One in five people have trouble sleeping and more than 15 million prescriptions are written for sleeping pills in the UK every year, so Jane Symons asked the experts and examined the latest research to compile Raconteur’s Good Sleep Guide
1. CAFFEINE CURFEW
Recent research suggests the stimulant effect of caffeine is more prolonged than was once thought. A study just published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports that when volunteers took 400mg of caffeine – the equivalent of two or three cups of coffee – six hours before bedtime, their total time asleep was reduced by at least an hour. Lead author Professor Christopher Drake recommends a 5pm caffeine curfew.
2. COOL BEDTIME BATH
A slight drop in body temperature at the end of the day induces drowsiness. You can also increase the chance of restful sleep by keeping your bedroom on the cool side. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests bedrooms should be like caves: cool, quiet and dark. Professor H. Craig Heller, a neurobiologist and expert in sleep and circadian rhythms at Stanford University, advises keeping the room temperature between 18C and 22C.
Clinically proven to cure insomnia in 81 per cent of people who complete the course, this six-week online therapy, also available as an app, has been developed by Dr Kirstie Anderson, a neurologist and sleep specialist at the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Trust and is approved by the NHS. Sleepstation uses sleep diaries and other information to create a personalised bedtime routine.
4. DEEP SLEEP PILLOW TALK
Deep Sleep pillow spray and Stress Less inhaler roll-on both contain lavender, a traditional relaxant proven to aid slumber. A study at the University of Southampton found volunteers slept 20 per cent better in a room scented with lavender oil than in a similar room diffused with a placebo sweet almond oil. A four-week trial of the pillow spray, which combines lavender, vetivert and wild camomile, found that eight out of ten people fell asleep faster.
Save the bedroom for sleep and sex. Banish distractions, such as television, laptops and mobile phones. If you read don’t use a backlit device, such as an iPad – a bedside lamp is less likely to suppress production of the sleep hormone melatonin. For the same reason, if you get up in the night to go the lavatory, avoid turning on any bright lights. Design your bedroom as a restful sanctuary to help induce sleep.
This aids sleep, but don’t work out in the evening as it increases your heart rate and body temperature, and releases the stimulatory hormone norepinephrine, which all make it harder to drift off. Morning outdoor exercise is best for a restful night as this optimises melatonin production. However, don’t expect immediate results. Researchers at Northwestern University in the United States say it can take four months for the benefits to kick in.
7. MOTHER NATURE
Valerian, a hardy perennial with spears of pink flowers, has been used for centuries to ease insomnia. Recent studies suggest it works by increasing levels of gamma aminobutyric acid, which regulates nerve cells and reduces anxiety. Drugs such as Valium work by boosting levels of the body chemical. According to experts at the University of Maryland, valerian helps people fall asleep more quickly and leads to better quality rest.
8. LIGHT THERAPY
With work demands no longer following the dawn-to-dusk pattern of our ancestors, wake-up lights can help ease people into life even when it is dark inside and outside. The Philips Wake-Up Light gradually brings daylight from soft dawn reds to bright yellow over the 30 minutes before the bedside alarm sounds. The Lumie range of body clocks are billed as dawn simulators that replicate sunrise to promote the creation of the get-up-and-go hormone cortisol in the body.
9. DON’T WORRY
Self-improvement guru Dale Carnegie once observed: “If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there and worrying. It’s the worry that gets you, not the loss of sleep.” And sleep specialists say his advice remains true today. According to neurologist and sleep expert Dr Kirstie Anderson: “Sleep is, by definition, something you have to forget about for it to work.”
10. NO NIGHTCAP
Drinking alcohol before bedtime can interfere with sleep patterns and can send you straight to deep sleep without an initial stage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, says Dr John Shneerson, of the Respiratory Support and Sleep Centre at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge. “As the alcohol starts to wear off, your body can come out of deep sleep and back into REM sleep, which is much easier to wake from,” he says.