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Health & Lifestyle

Wide Awake: How To Master Sleep In Unconventional Circumstances

In this article

Ever heard of the 7-9 hours of sleep per night rule? It’s recommended that adults get between this - but it’s not always possible. In fact, only 35% of the UK’s population gets seven hours and 22% get six hours of sleep. The same can be said for across the pond, with 1 in 3 American adults regularly sleeping under the recommended hours.

of UK adults get just 7 hours sleep a night

With that in mind, we are sharing how those who struggle to get the least amount of sleep - from new parents to students to even those staying up to watch a sports event during the night - can get to sleep with an exact formula.

Mother holding her baby, yawning.

So, who gets the least sleep?

If you are a new parent, we have bad news for you. It’s reported that new parents face up to six years of sleep deprivation after the birth of their first child, with the first three months after birth the worst. Interestingly, people aged 40 tend to sleep the worst of all age groups, with one of the reasons being due to caregiving for young children.

While not quite the same, students are also reported as having unstructured sleep. In fact, on average in the UK, students are sleeping for little more than six hours. In the US, college students (aged around 18-19) sleep pretty much the same.

So, we can see that there is a problem. But what can you do if you struggle to get more sleep, and the 7-9 hour recommendation doesn’t always work for your routine?

This is how to create a sleep schedule as a new parent

As a new parent, you’ll likely struggle with a consistent sleep schedule. A baby’s sleep pattern is unpredictable and a nap could last anywhere between 30 minutes and three hours. But, you can start to practise good sleep hygiene with your new baby.

1.  Start your bedtime routine at 8:30pm so you fall asleep during the ‘golden hour’

The optimum time for sleeping for adults is between 10 and 11pm. This ‘golden hour’ is linked to a lower risk of heart and circulatory disease. While it’s not always possible to go to bed with a new baby at a consistent time, you should be practising good sleep hygiene. And that includes setting a time to wind down so your body knows it is getting closer to sleep.

If you aim for a 10:30 bedtime, start preparing for bed from 8:30pm. To do this, you can share a bath with your baby as a perfect bonding experience, which also helps to relax you and your baby before sleep. It’s also best to stay away from your phone and any other electronics while trying to wind down.

Setting a nighttime routine such as reading your child a story or taking a bath with your baby is the perfect opportunity for you to bond with your child, while also encouraging you to start preparing for bed.

2. Set up ‘sleep stations’ in your house

‘Sleep when the baby sleeps’ has been suggested for years. While that’s not always possible (particularly if you have more than one child) if you have the opportunity, you should. But you should do it right.

While newborns can nap for significant lengths of time, you can try 20 minutes. Any more than that and you risk feeling more groggy than before as your body can start to enter a deep sleep cycle. Disrupting deep sleep before it naturally ends will leave you more tired than when you first settled down to nap. So, you should create cosy sleep stations - using pillows and blankets in different rooms in your home - and take 20 minutes to accumulate more rest in shorter intervals.

If you don’t get a chance to nap, try a glass of water which will hydrate you and boost your energy. For more info on this, read our guides to taking the perfect nap and how to feel awake fast.

Side view of man asleep with a young child sleeping on his chest.

3. Use red lights when you are awake during the night

When your baby wakes at night, you may be tempted to switch the light on, even if it’s just a nightlight. However, many studies show that artificial white light can suppress the production of melatonin, otherwise known as your sleep hormone.

Instead, replace the bulbs in your room (and your baby’s when they move into their own room) with bulbs that emit red light. Unlike white or yellow-toned lighting, this colour stimulates the production of melatonin and makes for a more peaceful slumber. It’ll also make it easier for you to drift back to sleep once your baby has.

4. Tag team sleeping with your partner

If you are able, try and create a sleep rota with your partner to tag team the new sleep schedule in your home. So, one night you are responsible for nighttime awakenings, the next night, your partner and so on. This way, you both get a chance to have a more extended and uninterrupted sleep period.

5. Hum like a bee before bed to lower your stress levels and send your baby to sleep

Humming can actually help you sleep. No, really! Studies have shown that humming can reduce stress - which is frequently linked to sleeping disorders - and it produces a calming vibration conducive to better sleep. To try this technique, simply lie in a comfortable position in bed and hum as you breathe.

Incidentally, many newborns also find white noise and humming comforting - especially when holding them - so it can send both you and your baby into a restful slumber.

Mum in her dressing gown holding a newborn baby in a kitchen.

6. Tense your toes for a count of 10 each time

If your mind is racing with all of the worries of a new baby, there is a muscle relaxant technique that could help you sleep. When struggling to sleep:

  • Get yourself in a comfortable position on the bed and relax your back
  • Take slow, deep breaths and exhale with a sigh after every breath
  • As you do that, curl your toes, arch your feet and hold each movement as you breathe
  • After you have done this for a count to 10, move slowly up your body by tensing and relaxing areas (your calves, thighs, buttocks, arms etc.)
  • Once you have gone through the length of your body, relax any areas that are tense and return to taking slow, deep breaths

The ultimate sleep schedule for students

Around a fifth of UK university students get less than five hours of sleep each night. In the US, only 4% of students get the recommended amount of sleep.

of students get enough sleep

Chronic sleep deprivation affects your ability to concentrate and retain information, but there is a sleep schedule you can do to help yourself sleep - even if you are staying up late to revise.

Tired students alseep on a pile of books.

1.  Switch to decaf coffee as it’s likely to have an energetic placebo effect

Drinking coffee to power through revision can significantly affect your sleep. But decaf could be the answer. Studies have shown that decaf coffee reduces withdrawal symptoms if you crave that cup of coffee, and can even give you an energy boost so you feel prepared to finish your work before bed.

