Falling asleep is the easiest thing in the world. But, at times, it’s also the most difficult. Good sleep brings a bunch of physical and emotional benefits, and not getting it can leave us feeling out of sorts. Not what you want during exams.
But it’s precisely during times of high pressure that many of us struggle to drift off. So what can you do?
Here are 29 ways you can get more of the quality sleep you need.
Circadian rhythm. That’s the fancy name for your body clock. Caffeine can interfere with this rhythm by delaying the production of important sleep chemicals. Avoid tea, coffee, fizzy drinks and chocolate after 2pm. The same goes for cigarettes.
Alcohol can get you to sleep quicker. But when you get there, it’ll ruin the quality of your slumber. You’ll spend more time in the restless REM stage, and you’ll wake up tired. Cut back on nights out during exams.
It takes longer than you might think for your stomach to break down food. Going to bed while that’s still going on can disrupt your sleep. So try to eat your last big meal of the day 3 hours before you get into bed.
Caffeine isn’t the only thing that can throw off your body clock. Random late nights and lie-ins can too. A Saturday morning lie-in is one of life’s greatest pleasures, but it’s not helping. Stick to regular bed and wake-up times throughout the week.
One of the main reasons your body clock works the way it does is light. Light means ‘be awake’. Darkness, then, is essential for good sleep. Close your curtains and try an eye mask to make your room as sleep-ready as possible.
A car alarm. A neighbour’s music. A barking dog. Loud or repetitive noises are an obvious source of sleep disruption. You can block them out with foam earplugs, or mask them with white noise. Noisli is great for that.
Just like brushing your teeth again to fight sleepiness, this one is a body clock ‘hack’. A warm bath or shower 2 hours before bed works by raising your body temperature, before rapidly cooling it. And it’s the cooling that makes you sleepy.
Slow, calming music can reduce your heart rate and relax your muscles - getting your body ready for sleep. Listen to classical music before bed and see if your sleep improves. Here’s a list from Classic FM and bed-maker Dreams to get you started.
Tips 8 and 9 are really about achieving tip 10: reducing your screen-time before bed. And anything that also helps to lower your stress levels is a great idea. The escapism that comes from a good story is the perfect solution to the day’s worries.
The best thing we could all do to improve our nightly routines. The light from your phone mimics sunlight, making it harder to drift off when you eventually put the thing down. Leave devices away from your bed, and switch off at least an hour before sleep.
A racing mind is common when you’ve got loads on. Some mindful meditation at the end of the day is a great way to slow down and unwind. Try the free Breethe app for Apple or Android for ‘peaceful and soothing’ pre-sleep visualisations.
If you don’t need to be up and out at a certain time, turn your alarm off. Record when you naturally wake up. Repeat for 2 weeks. How much sleep did you need, on average? Build your new, reinvigorating sleep routine around this information.
It’s our old friend the circadian clock again. Repeatedly hitting snooze simply prolongs the darkness, telling your brain it’s not time to get up. This throws your whole clock out of whack. Get up when the alarm sounds and let the natural light in.
Your morning routine is just as important to sleep as your evening habits. Start with a good breakfast. One expert recommends a handful of almonds and a couple of dates - apparently they help your body produce the sleep hormone melatonin (see tip 27) later in the day.
Certain essential oils are proven to aid relaxation and sleep. Geranium is good. But lavender is better and easier to get. The oil you’re looking for is Lavandula angustifolia, and you can find it in the Boots Pillow Mist Lavender spray (£5.99 for 100ml).
Just like late eating, late napping will throw your body clock way off. The experts recommend a nap cut-off point of 3pm, and a maximum nap time of 1 hour. Some of them think even that’s too much, suggesting a 20-minute power nap is the way to go.
Vigorous exercise will make you physically tired. But it’ll wake up your mind, which isn’t what you want right before bed. If the gym is your thing, try to make it something you do in the morning instead of squeezing it in before bed at night.
Gentle stretching or yoga before you get into bed is beneficial for many reasons. It’ll relax your tense mind and body, soothe any aches and pains from the day, and kick start the processes your body goes through to ‘rest and digest’.
Another weapon for your ‘mind-clearing’ arsenal. Sit down at your desk and write a to-do list for the next day. When you slip between the sheets, you should find you do it with more ordered thoughts and a mind that’s no longer racing.
The environment you go to in order to sleep is important. It should be a relaxing, almost spa-like place. That means cool, dark, quiet - and tidy. Take the time to clear away any clothes, and tidy any books or notes.
This will help you with tip 13. A phone that’s constantly pinging, buzzing or lighting up should not be near your head. If your phone is your alarm, place it as far away from your bed as you can. It’ll force you to get up when it’s time to get going.
If you’re living in student accommodation, chances are you won’t be able to do too much decorating. But you can still create a colour scheme with cushions, throws and rugs. Soft, pastel blue, green and yellow are great for a bedroom. Avoid dark reds and purples.
An optimum temperature for a bedroom is around 18 degrees celsius. But most of us are trying to sleep in rooms warmer than that. Make sure your duvet is the right weight for the season, and get a fan if you need to - the noise might even help with tip 6.
We’re increasingly bringing our living room lives into our beds. Texts, calls, Netflix. These are all things we’d be better off doing elsewhere. The experts recommend a clear separation between the bed (for sleep and intimacy) and our other living spaces.
Got cold feet? They could be keeping you up at night. Warm feet help to lower your core temperature, which (as we saw at tip 7) is essential to drifting off. If you’re struggling with cold feet, stick a hot water bottle under the sheets or pull on some socks.
Does your bladder wake you up at night? A once-nightly trip to the toilet can be perfectly normal. But two or more can ruin your sleep. Try to limit the amount you drink in the 2 hours before bedtime. Avoid caffeine and large glasses of juice or water.
Melatonin, tryptophan, and serotonin. These are the chemicals that get your body ready for slumber. White meats and seeds can boost your tryptophan levels, and making your room as dark as you can is good for melatonin production.
Tossing and turning - whether physically or emotionally - only adds fuel to the fire. If you’re really struggling to get to sleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing for 20 minutes. Read a book, listen to music. Don’t reach for the screens though.
If you just can’t let go of the hot drink before bed, switch to something more helpful. Milk contains the tryptophan we discovered in tip 27, and a decaffeinated herbal tea is a good alternative too. Chamomile is particularly good for sleep.