Self-help techniques for sleep disorders like insomnia


Updated on 7th February 2021

How to Sleep Like a Baby – Every single night

Without drugs or alcohol.

By Renata Taylor-Byrne


Brief extract 1:

Insomnia: the curse of sleeplessness, and how to treat it

How to sleep like a babySome people, who know that sleep is a wonderful part of life, still have difficulty achieving it.  For example, in David Benioff’s novel, City of Thieves, we read this:

“I’ve always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.”

And traditional Irish wisdom teaches us that “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for any problem.”

Insomnia is a growing problem in the Anglo-American world, due to the pressures of neoliberal economic policies, and growing inequality, and intensified exploitation of workers at every level.

Insomnia is defined at the inability to fall asleep, in the first ten or twenty minutes of being in bed.  It can also include the tendency to wake up again, a couple of hours after going to bed.

Sleeplessness is a horrible place to be. Not only will it rob you of the peace and happiness of a gentle tomorrow; but it’s torture to endure.

As Emil Cioran writes: “Insomnia is a vertiginous lucidity that can convert paradise itself into a place of torture.”

Or, as Jessamyn West expresses it: “Sleeplessness is a desert without vegetation or inhabitants.”

As early as 1998, Dr James Maas, an American sleep expert, wrote that

“About 70% of the (American) people are not sleeping well for at least one or two nights each week”.

Similar statements have been made about the British population, and sleep problems have most likely worsened on both sides of the Atlantic since that time.

Why is this a problem?  As we saw above, at the very least, lack of adequate sleep will reduce your emotional intelligence, reduce your effectiveness in the world, and render you less dynamic than you could be.  And you will be less happy, and prone to depression and other emotional disorders.  It is widely recognized that, unless you get enough rest and sleep, you will tend to be irritable and anxious.  (Wagner, 1996).

In working with insomnia, and general sleep hygiene, with our counselling clients, we tend to offer the following advice:

  1. Make sure you get plenty of physical exercise and you breathe in good quality air during each day. And make sure you get out in direct sunlight for at least one full hour each day during the summer time, and two or more hours in the winter.  (See Endnote[i] on the effects of physical exercise on insomnia).
  2. Eat a healthy diet, which omits most caffeine, all gluten, and keep your sugarand processed carb consumption low. Eat complex carbs, as in vegetables and gluten-free grains, with a small amount of protein.
  3. Avoid stimulants, like caffeine, nicotine, chocolate, or sugary foods, from 2.00 pm onwards. These stimulants are likely to keep you awake. Also, do not eat large meals before bedtime. You should breakfast like a king (or queen); lunch like a prince (or princess); and have a modest evening meal.  Some experts recommend mixing protein and carbs at breakfast time (such as eggs on toast); lunch based on protein and salad (or cooked) vegetables; and evening meal based on carbohydrate with salad (or cooked) vegetables.  The carbohydrate will tend to make you feel relaxed and tired enough to sleep.

Alcohol may seem to help you sleep (after a fashion!) – it’s a sedative and will make you sleep lightly, but you will not have dream sleep. You will need dream sleep to properly recuperate from your day’s work. Also, the alcohol makes you have brief awakenings throughout the night’s sleep, which will make you feel very tired the following morning.

4. Manage your bedroom sleeping space, …

…End of first extract.


Footnote [1] to first extract:

[i] The effects of physical exercise on insomnia

There is scientific research evidence, from the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine – Cited in Stevenson, (2016); pages 88-89 – to support the conclusion that “consistent exercise” will produce the following positive effects upon sleep:

  1. A 55% improvement in sleep onset latency. (This means the study participants fell asleep faster, or sooner than normal, when they had exercised their bodies).
  2. An 18% increase in total sleep time during the test nights.
  3. A 13% increase in sleep efficiency (which means an improvement of the quality of sleep. [The quality of sleep is measured by how refreshed you feel the following day]).

The research participants in this study were all said to be suffering from ‘primary insomnia’, which is a psychiatric term for serious sleep problems described as: “difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, or suffering from non-restorative sleep, for at least 1 month” before the study began.

And in our view, an adequate definition of ‘consistent exercise regime’ could be as little as 30 minutes of brisk walking, in an enjoyable context, at least five days per week.


Second brief extract:

Writing Therapy for Insomnia – Keep a reflective journal

How to sleep like a babyOur brain is designed to deal with incoming information and to quickly process and respond to it.

It’s not designed to deal with internally created thoughts that go round and round in our brains.

Therefore, Ariana Huffington (2016)[i] in her book on sleep, describes a writing strategy which Joey Hubbard teaches. The technique is called a ‘Mind Dump’.

This how it works: Before going to bed, write down all the things you have to do tomorrow. This process will clear your mind, and act as a comfort to your brain-mind that the necessary tasks have been recorded, and will be dealt with, during the following day.

What the Mind Dump does is to externalize your concerns and worries about your upcoming tasks and challenges.

It’s important to externalise our problems, by putting them outside of ourselves.

We can externalize them by talking about them; or writing about them; or drawing images of them.

Then the brain can deal with those externalizations as incoming information: Seeing the written words; hearing the verbal response of the other person; or seeing the drawn image. Thereafter, the brain-mind can decide what to do about the incoming information.

Write out your problems

Writing our worries down has been a well-established process for a long period to time. It has been found to be a highly effective way to get worries and concerns out of people’s heads, and gives them some peace.

Writing your worries down will help you to get to sleep, instead of tossing and turning, and mulling over your problems, worries and concerns.

The following day, after a better night’s sleep than you would otherwise have had, you can then look at what you have written about your problems, and decide what, if anything, to do about them.

Writing therapy

Writing therapy is a more formal system of writing out your problems.

The simplest approach, developed by Julia Cameron, and called Morning Pages, is to just write three pages of..

…End of second extract.


Footnote [1] to second extract:

[i] Huffington, A. (2016) The Sleep Revolution: Transforming your life one night at a time. London: Penguin. Random House, UK.


More extracts coming soon…