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  1. Student Counselling and Mental Health Service
  2. Counselling
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  4. Sleeping problems
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Sleeping problems

You may find it odd that a feature of life with which everyone is familiar with from time to time is listed as a problem. The truth is that lack of sleep may be a complicating factor in coping with times of stress. Additionally, some people have developed styles and patterns which deny them sleep. This page addresses a few concepts and remedial activities.

Forms of insomnia


  • Waking early
  • Difficulty in getting to sleep for a period of time 
  • Prolonged, disturbed and light sleep 
  • Sleep which is interrupted by shock and fear on sudden waking (night terror) 
  • Sleep which is interrupted by nightmares 
  • Small amounts of sleep with cat napping at other times 
  • Occasional complete absence of sleep.

Not so normal:

  • Any of the above which becomes chronic (i.e. lasts for an extended duration or occurs in repeated bouts over a long period)
  • Sleep which has a radically disordered rhythm 
  • Disturbance caused by shift work 
  • Seasonally affected sleep (e.g. excessive sleep in winter )
  • Sleep disturbance associated with feeling depressed (or having Chronic Fatigue or ME) 
  • Jet-lag 
  • Apnoea (a sort of snoring but with a breathing lapse involved) 
  • Snoring problems 
  • Teeth grinding

Strategies for addressing insomnia

Strategies to beat insomnia fall into these main categories:

Getting help from others
Changing your night-time routine
Preparing the body for sleep
Behaviour conducive to sleep.

  1. Getting help from others
    • Check with your doctor to assess whether you have a disordered pattern. This is particularly the case with abnormal sleep.
    • Talk with a counsellor [link] about issues which impinge on your sleep.
    • Consider referral to a sleep clinic if matters are advanced.

  2. Changing your night-time routine
    • Noise - consider using earplugs to reduce the amount of background distraction noise ("white noise").
    • Temperature - not too hot, not too cold.
    • Don't go to bed hungry.
    • Modify late-night drinking and go to the toilet in order to avoid being woken by a full bladder.
    • Make your bed as comfortable as possible.
    • Reduce mental activity two hours before sleep.
    • Reduce light levels two hours before sleep.
    • Have a range of distractions available for use in the event of insomnia - relaxed area away from the bed plus hot water bottle, light reading.
    • Create a sleeping environment free from work and disturbance.

  3. Preparing the body for sleep
    • Use diet and herbs to provide you with the chemistry which encourages sleep, particularly foods containing melatonin may be helpful - e.g. oats, sweetcorn, rice, ginger, tomatoes, bananas and barley. Oats contain the most, barley the least. Avoid caffeine intake after 3pm.
    • Decrease alcohol intake before sleep.
    • Avoid respiratory stimulants before sleep (cigarettes).
    • Avoid exercise before bedtime (increases stress response chemistry in many people).

  4.  Behaviour conducive to sleep
    • Keep sleep to limits; don't oversleep.
    • Avoid long daytime napping.
    • Don't allow too much sleeplessness to occur in bed. Get up and do light things until you feel drowsy again.
    • Don't magnify or alarm yourself over your sleepless state, this may make it worse.
    • Consciously stop yourself worrying at night. Write concerns down and deal with them in the morning.


Further Help

Books include:
Natural Sleep: How to Beat Insomnia without Drugs (Anthea Courtney) Thorsons. 1990
The Good Sleep Guide (Michael Van Straten, Kylie Cathie) 2004
The Effortless Sleep Method (Sasha Stephens) CreateSpace. 2011

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.