Thanks to a growing wealth of sleep-related research, we now know that good-quality sleep is essential to healthy brain and body function. And yet achieving a solid eight hours of sleep can seem near impossible when you have assessment objectives and mark schemes buzzing around your brain. Even when the miraculous happens and we make it to bed at a reasonable hour, how frustrating can it be to lie there, wrestling your own thoughts in the early hours.
Luckily, help is at hand…
How to fall asleep
Firstly, you can create a daily routine and lifestyle that promotes good quality sleep, long before your head hits the pillow. Leading sleep expert, Professor Matthew Walker, tells us that regularity is key – create a night-time routine and stick to it.
At the same time, when you do go to bed, ensure that your room is cool and dark. This includes having a "no-screen" policy for the last one to two hours before bed, no matter what emails may or may not be coming in.
Lastly, watch your caffeine intake over the day and swap the boozy night-cap for a camomile tea – while alcohol might appear to help you drift off, its sedative effects are extremely detrimental to both the patterns and quality of your sleep.
Now, let’s say for argument’s sake that you’ve already done all of this, but here you are at 3am, wide awake, fretting over the upcoming book scrutiny. If counting sheep just isn’t working for you, here are three mindfulness strategies that just might help instead:
1. Focus on your breath
Just begin to notice what your breathing is like; the feel of it going into your nostrils; the length; the temperature.
You can experiment with changing your breath, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Maybe try inhaling to the count of four, holding for one and exhaling for six. Can you feel the breath as it reaches your chest...your sides...your stomach? Can you feel your stomach rise as you inhale and lower as you exhale?
If thoughts come back in, which they most certainly will, acknowledge this without any judgement and return to exploring your breath.
2. The body scan
This one is great to do both when trying to fall asleep and then again if insomnia strikes. Simply bring your attention up from your toes to your head, exploring all the different places and parts in your body, noticing any sensations of tightness/discomfort and allowing them to relax. You might find that tensing the muscles one by one, or imagining that your body is very heavy and slowly sinking will help you relax.
3. Explore difficult sensations
When you’re kept awake because of fears, anxieties and other difficult emotions, become curious about the sensations in your body. Ask yourself questions like: is the feeling smooth or sharp? Is it pulsing or aching? Is it flowing or throbbing? What colour/shape would I give this feeling?
As counter-intuitive as this may feel, exploring how negative emotions feel within the body can be an empowering alternative to listening to your inner-monologue of thoughts and worries.
Jo Steer is a teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions and wellbeing strategies