'So can you tell me how to sleep?' That's pretty much the first thing people say when they meet me. 'You must get that all the time - SORRY! (But seriously though - can you just quickly cure my sleep issues for me?)'.
I know what you're thinking. You think I hate this. Actually, I love it. The world is just as fascinated about sleep as I am, and I will happily discuss it with you. What I don't like is how many of us there are who don't sleep well, and also, how we just accept that (its just that 'thing' we do for a third of our lives after all). Actually, it's seriously important.
Sleep can: help you lose weight, improve how well exercise works, delay the ageing process, reduce inflammatory markers (helps us avoid pesky illnesses like colds), reduce chronic pain, heal you and make you feel happy and sane, not to mention what it does for your intelligence and productivity. And it's free!
So what's the ultimate sleep cheat sheet? This is a guide I use myself, as a sleep expert- this is the stuff that I know works quickly and efficiently (and backed up by the science). You won't have to follow these rules forever - your sleep is a natural physiological process. It is supposed to work without you, it just needs to be re-set.
1. Set your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier or later if your sleep is regular but you're waking up groggy. We sleep in cycles from light to deep to other important stages. If you can hit a light stage when you wake up, you don't get that horrid groggy feeling.
2. Once you find this holy grail, keep a regular wake time- even at weekends. Wake time regulates everything we do. If you keep changing it, all the processes your body relies on to function are disrupted - including making you feel low, reducing your cognitive function and make you eat more. Worst of all, it mucks about with your sleep drive so you don't feel sleepy when you want to sleep at night.
3. Stop dictating when you go to sleep. Listen to what your body is saying - are you really sleepy (can't hold your eyes open) or are you just feeling fatigued, like you need to 'rest'? You need to learn the difference and build up that sleepy feeling before bed (even if it means going to bed late a few nights to start with) and soon you have a regular sleep time that won't involve staring up at the ceiling wishing for sleep to come.
4. Sleepy but you need to be alert? DON'T NAP UNLESS YOU REALLY HAVE TO. It will reduce your sleep need at night. However, there are emergencies. The best way to get alert fast is to have cup of coffee, then nap for no longer than 20 minutes. Be exact. Caffeine is not instantaneous. It needs time to work. Combine it with a short nap and the effects should rejuvenate you in the short term. Do it regularly, and your on a one way trip to insomnia land.
5. Alcohol makes you feel sleepy but it also causes disrupted sleep as soon as your body metabolises it. Don't use it as a sleep aid because these effects can become permenant. If your our partying, stop drinking half way through the night out and you may be able to avoid it affecting your sleep (along with reducing the hangover).
6. BEST thing you could learn: Good quality, short sleep is better for you than striving for 8 hours. Stop this expectation now. As soon as you let go of this notion, not sleeping starts to not bother you, and not bothering is the best way to sleep better. A small amount of sleep deprivation is actually good for your sleep. It helps reset your sleep wake cycle, and improves sleep in the long term.
Sleep well Sleepyheads!
If you fancy learning more about sleep or want help with a sleep disorder, visit www.sleepyheadclinic.co.uk.
*Do not drive if you are feeling sleepy*