Practical Steps - Stimulants & Sleeping Pills

Before we start getting inside your head, there are some really simple things you can do to prepare for better sleep. Later on, we’ll be discussing a big subject called Sleep Hygiene, which is all about your situation and environment. For now, I’d like to draw your attention to some obvious candidates for the chop.

Even if none of these - on their own - provide a total solution, if they’re habits you have, your route to normal sleep will be considerably smoother if you pay attention to them.

Sometimes, it's the little things, rolled up together, that make the most significant difference. Ask any athlete about the principle of Marginal Gains.


This is the best place to begin, because a significant percentage of sleep problems can be solved or reduced by eliminating artificial stimulants from your daily routine.

“I already know this!” I hear you reply. Well, yes, I’m sure you do, but are you actually applying the science? 

Coffee & Tea

Coffee is obviously going to be our first stop. Everyone understands that coffee contains caffeine. Caffeine is a powerful (really powerful) stimulant with a very long half-life; it takes around six hours for the caffeine from each cup you drink to reduce by half. 

However – and you’ll know this if you are sensitive to caffeine – the full effects can take much longer to clear, especially if you overdo the coffee during the day.

It’s as simple as this; if you drink a lot of coffee (say, more than three cups a day) and you have insomnia, there’s almost certainly a link. Sure, there are some people who claim that it doesn’t affect their sleep, but we don’t know what other things they may be using to aid their sleep. 

If you are one of these fortunate people – I say ‘fortunate' because this is easy to fix – who drinks coffee and suffers from sleeplessness, the first experiment we're going to try is to cut out coffee entirely for a few days and see if it makes a difference. Sounds simple, sounds obvious, but not everyone makes the connection.

The problem with stimulants is that they prevent your metabolism from slowing down when it’s time to sleep. Coffee is particularly dangerous, because the caffeine hangs around in your system for a long time. Even if you stop drinking coffee at (say) lunchtime, if you’ve had enough caffeine, the effects may still be stimulating you by midnight, exactly when you want it gone.

During the day, your brain builds up levels of Adenosine, which we can call the ‘sleep chemical'. You're designed for this chemical to peak around bed-time. The more adenosine in your brain, the greater your inclination to fall asleep. Once you do, the adenosine dissipates overnight, and the cycle restarts, once you wake up again.  Unfortunately, caffeine suppresses the effect of adenosine, often for many hours.

During the day, you might experience a tiredness ‘crash’ once the caffeine leaves your system and the adenosine effect is properly felt. But if there’s still caffeine in your system at bedtime - when your adenosine levels should be telling you to sleep - you’ve temporarily damaged the system, and you’re still wide awake.

So, before you go any further, try a few days without coffee. Sure, it might be challenging, because you’ve built up a dependence on caffeine to kick-start you in the morning, but it’s not a huge sacrifice. Be aware that decaf isn’t really caffeine-free, but at least it’s lower, usually by 60-75%.

Tea is better, by about half in the case of black tea. Green tea is better still, reducing the caffeine-per-cup to around one third that of coffee. Another advantage of tea is that it acts as a hydration agent, no different to drinking water, which is another good thing that can help with sleep issues. You might think that coffee, because it’s made from mostly water, would be the same, but it isn’t. Coffee has a diuretic effect, which means it causes the body to expel fluid faster than usual, and can lead to dehydration, so the water in coffee is a lot less useful than the water in tea.

So tea (especially green tea) will greatly reduce the level of stimulants in your system. If you're completely committed, and you want to banish caffeine entirely, try Rooibos Tea. It's made from the redbush plant, grown in South Africa, and is easily and cheaply available in most supermarkets across the world, in either black or green varieties. Rooibos is also packed with minerals and anti-oxidants, and it’s often included in superfoods lists. It tastes a little different to conventional tea, but it’s delicious, and you can take it with milk or lemon, just as you would with conventional tea. I don’t drink it all the time, but I still seem to go through a lot of it each week!

Energy Drinks

The best-known energy drink – the one that Gives You Wings – contains about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee. That’s the point of it. Cola drinks are similar. Both also include a significant amount of refined sugar.

Energy drinks often also contain taurine, which is one of the amino acids that contribute to our overall cellular health. According to the limited amount of scientific research on the subject, taurine can have a calming effect on caffeine, so maybe there's a bit of an offset between the two, but it's not enough to counteract the caffeine effect, especially if you drink the stuff late in the day.

