How to sleep better (without totally changing your lifestyle)

Most sleep advice is ridiculously unrealistic in the demands it places on you and your daily schedule and behaviours. Read on to discover how to sleep better without totally changing your lifestyle

How did you sleep last night? It’s not just a polite question. Sleep is what you spend (ideally) about a third of your life doing: it’s a time for your brain and body to repair and recover, consolidate the things you’ve learned during the day, and keep your hormones in balance. Sleep badly, and you’re likely to be irritable, make poor decisions, and take bad risks – meaning that sorting out your shut-eye is one of the best things you can do to make yourself happier, healthier and more productive. 

The trouble is, tips for better sleep often seem to mean making sweeping lifestyle changes – like giving up caffeine after lunch, quitting stress-inducing games of FIFA before bed, and not browsing Netflix in the middle of the night.

So, assuming you don’t want to drastically reshuffle your life, is there anything you can do to sleep better? Yes. Here are five ways, in fact. 

Switch to night mode

First things first: yes, there are good reasons for the advice you’re used to hearing. Ideally, for instance, you’d switch off all screens two hours before bed because blue light interferes with the production of melatonin, the hormone that’s key to regulating your sleep cycle.

But there are ways around it. For instance, most phones now come with a blue light filter like the iPhone’s Night Shift feature, which give your screen a more mellow hue to encourage drowsiness. 

If you’re browsing on a laptop, download the F.Lux app to do the same thing – but be aware that it might interfere with Netflix playing properly, so you should still plan to finish your Ozark binge at least an hour before bed. 

Reorder your rooms

Having screens in your bedroom is a bad idea for two reasons – even something as small as the standby light can deregulate melatonin production and disrupt your shuteye, while binging in bed can break your body’s associations between the bedroom and restfulness.

If you can, keep screen-time to your living room or kitchen – if you can’t, switch devices off or tape over standby lights, and make sure your room’s as dark as possible before you turn in.

And if you can’t wake up naturally without an alarm clock, switch your mobile to airplane mode – with emergency contacts enabled – and make sure you can’t see the screen from your usual sleeping position. 

Learn from the military

So, the temptation for a pre-bed online battle royale was too much, and now your trigger finger’s still twitching while you should be counting sheep? Fortunately, the (real life) military’s on hand to help with a brace of suggestions.

The simplest is ‘tactical breathing’, a technique based on yoga that soldiers use to mitigate stress. Breath in for four seconds, hold for four, and breathe out for four: you’ll activate your parasympathetic nervous system and quickly feel calmer.

If that doesn’t work, try an age-old U.S. Army technique that’s now being used by CEOs: first relax the muscles in your face, then your shoulders and arms, chest and legs – then think about lying in a canoe on a calm lake with nothing but a clear blue sky above you. It takes practice, but you’ll eventually be able to sleep anywhere. 

Have an early bath

There’s a lot to be said for bathing before bed – it’ll keep your sheets cleaner and reduce the chance of skin-based breakouts – but for it to help you nod off, you have to time it properly.

Body temperature plays an important part in regulating your circadian rhythms, so by having a hot bath or shower around 90 minutes before bed you’ll give your body a chance to cool off, sending it a signal that it’s time to start shutting down for the night. 

Try napping in the day

Terrible night’s sleep? It’s not a cure-all, but working from home (or finding a very quiet corner of the office) means you can catch up on your downtime in under half an hour – in fact, keeping naps short and sweet is key to avoiding the post-drowse head-fog that’s likely if you sleep for over 45 minutes.

The power-nap sweet spot is 15-20 minutes. Most people take an average of seven to drop off, so set a timer for 25 and you should be golden. And for extra credit, slam an espresso immediately before – the caffeine should hit your bloodstream just as you’re waking up, so you’ll wake up refreshed and energised.