A good night’s sleep makes you happier, healthier, slimmer—and it should be right at the top of your list of priorities. But unless you are one of the lucky few who have absolutely no trouble when it comes to hitting the sack, you’re probably familiar with that feeling of staring at the ceiling, tossing and turning, or counting sheep, as the minutes and hours tick by.
According to the UK Sleep Council, nearly half of us are getting just six hours sleep or less a night, with four out of five of us complaining of disturbed or inadequate – or "toxic" – sleep.
The good news is that all is not lost for the sleep front. Here are seven ways to set the clock and start sleeping well.
Only go to bed when really tired
However much you want to get an early night, there’s no point forcing the issue - it will only do more harm in the long-run. Wait until you eyes are drooping before you even contemplate putting your head on your pillow.
Schedule a meeting with yourself
Often, the only time we get to think things over is right at the end of the day. When you’re in bed in the dark and quiet, it’s all-too easy for your unconscious to seize the moment and before you know it you are churning over all your problems and worries. Thinking about what matters to you and planning your next move is no bad thing – it’s just that this is not the best time to do it. Make sure you give yourself some space before bedtime to think about what’s bothering you. Perhaps talk it over with your partner, or make a list of what action you need to take tomorrow. The key is to identify your concerns before you’re tucked up in bed, when they have a tendency to take hold and magnify.
Routine is everything, say the Sleep Council, that’s why Sunday jetlag – usually a result of a late Saturday and Friday night – can be so disruptive to your sleep pattern. "Keep regular hours. Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time, all the time, will programme your body to sleep better," the <a href="http://www.sleepcouncil.org.uk/how-to-sleep/sleep-tips/">organisation advises</a>. A good night’s sleep starts first thing in the morning because activating your brain at the same time every day is important for keeping your body’s biological clock in check, and gives your body clear direction when it comes to your natural bedtime. If you want to change your bedtime, help your body clock adjust by making the change in small daily chunks, for example 15 minutes earlier or later each day.
Clear your mind before bed by meditating for 20 minutes. This is an opportunity to silence your brain and stop focusing on your worries. It’s the perfect way to release all those stressful little things that have been bothering you throughout the day and will enable you to go to sleep with a clear mind.
Are you sleeping comfortably?
If your bedroom is strewn with dirty washing and clutter, or your mattress and pillows are past their prime, then these physical aspects could be what's obstructing your path to a good night's sleep. Make sure that your pillows and mattress support your back and neck and that you are comfortable. A contour pillow that supports the neck and spine or a mattress that relieves pressure will help you relax and stop you tossing and turning. "You get what you pay for – both in product and service – so spend as much as you can afford", advises the <a href="http://www.sleepcouncil.org.uk/bed-advice/">UK Sleep Council</a>. It's important that your bedroom is a place that you want to be, so treat it with reverence and ensure that it is tidy and clean before you switch the lights out. This should be your sanctuary so consider redecorating if it doesn't feel like a true retreat.
Temperate affects sleep and most of us will get a better night’s rest in a well ventilated and slightly cooler room. Be sure to check your heating settings before you bed down.
Beat the bad habits
Your exercise habits, and what you eat and drink during the day, will fundamentally affect the quality of your sleep. This is especially true during the hours right before bedtime. Caffeine should be avoided from midday, and it’s best to stay away from big meals late at night as the digestive process can keep you awake. You should also avoid alcohol (so no nightcaps!) and cigarettes before bed as they can prevent you from falling into a deep sleep, says the <a href="http://www.sleepcouncil.org.uk/how-to-sleep/sleep-tips/">Sleep Council</a>: "Too much food or alcohol, especially late at night, just before bedtime, can play havoc with sleep patterns. Alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, but will interrupt your sleep later on in the night". Instead the organisation advises that regular exercise – even if it’s just 20 minutes every day - can make a real difference to getting that all-important high quality shut-eye.