• Simple ways to get more sleep
  • By: Tom Fortune

    Of all the 21st century health complaints, lack of sleep is perhaps the most common; according to the Sleep Council, only one in 10 of us say we always sleep well, while one in five suffer from lack of sleep and two thirds say they get less sleep now than they did in years gone by.

    Fortunately, the solution to your lack of shuteye often lies in your own hands - and taking some simple steps to change your lifestyle and night-time environment can radically improve your sleeping pattern and help you avoid the debilitating effects of sleep deprivation.

    Read on for our guide to eliminating the factors that are keeping you awake and developing the habits that will help you sleep more comfortably.

    1How much sleep do you need?
    Forget what people tell you about all of us needing eight hours of sleep a night. This may be true for some, but not all, of us. The truth is that many people need more than this, while others can manage perfectly well on less. Experts simply recommend getting enough sleep to keep you feeling refreshed and lively when you wake up and throughout the rest of the day. If you start to feel tired mid-afternoon, this is a sure sign you're not getting enough shuteye.

    2Get into a pattern
    Improving your sleep pattern won't happen, ahem, overnight. If you find you're tossing and turning throughout the night and not getting enough sleep, it could be because you're keeping irregular hours and your body isn't sure whether it's coming or going. Consider this advice from the Sleep Council: "Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time, all the time, will programme your body to sleep better."

    3Not too hot, not too cold
    It's essential that you create a sleeping environment that promotes rest, and one of the best ways to do this is to make sure the room temperature is kept at a level you find comfortable. If you like it cold, open a window before turning in or set up a fan next to your bed in the hot summer months. Perhaps your duvet is too heavy, or too light for you. Either way, your boudoir should be neither too hot, nor too cold, and as quiet and dark as you can make it.

    4How good is your sleep hygiene?
    Do you watch TV in bed or faff about on Twitter until the early hours? These modern habits are becoming increasingly common, and experts say they have wreaked havoc on our nation's sleeping habits. If you ask your GP about your sleeping problems, they will no doubt talk to you about 'sleep hygiene', a term which refers to behaviour in the bedroom prior to trying to get to sleep rather than how clean your sheets are. Turn the telly, laptop and mobile phone off and read a book instead.

    5Buy a comfy mattress
    You're going to spend about a third of your life lying down on it, so you should make sure your mattress is a good one. Like a good pair of jeans, it's one of those things that is worth breaking the bank for. Again, the choice is a highly personal one. Make sure yours isn't too hard, soft, small or old (you should replace your mattress every 10 years or so).

    6Work out regularly
    Health experts say adults should do 30 minutes of exercise five times a week - more if your fitness is up to it. Working up a sweat regularly won't just ease your stress levels, it will also tire you out and make your body desire sleep when you hit the sack in the evening. Alternatively, if hitting the gym isn't your thing, tell your partner you need to start having sex more regularly - we imagine he won't say no.

    7Cut out stimulants
    Coffee, tea, alcohol - consumption of all of these should be limited, especially in the evening as this will only keep you awake and prevent you dropping into a deep, blissful sleep. Instead of caffeine, drink herbal teas or warm milk instead. While booze seemingly helps us to fall asleep, it is actually likely to interrupt your sleep pattern later on in the night. Cigarettes should be a big no-no, as research shows that smokers take longer to fall asleep and wake up more often during the night.

    8Focus on relaxation
    Your behaviour in the evening should be telling your body (and mind) one thing - that it's time to relax and rest. Do this by taking a warm bath, doing a yoga class or listening to particularly soporific music. When your head hits the pillow, you'll be much more likely to quickly fall asleep than if you've spent the previous few hours drinking or watching TV. However, it's also important that you don't beat yourself up if you can't drop off. Don't allow your stress levels to creep back up again by lying there tossing and turning. If it's not working, you might as well get up and go and do something else; write a list of the things you need to do tomorrow, have a warm milky drink. When you feel tired again, get back between the sheets.

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