Paul McKenna’s expert guide to beating insomnia during coronavirus lockdown

By | April 13, 2020

Whether you’re waking up worried in the middle of the night or just can’t seem to wake up on a morning, the lockdown can play havoc with our sleeping patterns.

In the second part of his series, TV’s Paul McKenna has invaluable advice on how to start sleeping like a baby.


In bed, only sleep or make love – and under no circumstances should you watch the news just prior to retiring

The human mind is very sensitive to associations. All television programmes are designed to catch your attention and to keep it, by keeping you excited.

TV is designed to do the opposite of send you to sleep because the programme makers want you to keep watching.

In bed, you should only sleep or make love (Stock photo)

Currently, all news is focused on the shocking and unusual events surrounding coronavirus, which will only serve to alarm and worry you more. Watching TV, or reading an exciting novel in bed, or looking at your phone, means you will create an associational link between bed and staying awake, so never do it!

It is essential that you break any associations that are keeping you awake. From now on, it is vital that you stick to this rule: When you’re in bed, only sleep or make love.


Regularly get up 30 minutes earlier than your usual desired wake-up time

Understandably, people’s routines have been thrown out of sync with having to stay at home.

But if you are to prepare for a good night’s sleep, it is imperative that you try to stick as much as possible to your “normal” schedule, and then make one half-hour change. So, if you normally wake up at 7am, from now on get up at 6.30am instead.

This may sound to you like just a small change, or it may sound way too big, but extensive clinical research has demonstrated that this is the single most effective strategy for curing insomnia.

No matter how much or how little you’ve slept, get up at your new earlier waking time.

People’s routines have been thrown out of sync with having to stay at home

The habits in your unconscious mind, and your body’s rhythms, determine when you go to sleep, but you can always consciously choose when you’re going to get up.

When you move the time you get up, the rest of the cycle has to move as well. So, as you start the waking part of your natural cycle earlier, the sleeping part begins to come earlier too.

Social scientists have demonstrated that it is easier to achieve the change you desire if you make a commitment to yourself by writing down your goals. So please do that now: write down your new getting-up time on a piece of paper or card and put it next to your bed.

And while you are there, adjust your alarm clock. Set it half an hour earlier.


Go to bed only when you are sleepy

It is as simple as that: if you aren’t sleepy, don’t go to bed. However tired you might want to be, or think you ought to be, don’t go to bed unless you actually feel sleepy. Stay up and read, get on with all the jobs and tasks you’ve been putting off, and go to bed only when you feel really sleepy.

You have already been surviving on not much sleep and you won’t get any more by trying to force it. When your body really needs it, it will let you know. This means you should never say things like, “I’d better go to bed now as I need my sleep”, if you don’t feel sleepy.

Only when you actually feel sleepy is it correct to go to bed. When you first start doing this, you may find that you are staying up much later than usual. Don’t worry, that is perfectly normal.

After a few days of going to bed late and getting up half an hour earlier, you will find that your natural sleepiness begins to show up earlier in the evening.

You should only go to bed when you are sleepy


Don’t take any naps during the day

If you’re trying to work from home, you might be tempted to take a little siesta – don’t!

Your appetite for sleep is rather like your appetite for food. If you graze on snacks all day long, you don’t have much of an appetite at mealtimes.

If you don’t graze, you will have a healthy appetite when you sit down to dinner.

So, never take a nap or go to bed during the day. Only go to bed at night, and only when you feel sleepy. Otherwise you will disrupt the natural cycle that we are re-setting.


Don’t drink too much caffeine and never after 2pm

Caffeine is probably the best-known chemical sleep disruptor. In many circumstances that is useful – people who want to stay focused or keep working late may take it to stay awake. 

It is well known that caffeine is present in coffee and in many “energy drinks” such as Red Bull or Guarana.

However, it is less well known that caffeine is also present in many other drinks such as colas, diet colas and many other carbonated soft drinks. And, of course, tea contains caffeine. 

Even chocolate contains a small amount of caffeine. Many popular headache remedies contain caffeine because it helps the body to absorb the medications more quickly.

Avoid all forms of caffeine after 2pm.


If you are awake in bed for more than 30 minutes get up and do something boring

We are building the association between bed and sleep.

So if you are not sleeping or making love, you should not be in bed.

Some people ask me if this is really necessary – and the answer is: “Yes!” Association is a powerful force, so it is vital that you do not feed the old association of poor sleep to your bed.

If you are awake in bed for more than 30 minutes, you should get up and do something boring (Stock photo)

So, if you are awake for more than 30 minutes, you must get up and do something boring, like cleaning or doing your accounts. When you do this, the power of association begins to work for you. The unconscious mind is very sensitive and will increasingly associate bed with sleep and staying awake with having to do something dull. That makes sleep more and more compelling.


Keep your bedroom dark and cool at night

Our bodies have a special mechanism which adjusts our sleepiness to the hours of darkness.

A part of the brain is connected to the back of the eyes and, according to the amount of light it perceives, it releases different hormones: cortisol, which wakes us up in the morning, or melatonin, which sends us to sleep at night.  

Because this natural system is hard-wired into our brains, light can have a very strong effect on us. That is why it is important to keep your bedroom really dark at night.

You should keep your bedroom dark and cool at night

Nowadays there is so much street lighting that many houses are bathed in light even in the middle of the night. So, a simple but vital preparation for good sleep is to ensure you have curtains or blinds that truly keep out the light.

If your curtains are made of a light material you can line them, or hang a dark blind behind them. Alternatively, you can use an eye mask like the ones you get on planes.

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Research has also demonstrated we sleep best when we are warm in bed but the room around us is not too hot. The body naturally cools slightly at night and we are sensitive to temperature when we are asleep. If you wake feeling cold, don’t turn up the heating, just put an extra layer on the bed. If you follow these rules you will find that your sleep improves rapidly.

Paul McKenna’s new free Positivity Podcast on insomnia is available to download now, wherever you get your podcasts.

Mirror – Health