Six Simple Steps to Successful Sleep

By Ali Luke

March 17, 2009   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Good Sleep

Or will they?

I’m sure that all of you, like me, have experienced nights of unsuccessful sleep. Nights when you wake up feeling more tired than when you hit the sack. Nights when bad dreams churn around your mind, keeping you in a half-awake state. Nights when you jolt upright at 3AM, having suddenly remembered something for your to-do list. Nights when you’re too hot, too cold, exhausted but unable to nod off.

And after a night like that, you’re not going to be in any state to give your best performance at work, in school, or as a parent. You’ll be tetchy and grouchy. You’ll struggle with routine tasks. You’ll drop the ball, on multiple occasions.

So successful sleep is an important factor in your life overall. How can you be on top form at work, in school or with your family, if your mind and body are crying out for a good long recharge?

Here are seven simple steps that make a night of successful sleep much more likely:

  1. Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol Near Bed
    If you grab a coffee after dinner, chances are, you’ll struggle to nod off a couple of hours later – or you’ll sleep restlessly if you do. Caffeine affects everyone differently, but setting a “caffeine curfew” can make a huge difference to your quality of sleep, especially if you drink strong (brewed) coffee.

Alcohol is notorious for disrupting your sleep – and anyone who’s ever overindulged and experienced that room-spinning effect will know it’s not exactly conducive to drifting off to sleep…

Stop drinking at least a couple of hours before bed (it takes your body an hour to process one unit of alcohol – that’s about half a bottle of beer). And rehydrate yourself with a glass of water, so you don’t wake up with a horribly dry mouth.

  • Don’t Go To Bed Hungry Or Stuffed
    No-one can sleep well if their stomach is growling. If you’re feeling peckish at 10pm, have a small snack. Oats, turkey and milk are high in tryptophan, which means they encourage melatonin production – helping to get your body ready to sleep. 

On the other hand, you don’t want to lie down having just eaten a huge meal. Yes, we’ve all experienced that sudden desire for a nap after a big lunch – but trying to sleep an hour or two after a large dinner is a bad idea. Your body will still be digesting your food, and you might find your stomach feels uncomfortably full and gurgly.

  • Switch Off Your Computer
    In my mis-spent youth, I’d often see brightly coloured graphics from computer games after lying down to sleep – after staring at a computer screen for most of the evening. Whether it’s work or play, gazing at a computer screen will flood your eyes and brain with glaring, artificial light – not great for making you sleepy. The same goes for television. 

Computers also tend to get your mind racing: if you check emails last thing at night, you’ll go to bed with work on your mind.

Write A List

  • Do you find yourself lying awake, worrying about all the things you need to get done tomorrow? Or do you wake up in the night, suddenly remembering some little task that had slipped your mind? 

Clear all of this junk out of your brain before you get into bed. Grab a notebook and write a list of anything that you need to take care of the next day. It’s surprising how this can help quantify the seemingly indeterminable mass of “stuff to do” – seeing it all on the page can help you focus on your priorities for the next day, without stressing about how you’ll get everything done.

  • Get Your Gear Together Before Bed
    If you constantly find yourself rushed in the morning, chances are you won’t sleep too well – part of your mind will be thinking about leaping out of bed into the chaos of another day. Take ten minutes before bed to lay out your clothes, put things ready for your shower and breakfast, pack your briefcase or backpack, and so on. 

This is also a good way to wind down near bedtime, and if you make it a daily habit, the act of setting everything up for the next day can help get your mind in the mood to sleep.

  • Meditate Or Journal
    Make some time for yourself before bed to unwind and calm down. Some people like to meditate, others pray. (This can also be a good time to do gentle stretches.) As a writer, I like to write about my thoughts in a journal. It’s a good chance to review the day, celebrate successes, come to terms with failures, and think about how I want tomorrow to go.


This mind-clearing time is especially useful if you often feel that your thoughts are chasing one another around your brain when you lie down to sleep.

Are you a successful sleeper? What do you do to nod off quickly and sleep solidly?

Ali Luke

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