Guide To Better Sleep

2013-08-04 05.13.41

This post is part of a series that makes up my Simple Guide To Health which is part of a broader collection of posts on Living Well.

I consider good sleep to be the bedrock of good health and it’s key enabler for the discipline/willpower that we need to work at improving health.

I used to sleep like a log until pain in my joints, tendons and head stopped me getting to sleep, or spasms woke me all through the night. I still struggle to sleep and so need sleep aids, but over the years I have done plenty of reading about how to improve my sleep and practiced many of the techniques.  When I’m not in a flare after lots of experimentation these are enough for me to achieve good sleep.

Whilst there are many books on sleep and hundreds of techniques, supplements and medications I’ve found only a few to be really worthwhile, I’m presenting them here in order of effectiveness from my perspective:

  1. Sleep for around 8 hours a night,  some people might need a little more or less but 8 hours is a good target.  When I’m ill I notice that I really need 9-10 hours, so I switch off my alarm clock and I make sure I get it, but as soon as the flare subsides I’m waking up after 8 hours again
  2. Take a hot bath before bed and then allow yourself to cool down quickly, then snuggle up warm and drift off.  After the bath I like to cool down by walking on cold tiles in the conservatory in just my shorts, the cold floor on bare feet seems to be the key.
  3. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day, if you go to bed late, or get up early still stay within an hour of your usual time.  If you like a weekend lie in stick to the one hour rule.
  4. Choose a ‘going to sleep dream’ and repeat it every night, or choose a few.  Practice these dreams until they become very familiar and boring.  For example I choose to imagine what I would do if I won £12M on the lottery and kept it secret (lottery winners often are very unhappy).  I imagine how I would use it in small ways to make my existing life better and help others.  Another dream I use is to imagine how I would transform my garden, build a workshop, big greenhouse, lots of raised beds, north and south patios etc.  I start the dreams when awake, but I never finish them.
  5. Wear ear plugs, especially if your partner snores or you have kids who seem to play music all through the night.  These have been vital for me, I buy them in bulk on eBay.
  6. Keep the bedroom nice and cool and then snuggle under a quilt.  I need to keep my feet extra cool to get off to sleep, so I push them out from under the quilt at first.  I also suffer from restless leg and when I feel the maddening tingling start I rub on some cool gel and this seems to take the tingling away
  7. Keep your bedroom very dark and use it only for sex and sleep, I’ve found this to be very important.  In our room we have put up blinds as well as curtains and covered our bedside clocks with flaps of card.  I do sometimes sit and read in a comfy chair in the bedroom though.
  8. Don’t drink anything for a few hours before you go to sleep, as you get older this becomes more important otherwise you will wake up during the night needing to go pee
  9. Don’t consume caffeine in the afternoon, all the books say this so it must be true for most people although it doesn’t seem to affect me
  10. If you are a night owl like me, adjust over time to getting up early.  The spin off benefit is that hours you gain in the morning seem much more useful than the hours you lose at night.  Before electricity everyone did this, we are programmed to go to bed around 9-10pm and get up around 6am, we just get out of the habit. 
  11. Wind down by reading a good book before bed,  I do this in the hot bath using my kindle set to its dim setting.  Some people say not to read an exiting book, but I’ve not found this to be an issue
  12. Eliminate blue and bright lights for two hours before bed.  We dim our lights right down while watching TV, use yellow LED fairy lights for the hall, use red bulbs for the upstairs landing and toilet.  I find this helps a lot.  Don’t use a computer, iPad etc. for at least an hour before bed and use f.lux on any PCs to remove the blue light and dim the screen automatically at night
  13. Clear your mind before bed.  For example I like to get everything ready for the next day.  I make up my salad, pack my work and swimming bags, write my task list and any to-do items, get tomorrows reading ready.  Then I know I have nothing to ‘worry’ about, its also a nice boring wind down routine
  14. While reading in the bath use candles to light the room.  This is my favourite tip, I love the relaxing, blue light free, flickering candle light.  I make my own candles using three wicks in a small glass bowl filled with wax beads.  We have loads of these bowls from small puddings that the girls buy to bake in the oven.
  15. Follow your breath when you first get in bed. Don’t try to get to sleep, trying to do anything keeps you awake, once you are nice and calm start the dream described in item 4
  16. If you are a man, then you will probably fall off to sleep very quickly after sex,  in my case even faster if my wife stokes my back.  Unfortunately I almost always wake up about an hour later and can’t get back to sleep.
  17. If you can’t get to sleep after about 30 minutes (experiment with the time) get up, walk around in the dark, read a book and then try again.  Sometimes when I wake in the night in a lot of pain, the only way I can sleep again is to take pain killers and then repeat my hot bath, candlelight, reading routine.
  18. Get a new alarm clock.  I recommend a sunrise alarm clock, that includes a wake-up Light that starts producing light 30 minutes before your set wake-up time. The light gradually brightens, like the sun rising.  Normally I find I’m awake before the alarm sounds and if not the alarm wakes me very gently with the sound of tweeting birds
  19. Expose yourself to bright light in the morning, I switch the bright bedroom lights on as soon as I wake up, go for a walk outside and then sit and read next to a full height window at Caffe Nero for an hour first thing.
  20. Eat something 1-2 hours before bed,  this avoids hunger pangs later on.  Debbie and I like a big bowl of Berry salad with full fat spray cream while we watch TV, my favourite meal of the day!
  21. Move more during the day, but don’t do strenuous exercise in the evening.  I follow this pattern, trying to move around every hour or so, and then I might go for a relaxing evening walk or swim
  22. If you have a really bad night and sleep for say only 3 hours, still get up and go to bed at your normal time, you should be extra tired.  To get you through the day take 30 minutes to relax using a guided meditation like Yoga Nidra, this is the recording that I use
  23. Banish the TV, phone, tablet etc. from your bedroom, most people advise this, but I still keep my phone in ‘do not disturb’ mode on my bedside table,  if I wake in the night with an idea whirling around I like to jot it down
  24. Finally I’ve found that tracking your sleep can be useful.  I use my fitbit to do this and It’s quite enlightening to see your sleep quality and duration change over time.  Sometimes you fail to notice these changes if sleep gets gradually worse over years, tracking helps you do something about it before it’s too late.

This guide is fairly generic with comments from my personal experience, bear in mind that at the time of writing I’m a 50 year old so this guide doesn’t consider the special needs of teenagers, shift workers, people who travel across time zones ….

The picture I’ve chosen is of the view from our apartment at sunrise in Scarborough last year.  It was so hot that week that I had to sleep with the patio doors open in the bedroom, the cool, fresh sea air was perfect for sleep.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

3 Responses

  1. April 20, 2014

    […] Sleep well.  Sleep is the foundation upon which health is built and it’s often the easiest to fix, so the return on investment is very high, so I’m awarding it first place in this guide.  Without good sleep it’s difficult to sustain the motivation for the other changes later on in the guide. […]

  2. December 11, 2015

    […] pottering around, housework, gardening, swimming, hikes and short cycle rides.  I need to sleep at least eight hours a night and I find naps useful when I’ve not managed that many, but I’ve not felt the need to meditate […]

  3. January 26, 2016

    […] The power of sleep.  Sleeping well is both the most elusive and important area for me.  If I don’t sleep well even for a single night, I’m nudged in the direction of a vicious cycle of decline, but with the pain and migraines it’s always a struggle to sleep so in the end I relented and take meds to help me. […]

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