Why you might be having trouble sleeping right now, and what to do about it

Man lying awake
Clinical psychologist Dr Dougal Sutherland says first step is "not to stress out that you're stressed out". Photo credit: Getty.

In the wake of Friday's terrorist attack on mosques in Christchurch, many Kiwis may be finding it difficult to get a good night's sleep.

Days of harrowing news articles, emotional social media posts and tough conversations can leave you feeling anxious and restless at night.

But if you're tossing and turning, clinical psychologist Dr Dougal Sutherland says first step is "not to stress out that you're stressed out".

"Be okay with the fact you might not be able to sleep for a while and that's just the way it is," he told Newshub.

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"When you're on edge, sleep can be hard to come by - take comfort in knowing other people are in the exact same boat as you."

Dr Sutherland says if you're feeling wired, it's a natural 'fight or flight' response many of us will be in right now.

"Your body is responding to that heightened state of anxiety, so it's feeling a bit anxious, a bit on edge," he explains.

"You're listening out for 'what's the next thing?' and 'what's that sound?'. It's a natural alertness and readiness."

He says there are practical measures to take if you're struggling to nod off in the dark.

"We all know about limited screen time before bed, but in this case it's particularly important to try and distance yourself from news and coverage about an hour or two hours before bed" he says.

"On Friday I was tuning into the coverage right before I went to bed, and unsurprisingly, couldn't sleep well at all. So switch that off long before you go to sleep."

Dr Sutherland also advises that if you can't get to sleep in 20 minutes, you're probably not going to.

"The best thing to do is get up and do something mundane. Some people like to read... others like to get up and fold the laundry or do the washing up. Wait until your body gets tired."

Struggling sleepers could also try mindfulness, or progressive muscle relaxation, both of which can be helpful for relaxing the body. 

"Another thing is to keep in a good sleeping pattern," Dr Sutherland says.

"If you're up late, try not to get up late the next day, especially if you're waking up to go to work.

"Sleep likes those patterns so if you're waking up later and going to bed later, it can spiral into a new pattern. Just get up at the same time, and if you're a bit tired, hopefully your boss will be sympathetic."

The death toll from the mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch is 50, with dozens more still being treated in hospital.

If you would like to donate to the official Victim Support fund, go here. Victim Support's number is 0800 842846.