Feeling tired and grumpy some days? You’re probably sleep-deprived, and you’re not alone. One in three of us suffer – and it’s no good for our health. Sleeping badly can mean poor eating habits, putting on weight, even forgetting where you left the car keys. It also weakens your immune system, and makes you more prone to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and poor mental health.

But there’s some good news. Assuming you don’t have a sleep disorder, there’s lots you can do to get the six to nine hours you need. At bedtime, try to line up these things. Your body needs a cooler temperature, a lower heart rate and more oxygen. It also needs help from the sleep hormone melatonin, and a healthy batch of sleepiness built up during the day.

Here are the best ways to make it happen:

  1. Stick to a schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. This trains your brain and body clock to get used to a healthy routine. Don’t try to catch up on sleep after a bad night, as this habit disrupts your routine.
  2. Try power naps. If work and family mean you can’t keep a schedule, short naps can help. Keep them under 20 minutes though, to avoid feeling groggy when you wake up.
  3. Exercise most days, but not too late. Regular exercise helps you sleep. But it’s best to get your workout done at least two hours before you hit the sack. That’s because you want your core temperature to be low when your head hits the pillow. 
  4. De-caffeinate your drinks. If that’s a big ask, then at least keep your coffee habit to mornings. Caffeine hangs around in your body for many hours. So even a cappuccino after lunch can keep you restless that night.
  5. Try alcohol-free beer and wine. Booze is bad before bed, as it disturbs your sleep – without you even realising. Because boozy sleep is not continuous, it’s not restoring mind and body. This is why your brain doesn’t work very well the following day.
  6. Don’t eat too late. Steer clear of large meals, sugary snacks and drinks late at night. If you’re really peckish, choose a snack with protein, fibre and good fats.
  7. Let your tiredness build up. If you’re a poor sleeper, avoid naps. Our bodies build up a natural tiredness during the day, and we need this to get to sleep. So don’t get in its way. Daylight plays a big part in your daily sleep patterns, so try to get thirty minutes of natural sunlight every day. 
  8. Take 20 minutes to unwind.  A relaxing activity before bedtime should be part of your routine. That might mean reading or listening to music, to help your mind calm down. Some people like to use meditation or breathing exercises to bring down their heart rate.
  9. Take a hot bath. When you get out of a bath, heat goes from your core to your skin. You’ll look flushed but your body temperature actually goes down. That’s a recipe for a good night’s sleep – especially if the bath is part of your relaxing routine.
  10. Embrace the darkness. Plan your bedroom to make sure the light stays outside. This will help you get to sleep and stay that way. Thick curtains are useful, especially if they keep out external noise. Say goodbye to powerful overhead lights, and use lowered, dim light where you spend your evening hours. 
  11. Stay cool. Central heating and a good night’s sleep don’t go well together. Keep your bedroom slightly chilly at night – for any geeks out there, sleep experts recommend 18.3 degrees. 
  12. Protect sleep and intimacy. Your bedroom should be a haven and sanctuary. Try to keep it that way, uncluttered, to escape the stresses of your waking life. People who sleep well build a strong link in their minds between sleep and their bedroom. They don’t weaken that link by adding a TV, gadgets or a poor mattress.
  13. Banish your smartphone. A hormone called melatonin is held back by the blue screen light of our gadgets. That’s not good because we need melatonin to sleep. One study showed that using an iPad suppressed it by over 50% during the night (compared to reading a paperback). You could invest in software that cuts down harmful blue light as evening goes on. 
  14. Don’t lie awake for long. It’s better to get up and do something quiet until the urge to sleep returns. Remember the importance of association – the bedroom isn’t the place to lie down and worry. If you’re a clock-watcher, hide that clock!

Find out more:

NHS sleepstation website

Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams