How to get a good nights sleep

In those hard to imagine days in the late 1800’s before Edison and others began tinkering with the idea of the lightbulb, most of us used to sleep around ten hours per night.  But over the years we’ve somehow managed to allow ourselves less and less, with the average in the UK now being seven hours of Zzz’s.

The big sleep sacrifice

These days we sleep less in order to get more done, with many of us finding ourselves going to bed late and waking early in order to meet our ever tightening schedules.  According to a 2013 study of 5000 Britons by the Sleep Council 40% of Britons do not get the recommended six to nine hours as designated by the NHS. The study also revealed that 33% of us now get by on five to six hours, with the majority of us (70%) getting by on seven hours or less. It also came to light that that almost 50% of respondents reported that stress or worry keeps them up at night.

Sleep or else…

Lack of sleep can seriously impact our health.  It can affect us both physically and mentally, with common effects being memory problems, feelings of depression and a weakening of our immune system.  Although the magic number of eight hours doesn’t necessarily follow for everybody, most of us need somewhere between six to nine hours to wake feeling good and be able to function properly.

By missing out on valuable sleep we can create what is referred to as a ‘sleep debt’ which our body desperately wants us to repay.  Many of us know we aren’t getting enough sleep, and tell ourselves we’ll catch up on it over the weekend.  But I think most of us know that weekends are far too exciting to spend sleeping and our ‘debt’ may go unpaid!

Sleep deprivation is more serious than you think

The basic effects of sleep deprivation are on your cognitive abilities, reaction times, and emotions being heightened.  As well as these, lack of sleep has been linked to weight gain and chronic disease.  We are only just beginning to understand some of the deeper functions of sleep, and it appears that it is far far more important than just refreshing us.  Studies are now emerging that indicate a lack of sleep can have the same effects on our immune system as illness or physical stress.

I’m a firm believer that in order to get a good nights sleep we need to prepare ourselves for it, and make it a pleasant experience, rather than just a chore we have to do in between our working days.  By not seeing sleep as important we won’t give it the respect it’s due.  That means we may enter into it in a way that fails to enhance or compliment it.

The two hours before bed are critical

If our aim is to get a good night’s sleep, many of us do the wrong stuff in the run up to it, and actually wake ourselves up rather than prepare ourselves for pleasant trip to dreamland.  What I’m talking about here is things like consuming sugar and stimulants, or watching tv, reading newspapers, doing work, social media etc, all in the two hours before bed.  What you do in those couple of hours dramatically affects how well you sleep.

So what I’m suggesting in order to remedy this is that you fill your two hours before bed with a positive ritual.  It involves nothing that will switch on the production of your awake hormone (cortisol) and just involves activities that stimulate your sleepy hormone (melatonin)

The four B’s of superb sleep

1) Brightness – Dim the lights in your house, and turn off any screens such as phones, laptops, televisions that will trigger your awake hormones

2) Bath – Take a nice relaxing bath for half an hour. This will help with regulating your body temperature to a good level for sleep.

3) Book – If you’re a reader, an ideal thing to do is to take your mind somewhere pleasant for an hour or so.  Perhaps read something fictional or inspirational that ignites your imagination and emotions in a positive manner.  This is a complete contrast to listening to depressing news, doing work, or scouring social media for the latest negative gossip.

4) Bodyscan – This technique is one of the best ways to help you drift off.  It simply works by allowing you to focus your mind on certain body parts in a systematic order, whilst gently breathing.  Many insomniacs even report that this technique worked for them.

I’ve had cases in my coaching where people claiming not to be able to sleep have drifted off during a Bodyscan.  One young lady who didn’t believe it would work on her, even took part with a cup of tea on her lap.  Needless to say she spilt it on her lap halfway through.  Even if you don’t struggle to get to sleep, doing a scan or short version of it can help deepen your sleep.

A good idea may be to download a Mindfulness app to your phone. For a rundown of a few good ones check out

So there you have it, these are my simple four B’s solution to getting a good night’s sleep.  Good luck and I hope they serve you well!

Jonathan Pittam
Corporate resilience & wellbeing Coach, Consultant, Writer, Speaker

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