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How to… Sleep?

Sleep DYI for Longevity

Dr. Gwen Bingle
September 14, 2023

The Sleep Advice Jungle: try and test before you adopt!

If you are not regularly plagued by insomnia, you may not have given much thought to the issue until now and think “well, I just lie down, close my eyes, and slumber away…”.  

But if, like most of our readers, you are passionate about your longevity, it is well worth screening your sleep performance and taking steps to improve your sleep hygiene. Indeed, as we recently wrote, sleep seems to affect just about every longevity marker – influencing not just your bodily but also your mental health and emotional well-being.

Should you try googling “best sleep tips”, you will be confronted with a dazzling and seemingly never-ending hit-parade of advice dispensed by health professionals and lifestyle coaches – from counting sheep (yes, apparently it is in again!) to eating kiwis, spraying your pillow with lavender oil or acquiring a white noise machine to neutralise the impact of random environmental sounds.

Sheep in a barn
Trinity Kubassek / pexels

So here, we will be walking a tightrope between avoiding the all-too-obvious guidance (yep, a triple espresso before hitting the hay isn’t such a great idea – but your grandmother could have told you so…) and the more whimsical “sheep-style” advice. Indeed, beyond the main consensual tips, we will be focusing on those guidelines that surprised but convinced us and may convince or at least surprise you too!

Sleep: from rules to preferences

In many respects, sleep operates just like other human dimensions, such as nutrition or movement. It seems to harbour both hard-and-fast rules that apply to almost everyone and advice that requires a personal seal of approval. Indeed, to take nutrition as a prominent example, we can all agree that, to some extent, the body requires protein, fat and carbohydrates to function properly. But how individuals manage this intake will be influenced by a host of different factors, such as genetics, culture, religion, personal preference, etc. So, when discussing sleep advice, we will try to distinguish between the “must-dos” and the “nice-to-trys”.

When surveying the body of advice on sleep enhancement, guidelines seem to fall under 8 main categories:

·       Environment (especially bed and bedroom equipment)

·       Light (using it to stay asleep or remain awake)

·       Temperature (finding the optimum range)

·       Sound (from total soundproofing to conducive sounds)

·       Timing (how much sleep and when)

·       Food and beverages (which to seek or avoid and when)

·       Body (managing tension, aches and pains)

·       Mind (managing sensory and mental load).

A place to rest your head

To start with, your sleep environment is one of the more crucial factors to impact your sleep. Nothing can spoil an otherwise restful night quite as much as the wrong mattress (or pillow), inadequate curtains or bad air circulation. Here, however, is a realm supremely guided by personal preference: for some people, a mattress can never be hard enough, whereas for others, lying on a cloud would be optimal. So, in this dimension, it pays to take stock of your current set-up and introduce incremental changes, monitoring for improvement over time.

Another piece of advice that may be less familiar to you is to ensure that your bedroom is used just for sleep (and intimacy). This can help you avoid cluttering the space with work or extraneous hobbies and help you get into the mood for sleep more quickly. Finally, a touch of lavender (whether in the shape of a fresh posy, dried flowers in a sachet or a few drops of essential oil on a handkerchief) may prove calming and even sleep inducing – provided the fragrance is agreeable to you.

Let there be (no) light!

Respecting the influence of light – as opposed to designing a personal sleep environment– is a more hard-and-fast precondition because through their interaction with the circadian rhythm, our bodies are hard-wired to react to light. Sunlight stimulates us to remain awake and active, whereas dusk is conducive to retiring from the chaos of the out-side world. Respecting the natural night and day cycle is no doubt one of the greatest challenges in our post-industrial societies, with their permanent immersion in artificial lighting – not to mention the electronic glow of our manifold gadgets.

Dorran / pexels

Advice here seems to converge on the importance of, whenever possible, sleeping when it is dark and rising when it is light. At the very least, however, diminishing exposure to light at least a couple of hours before turning in as well as shielding from (artificial sources of) light during sleep (with the help of e.g., blinds, curtains or a mask whilst banishing electronic appliances from the bedroom) is an absolute must for more restful sleep. More unusual is the counterpart: when awakening in the morning, experts increasingly advise seeking sun- or daylight to start the day with more energy and thus live in better harmony with the circadian rhythm.

Too hot or too cool to sleep?

The right temperature is a dimension you may not be permanently aware of when it comes to sleep, but when the outside world is plagued by summer or winter extremes, you know that it does make a huge difference. Here again, the circadian rhythm that governs nature as a whole also affects us. Indeed, when the sun sets, the temperature usually drops and this, alongside diminishing light, is the signal for the body to also cool down and prepare for rest. This explains why most people find sleeping so challenging during heatwaves, since the body’s temperature cannot drop enough to optimally glide into sleep mode. Taking a refreshing shower, increasing air circulation and keeping bedding to a minimum (but retaining a sheet for the cooler dawn hours), are just a few of the most time-tested strategies.

