How to Have a Good Night's Sleep Every Night

How well did you sleep last night?  And for how long?  Most of us aren't getting anywhere near the amount of sleep we need to function properly and to prevent physical or mental ill health.  There are ways to get better sleep every night.  Read on to find out how to have more restful, restorative sleep every night.

Sleep is something most of us feel we need more of, a lot more of!  Busy lives lit by artificial lighting mean many of us are on the go for much of each 24 hour period, far greater proportions than our ancestors would have been.  On top of that there are lengthy working hours, family commitments, social lives we wish to maintain, chores to do, and (lots) of TV to watch.  When we finally get to bed, many of us are kept awake replaying the day's events, or fretting about tomorrow's to do lists.  Phew, no wonder such a large proportion of us report being tired all the time!

We're all familiar with the effect a period of sleeping badly has on us, but do you know exactly what happens to your body and mind when you don't get enough sleep?

The simple fact is that, as much as your daytime mood, depends on how much good sleep you've had, your daytime choices and activities impact on how well you will sleep at night.  It could be an eternal vicious circle or, by tweaking what you do during the day, you could guarantee yourself a good night's sleep.  Here's how to have a good night's sleep, every night.

Find Your Rhythm

Everyone's Circadian Rhythm is different and by tapping into your own natural patterns you will work, play and sleep better.  You probably know already whether you are a lark or a night owl, but take some time, during a holiday say, to monitor your body's natural sleep-wake rhythm.  What are your optimum* sleep and wake times?  What is the length of your sleep cycle?  For most people this will be 90 minutes, but not for all.

Think of natural sleep as a 90 minute cycle and aim to wake naturally at the end of one rather than being interrupted mid-cycle by a ghastly alarm clock!  Allow 15 minutes to fall asleep and 15 to wake up, plus as many 90 minute cycles as you can manage.  So the recommended 8 hours would be optimum (5 x 90 mins).

*To find your optimal sleep schedule, choose a week or two when you have no particular agenda for the morning, and note down your sleeping and waking times.  A pattern should emerge that shows your natural sleep schedule.

Set Your Bedtime

Once you know your optimum sleep and wake times, adjust your schedule accordingly.  Work flexi hours if you can, or shift your work time earlier or later if you are self-employed.  Do as much as you can to adapt to your body's natural cycle.  Some people have even changed jobs for this very reason!  Set a bedtime and wake time and stick to it, every night.

If your lifestyle allows, give in to the siesta.  Human beings are naturally programmed to have an afternoon nap, especially after eating.  Just 20 minutes with your eyes closed, even if you don't sleep, between 1-4pm can offer enormous benefits.

Regulate Your Sleep-Wake Cycle

The naturally occurring hormone melatonin regulates your sleep-wake cycle, and it is controlled by exposure to light.  Your brain is designed to secrete more in the evening as it gets dark, to make you sleepy, and less during the day when it’s light and you want to stay awake and alert.  Unfortunately, modern life often disrupts this natural pattern.  If you spend all day indoors, out of the sun, your melatonin levels may rise, making you sleepy.  And at night, as your body prepares for sleep, artificial light and flickering TV, phone and computer screens, will suppress natural melatonin secretion, making it harder to sleep when you finally switch everything off.

Get plenty of daylight and exercise every 90 minutes or so during the day if you have a sedentary job.  Some stretches and a walk round the office - or preferably outside - will help immeasurably.

  • Increase light exposure during the day by spending time outside without sunglasses in the morning.
  • Take work breaks outside as often as possible, take an afternoon walk, get outside as much as possible.
  • Introducing 20-30 minutes' light exercise a day will help you sleep better too.
  • Open the curtains wide at home and let in as much natural light as possible.
  • At work, move your desk closer to the window.
  • Invest in a light therapy box or clock to simulate daylight, we recommend Lumie.
  • Turn off the TV, phone, computer etc at least an hour before bed.  Relax with music or relaxation tapes, or read a book (not a Kindle!) instead.
  • Keep lights as low as possible in the evening.  Change to low wattage bulbs, or install a dimmer switch.
  • Keep the bedroom as dark as possible: the darker it is, the better you will sleep.

