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Sleeping better

Illustration of a sleeping person with an eye mask on to improve the quality of their sleep

You know the feeling. The clock strikes 3, and you’re still wide awake. You’ve tried lying on your back, front, and both sides. You’ve counted thousands of sheep. Nothing seems to help. You just can’t switch off.

With sleep being as central to human life as food and water, it might seem strange that you sometimes struggle to get enough of it. But research shows 30% of adults experience insomnia symptoms.1 Thankfully, there are things you can do to fall asleep more easily so you wake up feeling refreshed.

Let’s take a look at why sleep is so important, what stops you from getting enough of it, and my top-5 bedtime tips to make sleep come more naturally.

Why is sleep so important?

Biologically speaking, we’re not exactly sure.

Scientists haven’t settled on a single theory to explain exactly why sleep is so important for your health.2 Current theories link sleep to energy conservation, restoration, and brain plasticity, that’s your brain’s ability to rewire and make new connections.3

What we do know is that most healthy adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, or they’ll start to feel tired and unproductive throughout the daytime. In the long term, poor sleep can lead to more serious problems with mental and physical health.4

What’s stopping you from sleeping?

Sleep is delicate. If you have an always-on, distraction-packed lifestyle, it can be difficult to stop your mind from whirring and wind down at night. Throw in the other common enemies to sleep like caffeine and alcohol, and it can become even more of a challenge. 

Sometimes, factors outside your control can also interrupt your sleep. It might be your neighbor’s newborn baby, working the night shift, or existing health conditions. But by improving your sleep hygiene, you can increase your chances of a good night's rest.

Learn more about sleeping better in our ‘Taking care of yourself’ video series.

How can you improve your sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene doesn’t mean having a shower before bed, although it might help. It means introducing habits that improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.5 Here are my top-5 tips for better sleep hygiene.

1. Get active during the day

Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise during the day gets your body ready for a good night’s sleep. Leave at least 1 hour between exercise and bedtime to give your body a chance to cool down.

2. Form a nighttime routine

A regular routine helps your body and mind prepare for sleep. Take a bath or shower and make a cup of herbal tea. If you can, commit to a bedtime that allows for 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Try to avoid screens for at least 1 hour before bed. If you still feel awake at the end of the day, breathing or relaxation techniques can help.

3. Create a relaxing sleep environment

Turn the lights off and make sure your bed is comfortable with the right pillows and blankets. Your bedroom should be cool, quiet, and dark – eye masks and earbuds help if you need them. Keep your phone in another room and use an alarm clock to wake you up if you need it. Try to limit the time you spend awake in your bedroom. 

4. Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption

Steer clear of tea, coffee, and other caffeinated beverages after lunch. Don’t forget: soft drinks often contain high levels of caffeine, so check the label or, even better, stick to water. Alcohol can also wreak havoc on sleep. You might drop off easier after a couple of glasses of wine, but drinking alcohol can interrupt and reduce the quality of your sleep. So skip the nightcap and get some real rest.

5. Get out of bed if you can’t sleep

If you find yourself lying awake for more than 20 minutes, get up and do something else for 10. Go for a short walk, meditate, or read a good old-fashioned paper book in a different room. Write down any thoughts that are swirling around your head. Sometimes it’s better to take the pressure off and try again after.

If you’re still struggling or experiencing breathing problems during sleep, reach out to a partner, employer, or friend for support, and contact your doctor. 

With just a few small changes, you can improve your sleep and lead a healthier, happier life. So raise a cup of herbal tea, turn off the lights, and here’s to a good night’s sleep.

  1. Roth, T. J. Clin. Sleep Med, (2007), PMID: 17824495

  2. StatPearls. “Physiology, Sleep Patterns.” Accessed May 2021

  3. Harvard. “Why do we sleep, anyway?” Accessed May 2021

  4. Watson, N.F., et al. J. Clin. Sleep Med, (2015), doi: 10.5664/jcsm.4758

  5. CDC. “Tips for better sleep.” Accessed May 2021