10 tips for a great night's sleep

Sleep patterns can be affected by everything from stress to age. If you find yourself tossing and turning, our experts' advice could help.

 

‘There are two classic scenarios to sleep problems,’ explains Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, physiologist and sleep expert, and author of Fast Asleep, Wide Awake. ‘It’s either difficulty getting to sleep or waking in the early hours and not being able to get back to sleep. 

If this sounds like you, there’s a lot you can do to improve your chances of a quality sleep.  Try our ‘good sleep hygiene’ tips: 

  1. Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary - quiet, dark and not too hot (16°C is ideal) – if noise is disturbing you invest in some ear plugs. The smell of lavender on your pillow can also help to relax you.
  2. Have a consistent bedtime. Keep regular times for going to bed and waking up. Sleeping in is tempting but surprisingly it doesn’t actually help you get more rest.
  3. Don’t worry if you do wake up. Dr Ramlakhan says, ‘If you need to go to the loo, just get up and go, but don’t check the time.’ Worry will keep you awake.
  4. Reduce or cut out caffeine – sensitivity to caffeine can change as we age.
  5. Reduce or cut our alcohol – alcohol can get you to sleep quicker but often results in poor quality sleep and early waking
  6. ‘No electronics’ says Dr Ramlakhan. So ban TVs and digital devices including e-readers, tablets and smartphones from the bedroom and go back to an old-fashioned paperback instead
  7. Keep active. Try walking for at least 30 minutes at least three times a week, preferably outside and preferably in daylight – sunlight helps balance your sleep cycle 
  8. 'Always have breakfast,’ says Dr Ramlakhan and include protein at every meal. But don’t eat late – heavy or spicy food can affect sleep quality
  9. Make time to unwind before bedtime. Try these breathing and relaxation exercises from the Sleep Foundation
  10. Try a magnesium supplement. ‘This can help you get to sleep,’ says Dr Ramlakhan. 

If you’re still having trouble sleeping, you should visit your GP to rule out these three common sleep disorders. 

Sleep Apnoea

This occurs when the throat narrows during sleep and repeatedly interrupts your breathing. It leads to a fall in the blood’s oxygen levels and difficulty in breathing which prompts your brain to wake you up.

Sleep Apnoea affects about 20% of people over 65 and is more common in men and people who are obese. It can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. If you suspect you have Sleep Apnoea you should visit your GP, they will probably refer you to a sleep clinic.

Insomnia 

‘Insomnia is a clinical condition that deserves proper treatment.’ says Professor Kevin Morgan, director of the Clinical Sleep Research Unit at the University of Loughborough ‘It increases with age, though it’s not actually caused by ageing. By the time you get to your 60s and 70s, around 25 per cent of people will have symptoms of insomnia.’ 

This is likely to be because of an increase in conditions that cause pain or discomfort, like arthritis, or hormonal changes, like the menopause, that can lead to disturbed sleep. 

The professor says you should visit your GP if you have had trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep or waking early at least three times a week for at least three months.  

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Restless Legs Syndrome

‘This movement disorder affects up to 4 per cent of people and is most intense in the evenings or when dropping off to sleep,’ explains Professor Morgan. ‘It involves an irresistible urge to move, accompanied by a sensation of pins and needles.’

Your GP will be able to advise you on treatments ‘Also try having an evening Epsom salts bath,’ advises Dr Ramlakhan. ‘Many people find this effective, and it helps to relax you.’

 

Sometimes a change is as good as a rest!

Could the peace of mind of a new home help you sleep? Jean Taylor, 86, Scott Place, Lichfield found her new McCarthy Stone apartment improved her sleep quality: ‘I would definitely recommend it.… I sleep so soundly now. It’s absolutely safe and secure.’