Top five steps to a decent night's sleep

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We spend nearly half of our lives asleep – or at least we should do, so here’s our expert guide to enjoying the world’s most affordable luxury: 

1 Perfect the art of the power nap

If you’re not sleeping well at night, you might need a power nap at work. Dr Michael J Breus of the American Board of Sleep Medicine says that to sleep somewhere strange, like your office or the end cubicle in the gents toilet, you will need a napping kit: ear plugs (noise level rated at 32 or below, so you can hear the fire alarm if it goes off), eye shades and iPod. “It takes 20 per cent longer to fall asleep sitting up,” he says, “so factor that in to your lunchtime calculations.”

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Breus also recommends the Nap-a-latte: “Drink a cup of cold or luke warm coffee, drink it fast and then close your eyes for 25 minutes. By the time you open them again the caffeine will have started to take effect and you will be ready to restart your day.”

 

 2 Bore yourself to sleep

Regulate your sleeping pattern. “A consistent, relaxing routine before bed sends a signal to your brain that it is time to wind down, making it easier to fall asleep”, says Dr. Peter Venn of the Sleep Disorder Centre, East Sussex.

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 Incorporate relaxation techniques such as reading, light stretching and a hot bath into your evening ritual. These activities, along with relieving stress and anxiety, will tell your body it’s time for bed.

 

 3 Comfort eat

Pass up midnight feasts and opt instead for a pre-bedtime snack containing the sleep-promoting amino acid tryptophan, found in nuts, seeds, bananas and roast chicken, to name but a few sources. When paired with carbohydrates, tryptophan-rich foods can help calm the brain.

Don’t eat too much protein before bedtime - protein-rich foods contain tyrosine, an amino acid that stimulates brain activity.

 

4 Beware the nightcap

Avoid caffeinated drinks. “Caffeine is a powerful stimulant in the insomniac,” says Dr. Adrian Williams, Director of St Thomas’ Hospital’s Sleep Disorder Centre, “so should not be taken in any form after noon.” A small nightcap can sometimes help you to drift off to sleep but too much alcohol will cause you to sleep fitfully and prevent REM sleep. Warm milk. On the other hand, contains tryptophan, says Dr. Paul Caldwell, author of Sleep: A Complete Guide to Sleep Disorders: “So try this as an alternative to sleeping pills.”

 

5 Look to the light

“Ensure that you’re exposed to bright light throughout the day,” advises Dr. John Shneerson, Consultant Physician at Cambridge’s Papworth Hospital.  “This not only makes you feel more alert but also promotes sleep at night.”

Light from your laptop or BlackBerry can signal your brain to stop producing melatonin, a natural hormone that combats sleep disturbances.  Similarly, the rays from the LED on your digital clockcan turn off a "neural switch" in the brain, causing levels of a key sleep chemical to decline within minutes.