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A Good Night’s Sleep

Someone asked me the other day if I had any good tips about how to get a good night’s sleep. I’ve written previously about how sleep is crucial for your cognitive abilities, but in truth, the benefits of sleep extend far beyond that. Sleep also helps to:

  • Reduce your cardiovascular risk
  • Prevent diabetes and obesity
  • Enhance the function of the immune system

…amongst many other benefits.

Like many things in life, it is important to get the balance right when it comes to sleep. Too much sleep is detrimental, obviously, but too little sleep can also be harmful. Our culture often glorifies people who can get by with very little sleep, when they are effectively just killing themselves slowly with their so-called ‘productivity’. Bottom line: apart from the quantity of sleep, the quality of sleep also matters.

So, how can we get a good night’s sleep? What brand of sleeping pill should we go out and buy?

The first thing to note is that sleeping pills are very poor treatments for insomnia (the medical term for when you have trouble falling and/or staying asleep). They don’t produce natural sleep; we know this by looking at what happens to your brainwaves when you sleep naturally vs when you are in a drug-induced sleep. Pills mostly work in the short-term only, with a risk of rebound insomnia when you stop treatment. Overall, I’d try my best to avoid sleeping pills if at all possible.

Tips for sleep

So, back to the original question: how do we get a good night’s sleep? For the vast majority of people, the best answer to that question is to learn how to develop good sleeping habits.

Thankfully, the National Institute on Aging has prepared some tips for developing good sleeping habits. I’m going to quote them (in bold text) here because they are excellent:

  • Follow a regular sleep schedule. In other words, go to sleep and get up at the same time each day.
  • Avoid napping in the late afternoon or evening. D’oh!
  • Develop a bedtime routine. Just like your computer needs some time to shut down, you also can benefit from having a ‘shutdown’ routine. It’s difficult to just fall asleep the moment your head hits the pillow. Much better to relax before bedtime in order to prepare you for sleep.
  • Try not to watch television or use your computer, smartphone, or tablet in the bedroom. Stop refreshing your Facebook feeds and read a good book instead.
  • Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature. This is an opportunity to practise your diplomacy skills i.e. when trying to reach an agreement with the spouse as to what a ‘comfortable temperature’ is.
  • Use low lighting in the evenings.
  • Exercise at regular times each day. Ideally, not within 2-3 hours of bedtime so that you body has time for its shutdown routine.
  • Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime.
  • Stay away from caffeine late in the day. Caffeine can take up to 8 hours to wear off fully. Nicotine is also a stimulant, so yeah, stop smoking before bedtime. Also, stop smoking during the day. In fact, just stop smoking OK?
  • Remember—alcohol won’t help you sleep. No nightcaps please.

I hope the above information will help you get a good night’s sleep.

Finally, if all else fails, there’s always the audiobook of Samuel L. Jackson reading ‘Go the F**k to Sleep‘. You’re welcome!

By Imran Idris

I am a husband, father, son, neurologist, neuroscientist-in-training, Tolkien-fan, and owner of two toy wombats named Mulder and Scully.