Are you struggling to sleep?

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Many people find themselves struggling to sleep.  It may only be the occasional night, but for some, night after night is a struggle. Here are a few tips that may make a big difference. It’s not a case of picking the ones you favour, you really need to put as many in place as you can.

* Keep a fixed bedtime and getting up time even if your sleep has been awful.

* No reading, listening to the radio, watching television in bed.

*No computers, tablets, smart phones (the light omitted disrupts the release of melatonin, a hormone required to sleep)  – the bed is strictly for sleep and sex only.

* Put your watch and alarm clock completely out of sight.

* Use ear plugs and an eye shade in bed to keep avoid exposure to sound or light during the night.

* Avoid caffeine (tea, coffee, fizzy drinks and chocolate) and nicotine from 2PM.

*Avoid exercise in the hour or so before bed.

* Eat a small snack several hours before bed.

* Spend no more than 20 minutes lying in bed trying to sleep.

If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and go to another room. This room should be warm and dimly lit.  Then perform a relaxing activity (not doing daytime tasks which act as a ‘reward’ for staying awake).

When you start to feel sleepy, go back to bed.  If you are still awake about 20 minutes later, repeat the process.

* Absolutely no naps during the day at all.

* Just prior to going to bed perform a relaxing activity.

* Once in bed switch off the light immediately.

* Always remember that sleep will come to you naturally and that different people need different amounts of sleep.

* Remember difficulty sleeping is very common, it is not as harmful as you believe.  Getting upset about it will only make it worse.

Good luck in putting these strategies in place.

Remember, sleep is a passive process, the harder you try to sleep the harder it will be.

Contact me if you wish to book an appointment to look closer at any sleeping difficulties you may have. Alternatively visit

Until next time. Steve

You may wish to know that Steve is now offering therapy sessions via Skype Please contact us through our website @

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Steve Clifford                                                                                                                           Senior Accredited Integrative Psychotherapist.                                                                       Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.


Eight ways to overcome fatigue and re-energise yourself.

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Are you tired and exhausted trying to do more and more in less and less time? Are you in an energy crisis, too busy to do anything about it or too tired to even realise it? If you are, then chances are, you are one of the many over-worked, over-stressed, over-extended and potentially overwhelmed folk out there trying your best to meet unrealistic demands.

Do I hear you say, “there are not enough hours in the day” or “can’t they see how much I am doing?” Well, chances are they don’t care! Sounds harsh, but the reality is, they are too busy to care. You know the mantra, “If you want something done ask a busy person.”

Accept that the only person who can change things is you.

When you feel tired, accept the fact that you are tired. You really have two choices, keep going and ignore your needs and like a battery you will pretty soon run out of juice. Before that happens you will experience fatigue, exhaustion and open yourself up for headaches, colds and all manner of stress related ills. Worse still your prolonged exhaustion may lead to depression, insomnia, chronic fatigue, burnout and pave the way for more serious health problems.

What can you do about it?

Here are eight changes you can make today that together will add up to a big difference to your energy levels and outlook.

1. Look at your diet, chances are that if you are overworked, exhausted and stressed you are either comfort eating and snacking, or worse still, neglecting to eat. Remember, food is your body’s fuel, the energy source to sustain your output. Eat small meals regularly, if you eat too much in one go your body will complain and your energy levels will simply crash. Eat good, “clean food”,  for example, snack on complex carbohydrates such as a wholemeal bread sandwich with peanut butter, a good source of protein to fuel you over an extended period of time. Add fruit when you need a sweet pick me up. Find time for yoghurt or cottage cheese a good source of calcium and vitamin D.