But, oh the sugar! Science is split on whether sugar is a stimulant or a sedative, but if you consider that sugar’s primary role is to deliver glucose to your muscles, and if your muscles aren’t working, the glucose reacts with insulin and gets stored as fat. Glucose is often used for a quick energy-jolt, so it should be obvious why it’s not conducive to good sleep.

So, energy drinks, cola, and anything else with caffeine and/or high sugar content, need to be eliminated from your afternoon and evening routine. There is nothing in a can of CokeTM or even Diet CokeTM that will help you sleep.

Try eliminating these obvious stimulants from your daily routine first of all. Please don’t ignore this; you can try everything else in the book to solve your sleep issues, but if you’re still swallowing caffeine and sugar, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle. 

Often my clients are in denial about this. It’s illogical, since most of them are in my chair to fix their insomnia, but flatly refuse to acknowledge the role of coffee in their issues. Others say; “I couldn’t function without coffee!” Well, guess what, you’re wrong! You’ll feel a lot better after a good night’s sleep than you will by pumping yourself up with espresso in the morning.

While there may be some incremental health benefits to drinking coffee in moderation, none of these come anywhere near the threats to your health caused by poor sleep, so make a deal with yourself, and try it for a week, while we're working through the other interventions in this book.

Smoking and Nicotine

Smoking is another stealth stimulant that can severely impact your sleep quality. I won't bore you with the standard sermon about tobacco and health; if you're keen to attack your smoking habit (should you have one) there's another book in the series that will help you with that. 

But smoking in the context of sleep is a very bad thing, and here are just a few of the reasons:

• Contrary to most smokers’ belief that nicotine relaxes them, it is actually a stimulant. Luckily, it has a very short effect, and is out of your system within a few minutes, which unfortunately creates a dependency which has you back there again half an hour later, chasing the feeling.

The reasons why smokers believe that smoking relaxes them are twofold; 

• Firstly, in many cases, it necessitates a break from whatever you’re doing at the time, so smokers tend to lean on smoke breaks as a time to relax. This creates the false belief that it’s the smoking which relaxes you, rather than the change of environment. Once you understand this, you can use behavioral change to eliminate this counterintuitive dogma. 

• But there is another, more powerful reason why people think smoking relaxes them.
The action of inhaling, holding, and exhaling cigarette smoke mimics the action of ‘deep breathing’, which most people rarely do in their normal lives. And deep breathing, as you may already know, is one of the primary techniques for stress management, by subconsciously managing the amount and duration of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, the stress chemicals, released into your bloodstream. Because of the short duration of the effects, this stimulation/relaxation cycle requires constant repetition, so creates a dependence - even an addiction - not only to the substances, but also the habit, which can be hard to break. 

I’m not advocating you think about quitting right now, because that’s more involved than just stopping. However, the strategy I recommend is that you set a cut-off time for smoking, about two hours before you go to bed. One good trick to help you do this, and also to reduce the possibility of you eating the wrong things late at night, is to go wash your hands and brush your teeth at this time. If you’re clean and fresh, and you apply some minor willpower, you won’t eat, drink, or smoke once you’ve cleaned yourself. That’s part of our ‘sleep hygiene’ routine, which we’ll deal with shortly. 

On the subject of willpower, I simply offer this: you have the personal resources to resist temptation, and none of these substances is seriously addictive, so just pull yourself together and do it. We're only talking about a few hours in the case of tobacco, or a few days in the case of caffeine. If you can't manage that, we may be wasting each others' time.

In summary, stimulants are a total no-no when you’re trying to get on top of your sleep issues. For the purpose of these interventions, please cut out stimulants until we figure out if you're susceptible. Once we've established a reliable and satisfactory sleep routine for you, it may be appropriate to start reintroducing coffee (the most prominent culprit) in the mornings, and see if your system can still handle it.

Personally, I like three or four cups of coffee in the morning, especially on work days when I want to get straight into my task list. But I stop at 1 pm (lunchtime) and switch to green tea in the afternoon, which I can happily chug five or six mugs by dinner time. Then I stop drinking liquids entirely – apart from a few sips of water if my mouth is dry – until the following morning. 

Of course, this doesn't work if you're going to the pub at night. However, we'll talk about alcohol, and the sleep benefits of mild dehydration, next.


The next culprit that regularly shows up in sleep issues is alcohol.

