How can something that should be so natural, be so hard to achieve? It is the nightly target that I never seem to reach – the magical eight hours of sleep that health professionals say we should all be having.

I know the benefits of a good night’s sleep: afterwards I feel recharged in body and mind, with more creative brainpower at work and more energy/patience for chasing my two-year-old daughter around. But how can I make these energy boosting nights of slumber a more regular occurrence? Well thanks to a late Christmas present (to myself), I now have the means to put some internet tips to the test.

My fancy new smart watch gives me a daily report on how well I’ve slept, detailing an overall nightly total separated into light and deep sleep periods. Deep sleep is especially crucial, as this is the time of night when your body repairs, grows and detoxifies; and when your brain organizes memories and balances mood.

To get to the bottom of it, I decided to test five pieces of online advice to see what effect they have. Can I improve on my average nightly total of 7.5hrs including 1.5hrs deep sleep?

Reduce your screen time

The Telegraph suggests that artificial light emitted from our electronic devices can reduce the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel drowsy. I am skeptical, but keen to be convinced, so at 8pm I put my phone in the kitchen and settled down with a book. The result: As I lie in bed, my mind isn’t racing. I feel very relaxed and fall asleep within just 15 minutes.

Deep Sleep: 1h 19m

Total ZZZZs: 7h 43m

Take a magnesium supplement

A guy putting a bunch of magnesium supplement pills into his hand. nutrition, health, supplements, magnesium, calm down, improve sleep, GamePlan A
Magnesium helps relax your muscles.

“Magnesium has a critical role in sleep”, so says The Sleep Doctor. This naturally available mineral is associated with more than 600 reactions in our bodies, including those responsible for calming body and mind. To aid a good night’s slumber, I knocked back two submarine-sized capsules an hour before bed. As a result, I am super-drowsy when bedtime arrives and fall asleep as soon as my head touches the pillow, plus I clock up some valuable extra deep sleep minutes.

Deep Sleep: 1h 53m

Total ZZZZs: 7h 44m

Meditation

There is nothing worse than lying in bed trying desperately to sleep, with a motorway of thoughts running through your mind. The world’s most popular meditation app Headspace tells me that meditation can improve the quality and efficiency of sleep – helping you to fall asleep faster and have better quality sleep. I plug into an episode of their ‘Meditation for Sleep’ series which isn’t intended to help me drop off, but rather aims to train my brain to relax by focusing on the present. The result:

Deep Sleep: 1h 35m

Total ZZZZs: 7h 44m

A guy meditating on his yoga mat at home. relaxing, mind training, sleep, meditation, GamePlan A
Training your mind to relax can improve quality of sleep.

Eliminate Caffeine

Medical information hub WebMD suggests that drinking caffeine even six hours before going to bed can have a disruptive effect on your sleep. This test seemed the perfect motivation to tackle my coffee addiction and whilst it was hard to survive the four o’clock slump, I undeniably felt more tired getting in to bed. I didn’t clock as much deep sleep as I normally get, but did finally achieve the magic eight hours.

Deep Sleep: 0h 58m

Total ZZZZs: 8h 09m

Increase your daytime exposure to sunlight

This is all about our circadian rhythms – the natural cycle that controls when we feel alert and sleepy. Health and wellbeing website Healthline says that exposure to bright daylight improves daytime energy, as well as nighttime sleep quality and duration. My office is a bit gloomy, so I borrowed a ‘desk sun’ from a colleague, replaced lunch in the office with a walk outside, and I cycled to and from work. By the time evening came I found myself to be incredibly tired and took myself off for an early night.

Deep Sleep: 2h 05m

Total ZZZZs: 8h 50m (!!!)

All scientific experiments (perhaps also even the not-very-scientific ones) need a conclusion, so mine is this: The ‘magic bullet’ I was looking for doesn’t seem to exist. I was impressed by the impact of the magnesium supplements and I am in no doubt that the combined effect of making these changes has given me the best week of sleep I’ve had in ages.

Try them yourself and let me know how you get on in the comments below.

7 COMMENTS

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by Marc 19.03.2019
Hello, i've been having a sleep problem for years. I dont have problem falling asleep, but always wake up around 2 to 3 am, having problem re-falling asleep. Consequence, i usualy get a 4 to 5 hours of continued sleep per night. I tried a couple of the trick you mention in youre article, but i can't say that it as improve my sleep. I did try last year taking a sleeping pill, but gave it up after having the problem of being dependant of it. I will continued to try youre trick until i acheve a good night sleep.
Thanks
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by Matt Walters Marc 20.03.2019
Hey Marc,

Sorry to hear you're having consistently bad sleep. Regularly waking up in the middle of the night is actually a type of insomnia so should be treated seriously.

I definitely found that meditation and a magnesium supplement worked really well for me so they are worth looking in to.

All the best with it.
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by Cristina Maillo Belda 26.03.2019
Kudos to you! This was such a fun article! Have you tried all of the options in one day? How did that go?
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by Matt Walters Cristina Maillo Belda 28.03.2019
Ha, great idea. No, I didn't try that but surely it would be the best night's sleep ever.
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by Eva G. 27.03.2019
Hi Matt,
loved the article and I have also tried all of the above you mentioned in it as well as got my hormones checked which are the biggest contributor to sleep problems when they are not in balance, especially with women (not sure about men, didn't do research on that). My sleep problems started once I became a mother. So my question is: Where was your 2 year old daughter when you did this experiment? Or let me rephrase: who was getting up to cater to her? And please don't say she always sleeps through the night without making the slightest noise. My 3 year old often cries for a bit when he dreams and it wakes me up, than I can't fall asleep again, so on my night stand next to magnesium are ear plugs of the highest quality.
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by Matt Walters Eva G. 28.03.2019
Hey Eva. Normally it's me who gets up in the night as I can fall back asleep most easily, but we are lucky that we get a quiet night about 80% of the time. Interestingly my wife also started sleeping badly after our daughter was born and it has never really improved for her either! Interesting what you say about hormone balance, is there anything that can be done about that?
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by Fernando Arostegui-Novales 16.06.2019
You mat try all of them together but if for whatever the reason you can only sleep X hours might be done to things such as:
ANXIETY/stress. Is it there something you cannot swicht off about? Are you procrastinating?.
SLEEP APNOEA: Breathing PAUSES in your sleep that alarm your partner and yourself and may suddenly wake you up when starting to breath again due to the noisy snoring. Are you FAT?
Polakyuria: Problems with your waterworks? Ran out of fingers to count for the times you urge to wee?
REFLUX-Heartburn
Pain?.
Oviously tackle the origin, Medical advice (Whatever your doctor would counsel&SR Melatonin?), but also follow the previous tips plus this from my own: LEAVE YOUR BED, even the bedroom, and do something not much exciting until you feel sleepy. That way you break the "hate link" insomniabed and advance tasks which in turn would make you more RELAXED the following working day.
DO NOT GET OBSSESSED ABOUT THE HOURS BUT YOUR RESTING.
I also like "hearing" to a low volume TALKING radio programs, especially those about travel, sciences, human common behaviour and PLAYS/BOOKS as seems like being read a tale in my childhood.
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