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. But how much sleep do we really need? And how can we fall asleep faster at night? And stay asleep for longer without that dreaded 5am stir?
How much ‘deep sleep’ do I 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.
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.
Try these expert-approved tricks to sleep better tonight
Rob Hudson is a Healthspan registered nutritionist and author of The Art of Sleeping. He explains, "Long term chronic stress has the biggest impact on your immune system and can lead to depression, anxiety and high blood pressure as well as increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke."
Battling long-term stress and the factors that have caused it is not an overnight activity though. By taking on some form of counselling or therapy, such as the sessions available through by Mindbox, will help you to unravel the causes of your stress and get a better night's sleep in the long run.
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.
Speaking on the Yahoo News UK's podcast Britain is a Nation of… the researcher argued that our choice of night-time attire is vital for regulating body temperature as we get 40 winks.
He recommends opting for cotton or silk because, “These two allow you to breathe and they help regulate your own body temperature.”
Continuing he added, “The difficulty comes because as women get to a certain age they are going to have hot flashes in the night and that’s going to compound the problem of that temperature regulation.”
We love the lightweight linen range from The White Company.
Weighted blankets have seen a huge surge in popularity recently, as people are buying them to relieve stress and help them sleep. They are made to offer a light and evenly distributed weight across your body to mimic the feeling of being hugged and held. Research from 2015 suggested that a weighted blanket was specifically helpful for those with insomnia, helping them to improve their sleeping patterns.
The highly-acclaimed Simba weighted blanket is still in stock, but if you're looking for a more affordable option John Lewis offers a great alternative.
Light is a common sleep "robber" so invest in a pair of of well-lined curtains, which keep the room dark.
You can also invest in a good quality eye mask to keep out the light and soothe your eyes while you sleep.
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."
Mindbox has over 40 different techniques to help you overcome feelings of anxiety and stress, in the form of audio and videos to watch. So whether you're nervous for something that's happening the following day or just can't shake the feelings of stress, you've got something to help you out.
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.
Feeling too hot or too cold in the night can lead to restless sleep and wakefulness. The ideal temperature is between 16 and 18 degrees - and your bed linen can have a lot to do with whether you reach the right temperature or not.
"Light bedsheets and PJs will help you get a better night’s sleep," Dr Frankie Jackson-Spence, a sleep expert who is working with bedding brand DUSK on a new lighter range of bedding. "DUSK’s Wimbledon collection is extremely lightweight and perfect for keeping cool, if you're looking for new bedding."
While intense activity one hour before you try and go to sleep will keep you awake, just moving once every hour throughout the day will help you sleep better at night.
This is because exercise helps melatonin, known as the sleep hormone, to work more effectively.
A high-tech pillow, such as the Casper pillow, can aid your sleep greatly by ensuring your neck is supported and spine is aligned.
The 100% cotton cover features a breathable percale weave. When paired with the silky fibres inside, the cover increases airflow, so you’re always sleeping on the cool side of the pillow.
Use the right duvet tog for the time of year and layer sheets or blankets, which can be removed easily. If you get cold feet, wear bed socks (luxurious cashmere versions are available from The White Company and Brora).
Sudden noises disrupt sleep. Double-glazing reduces external noise, but a cheaper option is a good pair of earplugs.
And if you do wake up and can't get back to sleep? Don't just lie there.
"If you struggle to sleep for a long period of time, get out of bed" Dr Frankie told us. "This will help ensure your brain only associates the bed with sleep."
The bedroom should be a haven for calm and relaxation so banish your mobile, computers, TV and anything else that's likely to distract from sleep or wake you up once you've nodded off.