But just as heat can be an obstacle, try falling asleep when you are cold! Here again, it pays to have appropriate bedding and/or clothing and maybe even don socks, since extremities are particularly sensitive to over cooling. Having a hot bath, however, may prove counterproductive as the warm relaxation obtained may be offset by the surplus heat generated. Hence, a quick shower may be more appropriate to warm up just enough to comfortably fall asleep.

Sounds of silence

Just as light, sound is a dimension that most people are sensitive to when trying to fall or remain asleep. Nevertheless, it is open to some individual interpretation. While most will agree that the roar of an airport, the cacophony of a circus band or the racket of quarrelling neighbours are not very conducive to sleep, many people can cope quite nicely with the noise generated by storms, fridges, trains or even children. Indeed, some people– through nurture or culture – may even find silence too eerie when it comes to falling asleep. So, advice here cannot be one size fits all: individuals should negotiate with their preferences and environments – whether it means enrolling ear plugs, finding the right music, acquiring a white noise machine or, in the very worst case, moving to a new neighbourhood.

Young man listening to music in bed
Eren Li / pexels

Time for bed!  

Our next dimension, the timing of sleep, can be a tricky challenge. In our previous article, we mentioned the necessity of enough quality sleep, varying across the lifespan from up to 18 hours for babies, to at least 9.5 hours for schoolchildren, 7 to 9 hours for adults and whatever sleep elderly people can manage to steal from insomnia.

But at stake here is not so much the correct amount of sleep (which is obviously crucial) as when one should actually go to bed and – surprisingly, just as important – wake up. Experts increasingly agree that a regular rhythm is the key to healthy and restorative sleep. Concretely, this means going to bed and getting up at the same times every day – yes, even at the weekend! So, does that spell the death of random late nights and beloved lie-ins? Unfortunately, it appears to be the case –even if, give or take an hour, it should not have too deleterious effects… If you find sleep scheduling rigid and/or boring, try to remember how energised and efficient you feel after a good night’s sleep and, conversely, how floppy and disorganised after partying late or oversleeping.

Otherwise, while napping may be beneficial for many people and may even boost longevity, it should also be tightly scheduled: most specialists stress it should not happen too late in the day and should not exceed 20 to maximum 30 minutes to avoid disrupting nighttime rest. So, a short after-lunch snooze appears to be the most effective.

Biphasic sleep: a way out of insomnia?

Dr Ananya Mandal provides a fascinating insight into a potentially alternative sleep schedule by discussing so-called “biphasic” or two-phase sleep, which tends to be pathologised by some mainstream sleep guidelines as well as individuals suffering from insomnia. Based on the statistic that one in five individuals does not manage to have a full night’s sleep (i.e., wakes up once and finds it difficult to go back to sleep) as well as the historical research of Professor Roger Ekirch at Virginia Tech, she reminds her readers that in the Victorian era, sleeping in two instalments was the norm:  “Before the industrial revolution and rise of electricity, most people would go to bed when it got dark. They would sleep for around five hours and then wake up. The next hour or so would be dedicated to chores around the house, reading, relaxing or intimacy, and then the people would settle down for a second round of sleep.”

This should come as good news for all “3 or 4 o’clock in the morning” insomniacs because, as Dr Mandal contends, there is no reason why we could not transpose this pattern to our post-industrial lives. The knack here is to avoid stimulating the brain too much in the hour or so between the two sleep phases, which means steering clear of, e.g., electronics or thrillers. Instead, Dr Mandal recommends light reading or music to “bore” out the brain, so the next sleep phase can be induced more quickly.

Young man suffering from insomnia
Cottonbro Studio / pexels

Food (and drink) for sleep

Another area that encompasses both stricter rules and personal interpretations is the issue of eating and drinking before bed. Most experts will not only agree that heavy evening meals should be banned, but that eating anything close to bedtime should be avoided. Many even advocate fasting at least 2–3 hours before heading to the land of nod, as it can also positively influence sleep quality and assist with weight loss.

A light snack, however, is not entirely demonised, provided it does not contain fatty fried foods such as crisps. When it comes to the exact nature of the snack, opinions diverge. While some will preach for protein, such as yoghurt, cottage cheese or nuts, others will go for carbs like bananas or porridge. Generally speaking, foods high in the likes of melatonin (as in e.g., almonds) and/or tryptophan as a prerequisite for serotonin (as in e.g., quinoa or tofu) as well as other (B) vitamins and minerals (e.g., calcium and magnesium), are a good choice when consumed in small quantities. Astoundingly, considering the stimulating reputation of vitamin C, a pioneering little study points to kiwis (consumed an hour before bedtime) as a potent aid to improve overall sleep performance. Similarly, sour cherries or the juice thereof have recently been touted as a potent sleep elixir.

