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How to get a good night's sleep this World Sleep Day

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The average 78-year-old will spend 25 years of their life asleep. Sleep, it has been said, is more vital to the human body than eating.



Yet it’s something with which many of us struggle. Few of us can honestly say we haven’t experienced the frustration of clock-watching, negotiating just how little sleep we think we can function on the following day.

Today is World Sleep Day and it’s time to think about our relationship with sleep. With deadlines and final exams looming, there’s never been a better time to improve the quality of our shut-eye.

Sleep: the basics

Why do I need to sleep?
The short answer is that nobody is really sure quite why we need to sleep. However, sleep is proven to be vital to our body’s wellbeing, with essential repairs taking place and memories sorted and stored. Think about how you feel when you’ve got a cold: often, a long sleep can give our bodies the chance to fight minor infections and help us to get better. Sleep is essential to our health.

How much sleep do I need?
This varies from person to person, although people generally need less sleep as they get older. Young children and teenagers often need more sleep, partially due to the growth spurts they’re experiencing, whilst older people need less. A general rule of thumb is to aim to get between 7 and 9 hours per night.


What if I don’t get enough sleep?
Obviously, you’re going to feel tired! This can lead to your brain functioning less effectively and can make your body operate at a slower pace. Repeated sleeplessness has been shown to contribute towards obesity and depression. Over time, a cumulative lack of sleep has even been suggested a factor in cases of heart disease and stroke due to the heightened stress your body is put under.

The simple fact is, we need to sleep. So what can you do to improve your sleeping habits?

Making sleeping easier

Bedroom: the clue’s in the name
Your bedroom should be the place you sleep, end of. With the increased prevalence of screens of all sizes in the bedroom, the space is increasingly being associated with activities other than sleeping, and that can confuse your body.

As a student, this is a particularly difficult one to combat, especially if your halls or house have no communal spaces other than the kitchen. Try to limit the amount of time you spend in your bedroom for studying and socialising to help your brain associate bed with sleep. At the very least, try not to study in bed!

Don’t toss and turn
On a similar note, try to avoid those hours of lying in bed, getting increasingly more frustrated at not sleeping. Experts recommend getting up if you’re still awake after fifteen minutes and doing something else. Sit in a chair and listen to some relaxing music or a podcast, or read a book. This activity shouldn’t be stimulating, so no phones or screens! When you begin to feel sleepy, get back into bed so your brain learns to associate bed with sleep.

Let’s get physical
Another reason to get out of the bedroom is to do some exercise. Our more sedentary lifestyle has been suggested as a factor in interrupted sleep, so making yourself physically tired is a good way to get your body ready for bed. There is some evidence to suggest that exercising late in the day could have a negative impact upon sleep, but some exercise, even in the evening, is better than none at all, so start pumping that iron.

Set the mood
There are certain things you can do in your room in order to set the mood for the perfect night’s sleep. Temperature is a big one: try to keep your room between 16 and 18 degrees Celcius, and to be honest, err on the lower side. Whilst being too cold may make sleeping difficult, being too hot will trick your body into staying awake longer.

Also, think about the type of lighting you have in your room. Bright overhead lights, such as LEDs, will make your brain think it’s daylight, and it will take a lot longer to feel sleepy. If you can, try to fit some blackout blinds or curtains to make your room really dark as that will help to put your body in the mood for sleep, and keep you asleep in the summer when the mornings are really light.

Regular routines
I know – routines are for babies and old people, but there’s a reason parents are advised to have a bedtime routine for their children. Part of the problem for many of us is that we have different sleeping patterns during the week from the weekend, when we tend to stay up later and only emerge sometime around midday. Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time each day – with an hour difference here or there – will put your body into the right rhythm for effective sleeping.

There’s also a lot to be said for having a routine for going to bed. Maybe that’s turning off all devices an hour before going to bed, reading a book or having a warm decaffeinated drink. Your brain will associate all of these little things with sleep and will prepare your body accordingly.

Don’t cat-nap!
If you’ve spent half the day asleep, you can hardly expect to drop off as soon as your head hits the pillow at night. Whilst a quick snooze in the afternoon can seem tempting, especially if you didn’t sleep well the night before, it’s only going to continue your night-time problems.

Go for a walk to boost your oxygen levels and aim to have an early night rather than a nap – it’ll be better in the long run!

A ginger cat sleeping 5th March

Think about what you’re drinking
Some people find that having a glass of wine in the evening helps to relax them, but excessive drinking actually disturbs your sleep pattern. You might have noticed this after a night out, and limiting alcohol consumption can really help with sleeping problems.

More obviously, caffeine has a tremendous effect upon your body’s ability to sleep, and it’s easy to get into a cycle of drinking too much caffeine, being unable to sleep, so drinking more caffeine to combat the tiredness. Stop! Try to limit your caffeine intake, either through consuming tea or coffee early in the day, or switching to decaffeinated options. Plus, definitely stop knocking back those vodka-red bulls!

Try to relax
Is there anything more unlikely to help you relax than being told to relax? Lying in bed, unable to sleep, it’s almost impossible to stop your mind going over and over anything that’s troubling you – even things that happened a decade ago! One tip which is often shared is to write down any worries or ideas you have before going to bed so your brain is free to drift off. You could also try a warm (but not hot) bath or use some essential oils. Lush’s ‘Sleepy’ Body Lotion is reputed to help your body relax and prepare for bed, so if you’re really struggling, that could be one option to explore.

If you're still not sleeping 

Sleeplessness can be a sign of other problems, such as anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. If you’re finding sleeping is becoming a real issue, despite trying some self-help tools, it’s always worth seeing your GP to talk over your concerns and see what treatment they can offer.

The Sleep Council offers more tips to help you get a good night’s sleep, including a guided 30-day plan to set you on the right track.

The NHS website also provides some ideas to improve your sleeping habits, including information over snoring – worth a read if it’s a noisy bed-mate keeping you awake!

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