How to get a good night’s sleep in 13 easy steps

What is sleep?

Sleep is a psychological behaviour shared among all animal species. You actually spend around 1/3 of your life asleep! When you're asleep you don't turn off completely, but your awareness of your environment and surrounding stimuli is significantly reduced.

How does sleep change during the night?

When you sleep you go through between four and five sleep cycles, and each of these are formed by four sleep stages. These stages are further divided into two categories, being rapid-eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. The first three stages are include non-REM sleep:

  • Stage 1: short, represents nodding off and transitioning into sleep.
  • Stage 2: body and mind slow down as you fall asleep (it’s easier to be woken up during this stage).
  • Stage 3: or deep sleep, body and mind slow down even more.
  • Stage 4: REM sleep. In this stage, your brain returns to an activity similar to when you’re awake. This is the stage associated with your most vivid dreams.

Each sleep cycle takes from 70 to 120 minutes. The first cycle is spent in non-REM sleep, whereas REM sleep characterises the second half of the night.

Why do we need sleep?

Sleep allows your body and mind to recharge, helping you feel more refreshed and alert when you wake up. Good sleep also helps your body stay healthy and avoid diseases. Lack of sleep can affect your brain: it can impede you from functioning properly, concentrating, thinking and processing memories.

Some people may also become tolerant to sleep deprivation, meaning that even though they are tired, they may not be aware of their condition because a lack of sleep is normal to them.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia it’s a sleep problem which affects up to one in three people. Symptoms of insomnia are:

  • finding it hard to go to sleep
  • wake up regularly during the night
  • lie awake at night
  • wake up early and cannot go back to sleep
  • tiredness after waking up
  • finding it hard to nap even when feeling tired
  • feeling tired and irritable during the day
  • it’s hard to concentrate because you’re feeling tired

How many hours of sleep do you need?

Everyone is different and because of this, we all need a different amount of sleeping hours:

  • adults: 7 to 9 hours
  • children: 9 to 13 hours
  • toddlers and babies: 12 to 17 hours

Causes of insomnia:

  • stress, anxiety or depression
  • noise
  • being too hot or too cold
  • an uncomfortable bed
  • alcohol and caffeine
  • recreational drugs (i.e., cocaine or ecstasy)
  • jet lag
  • shift work

12 steps for a goodnight sleep

Avoid blue light before going to sleep

Screens that radiate lights towards the blue end of the spectrum stimulate a lower production of melatonin, the sleep inducing hormone. For this reason, it’s recommended that you stop using any devices emitting this light, such as tablets, smartphones, computers two hours before your bedtime. However, if you can’t help yourself it’s a good thing to turn down the brightness of your device, or turn on “Reading Mode”.

Take a hot bath or shower

Before you go to sleep your body temperature decreases. Having a hot bath or shower increases your body temperature, which drops again once you get out: this signals your body that you’re ready for sleep. So, take a bath or shower immediately before going to sleep.

Avoid alcohol

We don’t mean avoid alcohol completely, but simply stop alcohol intake during the hours before bed: although it might help you get a bit dozy, it can also disrupt your dreaming and lead to snoring.

The 90 minute rule

When you sleep your body goes through numerous 90-minute sleep cycles. When you wake towards the end of a cycle you feel good; this is because you are closer to your normal waking state and you will feel woozy whenever you wake up during your deep sleep cycle. To increase the chances of waking up at the end of the sleep cycle, decide at what time you’re aiming to wake up and count back in 90 minutes blocks to find out what’s the best time for you to fall asleep. So for example, if you want to wake up at 8 am, you should fall asleep at about 11 pm or 12.30 am.

Keep your brain busy

Research has shown that you fall asleep quickly when you tire your brain. Some ways to do this are, for example, counting backwards from 100 in threes; or choose a category, for example UK cities or towns, and then come up with an example for each letter of the alphabet: A for Ascot, B for Bournemouth etc.

The to do list

Too many thoughts or worries in your mind? Keep a notepad next to your bed and write them down before going to bed, this will help you fall asleep more easily.

Fake it

Your body can be tricked into either feeling happy (by smiling) or sad (by frowning). The same thing goes for sleep: let your eyes droop, your arms and legs feel heavy and even fake a yawn.

Stay awake

Use the power of your mind to keep your eyes open and stay awake whenever you want to doze off: this will tire you, helping you fall asleep. Remember, you can blink but avoid reading, watching the telly or moving about.

Educate yourself

The famous Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov rang a bell each time he fed a dog; he eventually discovered that the sound of the bell was enough to make the dog salivate. You could do a similar thing to help you fall asleep: find a soothing music or a white noise, and fall asleep while it’s playing. Your body over time will associate the sound with sleep.

Distract your mind

You woke in the middle of the night and you’re struggling to fall back asleep after 20 minutes? Then get up and do something, don’t just lie there. Get distracted by solving a jigsaw puzzle or by colouring a book (avoid screens). By doing so, you prevent your body from associating your bed with sleeplessness.

Relax, take it eeeasy!

Lying on your bed awake, staring at the ceiling can make a lot of people anxious, making it hard for them to fall back asleep. If this happens to you, tell yourself that you’re probably getting more sleep than you think and that you should relax.

The segmented Sleep

Pre-industrial revolution medical books reveal that, back in those days people never really slept in one solid block; instead, they slept for about four hours, then woke up for an hour, and then fell asleep for another four hours. The hour’s break in between the two four-hour sleep periods were used for reading, thinking, chatting and having sex. This “segmented sleep” has been found to be good for your mind as it increases the production of prolactin, a feel good hormone.

Curl up under a Weighted Blanket

Weighted blankets are a great tool to help get your body in the right state for sleep, by reducing levels of cortisol they enable your body to boost levels of melotonin, which puts you in a drowsy mood. The deep touch pressure from a weighted blanket can also raise levels of serotonin and dopamine, to help soothe your mood. If you'd like to buy a weighted blanket, our best weighted blanket for the sofa is our Knitted Weighted Blanket, our standard Weighted Blanket is best used as a weighted duvet on your bed.

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