How to Sleep Better at Night
6 min read
Last Modified 17 February 2022 First Added 16 January 2020
Sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, just like eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. A 2020 study by Kings College London showed that half the population had disturbed sleep and 39% were getting less sleep than normal. So if you suffer from low quality sleep, you are definitely not alone. Luckily there are several ways that you can help yourself to sleep better at night naturally.
Whether you need help nodding off or just want to be able to sleep all night long, there are a variety of solutions you can try. This includes natural solutions, such as lifestyle changes, and using various aids. Here are our best tips to sleep better at night:
A good routine is not just for kids – it’s also good for adults who want to sleep like a baby. The idea is to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. As our body is controlled by our internal clock, this regularity helps our bodies and minds to be sleepy at the same time each day and wake feeling more refreshed.
You come home late, exhausted and the first thing you want to do is get into bed and sleep. But it doesn’t happen. Why? Because your mind is still active from the day’s activity, and now that it’s free from distractions it will start to wander, and keep you awake. Before going to bed, set aside some time to unwind by reading a book, taking a bath, or practising yoga. You may even want to consider starting a sleep diary to unload your thoughts. There are also sleep apps designed to help you sleep, check out the NHS Apps Library.
Light plays a critical part in regulating your natural circadian rhythm. Bright light during the day and lack of light during the night affect your brain and hormones, telling you when it’s time to sleep and be awake. For example, when it is getting darker, melatonin is released in your body, which signals that it is time to sleep. To help regulate your natural rhythm with light it is important to be exposed to bright light during the day. Natural sunlight is best, but a bright lightbulb during the day will also help.
Electronic screens on TVs, smartphones and laptops give off blue light which reduces the body’s production of melatonin. We need melatonin as it is the sleep-inducing hormone so keep the screens turned off while you are sleeping and avoid their use close to bedtime.
By performing other activities in bed, such as watching TV or listening to music/podcasts you subconsciously start to attach these activities to your bed. The result is that when you get into bed, your body starts to prepare for some, input and is less likely to associate bed with sleep. Be sure to restrict your bedtime activities to sleep and sex.
Having a bedroom set up for sleep can help with drifting off. Think about temperature, noise, external lights, de-cluttering, and even bedroom furniture. Ensure your sleep environment is dark, quiet and tidy so your mind is free of distractions. And your bedroom temperature is best between 18 and 24 ℃ for sleep. It has even been shown that temperature has more effect on sleep than external noise.
If you’re lying in bed awake, there is a danger your body will begin to associate the bed with being awake. You should, therefore, give yourself around twenty minutes – try not to check the clock, rather estimate how long you have been lying there for – to get to sleep. If, after this time you are still awake, get out of bed and leave the bedroom and do something relaxing like reading until you feel sleepy.
If you are a smoker, you might think of a cigarette before bedtime as a good way to unwind. However, nicotine is a stimulant and more likely to keep you awake. So if you can’t quit smoking, then you should at least refrain from smoking within 2 hours of bedtime. Caffeine is also a stimulant, it is advisable to stop having caffeine at least seven hours before your bedtime, as studies have shown that it can still affect your body six hours after you have consumed it. And finally, although alcohol helps many people unwind, having a drink at bedtime doesn’t improve sleep quality and reduces REM sleep.
Eating late at night won’t help you sleep and can inhibit melatonin production. A late meal can also affect your digestion, which can interrupt sleep. Because of how your digestive system is set up, eating late can cause indigestion and heartburn, which can make sleep difficult. As a general rule of thumb, you should wait two to three hours after eating before resting your head.
Although exercise close to bedtime isn’t a good idea, getting regular exercise during the day can help you sleep at night. Exercise will help to boost the effects of sleep hormones, helping your sleep. As little as 10 minutes of walking or cycling keeps you active and can help you to sleep later.
You could try essential oils, such as lavender, chamomile and marjoram. You can burn them (diluted in water) in an oil burner, massage a few drops into your chest, or dilute some in water and spray them onto your pillow. Natural supplements can also be used to aid sleep. Valerian root, lavender and passionflower have been shown to help with sleep.
One of the most common causes of insomnia is stress. When we are worried about something we tend to struggle to sleep. The sleeplessness causes us more anxiety, and the cycle continues. Get into the habit of labelling worries as either ‘hypothetical’ or ‘real’ worries. If they are hypothetical, then learn to let these go and if they are real then create a plan of action. You can also do cognitive behaviour therapy for anxiety as this can help you to tackle your unhelpful thinking styles.
This is one of the most common issues for poor sleepers as they tend to expect 8 hours every night. It’s true that some need 8 hours and can easily get it but for many of us, less is also adequate. Quality is more important than quantity. As we get older, it is normal to find that we sleep for less time and less deeply, so it is important to readjust our expectations.
While these tips on how to sleep better can be done yourself, without the need for intervention, if you are struggling with it, don’t suffer in silence. Contact your GP for more information.