The science of sleep: 5 tips for a better night’s rest

Category: News

Back in 2012, a Guardian report confirmed that one in three UK workers suffers from a chronic lack of sleep.

A Rand Corporation study four years later calculated that the problem was costing the UK up to $50 billion a year. It added that an extra hour’s sleep per night among the country’s poorest sleepers could boost the economy by nearly $30 billion.

Sleep, then, is big business.

A recent study into chronotypes – a concept in sleep psychology – looks to split the population into four distinct types, using that information to help us live happier, more productive lives.

What can the science of sleep teach us, what can we do to increase our chances of a better night’s sleep, and how does that make us more productive during the day?

Four basic chronotypes correspond to all basic sleep types

We all have a natural body clock – a 24-hour circadian cycle – that determines our sleep patterns and our alertness levels at different times of the day.

Sleep experts have split the population into four chronotypes and assigned each one an animal. They claim it is not possible to change your chronotype but that understanding your sleep type can help you to manage it and be more productive.

Which one are you?

  • Bear – Accounting for more than half the population, if you are a bear chronotype, your sleep cycle aligns with the sun. You typically fall asleep quickly and wake easily, are most productive before noon but work poorly between 2 pm and 4 pm.
  • Wolf – You might be a wolf chronotype if you struggle to get up in the morning. You’ll find your most productive period is between noon and 4 pm but you might also experience a second wind at 6 pm.
  • Lion – Lions are early risers and most productive in the morning before trailing off in the afternoon. You might be a lion if your evenings are short and your usual bedtime is between 9 pm and 10 pm
  • Dolphin – Accounting for 10% of the population, you might be a dolphin if you struggle to maintain a regular sleep pattern and are disturbed by slight changes in noise or light. Your peak productivity is from 10 am to 2 pm.

Although it might not be possible to change your chronotype, you can adopt some routines and practices to ensure you get a better night’s sleep, whatever animal category you fall into.

Building good routines can improve the length and quality of your sleep

Here are five tips to improve your sleep, helping you to be more efficient, effective, and productive during the day.

1. Sleep and wake at regular times

Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day gives a steady rhythm to your sleep cycle, programming your body to respond.

Ideally, keep the same pattern at the weekends too.

2. Adopt a morning and an evening routine

A morning and evening routine means more than just going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.

An evening routine should involve relaxation, by having a bath or doing yoga for example. A relaxed mood will help you drift off to sleep. You should also keep screen time to a minimum before bed, and certainly while in bed.

Mobile phone and tablet screens emit blue light that can interfere with your natural circadian rhythms, effectively fooling your brain into thinking it’s daytime. Blue light filters and night modes can help but you might find reading a book or listening to music is more relaxing.

A morning routine is important too. Consider an early morning walk to get fresh air and natural sunlight, and a healthy breakfast. Once you have a routine in place, try to stick to it.

3. Make sure your bedroom is a good environment for sleep

Temperature, light, and noise can all have a bearing on how well you sleep, so do what you can to optimise the areas you have control over.

If you have pets that sleep in your room, could the noise they make be keeping you awake? Is it warm enough to open a window for fresh air without the room becoming too cold and noisy? Also, consider wake-up light alarm clocks.

Also known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) alarm clocks, sunrise alarms, or body clock lights (among others) they are designed to simulate a slow increase in daylight each morning. This should wake you up naturally and prevent the jarring awakening of a normal alarm clock.

You can also use a sunset mode to send you gently to sleep.

4. Live a healthy lifestyle

Regular exercise can help release the tension of the day, making sleep easier. Beware, though, exercise too close to bedtime and you could keep yourself awake.

The same is true of food and drink too. Cut down on caffeine and alcohol, but especially in the evening, and try not to eat too much too close to bedtime.

Nicotine is a stimulant so if you’re a smoker, you’ll probably find you take longer to fall asleep, wake up more frequently, and experience less restful sleep.

5. If you can’t sleep, get up

If you’re struggling to sleep remember that you can get up again if you need to.

Read a book, listen to music, and wait until you feel tired enough to go back to bed.