How to sleep better

Long Read Article | By Simplyhealth & Heather Fisher Updated: 7 July 2020

If you're reading this article, there's a high chance you aren't getting the best night's sleep. Don't worry. You aren't alone. Statistics from 2017 showed around 40% of people in the UK were struggling to sleep properly, and that was before we went into lockdown.

Sleep impacts our health, both mentally and physically. It helps our immune system to function as it should and gives us energy for tomorrow. And that led us to our expert, someone who always needs to be at the top of their game and on top of their sleep - introducing England Rugby Sevens player and Simplyhealth Rugby Ambassador Heather Fisher. 

What you can find in this article:

  • England Rugby Sevens player Heather Fisher's guidance on the things that help and hinder sleep
  • We open up on the 9 tips to try if you're struggling to get a solid night's sleep

What helps you sleep?

Heather has provided the things that help her get the much-needed sleep a professional requires. Think of it like a checklist, the more you can tick off, the better chance you'll have of sleeping like a professional sports star.

  1. Get outdoors in the natural daylight.
  2. Exercise in the day.
  3. Get a bedtime routine.
  4. Make sure you have a good mattress and replace it every eight years.
  5. Open your bedroom window a crack, aim for 17oC.
  6. Have a warm glass of milk before bed; it helps create the sleep hormone melatonin.
  7. Eat your evening meal before 7pm and avoid any caffeine after 2pm. If you want a hot drink, go decaf.
  8. Keep tech out of the bedroom. That's mobile phones, laptops, and tablets. 
  9. Reduce your screen time and read a book instead.
  10. Practice relaxation and breathing techniques.

What stops you from sleeping?

If you're trying to work out why you are having difficulty sleeping, Heather's list below may help you. These are some reasons people find it hard to fall asleep or get a good night's sleep. If you notice some of these apply to you, try and rectify that to see if it has an impact:  

  1. Your room's too light
  2. You're not physically active enough
  3. You're eating heavier meals shortly before bed
  4. You drink caffeine or alcohol before bed
  5. You've been looking at screens or devices before you sleep
  6. It's too noisy
  7. The room's too hot
  8. You're wound-up or stressed
  9. You're in a room that isn't comfortable for you 

Tips to get the best sleep possible

Getting to the root of your lack of sleep isn't easy. There's a lot of anxiety around at the moment, and we're probably all a whole lot less active as well. As well as the list above, we have detailed tips below that you can try to help with your sleep pattern: 

Tip 1:
Make your room as dark as possible

Are street lights keeping you awake? If so, it's time to get a blackout blind or curtains. Too much light, while you're trying to sleep, will interfere with melatonin production, the hormone which makes you sleepy. Make sure any lights in the room are off or very dim. Think digital clocks, nightlights, mobile phone screens, and TVs. You can always wear an eye mask if you need to. When you need to sleep, it's good to be in the dark.


Tip 2:
Get exercising, use up your energy!

As well as making you tired physically, regular exercise is excellent for helping you get to sleep. It helps you reach the most restorative phase of sleep, which is deeper. Exercise is one of the recommendations for people suffering from sleep disorders like insomnia. Understandably, we aren't getting as much, but make that extra effort if sleep is impacted.  


Tip 3:
Eat your heavy meals long before you hit the sack

Have you noticed how uncomfortable it can be to lie down on a full stomach? Your stomach works harder after a big meal, gets your heart rate going, and keeps you awake. You may even feel a bit sick, and none of us wants that.

Solutions are eating a big main meal at midday, like the Swiss whose evening meals are lighter. They have things like bread with honey, jam, cheese, and meats. If you want a heavy dinner, do it at least two or three hours before bed. That'll give your stomach acid the time it needs to digest the meal before you lie down.


Tip 4:
Avoid the caffeine and alcohol before bed

Drinks that get your heart going aren't what you want before bed. Instead of coffee or black tea, try chamomile tea or a warm milky drink. Decaf tea and coffee still contain caffeine, so steer clear of these too.

If you think an alcoholic nightcap or two helps you sleep, then think again! Although it can have a sleepy effect, studies show that drinking alcohol before bed stimulates you more, compared to the rest of the day. It also reduces how long you're in a deeper sleep for – the most restorative stage – meaning you'll benefit less from that night's sleep.


Tip 5:
No more looking at screens before you sleep

Do you look at your mobile straight before going to sleep? We're guilty of that. A quick look at social media because anything could be happening, right? The blue light from your phone, TV, and computer screen affects the production of melatonin, which makes it harder for you to fall asleep. 

There's the option of downloading an app that filters the blue light. But better still, in our opinion, is to read a book or magazine before bed instead.  


Tip 6:
There's a disturbance in the sleep: noises

Snoring partner or noisy neighbour, they're here to disrupt your sleep. The fix? Earplugs. Another area you may not have thought about is the flooring. Carpet in your bedroom and things like cushions and chairs can help absorb sound, helping you get a better night's sleep. Dogs' claws can make a loud sound on hard flooring too – with carpet, blissful silence.


Tip 7:
Just lie there and be cool, really cool

When you fall asleep, your body temperature drops. Having a cooler room than usual can help trigger sleep. Opening a window and letting some fresh air in is also a winner, not only does it cool you down at night, it can help you feel ready to get up in the morning as well.


Tip 8:
Take time to unwind

If you've been rushing around or having a stressful day, which isn't uncommon right now, take some time to unwind. Take a moment to get in the mood for sleep. Try to read, rest your mind, meditate, try some mindful movement, write down things you need to remember for the next morning. Overworking can make your mind 'buzz' so make sure you get enough breaks throughout your day and get outside for a walk if you can.


Tip 9:
Make your bedroom sleep-friendly

Your bedroom is obviously important. It's where you actually sleep. So it's got to be right. Start by removing anything you associate with stress. Everything. Things like exercise equipment and your laptop or bag you were using for work. Get a dimmable light switch. It'll create a more ambient light – you don't want a bright, white light flooding the room while you're trying to get ready for bed! Use soft lighting and calming colours, it can make all the difference. Finally, a comfy mattress. It'll give you that night's sleep you've been looking for. It'll also help you avoid back pain or some allergies, so you can fall asleep easier.

Woman having a video call with GP

Need help from a professional?

If you're finding it hard to get a solid night's sleep and want to find a solution, Video GP from Simplyhealth can get you talking to a GP within hours. Our plans start from £10 a month.

Now you've got the knowledge, it's time to sleep on it

We hope you'll have a better night's sleep tonight now you have a few more tips to try. If you're still struggling, speak to your GP for more advice. The Sleep Foundation recommends some helpful sleep apps on their website, so be sure to check them out. 

Our aim is to help you stay as healthy as you can. We've got professionals and partners who love sharing their expertise. Keep browsing our site for more tips, tricks, and long as it isn't bedtime. Turn off that device if you are!

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