How to get better sleep
Want to wake up more refreshed? Dr Nerina Ramlakhan tells Liz Connor the bedtime routine rules she swears by. By Liz Connor, Press Association
There's nothing better than waking up feeling completely recharged and rested after a good night's sleep - but how often does that actually happen?
Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan says, generally speaking, people tend to fall into two categories: 'Sensitive sleepers' and 'Martini sleepers'. "Sensitive sleepers are vulnerable to wake up at the slightest noise," notes Ramlakhan. "They may often need their own blanket, own pillow, have a specific side of the bed - and they won't be able to sleep on an argument." Martini sleepers, meanwhile, are those lucky people who can sleep anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
Ramlakhan assures, however, that it's actually very normal to wake up during the night. In fact on average, people wake between seven to 15 times a night, knowingly or not.
Here, Ramlakhan shares her five non-negotiables, which she believes can completely change your relationship with sleep...
1. Don't skip breakfast
Not only is the 'most important meal of the day' vital for energy and concentration, but breakfast can affect your sleep too. "One of my big non-negotiables is eating breakfast," says Ramlakhan. "It's common for people to wake up feeling anxious as they prepare for a busy day. If you wake up worried and tired, with your mind racing before you're even dressed, you're putting your nervous system in overdrive. Before you eat your morning meal, your body is effectively running on adrenaline."
If you often feel this way in the morning, Ramlakhan recommends eating within the first half-hour of rising, so you can stabilise your blood sugar levels. This, she says, places your nervous system into 'safety mode'. "Stabilising your blood sugar enhances your body's ability to produce [the hormone] melatonin, which is needed for sleep, later in the day."
2. Cut back on caffeine
You might feel like a cup of coffee is exactly what you need to keep you awake and alert after a bad night's sleep, but relying on caffeine can become a viscous circle, keeping you awake later at night. "Cutting back on caffeine can hugely enhance your sleep," says Ramlakhan. "Ideally, you should avoid having caffeine after 4pm. As well as coffee, it's advisable to avoid tea, fizzy drinks such as Coca-Cola, and even green tea too. Everyone's caffeine metabolism is different, however the effects can linger for a long time in the body."
3. Stay well hydrated
"Another non-negotiable is drinking more water and making sure you're staying hydrated," warns Ramlakhan. "It's classic, but one litre to a litre-and-a-half a day should do the trick.
"Not only do you lose water throughout the night, but being well hydrated can help reduce awakenings and disruptions caused by dehydration, such as a dry mouth and leg cramps," she adds.
If you often forget to stay hydrated, set alarms evenly throughout your day, and drink a cup of water whenever they ring.
4. Go to bed early
"You should try and go to bed early about three or four nights a week," says Ramlakhan. "This is about training your body to receive rest earlier."
It might be tempting to stay up and watch that extra episode on Netflix, but this can throw your sleep pattern completely out of whack. "A lot of people who I work with these days are going to bed too late," say Ramlakhan. "Three of four nights a week, you should aim to be in bed between 9:30 and 10pm. You don't necessarily have to be sleeping, but resting or doing something that is restful."
This might be reading a book (not your phone!), listening to soothing music, meditating, or writing in a gratitude journal. "What you should try and avoid is watching television in bed, sitting on your laptop and being your phone or on social media. The idea is to use this extra time to really disengage from technology and focus on rest and sleep," says Ramlakhan.
5. Set healthy technology boundaries
"The fifth non-negotiable is about having healthy boundaries with technology. This means leaving electronics out of the bedroom," says Ramlakhan. "Late bedtimes are often related to technology and social media, with people staying up absorbed by the internet or the television." The blue light from devices also impacts the sleep cycle.
"Small adjustments include having an electronic sundown, about 45 minutes before you go to bed. Withdraw from technology during that time, setting yourself up for rest and sleep," says Ramlakhan. "Your phone shouldn't be the last thing that you look at before you go to sleep, and it shouldn't be the first thing you look at when you wake up in the morning. Avoid this if you can, as it will help teach you not to rely on it so much as part of your sleep routine."