How to get a good night's sleep

Expert reviewer Dr Ari Manuel, Consultant in Sleep Medicine
Next review due September 2018

While some people can fall straight asleep as soon as their head touches the pillow, for others this is a distant dream. Missing out on a night or two’s sleep isn’t harmful but if your sleepless nights go on for longer, it can really take its toll. You may even start to get symptoms of insomnia.

But don’t despair – help is at hand. Here we will go through some simple things you can try to help you get a good night’s sleep.

Sleep hygiene

If you’re having trouble sleeping, first take a look at your bedroom. Check if it’s set up to give you the best chance of a good night’s sleep.

It may seem obvious but if you’ve put up with a lumpy mattress or noisy neighbours for years, you might overlook them. Yet these could be the reason why you can’t sleep. Have a think about how and where you sleep and your sleeping habits – this is called ‘sleep hygiene’.

Is your mattress comfy?

  • The issue: A mattress that’s too firm or too soft won’t support you properly.
  • How to fix it: Replace your mattress every 10 years to get the best support and comfort.

Is your bedroom comfortable?

  • The issue: Having a bedroom that’s too hot or too cold can affect your sleep.
  • How to fix it: Manage your heating and layer your bedding to find the right temperature for you. In the summer, fans can help to keep your room cool.

Is your bedroom noisy?

  • The issue: A variety of noise – from street sounds and wildlife to a snoring partner – can wake you in the night.
  • How to fix it: If you live next to a busy road, you might want to consider noise-reducing glazing in your windows. Earplugs may help if your partner’s snoring is the cause of your troubles.

Is there any lighting that might wake you up?

  • The issue: Anything from a street lamp outside your window to a badly fitting blind can cause light to get in and wake you.
  • How to fix it: You might need thicker curtains or blackout blinds if you’re blasted with sunlight in the morning, particularly in the summer time. Or try an eye mask.

What do you use your bedroom for?

  • The issue: If you work, eat or watch TV in your bedroom, it can be hard to switch off and go to sleep.
  • How to fix it: Only use your bedroom for sleep or sex.

Do you use gadgets before you sleep?

  • The issue: The light and stimulation from electronic devices can activate parts of your brain and keep you awake. If you have trouble sleeping, it’s even more important not to use electronic devices in the run up to bedtime.
  • How to fix it: Don’t be tempted to watch TV or use a laptop, tablet or mobile when you’re in bed. Just take a book to bed.

Sticking to a good sleep routine

Our bodies can be real sticklers for routine. If you’re up until the early hours and sleep in late for a few days in a row, your body won’t let you off! You’ll probably find it hard to get to sleep if you try to go to bed early the following night. Try to stick to the following.

  • Go to bed and get up at about the same times each day.
  • Although it’s tempting, having a lie-in at the weekend will only make it harder to get up early on a Monday morning. This is because your sleep cycle has been reset. Plan something active to do at the weekend to get you up and out.
  • Don’t nap during the day. But if you really feel you need to catch up on sleep, keep it short (less than an hour). And don’t have a nap after 3pm.
  • Establish a regular bedtime routine – this is just as important for adults as children. Take some time out to relax and wind down before you go to bed. Have a soothing bath, sit in a quiet place or read a book for an hour before you go to sleep.

What’s keeping you up at night?

One in three Brits are suffering from poor sleep. Take a look over our tips in The Sleep Series to help make sure you’re getting the right amount of sleep each night.

Learn more

Eat right and get active for a good sleep

What you eat and drink, and when, will have an impact on your energy levels.

  • Caffeine. Drinking tea, coffee or energy drinks in the hours leading up to bedtime may prevent you from dropping off because caffeine is a stimulant. Steer clear of these drinks by mid-afternoon. In the evening, choose to have a caffeine-free herbal tea or a warm, milky drink instead.
  • Alcohol. You might think that a glass of wine in the evening will help you nod off. In reality, it can actually interfere with your sleep and will most likely cause you to wake up in the night. If you have trouble sleeping, steer clear of alcohol for at least six hours before you go to bed.
  • Sugary foods and heavy meals. If you eat these too late at night, it can also affect how well you sleep. Try having your main meal earlier in the day.

Regular exercise is a great way to help you sleep better. It helps relieve stress and anxiety that can disrupt your sleep. Try exercising during the day or early evening (but no later than 7pm). Any later and you may feel overly energised and have trouble getting to sleep.

Is lack of sleep affecting your mental wellbeing?

When you’re struggling to sleep it can really affect your emotional wellbeing. One reason why people often find they can’t sleep is because they’re worrying about things that are going on in their life. Frustratingly, this then turns into worry and anxiety about the fact that they can’t get to sleep and the cycle can go on and on.

A simple way to combat this is to keep a notebook by your bed. If you’re having difficulty dropping off to sleep or you wake up in the night, write down your worries or the things you’re thinking about. This will help to organise your thoughts, rather than going over them in your head.

You might find that practising relaxation techniques before going to bed can distract you from your day and make you feel calm before rest. Try listening to some relaxing sounds or music or try meditation or t’ai chi.

Importantly, if you can’t sleep, don’t lie there worrying about it. If you don’t fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing. Make a warm, milky drink or read in a quiet, dimly lit room then try to get back to sleep later.

When to seek help

If you’re not sleeping well, it’s important not to do activities that may put you or others in danger if you’re tired. This can include driving, operating machinery or having to make big decisions at work or home.

If a bad night’s sleep becomes a regular occurrence and it’s affecting your quality of life, see your GP. They will discuss your sleeping habits with you and give you advice and support. They might even refer you to see a sleep specialist.

Most sleep disorders can be treated, so don’t put up with endless restless nights. Sleep is really important to your health, both mentally and physically. See if our advice helps you to not only sleep better but feel better too.

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Related information

Tools and calculators

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    • Insomnia. BMJ Best Practice., published 21 January 2015
    • Sleeping well. Royal College of Psychiatrists., published July 2014
    • Insomnia. Medscape., published 10 July 2015
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  • Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Content Team, September 2015
    Expert reviewer Dr Ari Manuel, Consultant in Sleep Medicine
    Next review due September 2018

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