2. Ditch the fizzy drinks and the cups of caffeine and take on board more water. Dehydration is a real problem when you are stressed. You need to keep your cells and your brain hydrated. One of the first signs of dehydration is fatigue. When you are dehydrated your blood volume is decreased, your heart has to work harder to pump your blood round your body, the cells in your brain constrict leading to headache and heaviness in your limbs. Furthermore, your ability to think clearly, move , stand, exercise, sleep, work, cook and even make love will diminish. So take time drink water, try keeping a glass of water on your desk and a bottle of water when you are out an about. Have a jug of water with your meals, you can add a slice to two of lemon or orange. In the summer mint and lemon balm make a refreshing herbal alternative.

3. Get fit! If you want to increase your energy levels engage in regular activity at least three times a week. Studies suggest that 30 minutes of activity at a pace where you have a light sweat will add 25 per cent more energy to every waking moment. Regular exercise has so many benefits and helps maintain muscle strength, mobility, increased metabolism, agility and boosts energy. No need to hit the gym or pound the pavements, just leave the car at home and walk to the shops and engage in regular outdoor activity such as cycling and gardening. Not only does exercise boost the system banishing fatigue but it also improves the mood, increasing serotonin and endorphin production. Furthermore, raised body temperature has a wonderful tranquillising effect, reducing depression and anxiety.

4. Get a good nights sleep. Don’t sacrifice sleep by staying up and watching television because you are too tired to move, or because you’re  finishing that report, ironing into the night or catching up with the washing. Sleep is vital if you want to beat fatigue. Look upon sleep as nature’s way of recharging your batteries with restorative energy. Sleep allows your body to repair damage, recover from stress, rejuvenate and restore balance. A good nights sleep sets you up for a good, productive day.

5. Step out into the great outdoors. Take time to surround yourself with natural energy. Sunshine and vitamin D, fresh air rather than fumes from car exhausts coupled with the sights and smells of nature can really pick you up. A nice walk enjoying the beauty of nature can be so invigorating. Switch off the computer and switch the paperwork for tree’s and fields, you will be surprised how the simple act of turning your back on work can lift the spirits and restore your energy levels. The fragrant scent of flowers, the earthy smell of the forest floor  or the salty breeze of the sea can revive and refresh as the olfactory nerve is stimulated. If you can’t get outdoors bring in some plants to detox the environment, pin up some pictures of country scenes and surround your workspace with a few natural objects such as a piece of driftwood, some stones or a crystal. Pick these objects up periodically to have a mindful moment. Nature is restorative, bring nature to you and harness it’s healing powers.

6. Be mindful. Take time to stop what you are doing and focus on your breath. As you do, check out how you are feeling in your body, scrunch your eyes up and let them go. Raise and lower your shoulders. Stand up if are sitting down, sit down if you are standing up. Have a stretch and smile. By purposefully stopping and focusing on the breath you are coming into the here and now. Running your hands under cold water and splashing your face can be so refreshing. Just letting go of stress momentarily will prevent you spinning round in circles. Stress is not good for us, it shrinks the brain, leads to weight gain due to the high levels of the hormone cortisol that the body produces when under stress, thins your hair and can fetch the reproductive system. Having a stretch and paying attention to your posture will help to eliminate bodily stress and prevent aches and pains. Take time to stop for lunch and find time for regular “pit stops,” this will ensure you keep your reserves of energy for when you need it.

7. Surround yourself with positive people. Isolation can be depressing and stressful, it may also contribute to exhaustion. A loving partner will stimulate your heart, a good role model will inspire you, a good friend will always be there for a hug and a loyal pet gives much and demands little. Avoid “vampires,” those people who literally drain your energy, instead, seek out “radiators,” those people who brim with energy, enthusiasm and life. Seek out sparkly eyed people and not those with dull listless complexions. Good energy is contagious, make sure you get your share.

8. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Better to be relaxed and good humoured rather than stiff and grumpy. Happiness doesn’t just happen, we have to make it happen. The more tired we are, the less likely we are to smile or have a laugh. By ensuring we have some things to look forward to, by engaging in activities, seeking out people, places and situations that bring a smile to our faces we can literally energise our soul. Too much work, feeling tired and worn down is a recipe for misery.

