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How to sleep better, according to an expert

Everyone could do with a better night’s kip – so we asked a expert how to properly switch off

Ellie Walker-Arnott
Written by
Ellie Walker-Arnott

Can’t sleep? No worries, neither can anyone else on the planet. According to Twitter, where #cantsleep regularly trends, a whole bunch of us are struggling to get our eight hours in during these strange and stressful times.

So what can you do if those sweet Zs are eluding you? We spoke to snoozing expert James Wilson, aka The Sleep Geek, to get some tips. Here’s how to switch off, sleep better and get a decent night’s shuteye in 2022.

1. Don’t work from your bed

When you’re working from home, it’s super tempting to work from under your duvet – but if you’ve got the space, don’t do it. According to Wilson, it’s much better to try and create an area of your home that’s for work and leave your mattress for snoozing, not Zooming.

2. Go outside as much as you can

Even when you’re wfh, try and leave the house as much as you can. ‘Get up and expose yourself to daylight in the morning, which will help regulate your body clock,’ says Wilson. ‘Getting outside and doing exercise will help, as it lifts our mood and contributes to us feeling physically tired.’

3. Resist the urge to nap

‘We all love a disco nap,’ says Wilson, ‘and when we have nothing else to do and feel a little more lethargic in the day, the temptation to nap can become overwhelming.’ But if you aren’t a lifelong napper, it might be a bad idea to start – come bedtime, it might have an effect on your ability to drift off and stay asleep. For those who have to nap (for instance, those doing shift work or with young children), Wilson advises: ‘Try and have one around 1 or 2 in the afternoon and limit it to about 30 minutes.’

4. Use tech to your advantage 

You might work mostly online these days, but it’s still important to switch off. The blue light emitted by phones, tablets and tellies all restrain the production of the melatonin hormone, meaning you’ll find it harder to fall and stay asleep. 

However, it might be useful to bust out the phone if you’re struggling to snooze. ‘If you’re in bed for 30 minutes and not asleep, either when you go to bed or if you wake up in the middle of the night, then you need to reset your mind,’ recommends Wilson. ‘I find listening to something – a spoken-word book, podcast or meditation app – allows the mind to wander and your heart rate to drop.’

5. Stop reading the news at night 

We’re living in the middle of a rapidly-evolving news story, but that doesn’t mean you need to be aware of what’s happening all of the time. Doomscrolling just before you hit the hay isn’t the makings of a restful night’s sleep.

‘Try and ensure that you have a clear period of at least an hour before bed, where you don’t watch the news or listen to programmes about it, or even discuss it with whoever you’re with,’ Wilson suggests. ‘Instead, watch or read something light and easy: something funny, a favourite programme or a book you’ve read before.’

6. Create a new routine

Can’t tell the difference between the week and the weekend, let alone day and night? We feel ya. But try and get those regular divisions back into your life. ‘Keeping a consistent wake-up routine will help you fall asleep and stay asleep at night time,’ says Wilson. ‘That doesn’t necessarily mean getting up at the same time you would to commute to work: being at home more may help you develop a work routine that fits better with your sleep patterns. This particularly applies to night owls, who are often forced to wake earlier than they would want to.’

He adds: ‘If do you have a lie-in, try not to let it last any longer than an hour and a half, as this could impact on how sleepy you feel at night.’ So fight the temptation to hit the snooze button more than, oh, ten times.

And, if ALL that doesn’t get you to drift off, here’s what a few of our Time Out editors do when they can’t sleep:

‘I do square breathing. Inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds and repeat until you fall asleep. Works a treat.’

‘I pop on “That 70s Show” and set the TV timer to 60 minutes. Then laugh myself to sleep.’

‘I start cooking elaborate meals then realise I don't have all the ingredients.’

‘I have a bath, pop the laptop on the toilet seat and watch a documentary.’

‘I buy random shit off Amazon: hangers, light bulbs, a hot water bottle. Then I wake up the next morning and wonder what the hell I've purchased.’

That was helpful, right? Sweet dreams. 


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