How to sleep well

Struggling to drift off at night, or always waking up in the early hours? Learn how to sleep well and you can make sure you always get that elusive eight hours a night...

How to sleep well: Lady yawning by Somnex sleep exhibition
(Image credit: Somnex)

Do you, or a loved one, regularly struggle to get to sleep? Or suffer the consequences of poor quality sleep? Of course, it might be that you need a new mattress, or perhaps a new pillow. Maybe the room could be darker, or the street outside quieter. But if you're not getting enough sleep, you're not the only one. 

A survey by The Sleep Council found that while most adults need around seven to nine hours sleep a night, a third of Brits are getting just five to six. If this sounds like you, our guide to sleeping well (in your bedroom or otherwise), with advice from Lisa Artis from The Sleep Council and Dave Gibson from The Sleep Site, is a must-read. 

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As well as being a short term problem – we all know how hard it is to get through a day when you're exhausted –a growing body of research suggests mental and physical problems become more pronounced in those sleeping for fewer than six hours. 

If it's watching an extra episode of your favourite box set that's delaying your bed time, it could be causing more damage than you realise; amping up your fight or flight response to stress levels, releasing hormones that speed up your heart rate and raise blood pressure. ‘It’s important to remember though,’ says Lisa. ‘That it’s also about the quality of sleep you are getting, not the quantity.

By following our five steps to sleeping well, improved sleep can come to us all (hopefully), but when it does, just don’t hit that snooze button. Set your alarm for when you actually have to get up as you won’t get any quality kip in between snoozes.

1. Start a bedtime routine 

As beneficial for adults as they are for children, bedtime routines are a must for those who are struggling to get a good night's sleep. 

Rather than spending evenings bingeing on a box set, Lisa advises finding alternative ways of relaxing, like a warm bath with soothing scents, reading a book, background music, gentle stretches and yoga. If there's something playing on your mind, write it down, she advises, whether it's worries or a to-do list.

‘It’s also important to establish a regular sleep pattern – going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time each day. Your body and mind will feel much better for it,’ she says. ‘Our brains like repetition,’ adds Dave. ‘A consistent sleep routine helps support and strengthen our body clocks.’ 

To encourage a better routine in the morning, Lisa advises using a dawn simulator, or putting the alarm clock on the other side of the room, especially if you have a hard time not pressing the snooze button each day. ‘You’ll have to walk across the room to turn it off , waking yourself up along the way,’ says Lisa. 'You’ll be ready to start the day, as fresh as a daisy!'

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2. Get your sleep environment right 

Your sleeping environment is very important in getting the best night’s sleep. Neither too hot or too cold (the ideal temperature is around 16˚C, so slightly on the cool side), and as quiet and dark as possible. 

Dave suggests that linens should be clean, cool and crisp and ideally cotton, which helps skin to breathe, plus bed linens should be changed once a week as we lose a half pint or more of fluid each night (yes, really). 

It's also important to think about who you're sleeping with. If you’re lying next to a snorer, what starts as a niggle can become a major issue. ‘It’s important to get it sorted,’ says Lisa, who recommends the British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea website if earplugs aren’t doing the trick. If you’ve a child disturbing your sleep, then try to get to the reason why – is it for comfort, a drink or a wee… or just because know they can?

bedroom with light pink scheme, grey bedding and pendant light by quu design

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3. Try to replace your mattress every seven years 

Your bed needs to be comfortable,’ says Lisa. ‘It’s difficult to get deep, restful sleep on one that’s too hard, too soft, too small or too old.’

The Sleep Council recommend trying to replace your mattress every seven years, with research showing that swapping an uncomfortable one for a new one resulted in nearly an hour of extra sleep a night… just imagine that for a second!

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Take time to check out your pillow, especially if you suffer with back and shoulder pain, does it still have its plumpness? ‘A good pillow should hold your head in the correct alignment, in the same relation to your shoulders and spine as if you were standing upright with the correct posture,’ says Lisa. ‘Replace a pillow once it’s lost its “loft” (height) or it has become lumpy or discoloured.’

natural mattress by raft

(Image credit: Raft)

4. Read a book if you can't sleep after 30 minutes of trying

'If you can’t get to sleep, and you’ve been lying there for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed and read a book under dim light until you feel sleepy,' says Dave.

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5. Leave your phone outside the bedroom

We're all guilty of a scroll through Instagram or final check of emails last thing at night, but if you're really serious about getting a good night's sleep this needs to change.

Tech should be avoided before bed – in particular the hour before it. ‘The blue light that emits from devices messes around with your body’s circadian rhythms by suppressing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin in the brain, which is what we need in order to feel sleepy,’ says Lisa.

‘Bedrooms should be kept for sleep (and sex) only,’ says Dave. ‘This is so the brain associates this room with getting to sleep. Mobiles and tablets should, as much as possible, be kept out.'

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6. Like reading before bed? Get a blue light-free reading light

Reading before bed can make it easier to drift off, but to make the reading even more relaxing, consider investing in a reading light that blocks out blue light, which is often responsible for sleep problems. 

https://www.amazon.com/Amber-Light-Rechargeable-Strain-Free-Hands-Free/dp/B07SLNJ1JT/

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7. Make sure your kids go to bed on time – then so will you

Every parent knows that if your kids aren't sleeping properly, you won't be getting any sleep either. How to make sure they go to bed on time? 

While the most important part of a healthy sleep routine is going to bed at the same time every night, this may not be achievable straight away. However, being a bit stricter with what time they get up every morning will eventually cause a shift in when they go to bed. This will be useful for you, too, if you struggle to doze off at night: if you are disciplined about when you get up, you'll be more likely to start going to bed earlier. 

Any changes to a child's sleep routine (and yours, in fact) will work better if made gradually. Rather than arguing endlessly when your child clearly doesn't feel tired, compromise: they can go to be later than you would like, but 30 minutes earlier than last week. Eventually, you should be able to bring their going to bed time to what it needs to be. 

8. Eat breakfast every day

Skipping breakfast is bad for us – it messes with our metabolism and is a major cause of over-eating later in the day. Eating breakfast within half an hour of getting up gives you the energy you need to last you until lunchtime, but it also has the surprising effect of promoting better sleep at night. Basically, if you aren't eating breakfast, your body goes into stress mode from hunger (even if you don't feel hungry in the mornings), and the stress hormones linger, making drifting off to sleep harder. 

9. Consider getting help for any underlying issues

Lots of people find they can't sleep well despite having the perfect sleep environment with comfortable bedding. If that's you, the reasons for your sleep deprivation could be psychological rather than physical. Several studies have shown that of all the factors that keep people (especially women) up at night, it is stress that has been shown to be the biggest. 

So, if you are finding that worries are keeping you up at night, you may discover that the most useful solution is an individually tailored therapy programme. The NHS and the  British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy are good places to start looking for a therapist. 

Top pic: Somnex – The Sleep Show

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