The key is to listen to your body. Don’t ignore tiredness. Our body is a sophisticated machine, where brain chemicals, hormones and blood supply  are all intimately involved in ensuring that we “feel” our fatigue, acknowledge it and then do something about it. Isn’t it time you worked with your body rather than against it?

 Until next time, best wishes Steve.

You may wish to know that Steve is now offering therapy sessions via Skype                       Please contact us through our website @

Visit our facebook site @

Steve Clifford                                                                                                                             Senior Accredited Integrative  Psychotherapist.                                                                   Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.


Adapted from an article “Solve your energy crisis” which appeared in You magazine (March 2001) from a book by dietitian Debra Waterhouse, titled ” Tired to Inspired,” published by Thorsons.

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Good Sleep Tips for Children

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Here are some useful tips to help children develop good sleep habits.                                           

Getting a good sleep pattern is important.  Children will have better sleep if they go to bed at the same time each day. This should also be the same at weekends and holidays. Bed time should not vary by more than an hour between school and non-school nights. Waking up should also be at the same time every day.

It is good to have the same routine before bed each night. This will help prepare for sleep. Quiet activities are good e.g. reading a book or being read to or having a bath or shower.                                                                                                                                                   Make sure the bedroom is comfortable. The bedroom should be a quiet, peaceful and dark. The child may welcome a night light. This is fine. The bedroom should be a cosy, safe, refuge – a good place to be.

Remember a bed is for sleeping, not entertainment. TV, computers, mobile phones and other things that may distract a child from sleep. Such activities are not good for sleep. Keep them out of the bedroom. “Needing” the TV to go to sleep is a bad habit. This can easily develop, but you really don’t want it to happen if you can.

A snack before bed may help with sleep. It’s harder to sleep on an empty stomach. Children should not consume a heavy meal within one to two hours of going to bed.

Caffeine is a stimulant.  Caffeine is found in many popular drinks. These include coffee, tea and cola soft drinks. It can make it harder to get to sleep. Children should have as little of these as possible, and certainly not after lunchtime.

Try to discourage daytime naps, unless the child is really tired. Very young children however may benefit from a nap. For older children a nap after 4pm can make it harder to get to sleep at night.

Exercise and time outside is good. Daily exercise is an important part of healthy living. It also helps with good sleep. Time spent in bright daylight does the same. Outdoor exercise achieves both things. It is best to steer clear of heavy exercise in the hour before sleep.

Keeping the bedroom on the cool side is good for sleep.

If the child has difficulty getting to sleep or wake in the night, tell them to just try to relax and calm down. Tell them not to worry about trying to sleep. You may like to suggest they think of a nice holiday or a special place where they might imagine they are taking their favourite teddy or pet.

I hope you find this useful

With best wishes, Steve

Please feel free to email your blog posts for “Your Mental Health Matters” to                                                                                              Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

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How do I stop worrying about sleep?

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Why is it that when I have a busy schedule ahead of me tomorrow that I end up having the worst nights sleep imaginable and yet when it doesn’t matter, I sleep like a baby?

Falling asleep when your worrying about falling asleep, can make it a whole lot harder to fall asleep. You see, the harder you try to sleep the more likely you are to  stimulate the mind and body through frustration and worry, and with sleep being a passive process you simply defeat the object.

A stressful event tomorrow is almost guaranteed to put the kiss of death on a good nights sleep. The secret is to spend the evening before, in exactly the way you would normally, no early night, no putting last minute touches to your presentation, no checking your journey or the itinerary ..this should all have been done at least a day or two ago, with clothes selected, ironed etc. If you experience anxiety the best thing you can do is forget tomorrow and have a normal evening, that means staying up until your normal bedtime, if necessary watch the late film, and if you normally enjoy a beer or a glass of wine do so. When I say “a beer” I do mean “a beer,” or “a glass of wine.” Believe it or not, alcohol actually provokes anxiety. While this is masked initially by its anaesthetic properties, (the chemical name for alcohol is ethyl alcohol and it is related to ether the anaesthetic agent) once this wears off, the body becomes twitchy and aroused, hence problem drinkers often feel irritable, tremulous and anxious and resort to the “hair of the dog.”

