How to get to sleep

Sleep deprivation can cause untold misery and insomnia can become a cycle that is hard to break. If you are struggling with getting to sleep or staying asleep, the following tried and tested tips can help. Please note that any marked change in sleeping habits should be discussed with your GP.

Top tips for a good night’s sleep:

  • Go to bed at the same time each night. This can really help your body understand an ‘unwind and sleep preparation’ routine.
  • Get up at the same time every day – even if you have not slept well, having a regular waking time can help your body find it’s natural rhythm and understand it wont get ‘top up’ sleep in the morning. This can be hard and we suggest trying this for 7 – 10 days, but do not endanger yourself by becoming sleep deprived.
  • Plan a daily routine in line with your circadian rhythms (your natural body clock that gives you cues to do certain things at certain times, such as eat, sleep and wake) – listen to these cues and eat, work, rest and sleep at a regular time each day.
  • Increase your exercise levels – simply exercising for 30 minutes can help, especially doing this at the same time each day (ideally before 6pm).
  • Do not have stimulants (such as caffeine) for at least 4 hours before bed. Most experts recommend avoiding these after 2pm – if you are struggling with dysfunctional sleep, avoid stimulants altogether.
  • Take herbal tea such as chamomile or a hot drink such as Horlicks before bed – remember that regular tea and hot chocolate are both stimulating so try and avoid these at bedtime.
  • Urinate twice before bed. If you wake in the night to use the toilet, it can help to urinate twice in close succession before bed, this ensures your bladder is as empty as possible before sleep.
  • Aim for at least 7.5 hours of sleep a night.
  • Take time to wind down and allow your mind to relax before attempting sleep.
  • Keep a sleep diary and find out what your ‘optimum’ sleep duration is.
  • Learn relaxation techniques and try implementing relaxation time into your life.
  • Sleep for 7.5 or 9 hours. If you find waking up after your usual 8 hours hard or you still feel sluggish, try to make the most of your body clock and wake up at a time that fits into a multiple of 90 minutes. (either 7.5 hours or 9 hours’ sleep). This is more likely to be when you are at your lightest stage of sleep and you should therefore find it easier to wake refreshed at this time.
  • Make sure the temperature in your bedroom is constant and comfortable. 18 – 20°C is an adequate temperature.
  • Make the bedroom a haven for sleeping: a clutter-free, comfortable and calming space will help you relax and unwind.
  • Herbal sleep remedies are available, some of which we covered in Uncovered Mar/April 2011. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
  • Acupuncture and alternative therapies can help some people.
  • Counselling can help reduce anxiety and stress if there are particular problems that are impeding your sleep.

We hope these tips help you gain quality sleep, but please do also see our further information, tips and advice in our sleep section.