Very, very simply there are three things you need in order to get to sleep. One is a bedroom that is conducive to sleep - dark, quiet, cool and comfortable. That’s pretty obvious. The other thing is a relaxed body. And the last one is the absolute prerequisite for getting to sleep - a quiet mind. You can’t fall asleep if you’re anxious or worried or angry. You need to quieten your mind.
Now, how do you do that? Well, I can’t tell you because I don’t know. I know what I do, I read every night before bed. If you want to drink camomile tea and it relaxes you then do it. If you want to do yoga and it relaxes you then do it. If you want to listen to Pink Floyd very loudly and it relaxes you then do it.
A lot of the advice that is given under the heading of ‘Sleep Hygiene’ will say things like avoid spicy food. But is that spicy for a Western European or spicy for an Indian? So things like that don’t always make sense. Spicier than normal or spicier than you’re used to, if you’re a korma guy and you suddenly have a vindaloo then that could upset your sleep. But it will probably upset many other parts of you as well. Food that will upset your stomach will upset your sleep.
"A small sherry or a nip of whisky before bed never harmed anybody"
There’s been a spate of stories recently stating that any alcohol will destroy your sleep. Well, that’s absolute nonsense. A small sherry or a nip of whisky before bed never harmed anybody. If you’ve had two strong cups of black coffee before bed every night for the last 40 years and you’ve never had a problem sleeping but now you do have a problem sleeping I can guarantee you it’s not the coffee and giving up that coffee won’t make a bit of difference. Some people are very susceptible to caffeine and should avoid it.
Eating anything too late at night isn’t a great idea. One of the things that has to happen for you to get a good night’s sleep is that you have to lose one degree of body temperature. Now if you eat too late or if you drink too much alcohol they’re both highly calorific and you need to burn those calories off. If you burn those calories off you produce heat and if you produce heat you’ll find it harder to reduce your body temperature and therefore your sleep will be disturbed. But of course don’t go to bed hungry. That's why in the past we had that wonderful thing called supper. And supper should be a couple of slices of hot buttered toast or something like that.
It’s about listening to what works for you. Going to bed when you are sleepy is key, and that is a very different thing than going to bed when the news has finished on TV or your partner says they’re going to bed. You don’t have to fix your bedtime, but fixing your wake up time is probably the most effective change that people can easily implement.
"A friend once said to me you can’t find sleep, you have to let sleep find you"
But other than that you need to spend time putting yourself in the place to sleep. A friend once said to me you can’t find sleep, you have to let sleep find you. Most people’s bedtime routine is turn the TV off, brush their teeth, have a pee, put their pyjamas on, get into bed and somehow magically expect sleep to happen. It doesn’t work like that. You have to put yourself in that position of a quiet mind.
"The problem with mobile phones in the bedroom is that most people use them as their alarm clock"
Mobile phones… everyone talks about the blue light suppressing melatonin but even before we discovered that, and even before we had mobile phones there was the idea that you shouldn’t have screens in your bedroom, because it’s too stimulating. Of course the problem with mobile phones in the bedroom is that most people use them as their alarm clock.
So, really, technology shouldn’t be in the bedroom. However, whenever I say that I always get someone replying who says I love falling asleep to the TV. So I go back to the idea that if it quietens your mind, whatever it is, do it. I’m not going to advise everyone to watch the TV but if it works for you and you have a good night’s sleep then don’t stop it.
I use reading to go to sleep. There are also albums that will put me to sleep. My favourite one is Amused to Death by Roger Waters. It’s rock music but because I know it so well my brain doesn’t have to listen to it - I do have to cognitively engage with it. And if I don’t have to engage with it I’m not using my brain and therefore my brain is relaxed.
Again it’s what works for you. What allows you to turn your brain off from the strains, cares and worries of the day and switch into night mode. Camomile tea, some people love, I hate the taste of it. Horlicks. Some people swear by it, again I hate the taste of it.
"There are no Top 10 tips that will magically put everybody to sleep instantly. It’s what works for you"
So think guidance, not rules. There are no Top 10 tips that will magically put everybody to sleep instantly. It’s what works for you. And again if you’re going to do it every night you’ve got to enjoy it. It can’t be something miserable. You can’t be forcing yourself to do it because you won’t do it and it won’t work.