Once again, popular belief is that alcohol helps you sleep, which is fundamentally incorrect. Alcohol may well help you become unconscious, but if you’re waking up in the night, or too early in the morning, it's probably the drinks you had the night before. Alcohol is just not conducive to good sleep.

In fact, because alcohol is a powerful sedative which acts on different areas of the brain – most notably memory retention – it doesn’t really send you to sleep at all. Alcohol acts more like an anaesthetic, and the natural sleep phases are completely disrupted.

• Alcohol crashes your sleep cycle, causing you to spend less time in NREM sleep, the restful and recharging phase. You may sleep, but it isn’t good quality sleep, which partly explains your hangover.

• Alcohol also gets you up to pee at night, and that also disrupts your natural sleep cycle.

• Alcohol causes overload on your internal organs, particularly your liver and kidneys, to process the toxins and flush them from your body. So while you should be regenerating your cells, you're actually overdriving many of the essential ones.

There are plenty more reasons to avoid alcohol if you have sleep problems. The simple truth is that you have to try going without, if it could be affecting you. If you can’t do this, any other insomnia intervention is doomed to fail, eventually.


If you’re using legitimately prescribed pharmaceuticals, your physician should have explained any potential side-effects, such as sleeplessness. I am not a licensed medical practitioner, so I am not going any further into meds. Please ask your doctor.

If you’re using off-label pharma, such as Modafinil, you should familiarize yourself with the side effects, online.

Aware as I am that many of my readers will be in places where cannabis has been legalized, I think you know how weed works. It seems that it's mostly all good in the sleep department. 

You probably won't remember your dreams. However, you will spend more time in NREM sleep, where the deep restorative processes happen. Even so, it’s probably not something you’d want to become dependent on for sleep, or anything else.

Amphetamines, cocaine, MDMA etc. are all super-stimulants, and will necessarily affect your sleep patterns. If you use these, you know this. Enough said.

At the other end of the scale are sleep medications such as benzodiazepines, immovane, etc. With the pressure on healthcare these days, it’s not that hard to get a doctor to prescribe sleeping pills, often without any discussion about the causes or alternatives. In the USA, there’s some pretty powerful stuff available over the counter!

One of the problems associated with these drugs is this;  even if you no longer have a sleep problem (most are transitory) you may develop a psychological dependence on them; you don't believe you can sleep without them, so when you try, the anxiety keeps you awake. If you're on prescription sleeping tablets, and you want to stop while you try this course, speak to your doctor about perhaps tapering your dosage.

In this context, let's assume that you're trying to fix your sleep issues without resorting to pharmaceuticals, or you've decided to stop taking them while you try something new.

In summary, our approach to your sleep issues is designed to work best in a clean environment, where stimulants, alcohol, and drugs are absent. We’re going to be working on your mind; it’s a tough battle if you’re body is resisting because of some unwanted chemical effect.

Practical Steps - Sleep Deficit

Sleep deficit is the new baseline of sleep science. Previously, it was thought that missing a few hours over a few nights would be readily absorbed by the brain and body, and that deficiencies in (say) the sleeping patterns of people who get less than optimal sleep time during the working week could catch up their deficit by sleeping longer at the weekend. 

Recent studies have disproven this, in dramatic form. Not only does it seem that the deficit can’t be caught up this way. Even though the subject ends up with a full ‘week of sleep' the physiological effects are cumulative, and those are not properly fixed by the catch-up sleep. Added to that, performance, the most critical of which is driving ability and alertness degrades after just one night of short sleep, and continues to plummet over successive twenty-four-hour cycles. 

Now we know this, we can begin to truly understand the scale of the problem and the millions of borderline dangerous killers we're launching onto our roads every morning. A significant proportion of fatal traffic accidents are attributable to driver fatigue, most often manifested as tiny microsleeps which might go unnoticed, except if it happens at 70mph, in the fast lane, in the wet.

Which is why, alongside the hypnosis interventions we’re going to employ, it’s also critical that we establish your sleep patterns over the whole week, not just the nights you think you can spare the time!

Wherever you find yourself on the sleeplessness spectrum – mildly restless, chronic insomnia, and every variation in between – it’s hurting you. If you don’t sleep well at night, you’re probably tired during the day. It could be damaging your job performance, your family life, and your general health, often with devastating consequences. 

Science and medicine now acknowledge that sleep deprivation is strongly linked to obesity, diabetes, depression, stress and anxiety, dementia, and even heart problems. It’s essential to restore good sleep to your life, if you want to reduce your risks in these dangerous areas.

