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There are countless books and websites out there telling you how to sleep better. But I think a lot of people just want some good practical advice about how to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Essentially, it is up to the individual to find the way that works best for them. There are no golden rules for good sleep, but there are some guiding principles.

  1. Your bedroom should be dark, quiet and cool, with a comfortable bed
  2. The bedroom should be strongly associated with sleep: if you are asleep you should be in your bedroom, and if you’re not asleep you shouldn’t be. That means no TV, no computer and no work in the bedroom.
  3. Only go to bed when you are sleepy. This means listening to your body rather than going to bed because the programme on TV has finished, or because your partner wants to go to bed, etc.
  4. If you haven’t fallen asleep within about 30 minutes, get up and go back to bed again when you are sleepy (if you wake up in the middle of the night and don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes or so, do the same)
  5. Don’t clock watch. If you know what time it is, your eyes are open. That means that you are not trying to sleep.
  6. Try to have a regular bedtime and wake-up time.
  7. Don’t worry about your sleep and don’t try to go to sleep. The harder you try to sleep, the less likely you are to fall asleep.
  8. Try and spend at least 30 minutes winding down before bed.

This is starting to look dangerously like a list of 10 rules for good sleep! So here is, in my mind, the single most important guiding principle.

To get good sleep, you need:

  • A quiet mind
  • A relaxed body

The quiet mind is the most important part: if your mind is active, stressed or worrying, you are unlikely to fall asleep. So anything that quietens the mind and relaxes the body will help you sleep. It does not matter what it is. So if camomile tea helps you, then by all means drink it. If yoga helps, then do it. If listening to thrash metal quietens your mind and relaxes your body, then listen to it.
Just remember that what works for one person will not necessarily work for another. You need to find out what’s right for you.

DoctorNeil

Dr. Neil Stanley

Dr Neil Stanley is an independent sleep expert who has been involved in research for over 35 years. After starting out at the R.A.F. Institute of Aviation Medicine, he moved on to the University of Surrey's Human Psychopharmacology Research Unit, where he was Director of Sleep Research. Today, he travels the world lecturing on various aspects of sleep to both healthcare professionals and the public at large.