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Good Night, Sleep Tight: Finding a Good Night's Sleep

10/03/2014 13:12 GMT | Updated 06/05/2014 10:59 BST

There is no worldly reason why I should be awake right now.

I've done everything I'm meant to.

I've taken a relaxing, aromatic bath. I've had a glass of warm milk. I'm listening to whale song and channelling my chakra, for Pete's sake, why am I still awake??

The presentation is tomorrow, it's imperative that I sleep.

Just calm down. Try some of those visualisation exercises. Imagine the presentation is in a box, now close that box... Now... ok this isn't working.

If this sounds in any way familiar, you're one of 80% of the UK population who experience some form of sleeplessness, or 30% who suffer chronic sleep problems.

So what can be done? Dr Guy Meadows, sleep physiologist and founder of The Sleep School is NABS' (the advertising and media industry support organisation) latest Wellbeing expert. The school's aim is to help people find 'more energy and a richer and more meaningful life' by promoting practical ways to get a better night's sleep.

To follow Dr Guy's method is to recognise that the person in the above scenario is going about things all wrong. Too often we see sleep as a battle. Of course, that's not our intension. None of us go to bed purposely preparing for war. However, a war it can all too often become. The more we struggle, the more nights we spend experiencing the same problem, the less likely we are to sleep well.

The oft-repeated saying that we spend a third of our lives asleep is largely true. Sleep helps us recover our energy; it regulates our hormones, allows our body to grow and repair, strengthens our immune system, improves our mental health and, perhaps most ironically for those struggling to sleep, reduces our anxiety.

Arianna Huffington's forthcoming book, 'Thrive' on the subject of wellbeing and the Third Metric continues the list: "...it's not just decision making and cognitive functions that take a hit... sleep deprivation reduces our emotional intelligence, self-regard, assertiveness, empathy towards others, the quality of our interpersonal relationships [and] positive thinking."

As a child, when it was my dad's turn to tuck me in, he'd offer the following adage: "Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite".

There I'd lie, wide eyed, scared motionless, petrified of the monstrous bedbugs swarming around my feet: "What? What are bedbugs?! And how do I stop them biting?? I'm six!" I'd think to myself, followed by a sleepless night. Thanks dad.

This is an example (albeit a slightly silly and outdated one), of the types of harmful associations we can make. The fear that if we don't sleep we'll fail at tomorrow's presentation is a more typical example of creating obtrusive and unhelpful associations and thoughts.

Dr Guy teaches us to welcome our thoughts and emotions. Be aware of them, but don't let them overwhelm you, observe their presence objectively then learn to let go: "Fearful thoughts or strong sensations such as anxiety at night can make you more awake. Learning to change your relationship with them; by getting to know them and even welcoming them when they arrive will reduce arousal levels and lessen your sleep struggle." Remember, if you think you won't sleep well, the chances are you won't sleep well.

We must also let go of our 'props'. The milk, the bath, the whale music. These may work every so often, but we can become dependent on them, to the point that we can't sleep without them. Unnatural night-time rituals can distract us from clearing our racing minds and create distracting associations in our minds.

He also echoes past NABS speakers by discussing the benefits of Mindfulness (read our blog on A Mindful Approach to Observing Raisins): "Worrying about poor quality past sleep or imagining how bad things will be in the future if you don't sleep only help to increase night time arousal levels. However, noticing things objectively, without judgement, in the present moment; like the touch of your duvet on your toes, or the gentle movement of air in and out of your nose, can actually promote sleep."

These are just some of the many tips and tools we can all use to find sleep bliss. We spend such a large part of our lives sleeping, shouldn't we learn to do so well?

Good night, sleep tight... and welcome in the bedbugs!