6 tips for a good night’s sleep

Tossing and turning all night? Try these sleep strategies from a leading sleep expert

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Get rested tonight

Sleep is vital for good health, but getting enough can be a challenge-even for a sleep expert. "With so many demands on my time, I have to remember to give myself enough time for sleep," admits Professor Leon Lack, director of the sleep research laboratory at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. "But I always find that the extra energy and alertness I have the next day is worth the investment of spending an additional hour in bed."

It's important to use your bed just for sleeping and relaxing, advises Lack, not for working on your laptop or arguing with your partner, as stress and anxiety can contribute to sleepless nights. "It's also easy to get upset if you awaken during the night or very early. Even I have to practise what I preach to my insomnia clients about trying to remain relaxed if I waken unexpectedly-and doing that means I eventually drift back to sleep."

So you know Lack speaks from both personal and professional experience when he shares his six top sleeping strategies.

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workout fitness exercise mat

1. Exercise regularly

"I find exercise is excellent for a good sleep. As well as having many other health benefits, exercising regularly has been found to reduce mental stress and improve sleep quality. Just don't work out in the hour before bedtime, because it will tend to keep you awake longer."

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2. Limit caffeine

"I drink coffee in moderation. And I avoid it in the afternoon or evening. It can definitely contribute to sleep problems, particularly if you're consuming more than three caffeinated drinks a day."

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Apples and peanut butter

3. Avoid large meals

"I avoid eating large meals within two to three hours before bed. But if your last meal of the day is more than five hours before bed, a light snack can help get you through the night. And don't use alcohol to help you sleep. You may fall asleep faster, but the quality of your sleep will be worse."

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4. Create a routine

"I have a standard bedtime routine. Giving myself something relaxing to do in the hour before bed and then going to bed when I start feeling sleepy really works. Feeling fatigued won't ensure sleep, but it's the sign to look for. Most important is to get up at the same time each morning. Sleeping in late on weekends to catch up on sleep lost during the week is a common habit, but it can disturb your body clock and lead to difficulty getting to sleep the following weeknights. Aim to get more adequate sleep consistently through the week."

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5. Maintain a tranquil environment

"I maintain a sleep environment that is comfortable for me. Having a supportive mattress and pillow -and a quiet room I can keep dark while I sleep-is very helpful. An eye mask can also extend sleep in the morning. But it isn't so much the dim light and quiet noises that can have a negative impact on your sleep as the soft breathing of a bed partner. More damaging is the negative emotional reaction to these mild noises, so keeping a relaxed disposition is key to success."

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6. Turn down the thermostat

"I make sure my room isn't too hot. Most people do sleep best in a cool room. To help keep things cool, take off that extra quilt, duvet or electric blanket before you climb into bed. Also, ensure the room is well ventilated, but not breezy."

If you have chronic insomnia, these suggestions are unlikely to cure it on their own. If sleeplessness persists, see your doctor.

Related:
How sleep affects your health
How technology can ruin your family's sleep
Quiz: What's your sleep style?