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Top tips for a good night’s sleep (part 1) by Dr. Shelley Parkin

7th September 2015

We have all been there – lying awake, tossing and turning, the mind working overtime. It’s frustrating and makes us feel dreadful. Sleeping well is crucial but the odd bad night will have no lasting effects.

A chronic lack of sleep however, can have huge ramifications for health, affecting ability to think clearly – concentrate and make decisions, cope with challenges and life generally, and function at work. Sleep boosts our immune system. A lack of sleep leaves us vulnerable to illness. Sleep also improves our wellbeing.

Prolonged poor sleep makes us irritable and short tempered at best and leaves us stressed, depressed and anxious at worst. Long-term sleep deprivation has even been linked to medical conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure. Inability to think clearly combined with weakness and illness also puts us at increased risk of accident and injury.

The good news is that often, sleep deprivation is caused by bad habits. Simple changes can make the world of difference:

Get your bedroom set up properly for sleep

Is your bed comfortable?

Is the room too warm or too cold?

Are the bedclothes too heavy or too light?

Is the room too dark or too light?

Is the room too quiet or too loud?

Get adequate night-time sleep

In today’s busy world many of us shave an hour or two off our sleep time to do other things. Most adults need seven to nine hours a night and teenagers need about nine hours. Block out eight or nine hours for sleep every night. Make sleep a priority.

Keep distractions out of bed

Avoid activities like reading, watching TV, playing video games, or using laptops whilst in bed, which distracts from the primary reason for being there – to sleep.

Get a consistent routine

Bed and wake-up times:

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. To avoid the frustration associated with setting an ideal bedtime and not falling asleep, start with your wake-up time. Stick to that for a few weeks or months to establish a rhythm. If you have a bad night, don’t worry, you’ll be sleepier the next bedtime. Once this is established, adjust your bedtime

Gradually make bedtime earlier:

Try going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night for four nights. Then stick with the last bedtime. Gradual adjustment like this usually works better than suddenly trying to go to sleep an hour earlier


Regular and healthy mealtimes, and regular sleep times, help regulate our circadian rhythms. Eating a healthy breakfast and lunch on time, rather than grabbing a late sandwich on the run, prevents energy deficits during the day that will aggravate your sleepiness. Finish eating meals two to three hours before bed


It is important to be cognitively AND physically tired. Regular exercise (30 minutes most days) offers multiple benefits for sleep. Aerobic exercise in particular, makes it easier to fall asleep and sleep more soundly. Exercise also provides more daytime energy and keeps your thinking sharp. If you exercise outside in daylight, you get even more benefits. Sleep experts recommend 30 minutes of exposure to sunlight a day because daylight helps regulate our sleep patterns. Remember though – avoid exercising within three hours of bedtime, your body needs chance to relax and get ready for bed.

De-clutter your schedule

If you don’t think you can allow seven or eight hours for sleep, you need to look at your schedule and make some adjustments. Move activities from night-time to early evening or from early to late morning. Eliminate tasks that aren’t really important. Getting enough sleep at night will help you function better for the important stuff.

In Part 2 we will look at 7 more top tips to complete your sleep hygiene.

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