When it comes to drinking, all experts seem to agree on avoiding caffeine in all its forms earlier on during the day as well as alcohol in the form of a nightcap since, beyond the initially relaxing effect, alcohol is a known disruptor of sleep (just as nicotine, by the way!). However, a glass of wine or a beer earlier in the evening appears to be acceptable for individuals who are not too sensitive to alcohol’s effect. As to other beverages, Grandma’s warm milk or a mild herbal tea such as chamomile remain classic staples of the sleep-inducing arsenal. Beware, however, if you need to regularly seek the bathroom at night, drinking before bedtime may heavily interfere with your sleep! This is why it is often recommended to not drink anything in the hour before going to bed.

Teapot pouring out a cup of herbal tea
Maria Tyutina / pexels

Active enough to sleep?

Once these broadly “environmental” factors have been dealt with, we need to zone in closer to the body and the mind. Indeed, a major hurdle for a peaceful night is a body completely tensed up by all the physical strains of an average workday, not to mention a brain riddled with mental or emotional stress. On a physical level, while specialists unanimously recommend stretching or gentle yoga in the phase leading up to bedtime, they emphasise that a more strenuous workout before bedtime will prove counterproductive as a heightened heart rate and body temperature will tend to hinder falling asleep. However, they also emphasise the importance of doing sport during the day  to sleep better at night. For sedentary individuals, even a brisk walk over lunchtime can already make a big difference in the quality of their slumber.

Switching off: it’s all in your head!?

As to the mind, as any seasoned insomniac will no doubt confirm, it is probably the trickiest aspect to confront since the quieting of the body seems to paradoxically make room for the mind to worry and ruminate, at least initially. Basic hygiene in this field involves avoiding all high-attention or heavily arousing activities– be they mental or emotional, such as watching stirring or disturbing TV programmes, filling tax-return forms or arguing with loved ones. Many experts also recommend taking time to write down troubling issues and to-do lists as well as to prepare practical aspects for the next day to help the brain slowly transition out of its “organiser” and “worrier” mode.

Additionally, developing a soothing ritual before going to bed appears to pay off. Activities such as showering, having a nice cup of tea, reading or listening to quiet music can all prove sleep conducive. More targeted strategies involve mindfulness techniques such meditating, progressive relaxation or at least breathing exercises to gradually drown out the day’s mental noise.

young man meditating
Cottonbro Studio / pexels

Mind games, weighted blankets and therapy

But wait –you might say – I do all this already, but what tortures me the most is when I lie awake in bed and fear not being able to fall sleep: I watch the minutes ticking away while picturing myself exhausted at the office! Or perhaps you suffer from somniphobia, otherwise known as the fear of falling asleep: indeed, the temporary loss of consciousness can be just as scary for some individuals as it is tantalising for others. Some individuals may be able to overcome the mind games by using reverse psychology tricks such as imagining that they must stay awake or that they are about to get up on a dark, cold and wet Monday morning to go to a tedious work meeting.

Some forms of light anxiety may be mitigated through the use of weighted blankets. Wait a minute: weighted blankets? How is that supposed to help? Well, think of it as swaddling for adults. Just as babies seem to sleep better when their movements are restricted (as they were in the womb), some adults may feel their anxiety ebbing away when they are “held” by a weighted blanket that simulates so-called deep pressure therapy. But just as with other tips, what may feel comforting to some may feel absolutely stifling to others. So, you may want to experiment with a friend’s blanket before you invest!

If any of these tricks work: great! But if your sleep-centred angst has turned into a mind prison, professional counselling in the guise of e.g., cognitive behavioural therapy, is probably what will be needed to break free.

sleepless young woman in a yellow bed
Cottonbro Studio / pexels

When to seek professional advice

Generally, if problems persist on any level, we heartily recommend seeking medical advice and/or sleep monitoring to get to the root cause of your insomnia, before mixing and matching supplements that may or may not help!

In the hopes that you will find ways to master the science (and the art!) of sleeping without intrusive investigations, we remain curious to hear about your most effective sleeping tips…

Remember: the epiAge test can also be enrolled to monitor the effects of a new sleep routine!

Sources (selection)

Suni, Eric, Singh, Abinav, "20 Tips for How to Sleep Better", Sleep Foundation, Revised 01.09.2023. Online:

Mawer, Rudy, Arnarson, Atli, "17 Proven Tips to Sleep Better at Night", Healthline, Revised 23.02.2023. Online:

Begum, Jabeen, "20 Tips for Better Sleep", WebMD, 28.08.2023. Online:

"50 Tips for Sleeping Better Tonight, According to Experts", BestLife, 26.11.2019. Online:

Huizen, Jennifer, Marengo, Katherine, "Which foods can help you sleep?" MedicalNewsToday, 25.01.2019. Online:

Mandal, Ananya, "Sleep like a Victorian to help insomnia", News Medical Life Sciences, 25.03.2018. Online:


Pexels /Pixabay

Trinity Kubassek/ Pexels

Dorran /Pexels

Eren Li / Pexels

Cottonbro Studio/ Pexels

Maria Tiyutina /Pexels

Cottonbro Studio/ Pexels

Cottonbro Studio/ Pexels

Dr. Gwen Bingle
epiAge Deutschland Content & Customer Relations
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