Take a Sleep of Faith – 12 Practical Ways to Improve your Sleep

Without a full night of good quality sleep, apart from the obvious symptom of tiredness, there can be significant impairments to our physical and mental wellbeing, especially when this becomes a chronic sleep issue. However, there’s a number of free, evidence based methods that we can employ to improve our chances of getting some much needed shut eye. 


1 – Go to bed and wake up at the same time 

Set yourself an alarm to go to bed, as well as waking up. We often allow ourselves that lovely lie in on a Saturday and Sunday morning as a treat for our hard work and early rises during the week. However, as our body clocks then try to acclimatise to this sudden and repeated jolt to our body clocks, this can mean that we spend the first half of the next week trying to recalibrate and often feeling lethargic, less motivated to exercise and more likely to eat unhealthily as we recover from ‘social jet lag’. Maintaining the same sleep/wake pattern will help to maintain healthy sleeping patterns and allow us to feel fresher first thing in the morning. 

2 – Don’t exercise too close to bed time 

As physiotherapists, there are very rare occasions that we would advise people not to exercise, nevertheless timing of physical activity can be crucial. Regular exercise that raises your heart rate and that you enjoy is paramount to living a healthy life, but it’s important to avoid exerting ourselves within the final 2-3 hours of our waking hours to allow our bodies to unwind and our heart rates decelerate to make it that bit easier to head off to the land of nod.  

3 – No alcohol before bed 

Although the ’night cap’ is considered common practice and is known to relax us before bed, our sleep can really suffer as a result of having a few beers before bed. Alcohol is a sedative which explains the drowsy feeling that we encounter after drinking a glass of wine or two especially after a long day, but it can then inhibit us from achieving deeper sleep, apprehending us from obtaining the sleep that can nurture us and allow us to feel refreshed first thing. Moreover, heavier drinking contributes to us breathing more erratically and subsequently waking us, as well as having interrupted slumber once the effects of alcohol subside.  

4 – Don’t nap too late in the day 

Nothing beats a well-timed, peaceful afternoon nap on a rainy Sunday afternoon, but waiting too late in the day can be hazardous for achieving a decent sleep for that night. A 45-60 minute nap can be a wonderful way of catching up on sleep especially if we got in late after socialising, going to the theatre or a particularly long journey, but just make sure that we’re doing this before 3pm, otherwise we run the risk of facing difficulties when trying to get to sleep. 

5 – Take a break from screens  

Many of us work on computers during the day, watch videos on our commutes, video call our family and friends and then check social media in bed after watching Love Island on TV. It’s vital that we allow our brains to unwind before going to sleep, as the amount of stimulus that we have received from interacting with Instagram posts, responding to emails and trying to process what’s happening in the world after watching the 10pm news, can leave us in a state of up-regulation. Stretch, read, journal, listen to a podcast, audiobook or sleep story for the final 60-90 minutes to seamlessly slip into a state of sleepiness.  

6 – Dodge caffeine 

The ‘quarter life’ of cup of coffee has been found to be up to 12 hours. Now what does that mean? Basically, if you have a cup of coffee at around 5-6pm, then a quarter of that cup of caffeine rich liquid can still be found swilling around in our bodies at around 4-6am. If you enjoy having an afternoon Americano after you’ve got in from completing the school run or doing the big shop, then try swapping to a decaffeinated alternative and see if it makes any difference on sleep quality. To play it safe, try to keep caffeine rich coffee, tea and chocolate to around 11am-12pm. 

7 – Make your bedroom a sleep palace 

Due to technological advances, many of our bedrooms that should be geared towards improving our sleep, actually bare ore resemblance to a pilot’s cockpit due to the number of gadgets producing different noises and sounds that are unlikely to benefit us in terms of sleep quality. Ensuring our bedrooms are dark, cool and quiet plays a significant role in supporting natural sleepiness. Consider phone bans and moving the television outside of the room if they’re proving to be distractions, whilst cracking a window open and using an eye mask if you’re curtains are particularly bright can also help.  

8 – Hot bath before bed 

After getting out of a hot bath, we naturally feel relaxed and as the body’s natural body temperature lowers, this can be a useful catalyst for promoting sleepiness. This also provides a screen-free option to utilise for that final hour or so before going to sleep.  

9 – Keep your work out of the bedroom  

COVID 19 has directly caused an influx of us to work from home, which has smudged work hours significantly, with widespread reports of people feeling they are working longer hours and finding it difficult to switch off when it comes to the end of the day. This is a direct consequence that occurs when people begin (and occasionally stay for the whole day) in bed working. Apart from the havoc this can cause on posture and related aches and pains, the association your brain will then have with your bed will become confused and therefore find it more of a challenge for you to drift off easily when you get to the end of the day. Try exercising before you go to work and then again in the evening to separate your work hours and make sure any work related activities stay out of the bedroom entirely. 

10 – Don’t lie in bed awake 

We’ve all been in the situation when we’ve woken up in the middle of the night and for whatever reason we can’t get back to sleep. Maybe we’re feeling anxious about something happening at work or in our personal lives, maybe there’s noise coming from the neighbours or maybe you just can’t seem to get comfortable. Rather than trying to force sleep upon you, get out of bed and do something relaxing (without screens!), such as reading, drawing, painting or doing a jigsaw until you feel sleepy. Make sure you keep the lights dimmed or avoid using ‘the big light’ as this is more likely to disturb the production of melatonin, the hormone associated with our sleep-wake cycle.  

11 – Expose yourself to sunlight 

Sleep experts advise that getting out and into natural sunlight (even general daylight on overcast days will do it), is vital for conditioning our sleep-wake cycle. A 30-minute walk, run, swim or work out outside are all excellent uses of that time, especially if you’re waking up with the sun. In winter, this becomes more challenging given the later sunrise and overall weather squashing a lot of our motivations to get outside earlier, in which case bright lights can be used as an alternative. On the flip side to this, using dimmed lights for the evenings leading up to bed can also help to drift away without too much trouble.  

12 – Don’t eat dinner too close to sleep 

Eating a large meal too close to going to bed can cause indigestion which can interrupt our sleep. Try to eat the main evening meal at least 3 hours before settling down for the night, and keep to having a light snack or decaffeinated, night time tea before bed, so as not to upset your preparation for sleep.  


Remember, if your sleep is being disrupted by muscle or joints pain, then seeing a physiotherapist could help.  Find a clinic to book in today.



  • Walker, M., 2017. Why we sleep. Penguin. 
  • Topics, H., 2017. Healthy Sleep | MedlinePlus. [online] Medlineplus.gov. Available at: <https://medlineplus.gov/healthysleep.html> [Accessed 13 July 2022].