We’ve been doing it since the day we were born, yet for many of us the art of sleep remains elusive: we spend our night not getting enough of it, and our days bemoaning our inability to do it better.
Adopting some good sleep hygiene habits – essentially, behaviours that can promote positive sleep patterns – could help. “Our daily and nightly activities all impact on how we sleep,” explains Maryanne Taylor, a sleep consultant who founded The Sleep Works. “Making changes to some of these – whether it be lifestyle or diet changes – can make a tremendous difference to our quantity and quality of sleep.”
As anyone who has spent an fitful night while their partner sleeps blissfully through will attest, there’s no single golden rule that helps everyone – but if you’re looking for ways to improve your sleep hygiene, these are some of the core concepts that might help.
Our circadian rhythm (or our inner body clock), is a biological function that dictates when we naturally feel tired and awake, says Taylor. “Keeping to a regular time schedule for when we go to bed and when we wake in the morning will stabilise our circadian rhythm, helping us feel more rested and therefore more productive during the day.”
That can be tricky if, for instance, you work varying shifts. But if sticking to the same bedtime is something you can commit to, it’s worth noting that a 2018 study conducted by Duke Health and the Duke Clinical Research Institute found that people with irregular sleep patterns weighed more, and had higher blood sugar and blood pressure, than those who slept and woke at the same time every day. Irregular sleepers were also more likely to report depression and stress than regular sleepers.
More research is needed into these suggested outcomes – but when our sleep patterns fluctuate, that can result in disturbed sleep, says Taylor.
Generally, it’s recommended that the average adult should aim for between six and eight hours of sleep every night – but, Taylor argues, our circadian rhythm also has a hand in dictating whether we are a ‘morning lark’ or a ’night owl.’ The key is finding the bedtime that works best for you, then sticking to it.