Sleep is of the upmost importance to our mental and physical health and, while many of us don't even think about it until we fall in to bed at night, good sleep hygiene actually begins the moment you wake up - and can be impacted by every little thing you do throughout the day.
In fact, a recent survey of 2,000 adults by independent furniture retailer Barker and Stonehouse revealed the nation's sleeping habits – many of which will probably come as no surprise.
Brits are currently not getting the recommended eight hours of sleep; with one in five admitting they don't get to sleep until midnight and wake up at 6:30am during the week. What's more, more than 40% believe they would lead happier lives if they simply had more sleep.
Developing a positive daily routine will pave the way for regular good-quality sleep for you and your family. Here, Naturalmat's sleep expert, Christabel Majendie, shares her tips and insight on how to achieve just that.
1. Exercise during the day
Excess energy can cause restlessness at night, so daily exercise will help you use up excess energy. Exercise promotes biochemicals such as endorphins, endocannabinoids and neurotransmitters, all of which can help reduce stress and anxiety. Other benefits include more confidence, a distraction from worries and an improvement of overall health.
2. Expose yourself to sunlight
Make sure you get enough sunlight during the day – this promotes higher levels of melatonin which is essential for maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm. Sunlight can also help you get more Vitamin D, with some studies suggesting that Vitamin D has a positive influence on sleep.
3. Don't take long naps during the day
There are differing opinions about day-napping. However, the general advice is to avoid it altogether because it can disrupt your circadian rhythm. If you do nap during the day, make it no longer than 20 minutes.
4. Stay out of the bedroom
Get out of bed and stay out. The idea is to associate your bedroom with sleep only, so if you work from home, don't have your office or work space in the bedroom.
5. Develop a healthy, balanced diet
The right foods contain compounds that promote sleep, so good nutrition is an essential part of sleep hygiene.
Tip: Eat protein foods high in tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes melatonin. Pumpkin seeds, chicken, cheese, nuts, lentils, oats, beans and eggs are considered high tryptophan foods.
6. Have an afternoon cut-off point for caffeine
"Avoid caffeine four-to-six hours before bed. Switch to a decaffeinated tea, such as chamomile or a warm, milky drink," says Christabel. "If you are dependent on caffeine in the day to keep you alert and awake, consider going to bed earlier each night instead or address the factors that may be impacting on your sleep quality."
Caffeine is a stimulant, so if you're a regular coffee drinker be disciplined and stop having tea and coffee early on in the day. Better still, if you want to give up, do so gradually because caffeine can be addictive and can produce withdrawal symptoms.
In the hours leading up to bedtime:
This is an important time. The body needs to stop winding down and get prepared for sleep...
7. Avoid deep or emotionally upsetting discussions
This can fill your mind with all kinds of thoughts that will keep you awake. Be disciplined. If a loved one is being insistent, politely remind them that this isn't the best time.
8. Don't eat big meals
Avoid meals at least three hours before going to bed. The body needs to expend energy restoring and repairing, not digesting food. But by the same token, do not go to bed really hungry as this can keep you awake. If you are hungry, have a light snack.
9. Don't watch TV or play computer games while in bed...
...Or anything else that's stimulating such as mobile phones. The blue light from these devices inhibits the development of melatonin and makes it harder for you to fall asleep.
10. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine
Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants – avoid them at all costs. If you haven't managed to, establish a cut-off point for your caffeine intake, ideally at least three hours before sleep. Alcohol may help you nod off, but once it's been metabolised the withdrawal symptoms will cause arousal, therefore disrupting your sleep cycle.
11. Establish healthy bedtime rituals
This should become a regular habit. Ideally, the rituals should promote relaxation. Avoid doing anything too stimulating as this can have the opposite effect. Examples of bedtime rituals:
• A warm bath at set times
• Practice mindfulness techniques such as meditation
• Light reading
• Gentle yoga and pilates
Trying to sleep
Most of us have been there at some point: We're in bed and yet we cannot switch off. This can be especially frustrating when we have important events the next day...
12. Do not clock watch
Naturally, as you lie there trying to sleep, you will worry about time. However, don't do it. Watching the clock will just cause more anxiety and make it harder for you to drift off.
"Stick to a bedtime routine in the hour before bed and stop all work or tasks. Your routine could include taking a bath, making a warm, decaffeinated drink and maybe a snack if you have eaten early in the evening, reading, listening to some relaxing music or practicing some relaxation techniques. The idea is to wind down your mind and body and relax," says Christabel.
13. Do not try and force yourself to sleep
It will have the reverse effect. Instead, conjure up pleasant scenes in your mind and forget about falling asleep.
14. Worrying only makes it worse
Just resign yourself to the idea that it's already late and there is nothing you can do about it. You will be surprised how this will lift the load and help you relax.