Health + Wellness

The secrets behind a good night’s sleep

Sleeping’s simple, right? You go to bed, close your eyes and fall gently into a peaceful slumber for a solid seven to eight hours before waking up rested and full of energy for the new day ahead. In a perfect world, yes. In reality however, a recent Great British Bedtime Report discovered that almost half of Britons have never taken steps to help them sleep even though a third of us admit that we sleep poorly. Poor sleep often equals a bad diet too as we’re prone to grabbing quick-fix sugary snacks when we’re tired, and, with the weather (finally) getting warmer, more of us than ever are tossing and turning till dawn. Fear not, however – there are plenty of ways we can help ourselves snooze more soundly. Here’s our pick of the bunch. BY POLLY HUMPHRIS

sleeping alarm clock

Quality, not quantity

Most people have in their heads the hallowed ‘eight hours’ as the perfect amount of time we ‘need’ to sleep per night to feel great, but actually, many studies have found that adults need between six and eight hours a night depending on the person. Going to sleep and getting up at the same time every day – including weekends, sorry! – helps regulate your body’s internal clock and optimise sleep quality, and there’s no question that six to seven hours of good quality sleep, with your body going through its sleep cycles in a healthy, consistent way, is far better than eight hours of restless, broken sleep. 

Sleep when you’re tired

This sounds plainly obvious, but a lot of us aren’t really aware of our natural body clocks and simply go to bed when we think we should. The first rule of developing a foolproof sleep routine, however, is to make sure that you’re going to bed when you are tired. Going to bed too early leads to tossing and turning for a couple of hours, which raises stress levels and inhibits our ability to produce ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin – a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycles. If you think this might be your problem, stay up later and go to bed half an hour before the time you usually fall asleep – it may seem late to you, but the quality of your sleep will undoubtedly improve.

Watch the clock

Try your hardest to stay out of the kitchen and away from temptation after dinner. A 12-hour fasting window e.g. finishing dinner by 8pm and not having breakfast until 8am, is said to prevent weight gain as it regulates our metabolism and means most of the calories we have eaten throughout the day are burned up by the body. Eating little and often throughout this 12-hour period also keeps our blood sugar steady and ensures that our cortisol levels start to wind down when we go to bed, helping to alleviate insomnia.

Switch off…everything

The hour and a half before you go to bed is considered the ‘golden 90 minutes’ to ensure that we all get the sleep we need, but it involves switching off – physically as well as mentally. Make sure you turn off all your devices that emit blue light, including your phone, tablet, or e-reader, all of which emit a blue light that tells your brain it’s still daytime, thus inhibiting the production of melatonin. It’s best to turn off the box too, as yes, you guessed it, light from the television suppresses melatonin, plus many programs are more stimulating than they are relaxing. Read a book or listen to some relaxing music instead.

sleeping woman white linens

Eat to sleep

When it’s near sleep time, our bodies start to produce the hormone melatonin, which causes that lovely sleepy feeling, telling our bodies to start winding down. Certain foods contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which is a precursor to melatonin, and so can help to send you on your way to the land of nod – if you’re a late night snacker, cherries and bananas are good to eat an hour or so before bed, but coffee and tea are a no-no as caffeine can take up to six hours to leave our bodies.

Choose the right bed

The most important thing, when considering buying a new bed, is to actually try it, which can be a bit overwhelming to begin with as there are so many different types of mattress. But, if you try a few, you should soon start to get a feel for what you prefer. Another rule of thumb is that the heavier you are, the firmer bed you tend to prefer, but that doesn’t mean that everyone needs a hard bed. When you try a mattress, you should spend at least 5-10 minutes on each one; you should also try pushing the flat of your hand between the mattress and the small of your back – if it slides in too easily, the chances are that the bed is too firm for your needs. If it is very difficult, it may be too soft.

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