9 clever tips to fall asleep faster
IT'S only really when you're unable to sleep properly that you start to appreciate just how important getting a good night's sleep is.
Almost six in 10 of us are sleep-deprived, according to boffins at the University of Hertfordshire.
That's a whopping 28 million adults in the UK who are getting under seven hours a night, and it's not just us adults who are struggling to catch some decent kip.
The numbers of kids in England being admitted to hospital for sleeping disorders is on the rise.
Data from the UK's National Health Service has found that babies, preschoolers and older children are suffering from disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnoea.
Earlier this year, a University of Glasgow study found that having a disrupted sleep pattern could lead to an increased possibility of developing mood disorders and depression.
Sleep deprivation can also promote weight gain, due to changes in the hormones that regulate hunger and appetite.
But knowing how important it is doesn't make maintaining a good sleeping pattern any easier - whatever your age.
So what can we do about it?
Well, it's all about giving ourselves enough time to produce decent quantities of the sleep hormone melatonin, which is the stuff that makes you sleepy.
The tricky thing is that melatonin production is easily disrupted.
Your nightly scroll through Instagram? That's stopping your melatonin production. Eating sugary, fatty foods just before bed? Yep, that's going to delay your body clock. Rushing about late at night? That does your sleep no good either.
A good night's rest is all about preparing your body and mind to relax by taking away any unnecessary distractions and stimuli.
According to a study by sleep specialists Time 4 Sleep, a third of us take at least 30 minutes to fall asleep every night, with 16 per cent taking up to two hours to nod off.
Here are seven tips for getting - and staying - asleep faster:
1. BREATHE DEEPLY
According to Italy-based "Sleep Guru" Alison "Anandi" Francis, one very easy trick to start calming and preparing yourself for sleep is breathing.
"We can't control our heart or our hormones or our mind, but when you change your breathing patterns, you change your heart rate and you calm your mind," she told the Daily Mail.
"A stressed-out insomniac will have a short, shallow breathing pattern. This is the sympathetic nervous system, and its fight or flight response, being dominant.
"If you deepen your breathing, by contrast, the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for the body's systems while at rest, takes charge, so you go to bed in a calm state and can sleep."
Once you've got your deep breathing nailed, there are a few other bona fide tricks to getting your mind to slow down and prepare for sleep.
2. HUM LIKE A BEE
Anandi also claimed that humming - or "Brahmaree Pranayama" as it's called in yoga - creates a "deep, healing vibration", which relaxes the mind and nervous system.
That can help the body to produce more melatonin and get rid of negative emotions.
All you have to do is close your eyes, inhale through your nose and exhale by humming.
3. GET RID OF THE BLUE LIGHT
Your phone, iPad, laptop all produce buckets of blue light - and that halts your body from producing melatonin because it starts to think that it's actually daytime.
Blue is an energetic colour; the sky's blue. While you need it during the day to get moving, exposing yourself to blue light into the evening stops you from switching off. To combat that, you need to surround yourself with red, yellow and orange light.
Try to ban all technology from the bedroom and set yourself a clear period of time before bed when you stop using it.
If you do need to use your laptop before bed (hello Netflix), you can download apps such as f.lux, which changes the colour of the light that your computer emits to amber in the night. And that not only stops you from feeling more alert when looking at it but actually makes you feel increasingly sleepy.
4. TRY SOME BEDTIME YOGA
You don't need to start schlepping it to a studio at 9pm - you just need to do a little sleep-promoting stretching before bed.
Yin yoga is a slow-paced style that involves holding each pose for three-five minutes. Doing it for an hour can increase your levels of GABA amino acid, which moderates your mood and anxiety levels.
But if you don't have an hour, 15 minutes is enough to calm the mind and body down.
It involves a lot of folding poses, including standing and bending forwards, letting your head hang down to the ground with your arms folded.
5. KEEP A JOURNAL
Anxiety is a growing issue for many of us and unless you quit your job and ignore your family, the chances are that daily stresses aren't just going to disappear. But keeping a journal to mind-dump any thoughts at the end of the day can be a cathartic way of releasing tension.
6. DON'T HAVE COFFEE AFTER 6PM
Health expert Dr Sarah Brewer believes that most of us are drinking coffee at the wrong times of the day - from our first cup (which is too early), to our last (which is too late).
"Caffeine is the most widely consumed stimulant in the world and mainly works via adenosine receptors in the brain," she said.
"This produces an alerting effect by increasing the release of some brain chemicals. Caffeine increases focus and reduces the perception of fatigue.
"By blocking adenosine receptors, it prevents the relaxing responses produced by adenosine and interferes with your ability to wind down and sleep."
She recommends that you have your final cup of coffee no later than 5pm - although chronic insomniacs might want to stop the caffeine consumption at lunchtime.
7. TALK IT OUT
We often don't have much time to process what's happened during the day. Simply having a chat with our partners, housemates or family before bed not only gives you an opportunity to vent to a sympathetic ear, but also to connect meaningfully with someone who actually cares.
It's not an opportunity to fix what went wrong during the day, but rather an opportunity to really listen and connect with someone else. Acknowledge any negative thoughts but know that difficulties pass, things move on and that you both have things to be grateful for.
That's going to leave you feeling happier, less stressed and more ready to drift off.
8. GO OUTSIDE
Ever spent an afternoon walking around outside and started yawning? It's all that oxygen getting into your system.
Being exposed to natural light also boosts your production of serotonin and melatonin - so an after-dinner stroll not only will help you to digest your supper but get you naturally ready for bed.
9. EAT YOUR WAY TO A BETTER SLEEP
Chicken is full of a sleep-enhancing amino acid, making it the perfect evening meal
Dates, sour cherries and oily fish are all known to be great for melatonin production.
Once you've got the tryptophan in your system, give your body a helping hand in using it by knocking back some calcium-rich foods. Calcium helps the brain use tryptophan to produce sleep-inducing melatonin. If you're dairy-free, green leafy veg including kale, spinach and broccoli are all high in calcium, too.