How to fall asleep faster and how to sleep better once we do drift off have been topics of debate for centuries.
Sometimes, drifting off can feel like the last thing your mind wants to do. No matter how exhausted your body may be. Thoughts of the day, anxiety, worries, and thinking about what you need to get done the next day might consume you. But getting a good night’s kip is more important than ever – especially with the news that sleeping can actually make you more productive.
A recent study found that those who get more shut eye are more likely to identify as ‘productive people’. In addition to this, they also said they felt more happy and confident throughout the day. Ready to get your best night’s sleep? Read on…
How much sleep do we need?
Although conventional wisdom tells us we need eight hours a night, that doesn’t apply to everyone. The amount of rest you need is very individual. The key is how refreshed you feel when you awake, which is influenced by the different types of sleep you get. About 75% should be non-REM (the start of the sleep cycle), and 25% Rapid Eye Movement (REM) (usually when you dream).
Deep sleep is the most essential of all for feeling rested and staying healthy. Recent statistics show that the average healthy adult gets roughly 1 to 2 hours of deep sleep every night. You can monitor yours with a sleep app or a fitness tracker, like FitBit.
The brain allocates the correct proportions in the amounts you need, and if you wake up feeling refreshed then you are getting enough. New research suggests that the optimum number of hours is actually seven, rather than the eight we usually associate with a good night’s rest. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine analysed sleep-time data and concluded that if you get less than seven hours on a regular basis, you could be more at risk of hypertension, diabetes, stroke and other cardiovascular and metabolic disorders.
Alison Cullen, Nutritional Therapist at A.Vogel agrees with this. She says that achieving less than seven hours sleep per night makes you more likely to develop a cold than if you slept for eight hours. ‘One hour extra a night will strengthen your immune system, make you more resistant to the effects of stress and reduce inflammatory processes,’ she revealed.
When is the best time to sleep?
Nutritionist Rob Hobson is also author of Art of Sleeping. He explains that our sleep-wake patterns are determined by our circadian rhythm.
‘Circadian rhythms are roughly 24-hour cycles that occur in the physiological processes of living beings – including plants, animals, fungi and cyanobacteria – and exist in every cell in the body, helping to set sleep patterns by governing the flow of hormones and other biological processes. Circadian rhythms are controlled by the body’s internal clock and influenced by environmental factors such as light and temperature; the sleep/wake cycle is an example of a light-related circadian rhythm that determines our pattern of sleep,’ he explains.
In the evening, our body starts releasing melatonin, the ‘sleep hormone’. This makes us feel less alert. Rob adds that melatonin production occurs between 9pm and 11pm, which would make this window the optimal time to get to bed.
What are the types of sleep?
Rob describes the ‘structural organisation of normal sleep’as ‘sleep architecture’. He says that sleep can be divided into two groups: non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM).
‘As the name suggests, REM sleep is characterised by rapid eye movements as your pulse and breathing quickens, but the rest of your body remains motionless. It is during REM sleep that you’re more likely to dream, and this is also the stage that occurs before you wake up’, says Rob.
He adds that a single sleep cycle is made of four stages, each lasting 90 minutes. These alternate throughout the night. The first three stages are NREM, making up around 75% of the cycle, and the final stage is REM.
All of these stages are important, in fact, stages one to three help strengthen the immune system! The fourth REM stage is focused on the brain; your brain is actually most active during this stage.
How to fall asleep faster
Lying awake at night is never fun.
But there are a few things you can do to speed up the falling-asleep process. Rob says that we should think of our bedroom as a ‘slumber palace’, reserved exclusively for sleep. And sex.
Plus, aim to keep it dark. ‘Any light can suppress the secretion of melatonin so try and keep your bedroom dark by using black out blinds or investing in a sleep mask,’ says Rob. He adds: ‘During the day, expose yourself to plenty of natural light as this can help to boost mood and make you feel more energised. This in turn can have a positive effect on your ability to sleep at night.’
As well as this, keep tech away from the bedroom! Rob explains that the blue light emitted by tech devices shifts the phases of the circadian rhythm and surpresses melatonin.
Finally, warming your body can help send you off to sleep.
‘Warming your body by bathing can help to promote sleep, but to harness these effects, timing is key. The best time to take a bath is at least one hour before you hit the hay, as this gives your body enough time to cool down to its optimum sleep temperature,’ says Rob.
How to fall asleep in five minutes
‘Take a slow, deep breath in as you tense and hold the muscle for 5–10 seconds. Focus on the difference between tense and relaxed muscles. Don’t tense too hard and repeat twice for each muscle group.’
