The ancient Egyptians concocted sleep remedies from poppy and wine (Rosso, 2010), whilst the ancient Chinese identified the key factors that influence our sleeping patterns, such as time of day, or the length of time spent awake (Hans, 2010).
Sleep research has come a long way since these discoveries but we still hear of using things such as Valerian root, bananas and tart cherry juice to improve sleep.
Conflicting advice, along with the wide range of sleep aids on offer, can make looking for things to help you sleep a confusing experience. Here we explore things that are proven to help improve your sleep.
A healthy sleeping pattern
One of the most effective, and what many people consider to be the ‘best’ thing to help you sleep, is to keep your day-to-day schedule consistent.
In fact, regular bed and rising times are considered key for poor sleepers, as they can help increase the predictability and consistency of sleep. It doesn’t matter if you are a night owl or a morning lark, setting a schedule that is consistent with your biological clock and sticking to it, can have a really positive impact on your sleep.
Attempting to catch up on lost sleep with a weekend lie-in or an afternoon snooze can also do you more harm than good. As pleasurable as it is to ‘lie-in’ on the weekend, deviating from your regular rising time can make sleep initiation more difficult the following night and negatively impact next-day functioning.
This pattern, of restricting sleep during the working week and oversleeping on the weekends, has been dubbed ‘social jet lag’ and even been linked to issues such as obesity (Roenneberg et al., 2012).
It may come as no surprise that physical activity also comes high up on the list of things to help you sleep better. Moderate aerobic exercise, in particular, has been shown to bring about sleep improvements (Passos et al., 2011).
Exercising too close to your bedtime however can leave you over-aroused and prevent the initiation of sleep. It is best, therefore, to leave a minimum of 4 hours between finishing exercise and going to bed.
As long as you avoid exercise right before bedtime, keeping fit and healthy is likely to have a positive impact on your quality of sleep.
Feeling relaxed and in control is essential for a good night’s sleep.
You should aim therefore, aim to fill the hour-or-so before bed with activities that allow you to ‘switch off’ and wind down before heading to bed. In a relaxed state you will be more likely to transition smoothly from wakefulness into sleep.
These activities should put your mind at ease without requiring a great deal of attention or energy:
• Reading a book
It is likely that you will need to experiment and try a variety of things out before you find what works for you.