By Dr Adam Simon

How to get a good night's sleep - 43 ways to sleep better

You will spend around a third of your life asleep, so it's important to make sure you're getting a good night's sleep.

It's recommended that you sleep for between seven and nine hours a night. However, an October 2016 study claims 37 per cent of British people feel they don't get enough.

Sleeping properly is linked to a reduced risk of heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

It can also have a positive impact on your immune system, fertility and mental function.

If you're concerned that you're not getting enough sleep, you need to address this urgently.

We've compiled a list of sleep tips that will help you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go every day. Give them a try!

Let's talk about:

1. Your Bedroom
2. Your Bed
3. Your Daily Habits
4. Your Pre-sleep Routine
5. Going to Bed
6. Getting Up
7. Looking After Your Health

Your Bedroom

Creating the right environment for sleep is important. How your bedroom looks, sounds, smells and feels can all have an impact on how well you sleep.

1. Tidy your room

Sorry for sounding like your mum here, but studies have shown that a tidy bedroom means a better sleep. The National Sleep Foundation found that people who make their bed are 19 per cent more likely to sleep well than people who don't.

Clearing away clutter, putting dirty laundry straight in the basket and regularly dusting and hoovering can all help make your room a nicer place to be.

2. Remember what your bedroom is for

Your bedroom should only be used for two things - sleep and sex. It shouldn't be used for watching TV, using your phone, tablet or laptop, working or exercising.

Those activities won't help you relax, so keep them to another room and you'll find it easier to drift off to sleep.

3. Paint your room a relaxing colour

Choose a colour scheme that you find relaxing. Forget what you've heard about certain colours being more soothing than others, just pick one that you find restful and decorate your room with it.

4. Get the temperature right

Some people sleep better in a cooler environment. Others can't drift off unless it's nice and warm. Luckily, studies suggest that the optimum temperature for your bedroom is between 18 and 24°C, so you've got plenty of leeway to find out what works best for you.

5. Don't share with pets

We're all protective of our pets, but it's easy to see how they could interfere with your sleep. Cats are nocturnal, so they're unlikely to want to do nothing all night while you sleep. Meanwhile, dogs are notoriously fidgety and probably won't listen to reason if you tell them off for hogging the bed.

As much as you love them, pets are probably best off in a separate room during the night.

6. Make your room smell of lavender

Having a bedroom that smells nice is good for a variety of reasons, one of which is your sleep. The smell that's supposedly best for encouraging sleep is lavender. You can either buy a scented air freshener or, if you're feeling adventurous, grow your own.

7. Have a noise level you're comfortable with

It's too simplistic to say that you should keep your room completely quiet. While some like it that way, if you've become accustomed to a bit of noise (for example, if you live near a road or railway) then total silence will likely feel weird.

For example, one sleep study showed that hospital patients were less likely to be woken by staff moving around if ‘white noise' was played in the background at all times.

8. Don't look at your alarm clock

They're great at waking you up, but alarm clocks can affect your sleep in other, less noticeable ways. The light from the screen can be enough to keep you awake, while constantly checking the time can make you anxious about how long it's taking to get to sleep. Dim the screen and ignore it until morning.

Your Bed

If you've never paid much attention to your bed, now may be the time to start. Every element of your bed can affect the quality of your sleep, so if you're struggling to get enough, try making some changes.

9. Invest in a good bed

Buying a bed is expensive. However, you need somewhere you can sleep comfortably every night, so it's worth a reasonably large budget. Remember, your bed will last a long time, so if you work it out on a per night basis, you'll see its true value.

10. Choose the right mattress

You need to find a mattress that's comfortable and won't leave you waking up with neck or back pain. Some people prefer a spring-based mattress, while others favour memory foam. Think about previous beds you've had a great night's sleep in and try to find a similar mattress for your home.

11. Choose the right pillows

The best pillows will keep your head in line with your spine, avoiding any aches and pains the next day.

Like sleeping on your stomach? A flat pillow will stop your head from angling upwards during the night. Prefer snoozing on your side? A thicker pillow will be needed to fill the gap between head and bed.

12. Choose the right bedding

If your method of buying bed sheets goes no further than making sure you've picked up the right size, think again. Consider factors like thread count for softness, tog rating for warmth and whether or not a hypoallergenic duvet will stop your allergies from flaring up in the night.

13. Wash your sheets once a week

No one likes making the bed. It's boring, it takes ages and getting the corners of the duvet right is basically impossible. On the other hand, you wouldn't wear the same clothes for a week, so you shouldn't do it with your bed sheets either. From a health perspective, they'll be packed full of germs and dust, which you need to get rid of regularly.

