Programme: How to sleep better

3. Tire Yourself Out

It is logical that the longer you stay awake, the greater your need to sleep will become. During the day, you build up what is known as ‘sleep pressure’: as you expend more energy, your need for sleep increases. You want to go to bed and sleep so that you can recover from the day’s exertions. It may be that you are finding it hard to fall asleep because you have not built up enough sleep pressure during the course of the day. But how exactly do you create sleep pressure?

The answer is simple - you need to tire yourself out! This could be either physically or mentally, but the more active you are during the day, the more sleep pressure you will build up. 

Taking exercise is a great way to tire yourself out as it raises your body temperature which gives you increased energy during the day. If you exert yourself during the day, your body temperature will drop towards the end of the day; this will help you to fall asleep more easily as well as helping you to sleep more deeply. Don’t exercise too late in the day - make sure you can take advantage of that energy boost during the daytime. In the evening, focus on more relaxing activities - this will help you to stick to your day- and night-time rhythm. Physical exercise also has the added bonus of reducing levels of worry, stress and (physical) restlessness. 

Mental exertion can also help to build up sleep pressure. Working, reading, having a stimulating conversation and solving brain teaser puzzles are all good ways to do this. The mental challenges which we encounter during the day help us to switch off and find some peace in the evening. But not everyone is able to do this; do you ever find it difficult to get to sleep because your mind feels too ‘full’, restless or stressed? Take a look at the ‘When your Thoughts Invade your Sleep’ card.

Some tips and advice

  • Be active - exercise for at least 30 minutes each day. Tire yourself out! It is better not to exercise too late in the day.
  • As well as exertion, make time for relaxation. What is the best way for you to relax? Make sure you take a few short breaks during the day to stop what you are doing and simply look out of the window, have a cup of coffee or do a breathing exercise. Make sure you relax before you go to bed.
  • Avoid daytime naps. Daytime naps reduce your sleep pressure. If you really can’t manage without a nap, limit your nap time to 30 minutes and make sure you nap before 3pm.

“Sleeping is no mean art: for its sake one must stay awake all day”
(Friederich Nietzsche, German poet and philosopher, 1844-1900).

Reflect & connect

Answer these questions and share your answers with your online psychologist, your partner and/or a friend:

1. Try to become aware of times when your sleep pressure is high or low. Keep a written record for a few days of what you have done to try to build sleep pressure.

2. What effect does low sleep pressure have on your ability to fall asleep or to sleep well? Take note of how building up sleep pressure benefits you. 

3. Try to find the right balance for you between exertion and relaxation. You will need to experiment! What is the ideal level of sleep pressure for you?

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