Guide to Getting Better Sleep

Nothing affects us more than how we sleep at night. How we feel during the day depends on how well we rest overnight. For many people, getting a good night’s sleep can be a challenge, but there are various ways you can boost your chances of waking up feeling refreshed each day.

Exposure to light

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your circadian rhythm. Your brain secretes more melatonin when it’s dark, which makes you sleepy and less when it’s light, helping to keep you awake. Unfortunately, many of us don’t get enough melatonin in modern life but there are ways you can improve your exposure.

  • Expose yourself to bright sunlight first thing in the morning as close to the time you get up as possible.
  • Spend as much time outside in daylight hours as you can.
  • Let as much natural light into your home or office as possible.
  • If these aren’t possible, consider using a light therapy box, which stimulates sunshine and can be very useful during the winter months.
  • Avoid bright screens and television for 1-2 hours before bedtime.
  • Don’t read with backlit devices, such as tablets.
  • Make sure you sleep in a dark room and use a nightlight to move around safely if you need to get up in the night.

Try to keep in sync with your body’s natural cycle

Your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, known as circadian rhythm, needs to be kept regular in order to sleep better.

  • Go to sleep and get up at the same time every day to help set your body’s internal clock and optimise your sleep. You can also try adopting the ‘ninety minute’ rule. Decide when you want to wake up and then work back in ninety minute blocks (ninety minutes is the length of a sleep cycle). So, if you want to wake up at 8am, try going to bed at either 11pm or 12.30am and see which time works best for you.
  • Avoid sleeping in, even at weekends!
  • If you need a nap to make up for lost sleep, limit it to 15-20 minutes in the early afternoon.
  • If you start to feel drowsy, try and fight this by getting up and doing something stimulating – even if it’s just washing the dishes.

Watch what you eat and drink

It might not seem obvious, but what you eat and drink during the day can have a real impact on how you sleep at night.

  • Limit your intake of caffeine, which can cause problems up to 10-12 hours after drinking it.
  • Avoid heavy meals late at night. Don’t eat heavy foods two hours before bedtime and avoid spicy or acidic foods which can cause heartburn.
  • Avoid drinking too many liquids in the evening to prevent frequent bathroom trips overnight, and don’t drink alcohol before bed, as it interferes with your sleep cycle.
  • If you need a bedtime snack, eat light foods such as a banana or a small bowl of whole-grain, low sugar cereal.

Exercise during the day

If you exercise regularly, your sleep will improve and you’ll feel less dozy during the day.

  • Even light exercise improves sleep quality, but the more vigorously you exercise, the more powerful the sleep benefits.
  • Don’t despair if you don’t see any improvement immediately – it can take several months of regular activity to get the full sleep benefits.

Wind down

Stress and worry from the day can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep, so it’s important to wind down and clear your head.

  • Overstimulation during the day is a real problem in the modern world, with the constant checking of phones and emails. Try to set aside specific times to deal with these things, particularly in the evening, so that your brain isn’t expecting fresh stimulation when you’re trying to get to sleep.
  • Read a book by a soft light.
  • Dim the lights in the hours leading up to bed.
  • Visualise a peaceful and restful place and concentrate on feeling relaxed.
  • Progressively relax your muscles and do some easy stretches.
  • If you’re really suffering from lack of sleep, try investing in some glasses with amber-tinted lenses. These will block the blue light from televisions and electronic devices such as smart phones and help you to feel sleepy.

Create a restful sleep environment

A peaceful bedroom is the key to getting a good night’s sleep and helping your brain realise it’s time to rest.

  • Keep your bedroom as quiet as possible and, if you can’t eliminate noise consider using earplugs.
  • Keep your room cool at around 18 degrees C, with adequate ventilation.
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable and, if you’re waking up with a sore back, consider investing in a new mattress. Check out our mattress comparison site if you are considering a new mattress
  • Don’t work, watch TV or use your computer in bed.
  • Use positive imagery to help you drift off to sleep. Imagine yourself in a pleasant scenario and make it as detailed as possible (but not too exciting!). Try to stay awake as you think about your scenario – strange as it sounds, trying to stay awake is one of the best ways to fall asleep.

If you do wake up

Whilst it’s normal to wake up briefly during the night, if you have trouble getting back to sleep you can try these tips.

  • Don’t overthink things! If you start to stress over your inability to fall asleep again, your brain will start to wake up. Focus on your breathing and practice breathing exercises to help you fall asleep again.
  • Try a relaxation exercise or meditation, which can be done without getting out of bed.
  • If you haven’t gone back to sleep within 15 minutes, try doing a quiet exercise such as reading a book with a dim light.

By following all these tips, you should optimise your chances of a quiet and restful night’s sleep. If you’re interested in reading more on the subject and indeed on the whole science of sleep, we highly recommend reading Night School by Richard Wiseman Night School: The Life-Changing Science of Sleep. It’s a fascinating book and packed full of helpful hints.

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