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Most of us need to sleep continuously for between six and eight hours to stay physically, emotionally and mentally healthy. It gives your body time to recuperate, repair and allow your brain to process the day’s events. Adequate sleep affects your ability to think clearly, make decisions and react to situations. It’s also vital for everyday learning and good memory.

Work-related, financial and emotional pressures can have a significant impact on your quality of sleep. Half of the causes of lack of sleep are stress, worry and low mood. Other causes can include:

  • Drugs, including alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Hunger
  • Over-stimulation late at night
  • Lack of a regular routine
  • Travelling to new time zones or jetlag
  • Habitual, poor sleeping habits
  • Health issues that disrupt sleep


  • Inability to sleep
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue during the day
  • Problems concentrating

What is good sleep?

Sleep is a very complex process. It’s a series of 90-minute cycles that have four different stages of sleep depth. When you first fall asleep, you enter a light sleep (stage one). At this point, you can be easily woken and won’t feel like you have been asleep. As your sleep continues, you’ll progressively descend into a deeper sleep (stages two, three and four). It will take about 40 minutes after falling asleep to descend to stage four, the deepest part of your sleep cycle. It’s very difficult to be woken from this stage and if you are, you will feel confused and groggy. Following this deep sleep, you will re-enter stage three, then two, then back to stage one.

How to manage a good night sleep

Some of us may never know what causes our sleep issues, making managing it difficult. For most people, simple lifestyle changes can have a dramatic effect on improving sleep patterns.

  • Wait until you are sleepy before going to bed.
  • Establish a regular bedtime by going to bed at the same time every night.
  • Get up at the same time every morning, even on weekends.
  • Before going to bed, do something that relaxes you and takes your mind off any worries.
  • Use lighter-weight bed coverings and turn off central heating – becoming over-heated can disturb your sleep.
  • Don’t have a heavy meal just before bedtime. If you are waking up with ‘night hunger’, eat a light protein snack before you go to bed.
  • Don’t drink alcohol in the evening – it helps you to fall sleep but causes disturbed sleep and over-heating during the night.
  • Exercising during the day will help you sleep well at night, but late night exercise can make it difficult for your body to slow down prior to sleep.
  • Cut out coffee and tea or restrict it to mornings only.
  • Don’t watch TV, read a book or think about problems. If you must do these things, go to another room to do it until you become sleepy.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and conducive to sleeping.
  • Never go to sleep in front of TV – go to bed when you start nodding off.
  • If you are prone to worrying, write problems down before going to bed, together with possible solutions.
  • Don’t stay awake for long periods in bed. If you aren’t asleep within 15 minutes of getting into bed, try getting up and doing something relaxing until you become sleepy again.
  • Check for tense muscles when you go to bed and consciously try to relax them.
  • Switch off your busy brain by picturing yourself in your favourite, peaceful place.
  • Sleeping is like surfing, wait for the next ‘sleep wave’ before trying to catch some shut-eye.
  • Try to get some sunshine as soon as you wake up. This will help set your body clock.
  • No clocks in the bedroom! Clocks can provide an unhelpful distraction, as you subconsciously ‘check’ to see how long you have been awake for, therefore keeping your mind active rather than relaxed.

Published November 20, 2012
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