Friday, 06 March 2015

How to sleep better

Bleary-eyed? Tired? Suffering from insomnia? Don’t worry,says Harriet Griffey, tonight you too can have the perfect snooze

Written by Harriet Griffey
According to Shakespeare, sleep was the balm of hurt minds, sore labour’s bath, and the chief nourisher in life’s feast that ‘knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care’. A happy thought, but as research carried out by Richard Wiseman, professor of Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, reveals, nearly 60 per cent of adults in the UK are sleep-deprived, clocking up seven hours, or less, a night, compared with 39 per cent in 2013.

That’s a big increase in sleep deprivation, but does being bleary-eyed during the day actually matter? If this is because you regularly get fewer than six hours a night (the ideal is between seven to nine hours) then yes. Lack of adequate sleep has been associated with weight gain, heart disease and, most recently, memory problems that could lead to dementia.

Modern life is partly to blame for our current epidemic of sleep problems. Ever since Thomas Edison – renowned for sleeping very little – invented the light bulb, we have been able to turn night into day, party or work until dawn, and are sleeping less as a consequence. Our 24/7 lifestyles, allowing us to shop online at midnight, Facebook until the early hours, and work across geographical time zones, have devalued and demoted sleep almost to an optional extra – but at our peril.

‘Anything you do to work against your body clock will have consequences for your physiology,’ says Francesco Cappuccio, professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Warwick.

How we spend our days, with little or no downtime, can impact on the amount and quality of sleep we get at night and can have long-term consequences. And paradoxically, the more exhausted we become, the more difficult it is to fall asleep. Overtiredness can provoke those hormones, designed to keep us alert during the day, to kick in inappropriately at night. That’s when we find ourselves desperate to sleep, but lying in bed with thoughts racing and heart pounding, unhappily sleepless. As comedian WC Fields drily remarked, ‘The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.’

This is why it’s important to see sleep as part of the 24-hour day, not as isolated or separate from it, looking at what it is we are doing during the day that could contribute to a problem at night. Although we are a highly adaptive species, our preference is actually for regularity. Peaceful night-time sleep comes best when we wake and go to bed at roughly the same time every day, eat regular meals and take regular exercise. These are our cues to the circadian rhythms that suit us best. Shift work, parenting young children, illness and anything else that disrupts sleep patterns in the short term is adapted to, not least by increased production of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin to compensate.


But if these disrupted sleep patterns continue, or we become chronically sleep deprived, then this hyper-stimulated state becomes the new ‘norm’ and a problem with sleep, either falling asleep or staying asleep, can become a regular occurrence.

It’s also worth remembering that our sleep patterns vary throughout our lives. A baby’s sleep cycle is only around 50 minutes, the changing adolescent brain needs around nine hours a night but also suffers from ‘sleep phase delay’ where an inability to fall asleep early enough to wake happily for school the next day means a sleep deficit becomes almost inevitable. Then, as we age, we tend to get less deep-phase sleep and sleep more fitfully, aggravated sometimes by physical discomfort.

An adult’s sleep cycle is around 90 minutes, during which time we pass through four stages, from light to deep sleep, and including the phases of deep sleep we need to dream. This is how good, healthy sleep should be. Deep sleep is the most restorative and it is often this phase that gets disrupted by short nights or constant waking. Ideally, it’s best to wake at the end of a sleep cycle, as we move into light sleep, so if you need to set an alarm for 7am, then it would be helpful to fall asleep around 11.30pm or, even better, at 10pm. This can help avoid ‘post-sleep inertia’, that awful groggy feeling we get when we wake under-slept and mid-cycle, unable to face breakfast and reaching for the caffeine to kick-start yet another day.

So if you are having trouble sleeping enough or sleeping well, it might be worth thinking about what steps you can take to improve the amount and the quality of your sleep, not only improving how you feel when you wake but also your general health.

I Want To Sleep, by Harriet Griffey (Hardie Grant, £8.99).




1 Try to wake and go to bed at the same time every day to help reset your body clock.

2 Regular daily exercise is good, but high-intensity workouts late in the day can be too stimulating.

3 Only ever nap for 20 minutes and no later than six hours before bedtime.

4 Avoid any caffeinated drinks after 3pm.

5 Avoid using alcohol to sleep – it disrupts normal sleep patterns and causes rebound waking.

6 A light bedtime snack can help avoid early-morning waking. Sleep-inducing foods include those high in tryptophan – turkey, milk products, avocados, cereal grains – plus magnesium and vitamin B.

7 Allow enough time to wind down before you go to sleep. Expecting to work flat out and then fall promptly asleep is only possible for the lucky few.

8 Avoid using backlit screens before sleep – Kindles, iPads or smartphones – their intense light inhibits secretion of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin.

9 The bedroom should be dark: use blackout curtains or blinds if necessary, and earplugs if noise or a partner’s snoring is a problem.

10 Warm feet: a bath before bed, or wearing bed socks, can aid sleep.

who to contact

Adjustamatic 0808-256 7666,

Devon Duvets 01752-345399,

Original Bedstead Co 020-7351 1955,


Forgot your password?
Click to read our digital edition

Boarders Dormitory Master-Mistress
We are looking to appoint a Dormitory Mistress/Master for 5 nights per week, weekday evenings and nights only, term time. (35 weeks). [...]


Housekeeper to Headmaster
We have an opportunity for an experienced live-out housekeeper. You will provide a cleaning and hospitality service for the Headmaster and his guests and help to ensure the household runs efficiently. [...]


Full Time Housekeeper, Nanny
We are looking for a full time, live-out housekeeper/nanny. We are a relaxed young couple living in a large country house, and will have one newborn baby. [...]


Experienced Carer, Companion, Housekeeper needed
Our elderly mother needs a live in carer/companion on a part time basis. Must be warm hearted, calm & compassionate, with a good sense of humour. [...]


Live-in Housekeeper
Our client is looking for a very capable, experienced individual to become the new housekeeper at their 6 bedroom, rural home. [...]




What the stars have in store for you this week.2017

Capricorn Aquarius Pisces Aries Taurus Gemini Cancer Leo Virgo Libra Scorpio Sagittarius

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter