Max helps Jarvis with sleep on ‘Wireless Nights Special 2019′

‘The perfect night’s sleep’ is Jarvis Cocker’s New Year’s Resolution for 2019

In this episode Sleep Coach Max Kirsten helps Jarvis Cocker find better sleep as he continues his nocturnal exploration of the human condition. He often lies awake at night trying, unsuccessfully, to nod off. But, not one to give up, his New Year’s resolution is to crack this habit and attain the perfect night’s sleep. His restless search leads him to fellow insomniac Marina Benjamin, and to even he go inside his own brain with The Sleep Coach Max Kirsten. A surreal experience.

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The importance of sleep cannot be understated, particularly for us runners. Certified Sleep Coach Max Kirsten takes us through the reasons behind this, and recommends steps you can take to get a better night’s sleep.

The importance of sleep cannot be understated. As a sleep coach, most of my work involves helping people to overcome insomnia. Feeling constantly tired, poor health, difficulty concentrating, anxiety and weight gain, are just some of the classic physiological symptoms caused by sleep deprivation.

I believe anxiety, in particular, is one of the principal causes of difficulty in falling and staying asleep. In order to help the restless sleeper counter this, I teach a mindfulness-based autogenic sleep training technique called the ABC of better sleep at my clinic. However, it is essential that those who sleep poorly identify all possible external causes affecting how well they fall asleep. The sleep hygiene list I take clients through addresses these causes – from sensitivity to noise, light, feeling too hot, bed and pillow comfort, physical pain, partner snoring and so on.

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Main photo: Photo by David Mao on Unsplash

How Alcohol Affects your Sleep

According to new insomnia sleep research, one in seven of us (and one in four insomniacs) are using alcohol as a sleep aid. Though reaching for the bottle may be an easy way to fall asleep, alcohol before bed can be detrimental to getting a great night’s sleep.  Even at comparatively low levels, the more that we drink, the more alcohol affects our sleep and how we feel the following morning.  Here’s why.

Natural Sleep vs. Alcohol Induced Sleep

Most of us would agree that a few drinks seem to help us fall asleep just fine. However there is a massive difference between falling asleep under the influence of alcohol, and falling asleep naturally which will in fact result in a much better night’s sleep.

Alcohol Disturbs Your Sleep Pattern

Though alcohol has a sedative effect, it interrupts what we call your ‘sleep architecture’. This is the pattern of sleep your brain waves follow overnight. And, it’s by sticking to this pattern that we end up feeling refreshed in the morning. It involves getting the right balance of REM sleep (dreaming sleep) and non–REM sleep (including deep sleep).

Sadly, alcohol disturbs this pattern. Alcohol enhanced sleep means the brain is no longer able to perform its natural restorative processes.  Instead of balancing out, the portion of non-REM sleep increases, while the portion of REM sleep decreases. But, the real problem begins during the second half of the night, when your REM sleep reduces. At this point, your sleep becomes much more disturbed. You may not feel it at first, but when the pattern breaks, you’re heading into a restless night of tossing and turning.

Other Negative Effects

Additionally, alcohol increases your body temperature, dehydration, and feelings of restlessness.  This is down to the toxins produced by the body – as it tries to break down the alcohol in its system. Alcohol can also cause breathing problems overnight. Even small amounts of alcohol can result in slower breathing.  The lining of your throat becomes more swollen, and the muscle tone in your airways is reduced.  As a result, breathing problems including snoring, and sleep apnoea are much more likely to set in. The oxygen deprivation that results can cause you to feel heavy and un-refreshed in the morning.  It can also lead to unwanted weight gain as your metabolism slows down.

Alcohol Before Bed = A Slipery Slope

Some sleep specialists claim that having a single glass of wine before bed is a good approach for insomniacs (but not for the general population). Though this approach may be beneficial for some people with severe sleep problems, I would argue that it’s a ‘slippery slope’.  Think about it. The more alcohol you drink regularly, the more your body becomes immune to alcohol’s sleep inducing qualities. The benefits eventually wear off, leaving you to deal with just the negative impact it has on your sleep. 

Natural Sleep – The Best Kind of Sleep

The best type of sleep involves the natural processes of your brain and biological sleep cycles. It is very different to the sedative state induced by alcohol, which suppresses the natural activity of your brain. So if you want a refreshing, wonderful night’s sleep, it’s best to avoid that nightcap!

As a sleep coach, I recommend learning my completely natural ‘ABC of better sleep’ technique. It teaches you to relax sequentially, and give up ‘trying’ to sleep. Learn to let go of your thoughts, and drift off naturally into deep, refreshing sleep. You can learn more about the ABC sleep app here.

I wish you a great night’s sleep.


10 things that stop a good night’s sleep

No one wants poor sleep, difficulty falling asleep, waking repeatedly in the night, or having chronic insomnia. If going to sleep has become something that you dread, here are 10 things to keep in mind and to practice before turning out the lights.

Work out your pre-sleep routine

Most of us enjoy getting ready for sleep. But, poor sleep preparation can lead to having a restless night.

So here are some things that you can do.  Research shows that taking a hot bath is very helpful.  In fact, it’s more effective at helping you to physically relax than even taking a shower. Feeling clean, with a hot body that cools slowly when you get into bed, is a wonderful feeling, and should help you to settle after a hard day of work.

Snuggly bedclothes, pyjamas, an old t-shirt or whatever else makes you feel comfortable (hey, you’re never to old for that favorite stuffed animal!) will also help.

