Struggling to get a good night's sleep can really impact your waking life, both physically and mentally. Here we share some advice on how to better manage what equates to one third of our lives. But first -
Sleep is a complex process, and the truth is, no-one really knows why we do it. But we do know that it’s a deeply restorative process that’s essential to our survival, helping to regulate our moods and maintain health, weight, and energy.
Every single biological function you can think of from memory to immune system function and reaction times are boosted by a good night’s sleep.
So it pays dividends to know how to get one.
1. Switch to an alarm clock and banish your phone from the bedroom
Good sleep hygiene matters, and central to that is better managing screen time. When our eyes are exposed to light, it triggers a cluster of nerve cells in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. The brain uses these to work out whether it's day or night. Darkness used to mean it was night, prompting the body to release the hormone melatonin to make us drowsy. Light meant the sun had risen, which sparked the brain into delivering cortisol to our bloodstreams to make us alert and energetic.
Electric light, especially that from televisions and smartphone screens, confuses these nerve cells. To the brain, bright light means daytime, and therefore we don't need it to produce melatonin. Even low levels of ambient light supress the production of melatonin, so it makes sense to try to switch off your phone or TV at least an hour before you go to bed.
And that alarm clock? It removes the temptation of taking one last look at your phone when you set your alarm.
2. Keep a sleep diary
If you’re having trouble getting off to sleep or keep waking up in the small hours, a sleep dairy can help you identify what’s causing it all. Try keeping a sleep diary for at least two weeks, and preferably longer, so you can understand how your habits effect your sleep.
Comparing your activities with your sleep patterns can help you make positive changes so that you drop off faster, deeper and for longer.
3. Watch your alcohol and caffeine consumption
Drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol before going to bed can make it hard to get to sleep and stay asleep. Blood alcohol levels decrease during the night as liver enzymes metabolize the alcohol, leading to disrupted, poor quality sleep. Caffeine is another potential enemy of sleep. In countries such as the UK and US, up to 90% of adults consume caffeine every day. Some people can have an espresso before bed with no effects. For others, this would keep them awake all night. If caffeine affects you, you may have the ADORA2A genotype, although other genes have also been linked to the sensitivity so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what causes it. It’s perhaps safer to switch to de-caffeinated drinks after 12pm. (Source: US National Library of Medicine.
4. Talk to Doctor Care Anywhere to help you get a good night's sleep
Sometimes sleeplessness is caused by other conditions such as heartburn, thyroid disease, stress or anxiety. Our private GP service can support your physical and mental health 24/7, including sleep problems.
We offer diagnosis, recommendations about treatment such as medication or therapy.
Discover more in our Doctor Care Anywhere FAQs.