? Optimind Clinic, Hong Kong

Optimind Clinic

Dr Gordon Wong, psychiatrist    

What Should I Do when I Can't Sleep?

by Dr Gordon Wong, Specialist in Psychiatry

MBBS (HK), MRCPsych, FHKCPsych, FHKAM (Psychiatry), MSocSc (Couns)(South Australia), DCPsyc RCP&S (Irel), DFM (HKCFP), Dip Med (CUHK), PGDipClinDerm (QMUL)


Sleep is an important part of our lives, as we spend almost a third of our lives sleeping. During sleep, our bodies recover from the daily mental and physical stress. However, up to half of the population complain of some form of poor sleep, which may include difficulty in falling asleep, broken sleep, early wakening, or a combination of these symptoms.

There are a few strategies one can try first. First is to create a comfortable environment for sleep. Try to create a dark and quiet environment, with the right temperature, humidity, softness (or hardness) of the mattress etc. Wear comfortable clothes that are not too constricting to the body is also important.

Try to establish a regular sleeping pattern. Going to bed and getting up at regular hours help our body to establish our internal biological clocks. When a certain time comes, our body knows it is time to sleep.

Avoiding stimulation a few hours before going to bed is also important. Avoid coffee, tea and spicy food for dinner. Rigorous sports just before bed may also keep the mind too stimulated for sleep too. Staring at a screen just before bed may also impair sleeping quality. In addition, keep all devices out of reach from bed, so that you cannot browse the internet when you cannot sleep!

Another thing to avoid is napping during daytime. It disturbs the body's natural rhythm of sleeping (the biological clock), so it actually may not be a good idea. Keeping a light on when sleeping because they are afraid of the dark is not a good idea because of the same reason.

During sleep, try to let go of the expectation of falling asleep. The more you want to fall asleep, the more tense you become, which then creates a vicious cycle of not being able to fall asleep. Your body is a bit like a spoiled child – the more you want the body to sleep, the less sleep your body will get.

Your sleep is likely to improve after using these strategies consistently for a few days or weeks. In the event that it does not, consult a professional to check for any underlying problems such as mood problems, anxiety problems or sleep apnoea.