9 top tips for sleeping

Struggling to nod off? Oxford's Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences has some ideas for how to train your body and mind to get ready for sleep...

  1. Make your bedroom sleep-friendly
    1. Is there anything obvious in your bedroom that's getting in the way of a good night’s sleep? Do you need to get your blinds fixed to block out the light? Is your bedroom too hot or too cold? Too noisy? Create a bedroom space that's as dark and comfortable to get the best sleep.
  2. Take time to wind down
    1. You need to prepare your mind and body for sleep. So set time aside, ideally around 90 minutes, for doing something relaxing and enjoyable. Some ideas might include reading a book, listening to calming music, or practising relaxation exercises. If you find your mind is racing when you head to bed, you could use part of this time to find a way to close your day - like write a diary to take the power out of your thoughts, or make a plan of the things that you'd like to do the following day to stop these thoughts popping up when you're in bed.
  3. Remember - your bed is for sleeping
    1. Our minds are clever and create lots of links without us necessarily being aware. So it’s important to create a strong link between bed and sleep by avoiding using your bed for activities that aren't sleep-focussed, like playing video games, checking emails, or watching TV. 
  4. Have a 15-minute rule
    1. If you have difficulties sleeping you’ve probably noticed that you spend lots of time in bed but awake. This means that bed might become connected with sleeplessness and feeling frustrated or anxious about sleep. To promote your bed-and-sleep connection, follow the 15-minute rule: if you notice that you aren’t asleep within around 15 minutes of going to bed, try getting out of bed and going to another room to do something else for a bit (something relaxing!) until you're feeling tired.
  5. Quit the lie-ins
    1. It can be tempting to try and catch up on lost hours by having a lie-in. In fact, this is likely to decrease the chance of a good night's sleep the following night, because you won’t have built up enough ‘sleep pressure’ throughout the day. Setting a regular get-up time and sticking to it might be hard work in the short term, but will improve your chances of falling asleep each night. And to help with getting out of bed try planning some things to get you going - maybe a loud and lively piece of music, a nice breakfast, or a shower. 
  6. Keep active
    1. Keeping active can set us up for a good night’s sleep, both physically and emotionally. Keep active to tire your body ready for sleep (e.g. walking, yoga, cycling) but try to make sure this isn’t too close to bedtime (ie. within 2 hours of bedtime) or it will make you feel more awake!  
  7. Watch the late-night snacks
    1. You want to give your body the message that the later part of the evening is for switching off. So try to avoid stimulants such as caffeine in the hours before bed. And consider the timing of meals – the purpose of food is to supply energy, so eat at regular times through the day and avoid eating within four hours of bedtime. 
  8. Stay away from bright lights
    1. Natural light suppresses the production of melatonin (a hormone associated with sleep). Try to avoid bright light before bedtime (particularly things with lots of blue light, such as TV or your phone) to promote melatonin production. Conversely, try to expose yourself to lots of natural daylight when it’s time to be awake (particularly early morning). This will help you wake yourself up and get going for the day.
  9. Be a smart napper
    1. The longer we're awake, the more likely we are to sleep because our ‘sleep pressure’ has had time to build up. To increase your chances of drifting off at night try to avoid naps throughout the day. Of course, if you feel dangerously tired, do take a short nap (around 20 minutes) but try to plan this earlier in the day to allow your sleep pressure to build again afterwards.