A few tips from Rob…
Open your mouth wide enough to stretch the hinges of your jaw.
Raise your eyebrows as far as you can.
Clench your eyelids tightly shut.
Raise your shoulders up to touch your ears.
Is there a difference between how well men and women sleep?
Every wondered why your husband always seems to get a better night’s rest than you? Well now there’s scientific evidence to explain it. Scientists have found that men and women’s circadian clocks are set differently.
Canadian research has shown that women’s natural rhythms are two hours ahead of men’s – which means women are often fighting their natural body clock to stay awake at night! This can often lead to problems sleeping at night and feelings of exhaustion in the morning. This new research shows women are 50% more likely to struggle with sleep than men.
Expert tips for better sleep
-Rich colours such as purple, gold or red stimulate you, resulting in poor sleep. Bedrooms painted blue tend to see the best rest, followed by green and yellow.
-Your choice of pyjamas is key when trying to get a good night’s sleep, according to Professor Jason Ellis, director of the Northumbria Centre for Sleep Research. He recommends opting for cotton or silk because, ‘These two allow you to breathe and they help regulate your own body temperature.’
-Nutritional therapist, Alison Cullen says, ‘As you breathe out, you signal to the parasympathetic nervous system to instruct your body to calm down. Breathing exercises, whereby you breathe out for longer than you breathe in, will keep you zen-like.’
-A daytime nap could help! ‘Napping for up to 30 minutes during the day can help you to reap the benefits if you need to do so and in line with the concept of planning your sleep in cycles, this can help you to catch up on sleep lost for every 90 minute cycle missed during the night, says Rob. Aim to nap between 1 and 3pm.
-Diet plays a key role in sleep. Rob suggests avoiding caffeine 6 to 8 hours before bed, swerving spicy food at dinner time and keeping your alcohol intake to a minimum.
Products for a better night’s sleep
Cloud-like comfort This is a lightweight, ridiculously soft 100% Eucalyptus Duvet with breezy airflow for a sweat-free sleep.
£139.99 for a double, melacomfort.co.uk
Kalms Lavender One-A-Day Capsules is a traditional herbal medicinal product used for the temporary relief of the symptoms of mild anxiety such as stress and nervousness, exclusively based on long standing use as a traditional herbal remedy.
Kalms Lavender One-A-Day capsules, £7.16, Boots
Pure Sport CBD oil is designed to relieve aches and pains, benefit sleep and anxiety, and aid in relaxation and performance. Take a few drops under your tongue before bed for a deeper nights sleep (waking up more refreshed & rested), or add to your morning smoothie for a calmer and more focused day.
500mg CBD Oil Tincture – 30ml Broad Spectrum 0% THC, £34.99, puresportcbd.com
Bee Rested sleep support 20 capsules, £13.99
These contain 9 therapeutic ingredients including bee propolis extract, royal jelly, humulus lupulus, Montmorency cherry, saffron and magnesium. Lavender helps you to find better sleep while chamomile contributes to relaxation and helps to maintain sleep, and griffonia seed extract provides 5- HTP, a substance which converts into serotonin and then melatonin – the sleep hormone.
Wake up feeling great with dream catching pulse point roller balls made with 100% natural pure essential oils. Contains Breathe Deep, True Comfort and Sleep Better Pulse Point Roller Balls.
Tisserand Little Box of Sleep Rollerball Kit 3x10ml, RRP £8.96, Holland & Barrett
Magnesium Sleep Lotion is clinically proven to improve sleep quality, enabling you to wake more refreshed. Just 5ml of Magnesium Sleep Lotion delivers a minimum of 150mg (43% RDA) of optimally absorbable elemental magnesium!
BetterYou Magnesium Sleep Mineral Lotion 180ml, RRP £9.95, Holland & Barrett
Studies suggest that ashwagandha can help our bodies to restore balance by providing adrenal support and balancing the stress hormone cortisol.
Ashwagandha, £19.95, LinkNutrition.com
Dr Teal's Foaming Bath transforms an ordinary bath into a relaxing spa with luxurious essential oils to soothe the senses, relax tense muscles and provide relief from stress. Lavender essence has soothing properties that are known to encourage a better night's sleep.
Dr Teal's Pure Epsom Salt Foaming Bath Soothe & Sleep with Lavender 1L, £7.60, Boots
This portable device is ideal for creating a calming environment as it delivers soothing and room-filling sounds to block exterior noise pollution. With four sleep therapy sounds and three noise tones; white, pink and brown, you should get a good night’s sleep.
HoMedics Deep Sleep Mini, RRP £49.99, homedics.co.uk