Dr Hugh Koch advises on sleeping well

ALTHOUGH sleep is a natural and automatic event, difficult thinking and behavioural patterns can sometimes get in the way. Feeling that we can't get to sleep isn't very pleasant; nor is feeling tired when we have an important, difficult or long day ahead of us. Learning more about what influences our sleeping patterns can help us get a more satisfying night's sleep and feel calmer and more in control of our daytime and night-time routines.

So what's next?

There are a number of practical and effective ideas to experiment with to help you sleep better. Giving as many a go as possible, and seeing which work best for you, should result in a consistently better sleeping pattern and a feeling of early morning refreshment.

Since we've been married and quickly had two children, life is a bit of a blur, especially in the evenings. I fall into bed exhausted and should be able to sleep but it's difficult for no particular reason. What am I doing wrong?

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You are doing nothing wrong other than being a hard-working and committed adult. I suggest you make one or two adjustments to daytime activities. For example, build in some easy daytime exercise and lay off caffeine and nicotine as both are stimulating. The main advice, however, is to take active steps to improve your evening and bedtime routines.

Don't eat or drink just before bed as your digestive system will be working overdrive

Relax an hour before bed by turning off computers, phones and the TV. Instead, do something to help your body and brain slow down: have a warm bath, do some yoga or meditation, or read.

Clear your head by writing out a "to do" list for tomorrow.

Keep your bedroom clean and minimal. Make sure your sheets are cleaned regularly and the less general clutter the better. Also make sure your bedroom is the right temperature and dark/light enough.

And do read something easy in bed. Taking on anything too thought-provoking could keep you awake for hours.

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I work and play hard and generally have a good time but I've noticed that when I have something on my mind it seriously affects my sleep. I wake up several times in the night and feel tired in the morning. This is becoming a regular pattern. What can I do?

The key is not to worry if occasionally you have a bad night and to look at ways of remedying the issue. Typically, your pattern readjusts the next night and you sleep through. However, night-time waking can become a habit that is both frustrating and tiring.

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If you wake up needing the toilet, train your brain not to kick in with thoughts of the day ahead or one particular problem. Try and stay in your dream state as much as possible. Keeping the lights off might help.

Don't toss and turn worrying. Try thinking of something pleasant and breathing deep, slow breaths. If this doesn't work, try reading something escapist for ten minutes.

If you are still awake 30-45 minutes later, get up and do something boring around the home. Don't switch on the computer or TV as this may only stimulate your brain even more.

Dr Hugh Koch is a practising psychologist. His most recent book is Active Steps To Reducing Stress. For more advice on sleeping and other stress matters visit www.reducingstress.co.uk.

• This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday, June 27, 2010