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Science and Sleep: A Psychologist’s Top Tips for Good Sleep Hygiene

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It’s hard to overestimate the importance of sleep. Like food and water, it is an essential function of our well-being. Those who have suffered from poor sleep or sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnoea will understand how rapidly and dramatically a lack of quality sleep dramatically impacts your everyday life.

Sleep not only helps stave off diseases, regulates our stress levels and leaves us feeling refreshed in the morning but also greatly contributes to our cognitive function. Without enough sleep, our ability to think, concentrate and process memories and emotions is impaired.

If no sleep tips work for you, don’t lie there worrying about lack of sleep. If you’re not asleep in 20 minutes, get up, go into another room, or make a milky drink. Wait until you feel sleepy – we all have nights like that from time to time, so don’t worry about one night; go back to your usual routine the following night, or go to bed an hour earlier, as you are bound to need a little extra sleep.

Top tips to improve your sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to healthy sleep habits that encourage the optimum amount of sleep, the best quality and prevent having trouble sleeping. There are several simple sleep tips that we can make to our evening routine to improve our sleep quality and avoid a broken sleep cycle:

Maintain a consistent sleep schedule

Try to sleep and wake up at about the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps support your sleep cycles and minimises any disruption to them. It also helps with daytime sleepiness, although taking a short nap can encourage good sleep at night for some people. For others, a nap is a disrupter. Learning how naps work for you is essential in establishing your perfect sleep cycle; try to make it as early as possible in the day.

Maintain a comfortable temperature and ensure low levels of light when it comes to sleep

A cool, dark, quiet room will help you fall asleep and stay asleep more easily. For most people, a bedroom temperature between 15.6°C and 19.4°C is ideal for sleeping.

It’s also important to ensure a comfortable mattress, pillows, and bed linen. For example, you might want to change to a higher or lower Tog on your duvet depending on the season and invest in some black-out blinds or try an eye mask to ‘trick’ our brains into thinking it is dark. Turning your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary will immeasurably benefit your sleep quality.

Limit the use of electronic devices

I know many have a TV in the bedroom, which helps to relax before sleep. Make sure you’re not watching anything too scary, fast-paced or distressing; this is when you need your adrenaline levels to be low, so try something easy or soothing to watch.

Consider putting your phone or tablet to charge in another room. Apart from notifications that might ping, buzz, or vibrate in the night, phones emit blue light, reducing the melatonin levels in your body. Melatonin is a chemical that controls your sleep/wake cycle. When your melatonin levels dip, falling asleep can be more challenging.

Limit caffeine, heavy meals, and alcohol before sleep

While a glass of wine is okay in the evening, don’t combine it with a big meal that might cause your digestive system to interrupt sleep. Caffeine can last up to seven hours in your system, so try to stick to tea and coffee (especially) in the morning or early afternoon only.

Only use your bed for sleep, sex, and relaxing activity

Your brain must associate your bed with sleep. Sex can help us sleep, as can watching a little light TV and reading, but keep it to something soft and soothing. Try not to work or make phone calls in your bedroom.


As little as 30 minutes of exercise daily can improve your sleep quality and overall health. Outdoor exercise can increase the benefits since exposure to natural light helps regulate your sleep cycle.

Avoid high-impact exercising within three hours of sleeping as it increases energy levels and body temperature, making it harder to fall asleep. Alternatively, stretching exercises or a little yoga may help you sleep.

Manage your worries

Stress and anxiety can be one of the most significant barriers to sleep. Write down what you need to do tomorrow or during the week so that you don’t spend time dwelling on your ‘to-do list. Meditation or mindful breathing exercises can also help lower cortisol and adrenaline levels – the two hormones that spike when we worry.

Research has shown that a weighted blanket can help with sleeplessness and anxiety, as it mimics the benefits of deep pressure therapy.

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