Never underestimate the value of sleep.  Good quality sleep can underpin good physical and mental well being and shape how you approach the coming day.  If you have slept well you are more likely to feel refreshed, motivated and ready to take on the day and any challenges it may bring.  If you haven't you may feel sluggish, unmotivated and irritable.  Listed below are some tips to improving your sleep patterns. 

1. No Heavy Meals After 7pm
Try to avoid eating heavy meals late at night and ideally aim to have your dinner by 7pm.  This gives your body time to digest your meal. 

2. Reduce Stimulants
Stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine or sugar will all help to make you feel more alert and this is not ideal if you are trying to sleep.  If possible try and cut out any stimulants in the last few hours before bed.

3. Adopt a Routine
Get into the habit of using an alarm clock to wake you up in the morning.  Set the alarm for the same time each day and once you are awake get out of bed, washed and dressed.  Although you may feel tired, establishing a morning routine will help you in the long run.  Try to avoid napping as this can often be counterproductive and make it harder to fall asleep that night.

4. Wind Down
Just as having some structure in the morning will help, so will having some routine at night time.  Give yourself a time you want to be in bed by.  Aim to begin winding down in the hour before.  In this time you want to switch off your computer and mobile phone, or at least put it onto silent mode.  Avoid watching television, especially news programmes that are likely to stimulate you.  If possible, turn down any lights.  You may also want to try things like having a hot bath, drinking a warm, decaffeinated drink, putting on comfy night clothes and so on.  The idea is that you are telling your body that it is the end of the day and that you will be sleeping soon.

5. Relaxation Exercises
Trying out some form of formal relaxation or meditation may really help to get you into the right state of mind for sleep. You can buy guided relaxation CDs or MP3s from most music stores and you can also find free ones available on the internet.  Check out Free Mindfulness for some free mindful meditation exercises.  You could also try some simple breath counting or muscle relaxation exercises.  Some yoga classes offer some instruction in these techniques and they are usually held at the end of an yoga class.  Check with your instructor before booking your class and they will be able to advise you on what their class can offer beginners. 

6. Review Your Sleep Environment
Check that your curtains are doing an effective job at keeping the light out.  If they don't do this, you may want to look at investing in some blackout curtains or blinds and you can purchase these from most home ware or DIY stores.  Check your bed is comfortable and that your pillow is supporting your head in a comfortable position.  Does your bedroom get noisy at night?  If it does ensure that windows are kept shut and that curtains are providing good coverage of your windows.  If you have done all you can to reduce the outside noise and it is still troubling you, you may want to look at investing in some form of white noise generator.  You could even play some through your headphones or at a low volume through your speakers.  There are several ambient noise generators available online, free of charge.  Find these in the 'managing stress' section of the useful links page.

7. Write it Down
If you are experiencing high levels of stress during the day or night your mind may be having difficulty switching off.  Try using a diary to write down any thoughts that are going through your head.  If you suddenly remember something you need to do you could either try sending yourself a text message or you could write it down on a post it note a stick it on your shoes, keys, mobile phone, work bag or other item you use daily. 

8. See Your Doctor
If you having difficulty getting off to sleep it maybe helpful to have a chat with your doctor. There are a number of physical conditions that may be playing a role in your sleeplessness such as allergies, thyroid problems, asthma and so on.  Your doctor may need to see you more than once and may suggest seeing a specialist or taking medication.  This does not necessarily mean taking a sleeping tablet.  These are often only given as a last resort and are usually only prescribed short term.

9. Be Patient
Sometimes sleep problems take a little while to resolve and it may be that you need to try several different techniques before finding something that helps.  One of the reasons I love the quote at the top of the page is that it wonderfully illustrates the elusiveness of sleep when you are trying to force it. Once you have set up the right environment and mindset, so long as you are tired, sleep should come naturally.  Different people take different amounts of time to fall asleep so be patient with yourself and try to stay calm and distract yourself with some low key activity like reading a book or magazine.