How to Get a Good Night's Sleep Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

How to Get a Good Night's Sleep

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Someone sleeping the sleep of the just
... We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

- The Tempest by Shakespeare

Rich or poor, old or young, man or woman, adult or child, and no matter our race, colour, creed or class, none of us can function properly without a good night's sleep. When well rested we can live life to the full; a bad night, however, will ensure the release of the demons inside all of us.

Below you will find the collected gems of the h2g2 Community which will hopefully clear the way for a good night's sleep.

Food and Drink

Under no circumstances have any dairy products within three hours of going to sleep! Warm milk is supposed to be good, but that is just an old wives' tale and it can cause restless slumber. Cheese is also said not only to cause fitful sleep, but also provoke dreams and nightmares. Tea, coffee and soft drinks contain sugar and/or caffeine which will make you more active for longer. If you must eat before going to bed, try some turkey, it's believed to be a mood lifter that helps induce sleep.

If you fancy something a little stronger, Guinness comes highly recommended as the hops in it can make you very sleepy. If you don't want a pint of the black stuff, you can always see if you can get a cushion with some hops in it - although this is a less attractive option as hops smell a lot like sweaty feet.

Drinking alcohol, not enough to get drunk but enough to take the edge off a bad day, can make it easier to relax. Beware, though, because dehydration can keep you awake so don't drink too much alcohol without also drinking some water before going to bed.


Try doing some gentle exercise before going to sleep - something like a brisk walk is about the right level, for half an hour to an hour, finishing one to two hours before bed. That leaves plenty of time for a hot shower, and time to chill out and unwind.


Sex seems to work for most Researchers! However, it is said 'Men fall asleep after sex, women are stimulated by sex'. An experience borne out by the experience of one Researcher...

It seems that way with my wife, After sex, she can't stop talking.

When Sex Is Not an Option

This is really great advice from one Researcher:

I seemed to be the only one in my college dorm with any interest in or need to sleep. In time, I came up with a routine that worked for me when the partying started at midnight on a Tuesday night. It's just a combination of some tension and relaxation exercises and a little visualisation. Sex is better, but for me it is not always an option.
I tried to physically relax my body by tensing, then relaxing different muscle groups, starting at my feet and working my way up. Then when I was feeling an overall relaxation, I would find something to think about that was pleasant and of no great importance. Generally, my mind would start to wander off-topic fairly quickly (not much of a departure from my normal daytime state) and the key was not to notice as I started to drift off to sleep.
I do a fair amount of software programming these days, and I find that thinking about design issues is usually enough to take my mind off the things in life that seem so serious at 3am, so I can go back to sleep.


Routine is important, try to go to bed at about the same time so that the brain becomes programmed to expect sleep at a certain time. Take some exercise in the evening if you can, a walk is good. Alternatively, have a nice hot bath an hour before bedtime (the temperature drop that the body experiences afterwards makes you sleepy). When you are ready, go to bed to sleep, not to read. Again this is to programme the brain to associate bed with sleep.

If you wake up and can't go back to sleep, then get up and do something but try to refrain from putting a bright light on as the brain will think it's time to get active. Going to the lavatory is best done in the dark for that very reason. Men will have to sit down to pee...

One Researcher shares their experience:

It is definitely beneficial to try and go to sleep at relatively the same time every night, somewhere in the space of an hour I would say. This helps to set your body's clock to automatically induce sleepiness at about the same hour every night. You will also start waking at the same time each morning. This summer, I had been going to bed at 2am, and Sunday I actually had to go to bed at a decent hour because I had summer school on Monday. I went to bed at ten and fell totally asleep at about 2am. The next night I had little trouble falling asleep at 10.30, and I've been able to fall asleep around 11 the last two nights. I usually put music on to help me fall asleep though.

Sleep Hygiene

Below is a plan to help you enter a routine that will induce the sleep of the just:

  • Go to bed within an hour of the same time, every night, even if it's a weekend or holiday. Same thing for waking up.

  • If you absolutely must take a daytime nap on occasion, keep it as short as possible (ideally under 45 minutes, and definitely not over 2.5 hours).

  • Sleeping for 4-5 hours at night can actually leave you more exhausted than sleeping for 2. This has to do with REM cycles etc.

