How to sleep deeper and wake up happy
The secret to getting a good night’s sleep starts from the moment you wake up. Here’s how you can make good days lead to better nights.
You’re in bed, duvet snuggled cosily around your neck, legs foetus-like, eyelids drifting until – ting! – can you believe the comment that stranger made earlier? You also forgot to call the bank and, crikey, it’s your sister’s birthday tomorrow.
Within seconds, your job, your family and a financial crisis have joined you in the sack: According to the NHS, a third of us will experience insomnia (problems getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next day), with causes spanning medical conditions such as stress, shift work, plus lifestyle factors like late-night news alerts, notifications, and your brain whirring like a washing machine’s spin cycle.
An entire industry around sleep-health has emerged, counting pounds as well as sheep – the sector was valued at $30 to $40 million in 2017i – and launching nocturnal aids from sleep trackers to temperature-adjusting mattresses.
No wonder we all want more of it!
However, sleep is about more than eight hours of shuteye. “Your body gets primed for sleep all day,” agrees sleep doctor Dr Michael Breus, author of The Power of When. And a good night’s sleep helps reduce stress, improves memory, lowers blood pressure, helps your body fight off infection and puts you in an overall better mood.
This is how to accrue sleep during your hours awake:
8am: Become a daylight addict
Bright light regulates your body clock. “After dawn, outdoor light is 50-100 times brighter than office lighting. By noon, 500-1000 times,” reveals Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at the University of Oxford. So, eat breakfast by a window, take breaks outside, and always bag that window seat.
1pm: Take a walk
A new study in Sleep Healthii found that the more steps people racked up by day, the better their sleep quality.
4pm: Sip your last coffee
Coffee revs up the nervous system, interfering with your wind-down. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicineiii found that caffeine consumed six hours before bed still disrupted sleep.
5pm: Write away your whirring
Sleep scuppered by a brain in planning mode? Long before bed, write it all down. This paper-based purge should relax your inner worrier.
6pm: Reduce blue light from devices
6.30pm: Finish intense workouts 3-4 hours before bed
Exercise’s increased alertness is not your friend at 1am. Move workouts earlier, or go low-impact – i.e. yin yoga, stretching.
7.30pm: Eat two hours ahead of lights out
Ideally earlier. Avoid heavy, rich, spicy or acidic foods, which can cause stomach trouble and heartburn. Foods like almonds, walnuts, kiwis and fatty fishes can enhance your sleep quality.
9pm: Skip social media 90 minutes before bed
Ditto emails and stimulating Netflix shows, which are all designed to keep you up and on. Relax: The Crown will still be there tomorrow.
9.15pm: Have a bath
Researchiv shows the tub can improve how deeply you snooze. In fact, just soaking your feet in hot water can help you drop off fasterv.
10pm: Go easy on liquids
‘Nocturia’ is the official term for peeing more than once during the night, which is oh-so annoying. (Though good knowledge for pub quizzes). Cut back on fluids 1–2 hours before bed.
12am: Beware sleep trackers
Wearable bands, plus ‘nearables’ that you pop on your bedside table, monitor your sleep and give feedback. But new thinking is that they could make sleeplessness worse, via a pre-bed anxiety called ‘orthosomnia’ – paranoia about achieving perfect sleep. Obsessing? It’s OK to snooze the very tech that’s supposed to help you.