If you are prone to cold feet (most older adults are), sleep socks (low-cut socks) are also a good option, keeping your feet warm during the night, without cutting off your blood’s circulation..

Uncomfortable bed and/or pillows

If your bed is uncomfortable – too soft, to hard, or just unsupportive – invest in a better bed.  Now you’re probably going, “Max!  Why would I throw my hard earned money at something I’m simply going to lie on, doing nothing for hours?” Well, the answer is that we spent half of our lives in our beds, recharging our batteries so we can perform to our best ability each and every day of our lives.  So if you can, you better treat yourself to a good one! It’s a health investment!

Find the right pillows. Not all pillows are the same, so find the ones that work for you – you’ll be glad that you did. Some people even like to travel with the right pillow as part of their ‘sleep religion’. Hotel bedrooms rarely feel as comfortable as your one at home (although they might smell fancier), so bringing a few supplies with you can make the difference between an ‘OK’ night and a great night’s sleep.


Too much light

Light can be really impairing when it comes to sleep. Whether it’s from street lights outside your window, or your blinds letting in morning light, light makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. A good pair of curtains or blinds that block out light is ideal. Even the light from your digital clock can make your sleep erratic.  Ideally switch electronic devices such as mobile phones off, or set to silent, some even have a sleep setting.

A disturbance, argument, unresolved issue, anger

Most of us know that having a disturbed mental state before bed will usually result in a poor night’s sleep. Techniques such as writing things down, list making, discussing it with someone, talking it through, all help to process the disturbance, event, argument, unresolvable issue, what have you. If none of this works, remember, tomorrow is another day.

Exercise just before bed

With the exception of bedroom love-making (of course) intense exercise such as a late-night gym session, can have a negative effect on sleeping.  This is due to your heart rate and metabolism being increased, making it harder to unwind in bed later. It is always better to do exercise in the day or early evening.

An uncomfortable or noisy environment

Noise is a big interference when it comes to sleep.  An old boiler, your neighbor’s dinner party, the student rave upstairs, a domestic argument in the street, doors slamming, floor boards creaking, traffic, ambulances, or just the noise of your partner snoring, can all stop you from obtaining that beautiful, well deserved, night’s sleep.  These noises are often even louder in the summer when the hot weather forces us to leave our windows open. Although not ideal for every night, I recommend having a good pair of earplugs (foam, silicone, wax earplugs, there are many different types) to help tune these sounds out and lock into a good night’s sleep. NOT all earplugs are the same, so shop around.

An irregular routine

Sleep research shows that most people benefit from keeping to a regular sleep routine. The body’s natural circadian rhythm responds best to regular day/night routines. Obviously if you are a shift worker, or an international traveller crossing time zones, your body’s natural clock will not be working as it wants to. Research also shows that most of us are getting less sleep than our predecessors.  This is probably due to all the extra stimuli, such as 24-hour TV, the Internet, computers and smart phones with blue light (read my blog on the matter here). Most of us could do with going to bed an hour earlier, and certainly our health would improve as a result.

Stimulants – coffee, alcohol, food, nicotine

Sleep is often impaired by stimulants such as coffee.   Most people should have their last cup 5 to 8 hours before hitting the pillow. Other caffeinated drinks such as tea, fizzy drinks, and even eating chocolate late at night (cocoa is a stimulant just like coffee) can also affect your sleep.  Certain foods, which are particularly rich and difficult to digest should be avoided altogether before bed. Many people are still surprised that alcohol, which may seem a good idea before bed, inevitably leads to waking in the night, dehydration and restlessness!

Finally, let’s not forget ‘ye’ old classic’: the cigarette. Nicotine is in fact a powerful stimulant so it can often reduce deep sleep quality (particularly if nicotine is absorbed without tobacco’s other ingredients). Now, we have nicotine with a twist – as it’s often now ‘vaped’ with the ever increasing use of e-cigs. As a result, nicotine is absorbed directly into the body in a much purer form, and often at a much higher dosage.  This makes sleep more difficult, and leaves the user exhausted, and un-refreshed after a night of crazy dreams in the morning. Much better to drink a little water, and eat healthy natural foods that are easy to digest, before jumping into the hay-sack.

 The wrong body temperature

A bedroom that is either too hot or too cold can make sleep less comfortable. Ideally the room and your bed should reach body temperature. Then, as you’re falling asleep, your bed should be cozily warm, and the air in your room slightly cool to the touch.

A busy mind

Of all the things that can stop you having a great night’s sleep, a busy mind can be the worst. Sleep is for sleeping. Of course, a little time preparing for sleep, and relaxing in bed to process the day’s thoughts is healthy. But, when you’re ready to sleep, letting go of daytime thoughts, and allowing yourself to relax and let go is key. Some of us, particularly the light or anxious insomniacs, need some help to learn how to get ‘out of the way’ of our sleep.

Seek help for sleep

As a certified sleep coach, and as a self-confessed fully recovered insomniac, I love to teach techniques, and practical tips that make falling asleep effortless and delicious.

However if you live far away, thanks to modern technology, you can now access and download my 2 sleep apps, the ‘ABC of better sleep’, and my ‘Insomnia cure’. Both of these contain wonderfully relaxing ambient recordings to drift off to…

I’m proud to say these hypnotic sleep audio programs have won a number of sleep awards!

You can find them on my website or on iTunes – search for Max Kirsten to find all my apps for the iPhone and iPad.

I wish you a great night’s sleep.