15 Ways to Sleep Smart

2nd June 2017

If you’ve been feeling out of sorts, then a shortage of shut-eye could be the problem. ‘Lack of Sleep’ is apparently one of the most searched for terms online. Anjana Gosai tracks down some expert advice to find out how we can boost the quality and quantity of our slumber. Follow these steps to aid a more restful night…

1. Stick to a sleep schedule
Get your body into a regular pattern. “Try to stick to a sleep and wake routine – go to bed and wake up around the same time every day – this will maintain the timing of the body’s internal clock, helping you to sleep and wake more easily,” advises Dr Marilyn Glenville, a leading nutritionist and psychologist.

2. Create a sanctuary
When it comes to your bedroom, make it a quiet and comfortable place that you associate with sleep. The idea of a warm room might sound cosy, but it won’t leave you rested. “Keep bedroom temperature no higher than 68 degrees – anything more can cause restlessness and doesn’t send your brain the right signal to fall into a deep sleep,” shares Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, consultant neuropsychiatrist and founder of the London Sleep Centre in Harley Street, London.

3. Establish a bedtime routine
Develop a regular pre-bedtime ritual, to unwind from your day and train the body into thinking that it is time to go to sleep. “Think of it as your very own ‘bath, story, bed’ routine” says Brendan Street, Cognitive Behavioural Therapist at Nuffield Health. “Children sleep well when they have a specific routine associated with bedtime, and so do we,” he adds. Avoid doing stimulating activities an hour before bedtime; instead, try listening to relaxing music or having a bath with a few drops of lavender oil, which has been shown to decrease heart rate and blood pressure, whilst inducing a more relaxed state.

4. Turn off the tech
Most of us consider watching television or scrolling through our Facebook feed as our relaxation time, but it actually has the opposite effect. “The blue light emitted from screens can interrupt melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone, making it more difficult to drift off,” says elite sports sleep coach Nick Littlehales, author of Sleep (£9.99, Penguin). Keep digital devices out of the bedroom, and stop using them an hour before lights out.

5. Swerve the stimulants
Limit your intake of caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes. “With caffeine it’s best not to have any after 1pm; avoid alcohol for around two hours before bedtime and cigarettes should be skipped altogether,” Dr Ebrahim warns. “While these stimulants may chill you out at the time, they can cause fragmented sleep, as the body tries to metabolise them. It can take the body up to two hours to break down a small glass of wine.”

6. Have a herbal fix
“Women are particularly prone to getting stuck in the lighter sleep stages, worrying and planning for the next day,” says Littlehales. “A herbal tea can help you relax and drift away from your day and can also raise your body temperature, which is good for sleep.”

7. Add some noise
Most of us struggle to fall asleep in a noisy environment. Whether it’s the sound of passing cars or dogs barking that keeps you awake, try masking out background sleep disrupters with some white noise. “While in theory you are adding more noise to your bedroom, white noise tricks the brain into paying less attention to the external sounds, giving you a better chance to sleeping undisturbed” explains Dr Ebrahim.

8. Sleep in the right position
Curling up in the foetal position on your non-dominant side (right-handers should lie on their left and vice versa) is said to be the ideal and most natural way to rest. “This sleeping position protects the vital organs and leaves your strong side free to protect yourself. This is a primal sleep secure mind-set that helps us enter the more beneficial sleep stages,” says Littlehales.

9. Control your worries
We all have worries that can keep us up at night. “As well as taking a vitamin B5 supplement, which can support the nervous system, try passionflower: a traditional herbal medicine that helps control feelings of mild anxiety,” suggests nutritionist Shona Wilkinson.

10. Time your naps
Short power naps can be an efficient way to temporarily compensate for a rough night’s sleep. “Napping for thirty minutes is the most practical option for most of us, either at midday or early evening – and it does not matter if you don’t actually enter a sleep state — catching that place on the verge of sleep is just as refreshing,” says Littlehales. If you already have a sleeping problem, though, experts suggest avoiding napping, to see if your regular patterns improve.

11. Get some magnesium
Research has shown that there is a relationship between our cells’ magnesium levels and the body’s ability to follow its sleep cycle efficiently. “Having the right levels of magnesium in the body means we find it easier to fall asleep and wake up at the right time,” says Sleep Practitioner and Sleep Environment expert James Wilson. “Magnesium helps the body relax by ensuring the GABA receptors in our brain and nervous system are working as efficiently as possible. GABA receptors help the brain switch off and without it, our minds would continue to race,” adds Wilson. Try BetterYou Magnesium Oil Goodnight Spray (£12.20, betteryou.com)

12. Re-think the colour of your bedroom
The colour of our bedroom walls can influence how much sleep we get, according to a 2013 survey. It found that the most restful shade for a bedroom is blue, with people sleeping in this colour room clocking in an average of seven hours and 52 minute of kip per night. Some experts say that colours such as blue can elicit a feeling of warmth and calm, promoting good sleep, whereas shades like red can be too stimulating and have the opposite effect.

13. Work out your type
Your ‘chronotype’ describes your sleeping characteristic – whether you’re a morning person (AMer) or night owl (PMer). “It doesn’t just determine the time you get up and go to bed – it indicates the times that your body wants to perform the functions outlined in the circadian rhythms,” explains Littlehales. It’s important that you and your partner work out your chronotype, so if you’re an AMer and they are a PMer, establish a mid-point to wake up and go to bed together, to avoid disturbing each other’s sleep cycles. Check out your chronotype on euclock.org

14. Stop snoozing
“Prolonging waking yourself up can disrupt your morning, as you are starting a new sleep cycle, which you won’t be able to finish before your alarm goes off again,” warns nutritionist Cassandra Barns. “This habit can make you feel groggier and disrupt sleep the following day night.” 

15. Get moving
Exercising can help you feel more relaxed and ready for a good snooze, by the evening. “Any physical activity boosts the production of the ‘happy hormone’ endorphin,” explains Chris Sweeney, co-founder of social fitness app Fitssi. “Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body, which reduces pain and helps induce relaxation.”

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