14. Choose a good laundry detergent

If you often wake up feeling itchy, or with dry skin, your laundry detergent could be to blame. A non-bio detergent is best for sensitive skin.

15. Try using separate blankets

The age-old problem of cover-stealing affects many couples. Having the duvet whipped away during the night can easily interrupt your sleep, so you could try each having a separate blanket to resolve this issue.

Your Daily Habits

Pretty much everything you do throughout the day can have an effect on your sleep. You could be making it more difficult to get a good night's rest without even realising. We've highlighted some of the key changes you could make.

16. Cut out afternoon caffeine

Our bodies start to feel caffeine working after about fifteen minutes. The full effect hits us after an hour and can take between four and six hours to completely wear off.

This means it's not ideal to drink any caffeine after lunch. You may find that cup of coffee is still keeping you alert when all you really want is some shut-eye.

17. Get some exercise - but not too close to bedtime

Regular exercise is great for your sleep. It relieves stress and uses up energy, while maintaining a healthy weight helps prevent problems such as sleep apnoea.

However, if you regularly find it a struggle to sleep after exercise, try making sure your workout finishes at least four hours before bedtime. This will give your body time to wind down enough for you to drift off to sleep.

18. Don't have dinner too late

Your body shouldn't be digesting food while you sleep. We often talk about letting your food ‘go down' after dinner and it turns out you can take that literally. Studies suggest that it's best to sit upright after a big meal and let your food settle in your stomach, as lying down can increase your chances of acid reflux.

It takes about three hours to properly digest a meal, so try and have your dinner in plenty of time before you sleep.

19. Steer clear of smoking

In case you needed another reason to stop smoking, it's terrible for your sleep. Nicotine is a stimulant and studies have shown that smokers not only find it harder to get to sleep, they're also more likely to wake up during the night.

20. Avoid alcohol

Ever wondered why you still feel sluggish after a night of drinking, even if you've slept for ages? It turns out that while alcohol can increase sleep quantity, it's disastrous for sleep quality.

You recover best during deep sleep. Your brain files away all the information from the day and your body releases a growth hormone in short bursts. While alcohol will get you to this stage quicker, it won't last long enough to take effect and you'll spend much longer than usual in the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep, when our minds are more active and dreams occur.

21. Don't nap for longer than half an hour

Afternoon naps are fine, but you don't want to sleep so much that you're not tired later in the evening. By napping for just a short time, your body won't enter deep sleep, so you'll still need to recharge your batteries at your usual bedtime.

Your Pre-Sleep Routine

There's more to a good night's sleep than just going to bed early. Try incorporating a couple of these tips into the hours leading up to bedtime and see how your sleep improves.

22. Organise your thoughts

If something's playing on your mind, such as work, personal problems or financial worries, it can be difficult to sleep. Try writing down everything that's bothering you, including a few ideas for how you might solve those problems the next day.

23. Have a warm bath

Before we fall asleep, our core body temperature decreases slightly. After a warm bath, your body temperature will drop in response to the cooler air in your bedroom. The science suggests that getting out of your bath will artificially recreate the temperature drop that signals to our brains that it's time to sleep.

24. Set a cut-off point for electronics

When it's dark, our bodies produce a hormone called melatonin, which helps us feel relaxed and sleepy. However, when it's light, our bodies make serotonin, which makes us alert.

‘Blue light', which is given off by our laptops, smartphones and tablets, is one of the worst offenders for stopping melatonin production and making it difficult to nod off. In an ideal world, you'd switch these devices off at least an hour before bedtime, but we'll settle for not having them on once you've got into bed.

25. Eat cherries

If you can't resist a snack before bed, a handful of fresh cherries might just be the perfect solution. They're one of the few foods that provide a natural source of melatonin, so they can actually improve your chances of sleeping well.

26. Read a book

Reading a book is a good way to wind down before sleep, but choose something that's not too intellectually challenging. This is not the time for a page-turning thriller that's going to keep you awake all night.

27. Listen to music

Soothing music is another good way to calm yourself down in readiness for sleep. Once again, choose your tunes carefully here - if it makes you want to dance or jump around, save it for the morning!

28. Check your toothpaste

Brushing your teeth before bed is, by all accounts, a good idea. However, studies have shown that peppermint can increase alertness. While this can be just what you need during your morning brush, it's not ideal just before lights out.

29. Balance your fluid intake

This one is about finding the balance that allows you to enjoy an uninterrupted sleep.

If you're the sort of person who regularly needs to get up and use the bathroom in the night, you could try drinking less in the hours leading up to bedtime. On the other hand, if you often find you're waking up parched in the middle of the night, having a small glass of water before bed could prevent this.