In fact, people who didn’t realise they were drinking decaf stated that it felt as if they experienced the same effects, even though they hadn’t actually had coffee. Most importantly, decaf has around 2mg of caffeine compared to up to 200mg in a standard cup of coffee, meaning you can drink it later in the day if you feel the need for a pick-me-up while revising without affecting your sleep.

2. Forget the 10 3 2 1 method and stretch your legs instead

The 10 3 2 1 sleep method is followed by many people who struggle to sleep. 10 hours before bed, you stop drinking caffeine. Three hours before bed, you stop eating, two hours before, you stop working and one hour before bed, you shut off all electronic devices. But that’s not always possible, depending on your lifestyle. So what can you do instead?

If you are in the library late at night, go for a 30-minute walk around the library or the campus building. Moderate exercise for just 30 minutes - such as walking - can help you sleep better at night. Exercising can improve your sleep quality and duration of sleep, whilst a healthy sleep-wake cycle ensures more strength and endurance when working out.

3. Use blue light filters on your laptop when working late

While blue light can help keep you alert in the daytime, it’s the enemy of your sleep. Exposure to blue light at night - from your laptop screen or phone - can inhibit the production of melatonin, tricking your brain into thinking it’s time to get up and not go to sleep. But blue light filters could help.

Studies have shown that people using blue light glasses in the evening still produce as much melatonin as if it were dark, and one group who wore blue light glasses before bed reported improvements in their sleep and mood. So, this could be something you try during your revision period.

Student working late on a blue light emitting computer screen.

4. But make sure you detach from work for at least 10 minutes when back home

If you have been revising into the night, don’t just pack up and go straight to bed. Chances are, you’ll lie awake thinking about your work and to-do list for the next day. Instead, take 10 minutes to read a page of a book or take a hot shower - anything that can take your mind off work and allow you to decompress from the day.

5. DON’T try and catch up on your sleep at the weekend or sleep in late

Sleeping in late at the weekend isn’t going to fix your sleep. It might even have the opposite effect. Researchers found that those who ‘caught up’ on sleep at the weekend remained as sleep-deprived as those who didn’t lie in at the weekend, and still suffered the effects of reduced energy and eating more.

6. Nap instead for 20 minutes during the week

It takes around four days to recover from just one hour of lost sleep. So, you are better off napping during the week than sleeping in at the weekend. A mid-afternoon nap can help with increasing memory - essential when revising - and learning, so you are ready for your next lecture.

Staying up late? This is how to sleep the next day

Sometimes, you just want to stay up late. That could be to watch a sporting event or for a special occasion. But just one hour less of sleep takes around four days to catch up, so you need a plan for the next day to get you back on track.

1.  DON’T do an all-nighter

If you’ve stayed up until the early hours to watch an event, you might be tempted to stay up all night to trick your body into sleeping more the next day. That doesn’t work.

Research has shown that this doesn’t have the same effect as you’d hoped and that when you fall asleep the next day, you’ll likely have a harder time waking up. Refusing sleep for a whole night could affect the rest of your week. So don’t try to stay awake.

Teenage boy pulling an all nighter playing video games and drinking energy drinks.

2. Try and get some sleep and focus on napping the next day

A nap of 20 minutes will give you a burst to get through the rest of the day and stop you from falling asleep on your couch at 5pm, affecting your ability to sleep later in the night.

But don’t change your sleeping pattern too much. If you can, get up at your normal time - even if you have stayed up late - so your body is still recognising its sleep schedule. We already know that sleeping in late to recover doesn’t actually help at all.

3. Avoid caffeine six hours before bed

You need to think strategically about your caffeine. What we mean by that is, to use it wisely and at the correct time.

You should stop drinking your caffeine six hours before bed, so the caffeine is out of your system before you go to bed the next night. If you're getting a take-away coffee from a UK highstreet coffee shop, read our post on which ones have the most caffeine in their drinks, so you can avoid these in the evening.

4. Try not to multitask the following day

When you’ve had a bad night of sleep or stayed up late, your ability to function is impaired. Your working memory is affected significantly, so you need to know what you can and can’t do. And that means avoiding multiple tasks at once.

Instead, stick to one task at a time and understand your limitations for the day. Doing too much will only lead to racing thoughts at night and worries about the next day which will, inevitably, keep you up and lead to a cycle of poor sleep.

5. Watch a nature documentary an hour before bed the next day

Have you ever watched Planet Earth and drifted off to the sound of David Attenborough? Well, there might be a reason. Nature documentaries can reduce negative emotions and boost your mood, which can lead to better sleep.

Negative thoughts and stress can play a huge role in affected sleep and can be one of the main reasons why people don’t sleep. So, if you can boost your mood before getting to bed, you could be in for a better night’s sleep.

However, we do recommend doing this, at least, an hour before your bedtime so you aren’t going straight to sleep after watching the TV as electronic devices can hinder sleep.

Blurred image of woman from behind with her feet up on the sofa watching a nature documentary on TV.

6. When you get into bed, rub your belly

When you get in bed to go to sleep, start massaging your belly. Studies have shown that doing so can help people with insomnia and increase time spent asleep. Plus, it provides comfort to you when you are in bed.

You can start by massaging circles on your abdomen and doing different strokes. Or if you sleep with your partner, ask them to massage your stomach for five minutes to help relax you before going to bed.

Doing this should help encourage you to sleep and get your body back into that consistent sleep pattern after your previous night of disrupted sleep.

For more information on sleep tips and how even sleeping with a teddy can improve your sleep, check out our Snooze News blog. Alternatively, if you realise your mattress is to blame for your poor sleep, we’ve got you covered with mattresses for all your sleep needs.

An image of the author, Martin Seeley, Senior Sleep Expert Martin Seeley, Senior Sleep Expert Bio & articles

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