Sleep Easy

12 ways to make sure your shut-eye is sound

1 Have sex

'Ask any woman the best way to get a man off to sleep and she'll say sex,' says Michael Van Straten, author of The Good Sleep Guide (Kyle Cathie, ?8.99). This is because the ejaculatory release makes men tired. But the good news for those not currently sharing their sleeping space is that sex with your hand works just as well.

2 Listen to the shipping forecast

If you're struggling to kip, don't just lie there. Get up and do something sensible but boring, such as reading The Daily Telegraph. Don't watch thrillers or harrowing news reports. Soothing music at low volume is calming, so try Classic FM, although be warned - the ads can be irksome.

3 Load up on the lettuce leaves

It might not be the sexiest bedtime snack, but Van Straten says, 'Lettuces are all descended from the ancient wild lettuce that the Greeks used to make sleeping potions, as they all contain opium-like substances.' If you combine a lettuce sandwich with the traditional Horlicks, Ovaltine or cocoa, your brain will find the sleep-inducing effects irresistible.

4 Be flexible in the bedroom

Not in the yogic sense of lifting your left heel up behind your right ear, but you shouldn't be too anal about getting eight hours of sleep every single night. Insomnia is not harmful - in fact, worrying about it does far more long-term damage to your sleep pattern than lack of sleep itself. Most insomniacs get about six hours a night, which is more than sufficient for the brain to function normally next day.

5 Brave bedtime without booze or drugs

You might think you need a few drinks or some sleeping pills to help you nod off. These artificial tranquillisers may seem like they're relaxing you, but they'll make you miss out on refreshing dream sequences, so you'll wake up feeling sluggish. And, according to the Loughborough Sleep Research Centre, booze and pills are unlikely to alter the time between lights out and falling asleep by more than 15 minutes, as well as becoming less effective with prolonged use. Those lunchtime drinks that cause you to pass out at three in the afternoon don't count, of course.

6 Take our advice and do regular exercise

Yes, we know we sound like a broken record on this, but research from the University of Southern California shows that people who do sport sleep better than those who don't. Just don't exercise too vigorously immediately before bed - unless it's cardio of a sexual nature, of course (see point 1). Some kind of regular workout will help keep your weight in check too, and being overweight can also affect sleep.

7 Wake up at the same time every day

Bleak and Groundhog Day-like as this sounds, Van Straten recommends setting your alarm for 6.30am and placing it just out of reach, so you can't snooze. When it rings, get up and stay up and within a very short time you'll have educated your sleep patterns, guaranteeing yourself a good night's kip and ensuring you wake up bright and breezy.

8 Sort your sleep station out

Make it comfortable, dark and cool (but not arctic) and avoid working or watching TV there. According to the London Sleep Centre, you should use it only for 'sleeping or quiet reading' - although we're not sure what noisy reading would involve. Perhaps you shout the sentences out as you read them, or maybe pant heavily as you turn each page. Anyway, don't.

9 Nip napping in the bud

Having a cheeky nap in the afternoon may be tempting, especially for home workers who find themselves watching Loose Women. But it's also at the root of many insomnia cases. According to research by the London Sleep Centre, napping can disrupt normal sleep cycles, so stay awake and your sleep patterns should improve.

10 Chill out

There's no point in trying to get some shut-eye if you're all het up. Try ten minutes of simple deep breathing a day, inhaling from your abdomen rather than your chest for three seconds in and three seconds out. Acupuncture has also been proven to help beat insomnia as it has a calming effect on the nervous system.

11 Bin the midnight feasts

Don't go to bed with a rumbling belly, but avoid foods that contain tyramine in the evening because they can over-stimulate the brain and make sleep difficult. Such foods include bacon, aubergines, raspberries, avocados and cheese. A vindaloo and eight pints of Stella won't help either, although lying on your front can aid digestion.

12 Smoking isn't soporific

It may seem as if stubbing out a fag just before bed will help you doze off, but according to The Sleep Council, smokers take longer to get to sleep, wake up more often and suffer more sleep disruption. Smoking also makes it harder for you to wake up the next morning, especially if you've been on the sauce.

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