Going to Bed

Okay, so you're ready for bed. Or are you? Before you turn in, there are a few sleep strategies you may want to consider.

30. Keep a regular sleep schedule

Going to bed and getting up at around the same time every day will give you a reliable body clock and ensure you start every day refreshed. However, don't panic if you have the odd day where your schedule slips. Getting anxious about that will only make things worse.

31. Block out the light at night

Sleeping at night is something that humans are programmed to do. We've already looked at how light prevents the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep.

As well as turning off electronics, block any light from outside with thick curtains or an eye mask.

32. Wear earplugs

Some of us are jolted awake by even the smallest sounds. While there are things you can do to keep your room quiet, some sounds, such as your partner's snoring or a next door neighbour coming home, are outside your control.

If you're a light sleeper, investing in a decent pair of earplugs will stop night-time noise from keeping you up.

33. Don't stare at the ceiling

Staying in bed won't help if you're not sleepy. In fact, you'll likely make yourself more stressed about the situation. If you can't get to sleep after 15-20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy again.

34. Re-evaluate your views on socks

The idea of wearing socks in bed is often mocked, but if all you're planning on is a good sleep, studies have shown it could actually help. This is particularly true if you usually have cold feet.

Warming up your extremities will help your body get to sleep more easily. Don't wear the same socks you've had on all day though. That would be horrible and you'd put yourself at risk of a fungal infection. Instead, get some nice, comfy bed socks and wash them regularly.

Getting Up

Not everyone finds it easy getting out of bed in the morning. If you need help to resist the lure of a big lie-in, we've got some inspiration for you.

35. Be good at the weekend

Lie-ins may feel great in the short term, but they'll disrupt your regular sleeping pattern. What seems like a great idea on Saturday will come back to haunt you on Monday and make the working week more of a struggle than it needs to be. Even if you've had a late night, try to get up as close to your normal time as possible.

36. Don't hit the snooze button

There's simply no point in waking yourself up early for no reason. You'll probably go back to sleep, but you won't get further than the REM stage, so you won't feel any less tired when you wake up.

Just set one alarm for when you need to be up and develop a habit of getting straight out of bed.

37. Let the sunshine in

Now that it's morning, light is your friend. When that alarm goes off, get those curtains open straight away. This will help you stick to your planned sleep schedule and resist the temptation to snooze. You'll also get an early blast of serotonin that will ensure you're ready to attack the day.

38. Don't try and catch up on lost sleep

Trying to make up for a night of poor sleep by having a big lie-in is not the way to go. We've already talked about the importance of keeping a reasonably regular sleep schedule, so disrupting that could make things worse.

Studies have also shown that trying to catch up on sleep does not help your mental function.

Looking After Your Health

Sometimes an underlying health condition can be the root of your sleep troubles. If so, addressing it could be the first step towards better sleep.

39. Keep a sleep diary

If you're worried that you're not sleeping properly, try tracking your sleep for a couple of weeks to see if any patterns emerge. Look at factors such as how long you've slept, how many times you woke up during the night, how long you stayed in bed after waking up and how refreshed you felt in the morning.

If you decide to see a doctor about your sleep problem, it's likely they will want the answers to these questions, so it's useful information to have.

40. Deal with stress

Stress is one of the main barriers between you and good night's sleep. If you're feeling stressed for any reason, addressing this could help improve your sleep, as well as your general health.

We've already suggested the possibility of writing your thoughts down before you go to bed to clear your mind, but if that doesn't help, a quick chat with a doctor can help you get a handle on things.

41. Check your medication

If you're taking any medication, ask your doctor about its side effects. It's possible that these could be contributing to poor sleep and you may be able to switch to an alternative treatment.

42. See a doctor about your snoring

While snoring can keep your partner awake, it's not doing you any good either. Many people who snore actually have a condition called obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

This condition occurs when your throat muscles relax too much during sleep and prevent you from breathing normally. Your body will need to wake you up, or move you from deep sleep to REM sleep, in order for you to regain control. This results in broken, low quality sleep, while it can also cause issues such as high blood pressure or heart problems.

There are many potential causes of OSA, so see a doctor to ask about your treatment options.

And Finally

43. Do what works for you

While the advice above may prove useful, you don't need to cram all 42 of the above tips into your life in order to have a good night's sleep. Find a routine that works for you and stick to it as much as possible. You'll be amazed at the difference a proper sleep will make to your day and to your health.

If you've found a technique that helps you sleep, why not share it with us on Facebook? Alternatively, if you're having trouble sleeping, our doctors are able to help with a range of issues that could be responsible.

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