Stylist’s ultimate guide to a good night’s sleep

In partnership with M&S

Posted by for Life

Collating all the advice from our crack team of experts, we’ve compiled the ultimate guide to a good night’s rest.

One Sunday lunchtime this month, 34 Stylist readers and staff padded into the lobby of the Zedwell Hotel in London dressed in pyjamas and slippers. We’d invited them to Restival – our very first festival of sleep – because they were tired. Really tired. 

Just like half of the women in the UK, they don’t get enough rest and the consequences are far-reaching – from walking around in a daze to a serious impact on the economy as we take 200,000 days off a year due to sleep deprivation. It’s no wonder the global sleep industry is worth £32 trillion, and in the UK 2020 is set to be the year of sleep. On 4 March, The Sleep Council will present its Sleep Manifesto at Westminster, aiming to push the increasingly elusive need up the public health agenda. 

At the Stylist offices, sleep is a hot topic. “How much did you get? What does your tracker say? Have you tried that new magnesium moon milk?” We’ve all dabbled in the tech (trackers, light-activated eye masks, smart duvets) and the apps (Matthew McConaughey lulling us to sleep with a bedtime story via Calm). It felt like a losing game.

And we know our readers struggle just as much we do. In research conducted by Stylist, you said you felt overworked, underslept and drowning in the sea of information on sleep. Which is why we created an event entirely dedicated to sleep and, more importantly, what’s keeping us awake.

Sleep experiment
How to get a good nights sleep: 34 Stylist readers took part in our sleep experiment, Restival.

At Restival, experts talked about anxiety, nutrition, sleep tech and relaxation as we all furiously took notes. It became clear there are three areas you need to examine to address why you’re sleeping poorly. The first is lifestyle: everything you do from the instant you wake up to the moment your eyes close at night. The second is your sleep environment. The third is the state your mind is in when you get into bed.  

We might not have been able to invite all of our readers to the first Restival (there are more than 400,000 of you every week, after all) but we have condensed everything we learnt into the ultimate cheat sheet. Rip it out, keep it on your bedside table and know good sleep can finally be yours. 

The Five Golden Rules for a Good Night’s Rest

The choices we make during the day impact how well we sleep at night. Give yourself the best chance by using these guidelines.

1. GET UP AT THE SAME TIME EVERY DAY

“The main thing that keeps your sleep on track is a regular schedule, as it trains your body’s circadian rhythm, the internal process that regulates our waking hours,” says Dr Alanna Hare, a consultant in sleep. “Try to get up at the same time every morning – even on the weekend.”

2. BUILD REST INTO YOUR SCHEDULE

“We’re often too busy to process emotions during the day, which means they show up at night saying, ‘Please pay attention to me’,” says Lisa Sanfilippo, a yoga practitioner and psychotherapist. “To combat this, adopt the resting yoga stance child’s pose (on your hands and knees, rest your buttocks on your legs with arms stretched out in front of you on the floor) at stressful moments during the day as it gives the body the opportunity to slow down and unconsciously process.” 

Sleep guide child's pose
How to get a good nights sleep: adopting yoga poses can help relax our bodies and our minds.

3. DRINK AND EAT MINDFULLY

“The part of the brain responsible for our circadian timer must be hydrated to work well,” says psychiatrist Dr Nerina Ramlakhan.

“And drinking alcohol stops the breakdown of adrenalin. This is why you wake up around 2am after a drink.” It’s also important to stop eating at 7pm. “Eating right before we sleep can cause acid reflux, which will wake you up,” says Dr Hare. “Our bodies struggle to digest and sleep at the same time. Have your last meal about three hours before bed.”

4. AVOID PHONES LATE

It takes around an hour in darkness for melatonin, the sleep hormone, to be produced, so stimulating your body with light from your phone before trying to sleep means temperature your body won’t rest as well. “Our phones are causing a phenomenon called tired but wired, or busy bed-head syndrome,” explained sleep psychologist Hope Bastine. “You’re tired, burnt out, exhausted, but when you try to sleep, what happens? The brain is alive.”