Melatonin also has antioxidant effects, so your whole body will benefit from a better sleep-wake cycle.

Create a Peaceful Haven

The place you sleep should be restful, peaceful, comfortable, and have relaxing sleep associations.

  • Keep your bed just for sleep and - ahem - other horizontal activities.  Never do work or other chores in bed, although you may read a (real) book with a low sidelight if you wish to.
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable, choose the best bed you can.
  • Change your pillow annually.
  • Invest in the best quality pure cotton bed linen you can.  It is more comfortable to sleep on and adapts better to your body's changing temperature during the night.
  • Remove all electrical devices, apart from a lamp.
  • Turn your phone off and leave it in another room.
  • Keep unavoidable external noise out with ear plugs.
  • Make sure the room is cool, 18° C is best.
  • Leave a window ajar, preferably on the opposite side of the room for air but no draught.


Try to avoid all technology for at least 90 minutes before bed.  If you have pressing e-mails or a to do list spinning round your head, write it down and put the paper/notebook away till tomorrow.  The physical act of removing the issues from your self will put it out of your mind and allow rest to take over.

Needless to say, no technology in the bedroom.  Certainly no phones or computers, but TVs etc will also create an electromagnetic field which interferes with your sleep.

Adopt a Bedtime Routine

A relaxing bedtime routine will cue your body to relax and enable an easier transition to sleep.

  • Don't eat for at least 90 minutes before bed
  • Take a warm bath
  • Listen to soft music or a relaxation CD
  • Do some easy stretches or yoga
  • Listen to books read aloud, or read a book or magazine by a soft light

Put Worries to Bed

Two hours or more before bed, make a to do list for the next day, a shopping list, and a list of anything else you need to get out of your head!  Put it all down on paper and deal with in the morning.

If work cuts into your sleeping hours, practice some time management techniques.

Reduce stress and anxiety throughout life to make sleep better and stop you waking with worries in the night.  Learn stress management techniques, have cognitive therapy, or seek hypnotherapy, anything to help reduce your stress and anxiety and help you get better sleep.

Adopting relaxation techniques will benefit all of us, and they are a great way to calm the mind, wind down, and prepare body and mind for sleep.  You could try:

  • Deep diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation from the toes up, consciously tensing and relaxing each part of the body.
  • Simple visualisations of calm and peaceful places can help.  Picture yourself in a relaxing place, e.g. the beach, and think of 3 things you can see, 3 you can hear, feel, smell, and taste.  Then think of 3 more of each, and then 3 more, and on.

Eat Well

  • Caffeine can still be affecting your body 10 to 12 hours after drinking, so be careful how much you imbibe.  It may be best to avoid caffeine from lunchtime onwards.

  • Don't eat a large meal late at night, and try to avoid eating any rich foods during the two hours before bed.

  • Avoid alcohol at night as it tends to cause restless sleep.

  • If you feel ravenous in the morning, or even wake up hungry at night, a light snack before bed will help.

  • Tryptophan-rich foods combined with carbohydrates will aid sleep for many people, these include cereal with milk; granola with yogurt; or a banana.

Don't Panic!

It is actually quite normal to wake during the night, as we all rouse slightly after each sleep cycle,  but usually don't remember doing so.  If you do wake up properly during the night, don't worry about it.  Stressing about being awake, or trying to force yourself to go back to sleep will probably lead you to tossing and turning and waking up even more.  Instead, try to relax, practice your relaxation techniques, and let sleep come.  Make relaxation your goal, not sleep.

If you wake during the night worrying about something, or with an idea, jot it down on a notepad and resolve to deal with it in the morning. Then let sleep take over again.

Stick to these tips and change your lifestyle accordingly and you should be able to get a great night's sleep every night, leaving you full of energy and mental acuity for the day ahead!

Sleep tight.

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