How to get a better night’s sleep

To mark the forthcoming World Sleep Day on March 18, we’ve put together a list of a few things you can do to encourage a better night’s sleep. We hope they help!

It’s been reported that as many as one in three of us suffers from poor sleep, with rising levels of anxiety, coupled with a reliance on technology often blamed. Struggling by with little sleep does more than make us irritable – it can also have very serious implications for our health.

Experts advise that you should be aiming for between six and nine hours of sleep each night for optimal health benefits. We all know people who somehow survive on fewer hours or those who require more, because everybody’s sleep requirements are different. What’s key is that each of us finds the right amount of sleep for us as individuals.

Insufficient sleep over a prolonged period of time can have more serious health implications, with studies linking it to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and, in some cases, a lower life expectancy. Indeed, one study found that getting fewer than five hours of sleep a night could be as bad for you as smoking.

Luckily, we can all improve the quality of our sleep by following a few simple tips.

1. Establish a regular pattern

It’s beneficial to think of your brain as a supercomputer that needs to be programmed – or in this case re-programmed – to follow a set sleep routine. The first part of that programming comes by establishing regular sleeping hours.

Establish what time you want to be waking up each morning and then work backwards – so if it’s 7am and you need eight hours of sleep, you should be aiming to go to sleep at 11pm. Create that routine and stick to it as much as you possibly can. Even if you have a disrupted or shortened night’s sleep, resist the urge to go to bed much earlier as this will disrupt the pattern you are programming your body and mind to follow.

It’s also crucial that you reprogramme your brain to see sleep as an essential function your body needs every 24 hours if it’s to perform properly, rather than something you do when you’ve run out of other things to occupy your time – such as the TV or your smartphone.

2. Power down gently

If your brain is a supercomputer, it needs to be closed down each day in stages, and with shutdown beginning long before you close your eyes to go to sleep. Experts recommend you establish a nightly schedule that helps you relax and prepare for sleep – but that schedule needs to begin long before you head for bed.

Caffeine is the arch-enemy of peaceful sleep – some suggest you need to leave at least six hours between your last cup of caffeine and sleep. Alcohol is also disruptive and should be avoided at least four hours before bedtime, for while it can help you fall asleep faster, alcohol has been found to disrupt the quality of your sleep.

Several techniques that can help relax the body and mind include taking a warm (not hot) bath, reading a book or listening to an audiobook, the radio, or a mindfulness app such as Calm or Headspace.

Blue-light-emitting devices (such as your smartphone and television) are thought to suppress the production of the sleep hormone melatonin much more than natural light, so limit screen time ahead of sleep and turn off well ahead of bedtime. Use softer lighting as the day wears on, avoiding the bright lights that put your brain on higher alert.

If your brain struggles to slow down before bed, writing a ‘to do’ list for the following day can clear your mind and, in turn, encourage better sleep.

Audiobooks offer an accessible way to read if you find it difficult to hold a book and they’re great for carers. Find out more here.

3. Create the right environment

Your bedroom should be designed to encourage sleep. It’s thought that the ideal temperature for sleep is between 18C and 24C and thick curtains that block out the light are advantageous, likewise double-glazed windows that keep the outside noise out. A mattress and pillow that support your neck and spine will promote better sleep – a mattress that sags on a bed frame that squeaks will not.

If your bedroom has a television or any other electrical gadgets, move them to another room. The lights and noise they emit will send the wrong signals to your brain – you are there to sleep, not be entertained.

A growing number of experts recommend the “4-7-8 breathing” technique to encourage sleep – also known as the ‘relaxing breath’. As you lie in bed, breathe in through the nose for four seconds, hold that breath for seven seconds, then exhale slowly through the mouth for eight seconds. Repeat several times to encourage a deep, peaceful and very well-rested sleep.

And when you wake the following morning, make note of how you feel. Keeping a sleep diary can help you understand what does and doesn’t work for you, and tweak accordingly.

World Sleep Day takes place on 18 March 2022.

Statistics have been taken from NHS Live Well.

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