  • If you must pull an all-nighter, try to get back to your normal sleep schedule ASAP - don't stay up all night and then crash at 5pm the next day.

  • No caffeine after dinner.

  • Sleep in a room devoid of TVs, computers, and anything that suggests work and/or homework.

Aural Pleasure

If you're worried or stressed, and you can't sleep because your thoughts are running round in circles, or even if you just don't feel like sleeping, then tune your radio into a channel that is continuous talking, no music. Then (this is the clever part) turn it down really low, so low that you have to lie very still and concentrate really hard to make out most of the words. Focus on trying to follow what is being said and you will gradually drift off to sleep.

Alternatively, you could listen to music, not talk - try to pick music that makes you feel dream-like. Below is one Researcher's definitive guide on how to get comfy and settled in for a night of great sleep and good music:

Well, first you need to get two pillows and put them in a kind of upside down V-shape so that your head is resting on two layers of pillow in the middle where they cross, and your shoulders on one layer.
I can't get to sleep unless I'm listening to music. Not stuff like And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, obviously, or any of those mood tapes of dolphin noises or anything, but nice quiet relaxing stuff: Mazzy Star or anything on those 'Ibiza Chill Out' albums. But you need really comfy earphones or else your head aches in the morning.

The Shipping Report

When all else fails, The Shipping Report is guaranteed to send even hard core insomniacs to sleep...

Pillow Talk

You can have too many pillows. Four or five pillows on your bed may work great when you're sitting up and reading, but once you're ready to doze off you should probably throw all but one or two on the floor. Being more or less perfectly horizontal is conducive to many physiological changes associated with oncoming sleep, and they simply are harder to come by if you are sitting at an angle rather than flat on your back. An added bonus is that you are less likely to wake up with a stiff neck in the morning, because you did not slip down a downy slope during the night and forced your neck to bear the brunt of the angle.

Tips from a Professional

Look sharp, listen up and take notes - here's some invaluable h2g2 wisdom from a Researcher who has no trouble dozing off:

Usually I like to get a good eight hours. Ideally for me it's dark, quiet, and the window is open to let in plenty of night air - I hate sleeping in a stuffy room. To begin with, no eating after 8pm (or within a few hours of your desired bedtime) as your body will keep you up while it digests stuff. Obviously no caffeine before bed. Invest in a good mattress/box spring/futon and good quality blankets/comforter/sheets because your comfort is of the utmost importance.
Finally, a valuable tip; only go to bed when you are actually tired. Laying between the sheets just because you think you should be in bed by a certain hour does not work. Keep yourself busy elsewhere and do not go to bed until you are sleepy. Otherwise you will staring at the ceiling or the bedside clock for hours...

Ideas that Might Just Work

  • Tell yourself a story - Do it fairytale style, just as your parents did when you were little... (ie, 'Once upon a time there was a little girl/boy/etc', or 'A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away') and let the storyline do whatever it wants too. Remember, the idea is that you fall asleep at some point and it becomes nothing more than a dream. You can also just think about the happiest time in your life and replay it in your mind, it has the same effect.

  • Potter - If you've got insomnia, then not even thinking about sleeping helps. Alternatively, get up and do some work for a bit; you'll end up a little more tired and more apt to fall asleep later.

  • Don't Clock Watch - When you wake up in the middle of the night, it is of utmost importance that you don't look at the alarm clock and figure out how many hours you have left before you need to get up. Your mind will start to dwell on this and actually keep you awake longer.

  • Don't Think - The easiest way to get to sleep in a situation such as this is to think of nothing. 'A-ha', we hear you say, 'How can you think of nothing?'. Do just as it says - lie there thinking of nothing. Just think to yourself 'Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing...' ad infinitum. Before you know where you're at, you'll be soaring over sleepsville.

  • Write it Down - Keep a pen and some paper next to your bed, write down anything that pops up in your head, and promise yourself you'll deal with it in the morning and then try and get some sleep. This might take a few nights to get used to, but once you get it to work, you'll find it becomes easier and easier for your brain to let go of thoughts.

  • Feng Shui - Put the bed in a North-South position.

  • Lavender - Make a pillow of lavender or burn lavender oil in an incense burner. Alternatively, get one of those little pillows stuffed with it and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours, then put the pad over your eyes.

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