If a good night's sleep regularly eludes you and you're determined to master the art, it's often difficult to know where to begin. With a deluge of dubious advice on the internet and well-intentioned guidance from friends and family often marred by old wives tales, it's easy to waste time on things that simply don't work. Enter our expert-led guide. Here Max Kirsten, Hypnotherapist and Insomnia Coach, and GP Dr Zoe Schaedel from the Good Sleep Clinic, speak exclusively to Grazia and debunk some of the most common sleep myths doing the rounds today.
1. Drinking alcohol before bed will help you to sleep better
Many reach for a glass of wine after a long day, but if you are struggling with patchy sleep, it might be better to think twice before opening a bottle before bed. 'Drinking a nightcap before you go to sleep reduces the quality of your sleep considerably, as it damages your sleep architecture and your natural sleep cycles', says Kirsten. 'You're more likely to wake in the night repeatedly, as it dehydrates you, it also causes swelling of the throat, increasing snoring and sleep apnea. Even if you counteract the dehydration by drinking water, you'll wake more frequently to go to the toilet.'
2. The more sleep you get, the better
'Firstly, it's true that most people don't get enough regular sleep,' says Kirsten, 'medical research into those who consistently sleep less than six hours a night shows an increase in serious long-term health problems, like increased risk of heart attacks and cancer, anxiety and depression. Sleeping more than the optimal seven to nine hours a night shows increased mortality risks, coronary heart disease, diabetes, stress and obesity in adults over 45.'
3. All that matters is how long you sleep
'The regularity of your sleep pattern, as well as sleep quality is almost more important than simply the duration of sleep,' says Kirsten, 'your goal should be to get enough sleep, ideally seven to nine hours, but focus on achieving high quality, uninterrupted sleep.' Well-timed power naps can be beneficial too, but don't overdo it. 'Napping in the daytime can be restorative if you are sleep deprived,' says Kirsten, 'however, longer than 10-20 minutes risks making you feel drowsy and unrefreshed. The next optimal time to wake up is after 90 minutes (and not before) because this is the average length of one complete sleep cycle, and waking in the middle of a sleep cycle can make you feel worse.'
4. You need to cut out caffeine if you have trouble sleeping
'It is common knowledge that the caffeine can get in the way of sleep,' says Dr Schaedel, 'so it is important to limit this in the lead up to bedtime because it can remain active in our system for many hours. However, if you drink your caffeine before lunchtime it will generally be well out of the way by the time your need to feel sleepy. If you enjoy coffee or tea; feel free to indulge in the morning!' Dr Schaedel's top tip for regular coffee drinkers? 'Switch to de-caffeinated versions in the afternoons for the same flavour but none of the lingering buzz'.
5. The early bird catches the worm
'Despite many activities and services being available 24 hours a day, there is still a widespread belief that being productive and successful is linked with getting up early,' notes Dr Schaedel, 'however this is not always true. Whether or not you function at your optimal level early in the morning is determined by your genetics. Your chronotype determines the ideal timings of your own natural body clock. At least 15% of the population are thought to be “night owls” and although they may be able to wake up and work early they will be most productive later on in the day. It can be useful to identify whether your natural body clock leans more towards earlier or later sleeping, as it can help to schedule your work and sleep times'.
6. A good night’s sleep means staying asleep all night
'People often worry that waking up periodically during the night is unhealthy,' says Dr Schaedel, 'but it is completely normal. Sleep comes in phases and we move between light and deeper sleep. Often at the end of each full sleep cycle we arrive at a natural waking point. Getting worried or frustrated about waking up can actually make it harder for us to fall back to sleep, so try to remind yourself that waking is a normal healthy part of sleep.'
7. Sleeping pills are the cure for insomnia
Sleeping pills don't work as long term fixes warns Dr Schaedel. 'Although they can sometimes benefit people in the short term, they often don’t work at all, or only for a very short time. Pills are often not the answer if your sleep problems are continuous. A specific sleep treatment programme such as cognitive behaviour therapy for insomnia is often much more effective in treating sleep problems and its benefits last longer. Do speak to your doctor if you are suffering.'
The Expert-Approved Tips For A Good Night's Sleep
Dr Zoe Scheadel's shares her tips to a creating a restful and effective bedtime routine.
'A good bedtime routine can be really useful when it comes to reducing the sort of stress and anxiety that can disrupt sleep. A strong routine also helps our brain to recognise when it is time to sleep. Parents often create routines for children before bed, to help them calm down and pave the way for bedtime, but this can be just as important for adults too.'
Regular timings: Pick the same time each night to start your bedtime routine, one hour before you want to sleep is ideal. Consistency is helpful in giving the right messages to your brain and can strengthen your internal clock.
Screens off: Avoiding screens in the lead up to bed is helpful for two reasons. Firstly the blue light stimulates your brain alertness centres, suppressing the production of melatonin - a hormone that makes you feel sleepy.
Hack your temperature: Having a warm bath or shower leads to a drop in your core body temperature soon afterwards. A drop in body temperature is needed for us to transition into sleep, so a bath or shower around 30 minutes before bedtime can help speed up the process.
Focus your mind: Transfer your worries or thoughts onto paper. Whatever we have on our mind when we go to bed, can contribute to keeping us alert or anxious when we try to fall asleep. Taking some time to create a to do list for the next day, or even a worry list can really help to move your mind to a calm, restful space.'