How to get a better night's sleep, according to a psychologist

Spoiler: Naps are always a good idea

Sarah Young
Tuesday 24 October 2017 11:10
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A leading psychologist has revealed the secret techniques that could help you get a good night's sleep.

While some of us claim to happily survive on less sleep than others, on the whole us Brits are sleeping a lot less than we used to.

In fact, according to the latest figures from the Sleep Council, 74 per cent of Brits sleep for less than seven hours a night, and the number of people who say they get less than five hours has grown from seven to 12 per cent.

But aside from feeling groggy, a lack of sleep is linked to all sorts of health problems. With links to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity and poor mental health, sleep deprivation is inadvertently killing us.

It doesn’t have to be like this though and luckily Professor Richard Wiseman of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire has revealed his top five tips for those who struggle to get a good night's rest.

Firstly, while you might think falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow is a good thing, it’s actually an indicator that you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, Wiseman told the Daily Mail.

Instead, it should take around eight to 12 minutes. Any longer than that though and you have a problem.

To help drift off at night, Wiseman suggests using a bit of reverse psychology and trying to stay awake. By doing something that quietens the mind – opposed to constantly monitoring whether you’re asleep yet – you will eventually feel less anxious and fall asleep.

Similarly, if you suffer from ‘sleep maintenance insomnia’ - waking up during the night and struggling to get back to sleep – this trick can also help. Whatever you do though, don’t get up and watch TV or go on your phone, as this will only make things worse.

Wiseman also suggests that we shouldn’t be using alarm clocks. While it’s fine to use one as a back-up, he says that if you’re getting the right amount of sleep – ideally seven to eight hours – then you should be waking up five to ten minutes before it even goes off.

The problem with them, he says, is that they don’t know if you’re in a deep sleep or not, and that ideally you want to wake up while in REM sleep – the lightest stage to avoid feeling groggy and ill-tempered.

If you’re still not feeling satisfied then naps are always a good idea. Wiseman – who takes a 20 minute siesta almost everyday – says that the ideal time to take one is at around 3pm as this is when your circadian rhythm is at its lowest.

But if a quick snooze isn’t an option, he says you avoid the temptation of that extra cup of coffee in the knowledge that your energy levels should start to pick up after an hour or so.

For many, the problem isn’t falling asleep but avoiding the night terrors that come with it. Thought to affect just two per cent of adults, a true night terror can cause a person to suddenly sit up, with their eyes wide-open, scream or lash out, even though they are still asleep.

With research suggesting the condition is triggered by fatigue, stress, heat and disturbances such as light and noise, Wiseman suggests keeping the bedroom cool, dark and investing in a bigger bed so that your partner does not disturb you.

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