Sleep & Stress

Quick Win - The 1/4 Hour Rule

During stressful periods, the harder we try to sleep, the further away we push it from us.

That’s why the first logical thing for us to teach is what to do when we either cannot fall asleep or we wake up and cannot get back to sleep.

The ‘quarter of an hour rule’ is very simple. If you cannot get to sleep, get up and out of bed after what feels about a quarter of an hour and do something calming to help switch off your brain.


How to Try This Technique For Yourself


For about a quarter of an hour; lay in bed, close your eyes, relax, breathe and calmly count one to ten over and over. If your mind drifts, take it back to counting 1-10.

TIP: Avoid clocks or setting alarms. Absolutely do not time yourself for 15 minutes. This is because clock watching will push sleep away.

If you haven’t drifted off after what feels about a quarter of an hour of counting, get yourself up and do something else. Our Sleep Expert, Anandi recommends the following:

  • Read a book (paper, no screens and nothing too exciting - think ‘Potato Weekly’ (yup, that exists) rather than 'The Shining').
  • Sip chamomile tea or another hot drink of you don’t like chamomile (no gulping or you’ll need the toilet)
  • Sudoko

"Why should I get up out of bed?"

Good question. Studies prove that if you stay in bed, you are likely to feel more stressed and frustrated, causing anxiety at bedtime. Whereas if you wake up and do something to tire your mind, you will be able to more easily fall asleep.

The Science Behind How Stress Affects Your Sleep

Putting Your Day To Rest


Too often, our minds can be too full of what happened in the day or what’s going to happen tomorrow for us to sleep. This is where this technique can help.

The aim of this technique is to put the day to bed, along with all your plans for the next day, long before bedtime, so that when it’s time to sleep, you aren’t still processing information from the day.

It’s important to remember that the thoughts that interfere at bedtime will be so much easier to dismiss if they have already been dealt with at a time when you were much more awake and rational.

We asked Mimi Ikonn, founder of Luxy Hair, to share how she unwinds at the end of a busy day.


How to Try This Technique For Yourself
1. Set aside 10 minutes in the early evening, the same time every night if possible (you may find it useful to add a reminder on your phone so you don’t forget).
2. Sit somewhere quiet where you won’t be interrupted.
3. Use your Five Minute Journal, (or download the PDF here:
4. Write 3 amazing things that happened during your day.
5. Answer: What action(s) could you have taken today that would have made your day even better?
6. Take 5 minutes to write down your schedule for tomorrow, or anything you need to remember.
7. Use this time to feel more in control. Close the book on what may have happened today.
8. When it comes to falling asleep, remind yourself that you have already dealt with these thoughts if they come to mind.
9. If any new thoughts pop up, note them down (keep a notebook or diary by your bedside for this) to deal with them the following morning.


The link between stress and poor sleep is a vicious circle - too much stress makes it difficult for us to sleep. Then, after a poor night’s rest, our sleep-deprived bodies pump out even more stress hormones, causing hyperarousal (nothing naughty - it’s a physiological response - you become hyper-active when sleep deprived), making it harder to sleep.

And this is how the vicious cycle goes on and on and on...

The Science Part (in brief - if you like that kind of thing):

When we are stressed, our brains perceive danger in an area called the amygdala (where we process emotions). The amygdala sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus (our brain’s command centre) and the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system by sending signals to the adrenal glands. Our adrenal glands respond by pumping the hormone cortisol and this causes hyper-arousal.






Hyper-arousal brings on physiological changes - our heart beats faster, muscles tense and we start to feel hotter.

This is our ‘fight or flight’ mode kicking in. Back in ancient times, when we had feelings of anxiety, it would have been because we were in significant danger. But in times of modern stress, it can be an unhelpful over-reaction that can make the situation worse.

Breaking The Vicious Sleep/Stress Cycle

Coping and calming techniques to manage stress and stop the mind from ruminating is the most proven and effective way to break the sleep/stress cycle.


Breathe Your Way To Better Sleep


Getting in to bed in the evening should feel like the most relaxing part of your day - but for many of us struggling with stress, whether that's at work or in our personal lives, it just doesn’t happen that way. If sleep anxiety is keeping you up at night, our holistic sleep expert Anandi has a technique that can help.

If you think you’ve tried everything to stop racing thoughts from keeping you awake, Our resident sleep expert Anandi has a trick up her sleeve that you probably haven’t tried yet.

It’s absolutely fundamental to have time to wind down in the evening. More importantly, to help ease sleep anxiety you have to quieten the mind. My bumblebee sleep aid breathing technique (explained in this video) works by lengthening and deepening the breath



How To Try This Technique For Yourself


It might sound difficult at first, but practice makes perfect with this breathing technique. Find a comfortable and quiet position, turn down the lights then all you do is inhale through the nose with the mouth closed, and then exhale making the sound of a bumblebee.

First of all this lengthens the exhale - the exhale is connected to the part of the nervous system that calms you down, meaning the more you lengthen the breath, the calmer you become.

Secondly, the vibration of the bumblebee is a part of a very ancient mantra ‘Om’. This vibration is the last part of the Om that transports you to stillness. So, just set your timer for 15 minutes and practise the technique continuously - your mind will become exquisitely still.



Mindfulness is a proven way to stay in better control of your emotions and to rationalise unpleasant thoughts leading to you feeling calmer, happier and more balanced.

Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.

Getting to the long-term benefits of practising mindfulness is not going to happen overnight. Rather, you will start to feel better and benefit from the cumulative results after a few days of practice.

"But, I don't have time for mindfulness!"

You can practice mindfulness for just 5 minutes a day and see results. Try a free app programme to help -  Headspace and Calm are our favourites. The NHS also has some great advice on mindfulness.

We described earlier how stress, anxiety and worry are either about past events or concern over future events. Mindfulness helps you to stay in the present. Becoming more aware of the present moment can help us enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better.

"Mindfulness also allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience," says Professor Williams, "and to see how we can become entangled in that stream in ways that are not helpful".


How To Try This Technique For Yourself


Here are some simple, but highly effective mindfulness techniques from the NHS to help you stay in the present:

Notice the everyday

Even as we go about our daily lives, we can notice the sensations of things, the food we eat, the air moving past the body as we walk. All of this may sound very small, but it has huge power to interrupt the 'autopilot' mode we often engage in day to day, and to give us new perspectives on life. Walk a different way home from work, or sit in a different spot for lunch and let yourself see things from a different perspective.

Name thoughts and feelings

To develop an awareness of thoughts and feelings, some people find it helpful to silently name them: "Here’s the thought that I might fail that exam". Or, "This is anxiety".

Free yourself from the past and future

You can practise mindfulness anywhere, but it can be especially helpful to take a mindful approach if you realise that, for several minutes, you have been "trapped" in reliving past problems or "pre-living" future worries.

Patience is key for mindfulness, as is keeping it regular. Choose a time of day to consciously be more mindful, whether that’s on your commute to work, on your lunch break or before you go to bed in the evening. Practice the techniques and don’t be hard on yourself. You will get there and you will feel better.

  Paradoxical Intention


You know that frustration of trying really, really hard to sleep but restful slumber just doesn’t come? If anything, the harder we try, the more we push sleep away. Well, this technique is the exact opposite of that. Really, really try to stay awake and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much more easily sleep comes to you.

Top Tip: Don’t use caffeine or screens to try and stay awake, only your mind and your thoughts.

The Paradoxical Intention technique re-creates the blasé attitude towards sleep that regular sleepers have, in those in whom anxiety about sleep is causing insomnia. Professor Espie first pioneered the treatment in a study in 1989 in which it was shown to be an effective treatment for insomnia.


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