Practical Steps - Sleep Hygiene

If you’ve ever had a massage in a spa, you’ll understand how easy it can be to fall asleep – even if you’re not tired – in an environment of tranquility.

The key to falling asleep is calmness – of both body and mind - and hypnosis does this better than any other method.

Our objective is to find every possible way to induce that calmness in you when you're ready to sleep. Once we achieve that, tiredness will take over, just as nature intended.

The hypnosis techniques we'll be using will enable you to calm your mind. Before we set to work on that, it's also essential to create a calm environment.

To remove and eliminate any external factors which may be contributing to your sleep problems, there are some essential practical steps which you must take. Many of these sound obvious or even silly, but they’ve been proven to work over many thousands of interventions, so don’t dismiss them until you’ve tried them.

Darkness is essential. Your circadian rhythm, the internal clock which tells you when you should be sleeping, relies on melatonin to keep good time. Melatonin production is suppressed by light, especially blue light from TV’s, phones and computers. If your melatonin is blunted, you have very little pushing you towards sleep.

Older people naturally suffer from depleted melatonin; consult your doctor, who may prescribe melatonin supplementation, which is highly beneficial for your overall health, not just your sleep patterns.

I do not recommend you self-medicate with melatonin. However, in recognition that it is an unregulated supplement in some countries, take care if you do. The quality and concentration can vary widely, so do your research and only buy from reputable sources.

Curtains and Masks

If you can’t black out your bedroom, get a sleep mask. The airline masks are rubbish because they press on your eyes. I regularly use a Mindfold mask, which has foam around your eyes so the mask doesn't touch them, and it’s supremely comfortable. I first got it for overnight flights, but now I wear it most nights, especially in the summer when the sun comes up at 4.30am!

This is particularly important because even though waking up too early – when the sun's up - just feels like a nuisance; it's robbing you of your eight hours. Recent research indicates that the most valuable REM sleep – your dream phase – is the final cycle before you wake, provided that's after a full night's sleep. If you're consistently waking too early, you're losing that vital cycle.

Pets & Children

A quick reminder; your chronic sleeplessness is seriously affecting your health, and the longer you allow it to go unchecked, the higher the risk that you will suffer the effects later in life. We’ve already discussed the heightened risk of heart disease, stroke, and dementia. These are real, scientific, high-likelihood outcomes. It’s unlikely you can dodge the bullet.

So, how ruthless are you prepared to be to fix yourself?

You are the most important person in this drama. As a parent, a dog-owner, or merely a family participant, you are used to giving yourself unquestioningly to the welfare of your children and pets. But are you ready to get sick because of your selflessness?

Children and animals can be trained; in this case, you need to take some time to train them to stay out of your bedroom for the eight hours you need to sleep. If your children or pets regularly sleep in your bed, this must stop, right away. No excuses. If your partner objects, you are going to have to be firm and resolute, which is why it's important to bring other members of your family into the picture.

Once people understand that there is a better version of you available to them, but that it depends on you getting plenty of undisturbed sleep, you will have supporters. Do not allow anyone (partners can be particularly unhelpful here) to belittle your condition; explain to them the health risks, how sleeplessness is affecting your well being, and how you are in your daily relationships and put your foot down. You're going to fix this. It would be easier with their help, but if they can't sign up for the program, you are going to take the difficult decisions yourself.

Do not allow your animal(s) to be in your bedroom at night. Typically, dogs have a different sleep cycle to humans. They sleep a lot during the day, which means that it's unlikely they will sleep silently through the night. This will inevitably disturb your sleep patterns, so make sure that pets are not going to be a distraction during the night.

There will be some of you (pet owners, or parents) who will declare that they can’t do anything about this. If you have this attitude, and you’re not prepared to take the hard decisions to make sure you are undisturbed for your allocated sleep cycle, we should probably part company here, because the procedures we’re going to be using in the next chapter simply won’t work unless you can eliminate this type of disturbance at night. 

Be firm – this is your long-term health we’re dealing with here.

Bed & Mattress

A high proportion of sleeplessness cases are primarily caused by issues of comfort. If you cannot find a comfortable position in bed, a posture that you can sustain for as long as it takes you to fall asleep, you probably need to consider changing your mattress (or pillows).

When you’re young, you can fall asleep on a log floating over rapids. The sleep hormones in young people, who are still growing and maturing, are strong. The body is drawing on sleep as an essential component of growth and maturation.

