Type ‘how to go to sleep’ into Google and you will be inundated with thousands upon thousands (or millions upon millions) of trips and tricks to help you on your way to planet snooze.
Everything from a hot glass of milk before bed to a healthy dose of exercise is recommended – but what actually works?
According to sleep expert Dr Dev Banerjee, there’s a pretty simple rule when it comes to hot drinks before bed.
Caffeine = not ideal. So that rules out coffee (obviously) and most kinds of non-herbal tea.
Anything without caffeine is fine and, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter what it is.
Chamomile or peppermint, hot milk or hot chocolate; it’s more the calming routine of making yourself a warming drink that switches your body into chill-out mode.
“I would say it’s the process of making yourself a nice cup of hot tea that is relaxing rather than the drink itself,” Banerjee said. “Just watch out for anything with caffeine. Insomniacs in particular can be very sensitive, even to the point where decaf drinks (which still actually contain a small amount of caffeine) will affect them.”
Again, this is filed under the “relaxing, soothing process” tab.
While some warn against taking a warm bath because it raises your temperature (you need to cool down about half a degree to get to sleep), Banerjee argues the rise in temperature from a bath is superficial rather than internal and it shouldn’t affect your sleep patterns.
Plus it's kinda nice getting into bed when you're all nice and clean.
Verdict: bathe away.
Read a book
This is a tricky one, and really depends on what kind of reader you are.
“In my experience, there are two types of people when it comes to whether or not this is an effective way of falling asleep,” Banerjee said.
“There are those who read an interesting book and can’t put it down, and then there are those who never read beyond the first page before going to sleep.”
So the lesson is, know yourself and your reading habits. Or, read a really boring book.
“The concept that a small glass of alcohol can act as a nightcap -- in that it’s a form of relaxation and reduces stress and tension -- that in itself can help you go to sleep,” Banerjee said.
But drinkers beware. This is only true of one small glass of alcohol, and according to Banerjee, it can’t be “cheap plonk, it has to be quality stuff.”
If you over-indulge with your drinking, you can expect to have a pretty crummy night ahead of you.
“Alcohol may not stop you from getting off to sleep; it’s the fragmentation of sleep that’s the issue,” Banerjee said. “Heavy alcohol users quite often suffer from bad quality sleep.”
Counting backwards and/or sheep
Counting sheep has to be one of the oldest tricks in the book. But is there actually any merit in this old wives tale?
“This is more of a distractional therapy from intruding thoughts going into your head,” Banerjee said.
“You’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that, I have to reply to this email...’ The idea is to deflect your thinking and focus on something boring and monotonous.”
“It’s not something I do. I think those who want to count sheep are people who incorporate too many processes before bed, so their energy is still high when it’s time to go to sleep, and they try and calm themselves down while in bed.”
“I would argue there’s no point in going to bed with a high flight response. You have to bring down your energy levels well before you go to bed.”
We all know exercise is good for you, but does it play a role in your sleep patterns?
“Definitely. Exercise is hugely important,” Banerjee said. “I would even say daily exercise is essential to a good night’s sleep.”
But there’s a twist. You’re not doing yourself any favours if you exercise late at night or before you go to bed.
“Elite athletes doing 10km at 9.30 or 10 in the evening are making it more difficult for themselves to get a good night’s rest, because they are ramping up their energy levels before it’s time for their body to relax,” Banerjee said.
The best thing to do is get your endorphin fix earlier on in the day (at least three hours prior to bedtime) and spend your evenings getting into relaxation mode.
If you’re convinced it’s the scent of lavender that sends you to the land of nod, Banerjee isn’t so sure.
“Again, this is more of a relaxation exercise and a way to relieve stress,” Banerjee said.
“I don’t believe the aromas themselves are hypnosis inducing, or that they induce sleep.”
So by all means, enjoy your potpourri and scented candles -- just don't expect them to lull you to slumberland. (And make sure you blow the candles out before hitting the hay -- nothing will disturb your night more than a house on fire.)
In terms of the absolute best sleep practices, this is what Banerjee has to say.
"You want your bedroom to be a nice cosy environment -- not too hot not too cold -- and not with too much light. Make sure you have a comfortable bed.
"Don't drink or smoke too much, exercise earlier on in the day, and go to bed when you are actually tired.
"There's no point in trying to fall asleep when you're not sleepy. It should be effortless."