In the evening it is good to have a bath as part of your “wind down” procedure. This will also help regulate your body temperature. Avoid showers in the evening as they can stimulate the body. Incorporate a relaxation technique into your evening “wind-down,” the gradual letting go of the stimulation of the day, replacing the high arousal activities with more peaceful one’s. Learn how to do imagery. You can then take yourself to an imaginary place in your mind when you find yourself wrapped up in sleep preventing thoughts. All you have to do is to create a mental picture, perhaps of a holiday or somewhere nice you have been. It may be an imaginary scene, a beach or a meadow in the countryside. See with as much realism as possible, notice the colours, the sounds and the sensations, perhaps of the sand between your toes, the warm breeze or the smell of freshly mown grass. Imagine a calm, tranquil and relaxing scene…and enjoy.

Don’t let the stress of a busy day and demanding schedule get in the way of you and sleep. By all means work hard but stop working late, reduce your hours and reduce your stress. If you are thinking about work into the evening then you’re stressed, whether its eustress (good stress) or distress (bad stress) it’s got to go. Heaven forbid, before you know it you will be thinking about work in bed. For those with sleeping difficulties, work needs to be limited to the working day. That’s the rule, like it or lump it… and by the way, you might wish to find your self a good therapist who can teach you tips to better manage the stress of our busy and demanding lifestyles. A therapist who helps you with sleep could be viewed a “sleep coach”. Small changes in the various different areas of your life are likely to be all that is needed.

If you find yourself busy with children, work, cooking meals whatever, it may be that you don’t have time to think until you get to bed. Then invariably if you are anxious worry may surface, even worry about worrying. The early hours, perhaps when you wake up to go to the toilet can be fatal, worries and concerns can easily magnify and grow out of proportion. I believe it was Napoleon who said, “show me a brave general at three in the morning!” You may find that setting aside some “worry time” helps. Schedule a regular slot each day to review your day, preferably before 7pm. Reflect on events and “put the day to bed.” Consider what needs to be done tomorrow and attend to anything that needs your attention. Write your worries down and then put them away in a drawer and look at them tomorrow. Keep a pad and pen by your bed and write down any worries that won’t go away. Reflect on your worries your prescribed worry period.

Next, take in some exercise, again there is no excuse. Where I go to the local municipal gym it is like a social club. Early in the morning before the school run and daily commute to work, 20 minute working out with the pensioners is great. Some of them put me to shame in terms over overall fitness and the welcoming friendliness makes it a pleasure to attend, plus its nice being the youngest one there! Whether you walk, jog, swim, cycle it doesn’t matter. The important thing to do is to engage in some aerobic activity to burn off the adrenalin. I do it to put me in a good place to start the day, however, if you are looking at using exercise to help with sleep then do it late afternoon or early evening. Leave at least 2 hours before you go to bed or you may likely find your body is not ready to relax.

Try to discipline yourself to say off the computer after a certain time, emails, facebook and ebay can be very engaging. Going on the computer just before bed is definitely not a good idea, for anyone. The problem with computers unlike a good book, is that they are interactive and that is stimulating. While you may think this is not the case, your brain activity will be in a state of latent arousal. Two hours of computer tablet use at maximum brightness level has been found to suppress the normal night-time release of the hormone melatonin. It is this hormone that signals to the body that it is night and makes you sleepy. Postponing this important signal may delay the onset of sleep (Figueiro et al, 2012).

Avoid eating a large meal late in the evening, instead eat early and have a light snack mid evening, something like warm milk or horlicks (milk contains tryptophan which helps sleep) and have a banana or biscuit. Likewise, if you wake in the middle of the night and do not fall back to sleep within twenty minutes, instead of lying in bed worrying, get up and find a comfy place to have a read, with low lights and perhaps a  milky drink in a flask. Then go back to bed only when you are “sleepy tired.”  By this, I mean that your eyes want to close, your yawning and your head nods. Staying up serves to increase your “sleep drive.”

