How to beat the dreaded Sunday night syndrome and sleep like a baby

Posted by
Harriet Hall
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Expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan unveils her top 10 mechanisms to ensure a good night’s sleep; even when the Sunday night blues hit home.

Many people find it hard to get to sleep at night, and this struggle can really escalate on Sunday evenings – when the whole week lies ahead, and your work anxieties begin to pile up.

Here, Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, a professor who has helped hundreds of clients re-learn the art of sleep, shares her top tips for winding down and resting; no matter how stressed you feel within.

Many of my clients at my sleep workshops struggle to sleep on Sunday night in anticipation of the week ahead.  That feeling of needing to get a good night’s sleep so you’re on form the next day can, in itself, sabotage your sleep.  Ironically, in order to sleep well we almost need to not care about sleeping well – or at least trick ourselves into not caring. 

Here are some of my top tips for feeling rested on Monday morning (and maybe even getting an amazing night’s sleep on Sunday night):

Train yourself into sleeping better

1. Avoid getting into bad weekend habits

This means going to bed really late and over sleeping in the morning and over-indulging in alcohol which will disrupt your natural sleep cycle. Everything in moderation is the key.

2. Try to maintain routines

If you really need to be on form on Monday – and the week ahead – then try as much as possible to stick to your weekday routines over the weekend. Scientists believe a regular bedtime and wake-up are essential to creating the perfect sleeping routine.

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3. Get exercise on Sunday – and lots of fresh air and natural daylight if possible

One of the best things for sleep is exercise. It helps help your melatonin (the sleep hormone) to work better at night. However, don’t exercise too late in the day, or the adrenaline will keep pumping and you’ll struggle to fall asleep. 

Organise everything you need to for Monday before hitting the hay

4. Avoid over-napping on Sunday

Napping can be helpful to mop up fatigue from the week but if you’re getting into bed and sleeping for hours in the middle of the day, then this will disrupt your sleep at night.  Ideally, power nap for 20-30 minutes at some stage between 2 and 4pm and avoid getting too comfy.  Power napping is not sleeping but is a state of relaxation and everyone can learn to do it and benefit from it. 

5. Get organised for Monday

Sometimes we’re anxious on Sunday night because of an overwhelming sense of ‘a lot to do the next day’.  Write a list before you go to bed.  Get your clothes ready so that you know you’re control and get into bed knowing you’re entirely prepared, before drifting effortlessly off to sleep.

6. Don’t fall asleep in front of the TV

It’s a common mistake and a terrible idea. The blue light from your TV, laptop or iPad stimulates your brain and uses up your vital melatonin and makes it harder to actually get to sleep once in bed. 

sleep book
Try and stick to a regular routine

7. Avoid tech before bed

Extend the no TV rule to all tech. Looking at your devices will wake you up and maybe even start you worrying about the next day.  Start an electronic sundown an hour or so before you get into bed.  If you watch TV, watch only one screen and avoid dual or triple screening.  Allow the process of watching one screen to be a form of meditation. Better than that: get into bed with a book 30 mins before bedtime, and let yourself drift into dreaming.

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8. Use self-suggestion to dispel worry

Tell yourself throughout the day, “I’m going to feel great on Monday evening if I don’t sleep tonight.” This kind of positive affirmation will help you feel great before you go to sleep. Some people even recommend writing down three things you’re grateful for that day, which gives your mind a positive focus and distracts from worry.

Power naps can help, but avoid getting too comfy

9. Don’t worry about sleep – think more in terms of rest

If you’re really anxious about not sleeping use the word ‘rest’.  Tell yourself I’m really looking forward to resting tonight. Then, even if you can't fall asleep immediately, you know that your body is recuperating by simply lying in bed. Before you know it, you'll have drifted off. 

10. Trust your resourcefulness

If all fails, don’t panic.  Human beings are remarkably well adapted for dealing with the odd night of bad sleep.  How many times have you slept badly the night before an exam, presentation, interview but still managed to perform well the next day?  Trust that your energy and resourcefulness will kick in and don’t feed the ‘worry’ cycle. Eventually, your body will find a way to catch up.

Images: Getty

Please be aware that this article was originally published in October 2016, but has been updated to include new information.

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Harriet Hall

Harriet Hall is a former Stylist contributor.

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