Stressed city workers struggling to switch off at bedtime, new mums dealing with nocturnal wake-ups, teenagers losing hours to the blue light of their tablet, sleepers affected by the moon phases…the concept of a good night’s sleep seems out of reach in today’s busy world. 

Comparing levels of tiredness is the new water cooler conversation and it’s no wonder when you hear the statistics. We’re getting an average of two hours less sleep a night than our parents and grandparents did 60 years ago, and almost half of Britons (47%) say that stress and worry keeps them awake at night (source: The Sleep Council’s Great British Bedtime Report). Sleep is vital for our health and wellbeing. Not only does quality sleep lower stress levels, improve memory function and boost our mood, the nightly rest keeps the heart healthy as your body refreshes and repairs from the day.   

So you’ve added ‘get a good night’s sleep’ to your bullet journal intentions, but how do you actually make it happen? We quizzed two sleep experts to find out.

Trust your body’s natural rhythms 

“Society definitely has a major fear of what not sleeping will do”, says Stephanie Romiszewski, director and sleep physiologist at The Sleepyhead Clinic. “This is a problem, because then we become obsessive with a process that is natural and perfectly regulated by the body when we don’t interfere!” Next time you have a bad night, draw a line under it and don’t be tempted to hit the sack hours earlier the following evening. Stick to your usual routine and trust your body to self-correct your sleep rhythm. 

Sleep assess your bedroom 

A good sleep starts with the right environment. Stephanie says: “General rules are there should be no light in your bedroom at night, there should be very minimal noise, and you shouldn’t be waking up sore or stiff from discomfort. If any of those things are you, you may need to look at your curtains (such as adding a blackout blind), finding better bedding or investing in a noise cancellation tool.” Watch the temperature in your bedroom too – it's better to sleep in a cooler room, no warmer than 20°C. Cosy up in warm pyjamas if you get chilly, choosing a cotton pair which will regulate your body heat and stop you getting clammy in the night. 

Naps are not the answer 

Thinking of a lunchtime power nap? It might be doing more harm than good, advises Stephanie: “When there are long-term sleep problems that won’t go away, sometimes we add a quick fix (a nap) which in the short term does make us feel better, but in the long term only perpetuates the night-time sleep problem. Even new mums need to be careful, I tend to see clients where the babies are now sleeping but the mums have habituated to a completely upside-down schedule and feel awful and need support. We are better off using naps as the odd fix when there really is only an acute need.” Dodge the nap, fight through the afternoon slump and plan a restful wind-down to bedtime that evening.   

Tap into your REM cycles 

Holly Stone, a hypnotherapist specialising in sleep disorders, says: “Twenty per cent of the sleep that a healthy sleeper experiences is attributed to REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. During this time the brain regulates and processes the stresses of our day allowing us to wake feeling refreshed and clear of mind. If we are overly stressed and anxious our brain's ability to process during REM is impaired and we can be woken by our brains in the night with the stresses and to-do lists at the forefront of our minds.” To reach the first REM cycle, usually around 90 minutes after you drop off, plan a calming bedtime routine that prepares your mind and body for sleep. Avoid any screens for 30-60 minutes before bedtime and keep smartphones out of the bedroom. And skip the evening coffee or sweet hot drink – the energy in caffeine and sugar will interfere with your REM cycles. 

Seek help for long-term sleep issues 

“If you have any symptoms for longer than three months, you need to speak to your GP or find a specialist for support”, says Stephanie. “Insomnia can be fixed - without drugs.” Specialist treatments for sleep issues include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Solution Focused Hypnotherapy and mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Visit The Sleep Council for more tips on improving your sleep habits.