8 ways to sleep better tonight

By Georgia Day

Photo: Petra Kleis

Keen for the secrets for a better night of shut-eye? We drill down into the best tips below

The benefits of a great night’s sleep are endless – and endlessly documented (it re-energises brain cells, repairs our skin, increases productivity and mood and strengthens every major system in our body). But it’s thought that around 20 million people in the UK suffer from sleep issues, including sleep deprivation and insomnia. Whether you regularly struggle with sleep or find yourself suddenly in the grip of insomnia, there are simple steps you can take to help you sleep better and more soundly tonight – and every night.


Don’t overthink it

More of us than ever are using sleep aids to help track and dissect our sleep quality, with the global sleep aids market predicted to be worth $162.5 billion by 2030. But while the intention behind it may be good, becoming too fixated on getting enough sleep can actually be detrimental to the end goal, leading to more stress and sky-rocketing levels of cortisol flooding the body when we should be drifting off. If you’re guilty of obsessing over your shut-eye, finding ways to distract yourself from watching the clock is essential. Practising mindfulness, journalling any anxious thoughts before bed and even removing trackers, clocks and aids from the equation altogether are all sensible options to try.

Set the scene

If you regularly treat your bedroom as a bit of a recreation ground, meaning the boundaries between work and play are becoming blurred, now’s the time to put a stop to it. As well as enforcing strict rules around what your bedroom is used for (sleep and sex only, please), it’s important to create the correct ambience for sleep – which is about more than just nice bed linen. Noise pollution from traffic, neighbours and even birds can play a role in disturbing sleep, while one study looking at new parents found that, of those surveyed, 50 per cent enjoyed improved sleep quality when noise and light distractions were reduced.

For the best chance of sleep, keep your bedroom temperature between 18C and 20C, minimise any noise and light leaks (including artificial light from devices), and make sure there are no distracting smells. If you need something to mask stale air, then an electric diffuser with a few drops of calming lavender oil can help.

Upgrade your sound machine

Beyond infiltrating our TikTok feeds, ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) could also help us fall asleep easier. Although ASMR actually describes our own response to noise, it’s a catch-all term used generally to describe certain repetitive sounds that are found to be soothing and hypnotic. According to a recent study, ASMR audio helped lull participants into a suitably sleepy and psychologically comfortable state, and triggered the release of chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine, which help to promote relaxation.

Keep calm (and sleep)

Unsurprisingly, living in a constantly stressed state is not conducive to a good night’s sleep, so minimising your stress and maximising your relaxation is paramount. While more common stress-busting methods like box breathing and gentle stretching before bed are all good options, you could also try adding humming into your evening wind-down routine. As well as stimulating serotonin and encouraging a state of calm, it activates your vagus nerve and triggers your parasympathetic nervous system, known as the “rest and digest” phase.

Doing it couldn’t be simpler: just take a deep breath and as you exhale, hum for as long as it takes you to breathe out. Close your eyes as you do it and repeat until you feel your whole body feels relaxed. If humming doesn’t appeal, try tensing your toes to banish stress instead. According to researchers at the University of Maryland, alternately tensing the toes on each foot then releasing them can help distract the mind from negative thoughts, and draw tension away from the rest of your body, enabling you to relax more easily.

Wind down with a workout

Done regularly, exercise helps regulate cortisol levels which can positively affect your sleep. Working out also produces endorphins which encourage melatonin production and help to balance your body temperature, which makes it easier to drift off. If you don’t know where to start, yoga is often recommended as a great pre-bedtime activity. As well as physically encouraging the de-stressing of muscles with repetitive stretching and twisting, the integral breathwork required triggers the body’s innate calm state, which helps induce sleep.

Eat well to sleep well

Avoid stimulants like alcohol and coffee too close to bedtime, and steer clear of fatty and sugary foods, which can spike your blood sugar and disrupt sleep patterns. Instead, fill your plate with protein-rich foods, like chicken and turkey, that contain tryptophan, an amino acid that boosts serotonin, a precursor to melatonin. To give yourself the best chance at deep sleep, eat it with a complex carbohydrate like sweet potato – a pairing which makes the tryptophan easier for your brain to use.

A healthy gut is crucial to a good night’s sleep thanks to the sleep-gut connection, but when you sleep you lose diversity in your microbiome which can disrupt the balance. According to research, those who eat a high-fibre diet get better deep, slow wave sleep, which is important for full brain and body restoration. Fibre-rich foods like leafy greens and legumes are rich in prebiotics which feed the good bacteria in the gut and keep it healthy. Also: when you eat is just as important as what you eat. Steer clear of anything too close to bedtime (around two to three hours before bed is the sweet spot), as anything consumed later can trigger the release of insulin, which can bring about wakefulness in the brain.

Get some sun

It may sound counterintuitive but if you want to get a good night’s sleep, getting enough daylight in the hours before lights out is crucial. Exposure to daylight, and ideally sunlight, is an effective way of resetting your body clock and ensuring it acts on the right cues at the right time. Primarily that’s the release of the right hormones: cortisol, which is needed in the morning to increase alertness and energy levels, and melatonin, the sleep hormone that helps you wind down and prepare for bed in the evening. Exposure to sunlight also produces serotonin, which as well as being responsible for helping you feel calm and focused, kick starts melatonin production.

Prioritise bath time

If your body clock is out of whack thanks to stress, anxiety or poor lifestyle habits, the chances are your sleep will be suffering. Bathing is a great way to get your circadian rhythm back on track as it gently increases core body temperature and encourages drowsiness. It also promotes better synchronicity of the body’s natural rhythms, which in turn aids sleep. To go one better, add a drop or two of lavender essential oil into your bath to induce sleepiness, or empty in a few handfuls of bath salts laced with magnesium. Magnesium is an important mineral for promoting sleep and as well as adding to the relaxing bathing ritual, the salts allow it to be absorbed transdermally.