But as we get older, our sleep is prioritized for recharging and regenerating. The pull of sleep is weakened, along with reduced melatonin production, and all the distractions of a complex, adult life. Oh, to be young again!

Because our metabolism is no longer drugging us to sleep, as with a teenager, we sleep lighter. Added to that, the flexibility of our joints becomes compromised as we age, meaning that it's more difficult to find a comfortable reclining posture that we can sustain for any length of time.

You can understand how bed comfort becomes a more important factor.

From a physical and mechanical perspective, the ideal sleep situation for mature adults is one which minimizes pressure points on your body or aches which derive from a joint being parked in an unnatural or strained position. If your mattress is old, too firm, or too soft, this is likely to exacerbate the discomfort, which will directly affect your ability to sleep naturally.

Two types of bed have been shown to have hugely beneficial effects in this context. Both work by evenly distributing your weight and removing most of the joint strain and pressure points, which periodically force you to change position as they become sore during the night. In light or problem sleepers, this will wake you up, or almost wake you, many times each night.

Waterbeds and Memory Foam Mattresses.

Waterbeds got a bad rep, going back as far as flower power and – mistakenly – becoming associated with the porno-decadence of the 1990’s. However, setting aside the waterbed’s kind of sleazy reputation, they really are the ultimate in comfort. In effect, your body floats on the water contained in the mattress unit, which means that there are virtually no pressure points because your weight is distributed proportionally and the mattress adapts to your shape and size. 

Following closely is the more modern Memory Foam mattress. This remarkable material acts similarly to the waterbed, except in this case it compresses relative to the pressure placed on it, but without the built-in resistance of a sprung mattress.

The result with both these kinds of beds is that your body doesn't feel the need to move positions as often, or even at all, because there's no pressure or joint strain going on. So you sleep much more soundly.

Both types of beds are available from big-name manufacturers at high prices. Both are also available from no-name traders at a fraction of the price.  I can tell you from personal experience over many years that a $500 unbranded memory foam mattress is virtually indistinguishable from it's $5000 branded sibling. I’ve owned both.

Heat & Cold

If someone told you that the ideal sleeping temperature is 18C (65F), you'd might say ‘that's too hot/cold for me', and you'd probably be right! 18.3CC is the optimum temperature for people who sleep well, most of the time.

Everyone has an internal temperature regulation system, centered on the thyroid gland. The trouble is that many, many people have an overactive or underactive thyroid, even if they do not see any symptoms, and this means that there's a broader range of ‘normal operating temperatures' for people who lie out on the margins of the bell-curve; in other words, people with sleep problems. If you are speaking to your doctor about sleep, or your health in general, and you have issues with temperature, such as swinging between too hot and too cold, irrespective of the environmental temperature, it would be worthwhile having your thyroid checked.  

So pay attention to what is comfortable for you. Wherever in the world you're located, your climate is unique. For some people, air conditioning is a must in the summer months, and this can wreak havoc with your sleep and overall health. Do you really need the aircon as much as you think you do? Might a conventional fan do the job, at least some of the time?

Some people live in cold winter environments, where the tendency is to close all your windows, crank up the heating, and snuggle under a huge quilt for six months of the year. Think about this; two adults in a small room for eight hours will severely deplete the air quality over that time. As the carbon dioxide level increases, your respiratory efficiency falls, and your brain is deprived of the necessary oxygen to support regeneration. 

But, most importantly, are you comfortable with your bedroom temperature? Because if you're not, it will be a contributing factor to whatever sleep problem you are encountering.

In general, you will fall asleep quicker in a cooler environment, so if you think you might be too warm in bed, make the necessary changes and see how things improve for you.


Focusing on sleep hygiene will enable you to eliminate the myriad of external factors which are obstructing your route to deep, restful sleep. The objective is to create the perfect environment where none of these external factors can interfere with your availability to sleep.  

You’ll recall the principle of marginal gains we discussed in Chapter 2. The sum total of the little changes and adjustments you'll make will move you nearer to the ‘tipping point' where it's just easier for you to fall asleep than it is to stay awake. 

Sleep Hygiene is a term used to describe all the things you experience around sleep, and the way that you can adjust them to improve the state of calmness surrounding your night-time rest phase. 

There will be things that you feel you won’t be able to change, and there’ll be things that are easy for you to do. The more of these boxes you can tick, the better the outcome will be for your sleep and well-being.

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