Tuesday 17 September 2019

10 steps to a better night's sleep

There are no golden rules, but there are steps you can take to ensure you get good quality shuteye, writes sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley

Everybody needs a good night's sleep
Everybody needs a good night's sleep

There are no sure-fire ways to get to sleep and no golden rules. You, as an individual, need to find your own way to sleep - whatever that may entail. Below is some very general guidance that will point you towards what can help you sleep well.

1 Have a fixed wake-up time, every day of the week

The most important aspect to waking refreshed is to have a fixed wake-up time, seven days a week. Your body and brain start preparing to wake up approximately 90 minutes before you actually do, so if you have a fixed wake-up time, the body and brain know when they are going to wake and can thus prepare accordingly.

2 You have to have a 'quiet mind' to achieve good sleep

The number one prerequisite for getting to sleep is a quiet mind. You cannot fall asleep if your mind is whirring with the cares of the day. The first thing to do is to put the day to bed a couple of hours before you go to bed, so after this time don't open the gas bill, check your work email or have a heated political discussion with your partner.

From about 45 minutes before bed, make sure you put away any screens - such as laptops, tablets, e-readers, smart phones. Instead, do something that quietens the mind - for some people this can be reading a book or listening to music, for others it can be a warm bath or a mug of a hot milky drink. There is no magic way to sleep; you need to find what works for you. And lastly don't try and fall asleep -the harder you try, the less likely you are to fall asleep.

3 For good sleep, the bed can be warm, but the bedroom needs to be cool

Many experts say that the ideal temperature for the bedroom is 16°C-18°C (60°F-65°F), although this is a matter of personal preference. However, it is not just the room temperature that is important for getting a good sleep. The temperature in your direct sleeping environment, ie under the duvet, is equally important and should be close to a thermo-neutral temperature (approx. 29°C); however, you will heat the space up to this temperature just by being in bed.

During the night, the body needs to lose heat and thus a cool bedroom facilitates this heat loss. However, if the room is too hot or you are too hot under the duvet, it is more difficult for the body to lose heat, and this will cause disturbed sleep. The same is also true if you are too cold, as this means the body has to work hard to maintain its optimal temperature.

4 Get the right amount of sleep for you

Sleep need is individual, like height or shoe size, and to a large degree genetically determined. Anywhere between four and 11 hours can be considered normal, although what is important is that you get the right amount of sleep for you. Simply, if you feel awake, alert and function at a high level during the day, you are probably getting enough sleep, but if you feel sleepy during the day, then you are not getting enough sleep.

5 Your bed partner can play a large role in your sleep disturbance, so consider separate beds/bedrooms

In 2005, I co-authored a paper that showed that much of your sleep disturbance is caused by your bed partner, so if they are disturbing your sleep because of snoring or fidgeting, you may want to consider separate beds - or even separate bedrooms.

Not sleeping together, if it works for you both, is a mature, pragmatic solution to a problem and has no bearing on the strength, or otherwise, of your relationship. Lack of intimacy would be much more suggestive of such a problem.

6 Caffeinated drinks may affect your sleep

Caffeine is a stimulant and different people have different sensitivities to its effects, meaning that for some people even a small amount of caffeine early in the day is enough to cause problems with their sleep. Equally, there are people who have drunk two strong coffees every evening and have no problem sleeping. So, if you think caffeine is causing poor sleep, find the time after which you should avoid it.

7 When you eat can affect your sleep

A heavy meal close to bedtime may make you feel uncomfortable when you go to bed. A big meal means your body has to burn off the calories and thus your body temperature will go up. However, to get good sleep, your body temperature actually needs to drop by about a degree. At the same time, going to bed hungry can be just as disruptive to sleep as going to bed too full.

8 Establish a regular bedtime schedule

Having a wind-down routine before bed can help. Your bedtime routine should be easy to do and a pleasure, not a chore - whatever works for you is right.

9 Avoid blue light - such as from smart phones and computers - for 45 minutes before bed

Blue light has been shown to suppress melatonin production. Melatonin is a key signal to the body that it is time to fall asleep, so it is important to avoid exposure to blue light prior to lights out. But note that blue-light filters don't actually solve the problem.

10 Make time for sleep

Your sleep is vitally important to your physical, mental and emotional health; therefore, you need to make time in your life to get the sleep you need. Prioritise sleep - it should not be the thing you do after everything else. Good sleep should be a pleasure, so you should want to go to sleep, and not resent the fact that you have to go to sleep.

* Dr Neil Stanley is an independent sleep expert and author of How to Sleep Well: The Science of Sleeping Smarter, Living Better and Being Productive. See thesleepconsultancy.com

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