If there’s one thing that none of us are doing well, it’s getting quality sleep and enough of it. Not sleeping well can be attributed to junk food habits, ill health and even premature ageing whilst a well-rested night’s sleep can make one look younger, be less prone to sickness and feel better all round.
As summer approaches and longer, brighter days make sleeping even more challenging, here are some tips to make the most of your (hopefully) eight hours.
1. Stick to a earlyish schedule
It seems that the “early to bed, early to rise” adage just might be true after all. The Sleep Council (TSC) explains, “Those who don’t have a regular bedtime tend to have a worse night’s sleep than those who do: 17% of those who don’t have a regular bedtime sleep very poorly, as do 23% of those who go to bed after midnight.”
2. Bigger is better
If you’re sharing a bed, consider the size carefully. A 2011 study by ICE Ergonomics found that couples sleep better in a bigger bed. TSC agree and suggest that a two people should be able to lie side by side with their arms behind their head without touching. And a bed should always account for the tallest partner plus an extra 10-15 centimetres.
The good news is that sleeping together aids sleep. “Sharing your bed with your spouse seems to aid good quality sleep,” TSC reports, “as 82% of those who sleep very well always share their bed, while 17% of those who sleep very poorly are sleeping alone.”
3. Take time to wind down
Luxury bed supplier for over 100 years and Royal Warrant holder Hypnos understands the value of a pre-bedtime routine. “The activities you do a couple of hours before sleep also have an impact on hitting the desired REM, which is the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep,” says Chris Ward, the brand’s marketing director. The brand also suggests “90 minutes before you go to bed, wind down your day and relax your mind and body. Don’t participate in anxiety-inducing activities like checking your email or watching the evening news. Read something or take a warm bath.”
Jessica Stillman claims that one of the things successful people end their day with is reviewing their to-do list and making a new one for the next day. “Almost every expert you can consult online agrees about at least one aspect of the ideal end-of-day routine — it involves spending a little bit of time reviewing your to-do list and calendar and thinking about what needs doing the next day to avoid wasting time strategising in the morning.”
4. Practise a helpful habit
“Stress can affect the body and mind, causing tension in your muscles and anxious feelings which can lead to problems sleeping,” Chris Ward explains. With stress being a main factor of sleep deprivation, addressing it sensibly with a practice known to reduce stress can make a world of difference to the quality of your sleep.
Whether it’s meditation, listening to calming music or progressive muscle relaxation – a practice of intermittently tensing and relaxing muscles which lowers overall tension – find a bedtime habit which is restorative and relaxes the mind.
5. Ban electronic devices
Don’t be tempted to use your electronic devices just before bedtime by making your bedroom a no electronics zone. By leaving laptops, tablets and mobile phones in the living room or office you’ll resist the habit to check them unnecessarily. An unexpected work email or a Facebook notification can wait until the morning.
TSC explains, “Experts believe that taking gadgets into the bedroom can cause ‘electronic insomnia’, simply because exposure to bright lights from computer or mobile phone screens while we’re in bed can interfere with our circadian rhythm, or body clock. We naturally start winding down at around 9pm, but this can be confused by exposure to bright light which stops our bodies secreting the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin. Television is less likely to have this effect, but sleep experts also warn that watching TV in bed can lead to poor quality sleep.”
Sleep expert Dr Chris Idzikowski suggests, “Unfortunately, sleep seems to be going the same way as junk food. It may even be the case that Junk Sleep leads to junk food. The message is simple: switch off the gadgets and get more sleep.”
6. Write things down
A main contributor to a poor night’s sleep is an overactive mind and the worry of forgetting to do something. Keeping a pen and paper handy will help you offload any thoughts which may be troubling you without the anxiety of letting it slip your mind. In the morning, when your brain is more alert and ready to deal with challenges, you can pick it up again.
7. Buy a quality bed
Everyone knows how important mattresses are (and we all have our preferences) but the bed base is equally as important. Even the best of beds age over time and, as such, need to be replaced every so often. In 2011 the Furniture Industry Research Association found that a bed may have deteriorated by as much as 70% from its “as new” state after 10 years and TSC suggest that a bed should be replaced every 7 years.
However, Lucy Helmore – Senior Buyer at LuxDeco – explains the value of quality in choosing a bed: “Quality is of the utmost importance and can guarantee you many years of use compared to what you’d get from a cheaper design. Above all, always consider how supported your body feels. Sprung base divan beds which respond to your movements are a great option but slat base and solid top divans all have their place too. It’s all based on preference really.”
When choosing a bed, the Sleep Council recommends that “we should spend as much as we can afford and bear in mind that larger beds tend to be more comfortable, particularly for people who are sleeping with a partner.”
Not only should beds be of a high quality, the condition of your mattress is as important. “There is a simple check you can carry out to discover whether your current mattress is too hard or soft and if it’s providing you with the support you need,” Chris explains, “Simply slide your hand under the small of your back. If your hand fits easily between your back and the mattress, it may be too firm. However, if your hand cannot fit under your back at all, it may be too soft.”
8. Don’t go to bed on an empty or full stomach
Too much food close to bedtime disrupts sleep but a carefully chosen pre-bedtime snack can be beneficial. Food and drinks such as warm milk, almonds and (oddly) jasmine rice are all natural sleep inducers. And its effect can last until the morning too.
In a 2014 TIME article, Stephanie Maxson, senior clinical dietician at the University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Centre, explains, “Having low blood sugar in the morning will cause a person to feel sluggish and make it more difficult to get out of bed.”
Chris warns of the dangers of some choices though: “It’s important to avoid stimulants such as caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol as this will affect your REM sleep, interrupting your rest.”
9. Beware of your environment
Little environmental changes (adjusting the room temperature or installing curtain liners) can make all the difference to the amount and quality of sleep you enjoy night after night. A cooler room (between 16-19°C) optimises sleep, as does silence and darkness which can be trickier in summer.
Hypnos explains, “Lowering the lights signals your brain to produce melatonin, the hormone that brings on sleep” and recommends dimming the lights around two to three hours before bedtime. If all else fails, buy a pretty eye mask.
10. Exercise is important
What we do during the day also seems to have an effect on our sleep. Daily physical fitness seems to play a major role in our restfulness. TSC suggests that people who exercise five to six times a week are less likely to take sleep medicine.
“Indeed, those who don’t take regular exercise are more likely to sleep badly: 11% of those who exercise less than once every six months sleep very poorly most nights, compared to the 32% of those who exercise daily who say they sleep very well most nights.”
But don’t work out too close to bedtime says, Chris: “It’s also worth bearing in mind that high impact exercise can cause havoc with your sleep patterns so don’t do any for around three hours before hitting the pillow, as this can raise your heart rate, making it trickier to doze off.”
Ready to have the best night’s sleep of your life? Read our guide to dressing the perfect bed here