Make your bedroom a phone-free zone.
Sleep Diaries: I check my partner’s phone and see it’s 2:53am.

5. GO TO BED AT 10pm

“Over the course of the night the type of sleep you get is different,” says Dr Hare. “In the first part of the night you tend to have more deep sleep, which makes you feel strength rested, and in the second part you have REM sleep, which is dream sleep, where you lay down memories. Ensure you have eight hours to get both. For most of us, this means going to bed at about 10pm,” says Dr Hare. The circadian rhythm is the body’s natural alarm clock, and it is dictated by sunlight. When we are in tune with it, we sleep better. “We’re naturally higher in cortisol first thing in the morning, for example, and dip in alertness in the afternoon,” says Sanfilippo. “So then, at 3pm, when you begin to lag, factor in sometime outside to help you recharge. And when your body temperature peaks at 7.30pm, turn down the heating so as not to inhibit melatonin production.” 

How to calm your mind

Ever heard of the thought parade? The show reel of concerns from during the day that goes into overdrive as you try to drift off at night? Here’s how to quieten it once and for all.

It’s 10pm. The room is dark, spookily so. Your phone is looking at you from across the way, but you’re ignoring it (gold star for you). You stopped eating three hours ago to aid digestion. You’ve drunk eight glasses of water today, meaning your brain is a hydrated oasis. Hell, at lunch time you even found an empty meeting room and lay on the floor in child’s pose for a full three minutes. You’re tired, right? We know that. Your eyelids feel heavy, like bags of sand. So why are you still awake? The answer is likely something called the ‘thought parade’: the feeling of being confronted with every worry or embarrassing memory you’ve ever had while trying to sleep.

“People who sleep well also possess the natural – or learned – ability to pause or let go of the day and its events,” says Dominique Antiglio, author of The Life-Changing Power Of Sophrology. “The pressures of society, family or work, the stress of commuting, the fear of the future both economically and politically – this all means that unless you consciously decide to let go, you’re not going to be able to do it very easily as you’ll always have something to respond to.” 

From yoga to meditation, make space for rest.
How to get a good nights sleep: from yoga to meditation, make space in your day for rest.

The good news is that it’s solvable. We aren’t about to tell you to count sheep. Or to spray your pillow with a lavender scent. Or to make a mental gratitude list. Instead, we asked three sleep experts what they do when they find their mind wide awake and their body crying out for rest. Thank us later.

THE BUBBLE

“I practise a visualisation exercise called The Bubble,” says Antiglio. “Sit forward, close your eyes and visualise yourself inside of a bubble. Think about how it looks – is it large or small, close to you or very big around you, transparent or a coloured hue? Tune into how calm you are starting to feel. Picture all your anxieties on the other side of the bubble – they can no longer touch you and you are protected. Think about how reassured that makes you feel. Sit with this feeling for as long as you need, and when you are able to take that feeling away with you go straight to sleep.”

Focusing on your body helps you get out of your head.
How to get a good nights sleep: focusing on your body helps you get out of your head.

BEDTIME YOGA

“I move away from the brain and get into the body, which signals to the mind that you’re safe, that you can relax,” says Sanfilippo. “To do this, practise long, deep stretches (perhaps rolling onto your right side, bending your knees, bringing your right arm over to your left side and taking a long exhale of about five seconds). Do this just as you get into bed.” 

THE LOVING MEDITATION

“Lie down on your bed and enjoy the sensation of being supported, the smell and feel of your bed linen,” says Dr Ramlakhan. “Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath’s natural rhythm. Then bring your attention to your feet, saying, ‘I love my right foot. I love my toes. I love my right instep. I love my right ankle. I love the top of my right foot. I love my left foot.’ Continue to work your way up your whole body, acknowledging your love for every part of you. Eventually, you will bore yourself to sleep.” 

Photography: Jamie Chung, Getty

M&S designs homeware and nightwear that gives a great night’s rest, and is the official partner of the Stylist Restival 2020.

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Hannah Keegan

Hannah Keegan is the features writer at Stylist magazine.

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