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The do's and don'ts for restful sleep

These guidelines certainly beat counting sheep.
By David Robson |


Few experiences are as maddening as a restless night. Sleep should, in theory, be the most natural and effortless activity in the world, yet insomnia is common to many of us. To add to the frustration, it is now becoming clear that the hours you spend in bed are just as important to your physical and mental health as those spent walking, talking and eating. A good night’s rest can help regulate your mood, sharpen your attention, and boost your memory, while ailments from heart disease to diabetes have been linked to those struggling to get sufficient sleep.



Simply willing yourself to fall to sleep can make its sweet relief even more elusive, and we resort to all sorts of measures to help ease our journey to the land of nod. But what works, and what doesn’t? BBC Future has reviewed the evidence to find out.


Don’t… drink caffeine after dark

Avoiding caffeine is obvious advice, but it's worth repeating. The good news is that you may not need to be as strict as once thought. If you have your last coffee in the early afternoon, most of the caffeine will have been flushed out of your body by 11pm. It’s also worth noting that not everyone is affected by caffeine equally; some people have a gene variant which means they are much less sensitive to caffeine’s effects—so it’s worth experimenting with what works for you.


Related: The people who need very little sleep



Do… keep a sleep diary

Cutting down on alcohol, taking regular exercise, avoiding daytime naps and following a rigid bedtime schedule can also improve your “sleep hygiene” and set you up for deeper slumbers.  For this reason, some studies suggest keeping a sleep diary of your activity before bed, which helps to ensure you avoid the worst triggers




Don’t… curl up with your favourite reading device

Although the act of reading may be soporific, changes in the way we consume literature could be sending your bodily rhythms into disarray. Many e-readers are backlit with blue frequencies of light—which can fool the brain into thinking that it’s still daytime. Perhaps for this reason, a recent study found that reading on these devices for a few hours before bed seems to suppress melatonin (the sleep hormone) and therefore makes it harder to doze off, compared to a traditional paperback.


Related: The science of jet lag... and how best to beat it


Do… try some 'slumber-foods'  

According to the old wives’ tale, cheese and chocolate before bed will give you nightmares. That remains to be proven scientifically, but your day’s meals can certainly influence how quickly you get to sleep, and the quality of your slumbers. Meals high in carbohydrates and protein (especially oily fish), but low in fat, show moderate benefits to overall sleep duration and quality, provided they are eaten at least an hour before you plan to drop off.




Do… sleep in a new position (or learn the didgeridoo)

Many restless nights can be linked to sleep apnea—a condition linked to snoring, in which the airways becomes constricted when you are unconscious. Often, the sleeper doesn’t even realise what has woken them up with a start—despite the fact that it can happen many times in one night. There are several causes, but some cases may be easily solved by switching from lying on your back, to sleeping on your front or side. Another, more left-field suggestion is to learn the didgeridoo; perhaps because it strengthens muscles in the respiratory system.


Related: Can you train yourself to get by on less sleep?



This story originally appeared on BBC Future.

Copyright 2015 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.
This article was lifted from Minor edits have been done by the editor.


Photos from Flickr (Hobvias Sudoneighm and Lily Monster) 


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