How good sleep hygiene will help you beat insomnia

Preparing for bed properly and having a good routine is the key to getting the best night’s sleep. Sleep experts refer to preparation as 'sleep hygiene'.

Tonight, an estimated one in three of us will fail to get a decent night’s sleep, leaving us feeling tired and irritable the following day. For many this will be a result of poor sleep hygiene.

But our insomnia doesn’t have to turn into an ongoing nightmare, according to independent sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley. He says: “The beauty of most sleep problems is that we have the power to solve them ourselves.”

All it takes is a few lifestyle tweaks to make sure we fall asleep easily – and stay there. This is the key to developing good, long-lasting sleep hygiene.

How to develop good sleep hygiene

There are three steps to developing good sleep hygiene.

1. Have a consistent wind-down and evening routine

‘Most women flop into bed after a busy day without giving their brains or body a chance to unwind,’ says Dr Stanley. ‘Quite simply they’ve forgotten how to relax.”

Establish a 30-minute wind-down bedtime routine each night to programme your brain and body for sleep.

“Find something which relaxes you,” says Dr Stanley. We’re unique, so different things work for different people but try these basic guidelines:

  • A warm bath – dilates blood vessels in your extremities and cools the body once you leave the tub, mimicking the natural drop in temperature your body needs to sleep.
  • A hot milky drink – it contains tryptophan, a natural sleep-promoting amino acid. Snacks such as a banana or turkey sandwich contain it too. Avoid big meals.
  • Deep breathing, meditation or listening to soothing music. (Try this breathing technique: breathe through your nose, using your abdomen not your chest. Breathe in for three seconds, then out for three. Pause for three seconds before breathing in again. Repeat for three minutes)

Make sure you go to bed and get up at the same times every day. Choose a bedtime late enough to feel sleepy.

Write a to-do list at least an hour before bed. “It helps you put the day to one side so you can concentrate on relaxation,” says Dr Stanley.

Avoid the telly or computer. Brightly lit screens stimulate, rather than calm, your brain. Read a book or magazine instead.

Avoid strenuous exercise at least four hours before bed to give your body temperature a chance to cool.

2. Make your bedroom sleep-friendly

Keep your bedroom cool, and stick to light, cotton nightwear and bedding which isn’t too thick or bulky.

Make sure the room is dark and free of noise. Try blackout curtains or blinds, particularly in summer when sunlight streaming into your bedroom in the early hours can disrupt your sleep.

Your pillows and mattress should be supportive and comfortable and not too soft or hard. Go for the biggest bed you can, particularly if you’re sharing it – and ban pets from the bedroom. Then you’re less likely to get disturbed during the night.

3. Reduce alcohol and caffeine and increase exercise

“Behavior and lifestyle choices can influence sleep quality,” says Dr Stanley. If you’re a smoker, try to quit and reduce the amount of alcohol or caffeine you drink, especially in the six hours before bed. Alcohol may make you sleepy initially but will wake you when the effects wear off.

Physical activity is crucial for improved sleep quality and reducing anxiety. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes, five times a week, ideally outside. A brisk walk will do the trick.

Natural daylight can help regulate your natural sleep-wake cycle by suppressing the release of sleep-hormone melatonin.

If you have ongoing sleep issues seek advice from your GP