Struggling after another night with barely any shut-eye? While a startling one in three people in the UK suffer from insomnia, we often forget just how much our lifestyle choices can affect our brain function. More often than not, things such as mobiles, TVs, tablets, caffeine and alcohol all contribute to keeping us up and wired late into the night.
'By sticking to a set wake-up time every day, your body gets used to the time it needs to wake up and is able to use the time it has to sleep more effectively'
So how can we take back control of our bedtime? We talked to sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley to get his top tips for better slumber – so we all can get the best night’s sleep possible.
1. Cut out tech
The mistake most of us are guilty of making is bringing technology into the bedroom in the first place. All mobiles, tablets, TV or computer screens should be kept clear of the bedroom for at least 45 minutes before bed. This is because the blue screen lights trick our brains into thinking that it’s daytime, keeping us alert and blocking a good night’s rest.
2. Wind down
Get in the frame of mind for sleep by winding down properly in the run up to bedtime. Winding down can mean different things for different people, but think of relaxing activities such as reading or listening to music, that you enjoy but don't stimulate your brain too much. You could also try taking a long warm bath with candles and enveloping yourself in a fluffy robe before snuggling into a fresh bed. Bliss.
3. Get rid of stimulants
We all have the odd coffee after dinner, but if you’re having trouble catching your z’s it’s time to cut out anything that might be contributing to keeping your brain alive late at night. Cut down on caffeine and, if you smoke, take this as an excuse to give it up.
4. Drink more water
If you're a fan of having a glass of wine to unwind of an evening, chances are this could be affecting your sleeping pattern too. You could even be chronically dehydrated without realising. If possible, give up alcohol for at least five nights a week and drink more water to stay hydrated. Aim for at least two litres of water spread out across the day, or approximately 8 glasses.
5. Don't eat after 8.30
This might seem obvious, but the later you eat, the more likely you are to find it difficult to get restful sleep. This is because the body warms up to burn calories, in turn providing your body with fuel to burn, so the last thing it wants to do is sleep. Aim not to eat or drink anything after 8.30pm and you'll be fine.
6. Set a schedule
Set your alarm for the same time every morning, including weekends, and if you can, avoid using your phone alarm or you may be tempted to check messages in bed! By sticking to a set wake-up time every day, your body gets used to the time it needs to wake up and is able to use the time it has to sleep more effectively.
7. Get up (again)
You might not believe it, but lying in bed for hours trying to sleep when you can't will not help train you to go to sleep earlier in future. If you haven’t fallen asleep within 30 minutes, the best thing you can do is to actually get up (again) and instead do something relaxing. Only go back to bed when you’re sleepy – not a second before!
8. Exercise, exercise, exercise
Exercise during the day, ideally outdoors. Not only does daily exercise tire you out so you crave a good rest, but it also helps to lower your body temperature for a deeper sleep. All you need is 20 to 30 minutes of exercise each day to be sufficiently active, but make sure to do it at least three hours before you hit the hay or you'll still be too pumped up to sleep.
9. Get your own duvet
Did you know that your partner might be adding to your insomnia? If they are restless during the night, snore loudly or hog of the duvet, they could inadvertently be disrupting your sleep. So it’s time to look at A) solving their problems, such as getting their snoring seen to by a doctor, or B) looking for problem solving solutions that will directly aid you, such as earplugs or trying out separate duvets. Believe it – the littlest of changes can work wonders!