Best practice for getting to sleep

Humans, like all animals, are creatures of habit. We form habits to reduce our stress levels. If you do something the same way each day it reduces your anxiety about that action. If you change your routine it naturally and subconsciously increases stress.

Our ancestors, and people in parts of the world today that are not afflicted by modern technology, would rise with the sun and sleep when it gets dark. As we have introduced more and more technology into our lives we have gone further and further away from this way of living.

With the invention of the lamp and then the light bulb we enabled ourselves to stay awake long after it got dark. There was no longer any need to sleep when the sun set and rise when it rose. We could choose our own timetable and form our own sleeping pattern.

The invention of the television gave us an ever increasing excuse to stay awake. No longer did we have to amuse ourselves with playing the piano or cards; activities that we could get bored of if we did them often enough. It takes a person with very special skills to get bored of the TV nowadays, with hundreds of channels available 24 hours a day.

Let’s add to the mix the home games console. When I was growing up I longed for an Atari console to play space invaders. When I did get one I realised just how boring the game was. Now we have game consoles with games that are realistic and ever changing. We can play them with our friends, we in our home and them in theirs. It is almost impossible to get bored of these modern games and it takes a great deal of will power to stop playing them.

Next came the internet and the home computer. Suddenly we had an even bigger distraction than the television and the games consoles. Not only can we watch TV and play games on our computers but suddenly a whole new world opened up. A world that never ever sleeps and, if you let it, will never let you sleep either.

And finally the device to supersede all devices; the biggest demon and enemy of sleep of them all: the smart phone!

One of the fundamental requirements for falling asleep is to be tired enough that you need sleep. The television, game consoles, computer and the smart phone all enable and, in truth, encourage us to be lazy.

A check list for better sleep habits:

- Be active during the day. You need to need to sleep. If you are not tired it is much harder to fall asleep. Daily exercise of any kind, be it a brisk walk or a session in the gym, will make you more tired than if do not do any.

- Stop using all electronic devices (TV, computer, smart phone) at least 30 minutes before your bedtime.

- Get into the habit of going to bed at the same time each day. We are creatures of habit and any break from our habits creates stress and that will affect your sleep.

- Ensure your bedroom is dark. Light from within your home or outside will affect your sleep.

- Ensure your room is not too cold or too warm. Our body naturally cools for us to sleep. If we do not get the room temperature right we may struggle to fall asleep and or may be disturbed during the night. The perfect temperature varies for each of us but between 16-18 degrees C is the right temperature for most.

- Don’t share your duvet. If you share your bed with your partner I would suggest that you still each have your own duvet or blanket. We all radiate heat and your ideal ambient temperature may be quite different from your partners. When you share your duvet you are compromising your preferred temperature. By having your own duvet you can choose the tog rating that best suits you so that you are at your ideal temperature through the night.

Your bed should be for sleeping and almost no other activity (with the exception of the obvious one). This includes watching television, listening to music, using any electronic device such as your smart phone. I would also suggest not reading in bed either but this is a habit that many people have and may be hard to break. If you can teach yourself that your bed is only for sleeping then this very good habit will help you to get to sleep much easier.

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