The amount of sleep we all need varies. The average is about eight hours but some of us may need more or less.
We can cope with sleeping less for a few nights at a time, but prolonged sleep deprivation can have nasty effects such as an increased risk of obesity, heart disease and stroke.
Roughly one in three adults in the UK suffer from insomnia on a regular basis, which is defined as a habitual inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. People with insomnia may find that they struggle to get to sleep, or that they wake up throughout the night and do not feel rested once they wake up.
Having insomnia may affect your ability to concentrate, to drive or operate machinery, to work, study and can even affect your relationships. One way to help with insomnia or other sleep problems is to try to improve your ‘sleep hygiene’.
Sleep hygiene refers to practices or habits that can aid sleep. Regularly practising sleep hygiene can improve the quality and quantity of your sleep, particularly if you are suffering from insomnia or poor sleep.
Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time each day is helpful for getting your body into a routine. You should then start to feel tired around the same time each day, which is when you can start to wind down and prepare for bed. It is normal for your sleep patterns to shift slightly over the weekend, so don’t worry about this. If you work shifts that consistently disrupt your sleep pattern, you may end up suffering from shift work sleep disorder.
Good sleep hygiene involves making sure that you are feeling fully relaxed before you go to bed. How you relax is up to you, but you may find that a warm bath, hot drink or engaging in an activity that you find calming, such as reading or colouring in, may help you to unwind.
Reading from a tablet has been shown to affect sleep quality, and you should try and avoid looking at screens as much as possible before bed. This may mean putting your mobile or tablet to one side an hour before bed, and reading from a book or device without a backlight.
Walking into your bedroom should signify to your body that it is time for bed, which is why you should limit the activities you do in your bedroom. Studying, working, watching TV or working out in your bedroom are not recommended. This can be difficult, especially if you are in shared accommodation or live in a studio apartment, but try to section off your bed from the rest of the room in some way (with a partition or curtain, for example) if you can’t avoid using your bedroom for other things.
You should also ensure that your bedroom is the right temperature (between 18-24C) and that it is as dark as possible. If your bedroom is noisy, consider getting some earplugs.
Eating a heavy meal before bedtime, or drinking too much alcohol or caffeine can disrupt your sleep. Other foods such as spicy food or meals containing garlic or chilli can also affect your sleep and may cause digestive problems.
A comfortable bed and mattress can make all the difference to your sleep. If you find you are waking up with a sore back or do not feel comfortable when lying in bed, you might want to consider changing your bed or mattress.
You may find that keeping a ‘sleep diary’ or tracking your sleep and related behaviours (e.g. how much alcohol and caffeine you drink, what you did before you went to bed) through an app may help you identify patterns in your sleep and identify what helps you sleep better.
If these methods do not work for you and you are still suffering from insomnia after a month or so, you are advised to visit your doctor, a sleep diary can be a useful resource to take with you.