroom environment
  • Maintaining regular bedtimes

But when does it become too much?

Many people I see in my practice focus too much on rules around sleep. When their sleep problems first began, they introduced sleep hygiene measures and found things improved a bit. But, over time, as sleep problems persisted, they introduced more rules about sleep and become stricter about their existing rules.

In most areas of life, if something is not working, our approach is to analyse what is causing the problem and put in place strategies or rules to more tightly control things. If those measures don’t work, we repeat the cycle and introduce more rules. But, sleep is one of the areas where this approach doesn’t work and can actually add to the problem.

So what’s the right balance? Give yourself permission to drop some rules.

sleep rulesWhilst it is important to respect sleep and keep the sleep hygiene rules in mind, once you’ve ticked the box on most of those rules, further improvements to sleep won’t come by adding more rules. In fact, adding more rules can start to increase thinking about sleep and add to sleep problems.

By the time most people see me in my practice, they’ve had sleep problems for a while and have developed a long list of rules and beliefs about sleep:

  • “I can’t sleep unless I use earplugs and a particular pillow”
  • “If there is any light or noise at all it wakes me up”

Do you have a long list of sleep rules, or do things throughout the day and evening specifically with the aim of improving sleep? Compare that with others you know who sleep well. What sleep rules do they have?

A simple exercise to look at this is to:

  1. Write down on a piece of paper:
    1. All the things you do throughout the day to improve sleep
    2. The things you do in getting ready for bed
    3. The changes you’ve made to your bedroom environment or things you do once in bed to help with sleep
  2. Give yourself permission to drop one thing from your list
  3. A few days later, if your sleep hasn’t suffered, drop something else from your list
  4. Keep dropping things you do to improve sleep from your list until it is much more manageable and less limiting

People are often surprised at how many things they do and how much they impact on their life. Many people I see haven’t been out socially at night for years for fear of what it would do to their sleep. Others have a pre-sleep routine that starts hours before bed and consumes hours of time each day, leaving no time for themselves.

A modified version of this article has been published in The Huffington Post. Find it here

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Check our resources or take our Sleep Wellness Quiz for a free assessment of elements that may be keeping you from a good night’s sleep.

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