With new concerns over the safety of sleeping tablets, is there really a pill-free way to conquer insomnia? Our unique four-week plan can help you get a fabulous, totally natural, night’s sleep!

Ask a good sleeper how they drop off at night and they’ll look baffled, because they just close their eyes and fall into a deep sleep. Ask an insomniac, however, and you’ll get a long list – new pillow, warm milk, hot bath, sex, essential oils, herbal teas – and, as a last resort, a couple of sleeping tablets.

The problem is that even if drugs help, they’re not a long-term solution. More worryingly, earlier this year the shock results of a major new study found a link between taking prescription sleeping pills just twice a month and being four times more likely to die early than non-users. With 9 million sleeping-pill prescriptions written each year, the story quickly went viral. Experts urged people not to worry or suddenly stop taking medication, but some patients began ringing their GPs after totting up their intake, realizing that taking tablets a few nights a week, every now and then, could put them in the danger zone.

But specialists now think there is another highly effective treatment that’s drug-free. Insomnia experts such as Dr Gregg Jacobs believe that even hardened insomniacs can dramatically improve their sleep in a little more than a month using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). And there is solid research to back up the theory. A recent paper in The Lancet, reviewing 130 sleep studies, found that a behavioral cure was not only one of the best ways to summon sleep in the first place, but also gave patients an effective long-term skill they could use if their insomnia returned.

Dr Jacobs, who is based at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, believes most insomnia develops from occasional sleepless nights triggering anxiety about sleep loss, which leads to more time in bed trying to catch up- and more sleeplessness. ‘We have learned not to sleep well. If we can change our behavior and our beliefs around sleep, we can overcome insomnia,’ he says.

It sounds simple, but it works. Extensive research shows not only that 80% of people using the CBT approach have significant improvements in their sleep, but that this approach is more effective than sleeping pills, without any of the side-effects. Here, we’ve adapted Dr Jacobs’ highly successful programme for you to follow over the next four weeks – or you can buy the full five-week programme in an online interactive format from cbtforinsomnia.com.

Days 1-7 Keep a sleep diary

Description: Description: Logging your sleep habits can help you beat insomnia

Logging your sleep habits can help you beat insomnia

Take a few minutes each morning this week to record the previous night’s sleep. This will give you a clear picture of what’s happening with your sleep and what you need to do to improve it. Make a note of:

·           The day and the date

·           The time you got into bed

·           The time you turned the lights off

·           How long it took you to fall asleep (don’t clock-watch, as this will cause more anxiety, but estimate to within 30 minutes)

·           How many times you woke in the night

·           How long you were awake for (note each incident separately – again estimate the time as accurately as you can but don’t clock-watch in the middle of the night, which is likely to increase your anxiety)

·           Approximately how many hours you slept

·           How much time you allocated for sleepy, the time from lights out to the time you got up, not the time spent sleeping

·           Rate your quality of sleep, from 1 for excellent to 5 for poor

·           Any sleep medications you are taking. At the end of the week, tot up how many nights you struggled to fall asleep, how long it took, how many nights you woke and how often and how long it took you to fall back to sleep again. Keep this as your baseline sleep pattern.

Days 8 – 14 Look at your sleep habits

Description: Description: Look at your sleep habits

1.    Dr Jacobs argues that many insomniacs come to associate their bed with wakefulness rather than sleep because spend so many hours trying, unsuccessfully, to drop off. This week you’re aiming to do two things:

2.    Turn things round so your bed becomes the place you associate with sleep. Increase your sleep efficiency. ‘Insomniacs have very poor sleep efficiency – typically they spend only a low percentage of time in bed actually sleeping,’ says Dr Jacobs, ‘For example, if you go to bed at 11 and get up at 7 but spend only six hours sleeping, your sleep efficiency is only 75%.’ So, to improve yours:

o   Use your sleep diary to calculate the average amount of time you sleep each night and add an hour. This is the amount of time you are allowed to spend in bed so you need to adjust your bedtime and getting-up time accordingly. When your sleep starts to improve you can expand your sleep window.

o   Get up at the same time every day, no matter how badly you’ve slept. If necessary, set an alarm to ensure you get up within half an hour of your set waking-up time.

o   You can read for up to 30 minutes when you go to bed, but no longer. Don’t allow yourself to lie awake in bed for longer than 30 minutes when you go to bed, wake in the morning, or if you wake in the night. If you don’t drop off within the half hour, get up. Or, if you are awake in the middle of the night for longer than 30 minutes, go into another room and read a book or watch the television until you feel sleepy.

o   Make sure you feel sleepy when you turn the lights out – if you’re not sleepy, get up and go into another room and read for half an hour before trying again.

o   Don’t have lie-ins or early nights to ‘catch up’. This will make things worse. If you feel you want to go to bed before your allotted time, keep awake by walking around.

o   Don’t go to sleep with the lights on or watching the TV.

o   Keep bed strictly for sleep and sex – you can read or watch TV for up to 30 minutes before sleep, but don’t work or talk on the phone in bed.

o   You can take a nap during the day, but it must be before 3pm and for no longer than 45 minutes.

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