If you find yourself worrying there are several things you could try, the first is to use a relaxation technique such as tensing and relaxing every part of your body in turn, another technique is autogenic relaxation. For this you repeat “my left arm is heavy and warm” eight times, imagining the heaviness and the warmth (both are states of relaxation) and repeat this with each arm, both arms, each leg, both legs and so on through the body. Another technique is known as thought blocking, for this you repeat the word “the,” over and over again. “The” is actually is a meaningless word and therefore useful in this respect. A further technique that I am keen to promote is known as mindfulness and it teaches people to learn to detach from  stress, worry and rumination (see my November 2012 health blog).

Trying to stop anxious thoughts does not work. This is known as “thought suppression” and trying not to think about something actually increases the volume of thoughts. It is because by trying to force out thoughts means you are actually thinking about them  Imagine it is rather like trying to turn down a broken volume knob on a radio. The problem is, the more you turn it down, the louder it goes. Rather like the adverts in between songs on a commercial radio station just let them play and you will begin to not notice them. Try this. Close your eyes and visualise a big fat pink elephant. Now for the next three minutes don’t think about pink elephants…How was that? Did you find that the thought of pink elephants kept popping into your mind?

Worry about not coping during the day because of poor sleep is a very common theme for those with sleep problems. Professor Colin Espie of the University of Glasgow Sleep Centre, tells us that, “although insomnia can be distressing, and can be distressing, people often come to incorrect conclusions about their ability to sleep and the effects that sleeplessness will have.” He tells us that “most people do manage to cope during daytime even after a bad night’s sleep.” With regard to concentration, while ” insomnia can cause problems with concentration, and we can feel tired, edgy and irritable…we must remember to try to keep our thinking about sleep in proportion. After all, good sleepers get bad-tempered too. The less focus your concerns

Sometimes people worry about noises in the night. It may be creaks and banging noises caused by pipes, woodwork expanding and contracting as the temperature changes. Equally it may be noises outside, people in the street, traffic, etc. The problem is that once you focus on these noises, they will seem to magnify and it can be very hard to distract ourselves. Another problem might be your partner snoring or even the sound of their breathing. One simple solution can be the use of earplugs (see ZenPlugs UK).

How do we differentiate between our thoughts and emotions? This is quite difficult because thoughts and emotions often go hand in hand. The way we feel will affect the content of our thoughts, just as our thoughts shape our emotional responses. If you find yourself worrying about work, family, money it can be very hard not to have  waves of powerful emotional reactions at times. You might be thinking about work the next day, rehearsing something in your mind or planning something ahead. Equally you may worry about not performing or making mistakes. All of these can evoke powerful emotions, frustration, anger, guilt, sadness and worry. The problem is, that strong emotions, provoke strong reactions often stimulating and arousing the body. Try keeping a pad and pen by the bed to jot down you brainwave of an idea (preferably with low lights on only). Instead of visualising yourself making mistakes, “flip” your thoughts and visualise yourself calmly doing things well, see yourself smiling, relaxed and positive. This kind of positive visualisation is exactly what athletes and actors do before a performance.

If you are worried that your worry about sleep may be the result of a clinical condition such as depression or generalised anxiety disorder, consult your general practitioner or other health professional. If you would like more information on  sleep clinics look on-line for a  centre near you. If you would like information on “sleep hygiene” with advice on lifestyle, preparation for bed and other changes to improve your sleep pattern, please visit – insomnia-treatment

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.


Espie, C. A. (2010) Overcoming insomnia and sleep problems; A self-help guide using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques. Robinson: London.

Figueiro, M., Wood, B., et al. (2012) Light level and duration of exposure determine the impact of self-luminous tablets on melatonin suppression, Lighting Research Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, USA.

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