Expert sleep hacks to help you drift off, from hot water bottles to weighted blankets

·Lifestyle Writer, Yahoo Life UK
·10-min read
woman sleeping in bed (Getty Images)
Having trouble falling sleep? Try these top expert hacks to help. (Getty Images)

There's nothing more frustrating than being completely and utterly exhausted, crawling into bed and then not being able to drift off. And then to make matters worse, 'trying' extra hard to fall asleep, and failing miserably.

This often agonising situation is a very common sleep problem known as sleep initiation, says Maryanne Taylor, owner of sleep consultancy The Sleep Works.

"It can be due to a variety of whirling thoughts: processing thoughts, worries, to do lists which can wind us up rather than wind down for sleep," Taylor explains.

"Sleep stress: anxiety around not being able to fall asleep which can exacerbate the problem, general stress and anxiety: the more anxious and stressed we feel, the less likely we are to be able to fall asleep easily."

A lack of wind-down before getting into bed, may also be a factor and, as we're all now aware, screen time.

"Blue light emitted from the screens dampens down production of melatonin, our naturally occurring sleep hormone, and this makes us feel less sleepy," says Taylor.

Girl lying in bed uses a cell phone and yawns. She is tired or insomnia or addicted to the phone
We all know the feeling too well of not being able to sleep and being tempted to reach for your phone. (Getty Images)

Samantha Briscoe, lead clinical physiologist at London Bridge Sleep Centre, also considers the impact work has, saying, "It is no surprise that working long hours day in, day out, impairs your sleep.

"This is largely due to the high levels of stress that overworking will be loading on to your body. Chronic overworking can also impact your sleep due to the amount of time staring at a computer screen, or not having enough time to unwind after the working day."

All sound familiar?

While a lifestyle that nurtures our mental and physical health is ideal for helping us to put head to pillow more peacefully, we can't always control the situation we're in.

But what if there were a few simple tricks you could incorporate into your bedtime routine, that could make the world of difference? Nothing to create more pressure than there needs to be, but to add that little bit more ease to your relationship with sleep when you do hit the hay.

We've compiled suggestions from Taylor, Briscoe and Tracy Hannigan, also known as Tracy The Sleep Coach and a UK member of Society of Behavioural Sleep Medicine.

Sleep with a hot water bottle at your feet

Red hot-water bottles on a bed. Heat pads on sheet, warm cozy grey knitted plaid. Top view or flat lay, copy space for your text
Safely put hot water bottles at your feet to help you feel more sleepy. (Getty Images)

Taylor says, "If you have cold feet, research shows that making your feet warmer than the temperature of the bedroom can help you drift off. We know that our body temperature fluctuates and redistributes heat from our core to our extremities during a sleep cycle."

She points out that it might not be an instant fix, but will certainly help. "While a hot water bottle at your feet may not make you fall asleep, the heat from it may help widen the blood vessels, which will increase the flow of blood to enable increased production of melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy."

If you choose to sleep with a hot water bottle at night, it's essential you ensure it is secured safely, and in a protective cover.

Read more: Bad night's sleep linked to feeling 'decades older'

Invest in a weighted blanket

sleeping under weighted blanket
Have you tried a weighted blanket yet? (Getty Images)

Hannigan says, "Some people find weighted blankets very helpful with their sleep. People who are more anxious often find the weight and pressure soothing, as can people who used to sleep on their stomachs but for whatever reason need to sleep on their backs.

"These blankets won't 'cure insomnia' but can help otherwise decent sleepers who are prone to tossing and turning as they fall asleep have an easier time getting to sleep. Expert tip: Some people find them too warm, though, so experimenting with sleeping with the window open may help."

Generally speaking, for adults, weighted blankets should be approximately 10% of your body weight.

Lead up to bedtime, healthily

Wind down the right way. (Getty Images)
Wind down the right way. (Getty Images)

Taylor says we should give ourselves permission to have a 'bedtime routine' – they're not just for children.

This is her suggestion of what to aim for, "Relaxing lead up to bedtime, ideally without screens. Try do relaxing activities that will not raise stress levels – audiobooks, reading, music, mindful colouring."

As we all might know, screens, as addictive as they are, are not best for the lead up to bedtime. "Blue light emitted from the screens dampens down production of melatonin, our naturally occurring sleep hormone, and this makes us feel less sleepy," she says.

Read more: 4.44am revealed as the most stressful time of day - how to get back to sleep when you wake up feeling stressed

Hannigan also encourages relaxing before bad, suggesting, "A warm bath a couple of hours before bed is soothing and relaxing and a nice wind-down activity. It can also help create, through the slow cooling of the body, a nice temperature drop that is necessary to fall asleep and stay asleep. When we sleep our body cools from the lack of muscle activity so the slow cooling 'mimics' this drop in body temperature."

She adds, "Don't take a hot bath or too close to bedtime, or there won't be enough time for the body to cool off."

De-clutter that bedroom

Young woman is sorting out wardrobe
A clean room is a clean mind... (Getty Images)

While this may not seem like the first think you might think of when trying to help you fall asleep at night, described by Hannigan as as "unexpected one", this method is more important thank you might think.

"If a person walks into their room and immediately has a visual reminder of all the things they need to do and sort, this raises our arousal system into action at the exact wrong time," she says. "Our arousal system is an inbuilt safety feature and if we don't feel safe, we can't fall asleep. So keeping a tidy sleeping space is one everyday 'hack' that can help."

Write it down

Planning concept
Jot it down – before bed. (Getty Images)

Bed – the place we're supposedly meant to feel the most relaxed – can often be the place we attempt to solve all of life's dilemmas in our mind. Not good for switching off.

To help prevent this, Taylor encourages putting pen to paper. "This is helpful in relieving the build up of mental stress throughout the day. In the evening, write a 'Thoughts Diary' and 'To Do list' as a way of processing rather than waiting until you are lying in bed at night."

Read more: Popular mattress topper could be the key to a good night's sleep

Carve out worry time

A person worrying
We can't help but worry, but we can control it. (Getty Images)

Expanding on the previous point, Hannigan says this trick is "a bit different from writing things down to get them out of your head" saying dedicated worry time is "a simple and easy thing to do in the daytime to help you sleep at night".

She explains, "If you are worrying about things, and can't immediately do something about them, write the topic down. Repeat as necessary. Then spend 15 mins each afternoon with that list 'worrying' about them.

"Often our outlook will have changed on the subject by then, but even more importantly, we are training our mental muscles around the idea that our thoughts can bother us but we can also manage them rather than having them manage us. This can help people avoid setting into bed and getting bombarded by their worries."

(Try to) stick to regular sleep times

Early to bed, early to rise, man turning off alarm clock
Improve your circadian rhythm. (Getty Images)

It's not just 'how' we try to go to sleep, but when, that can have a big impact on how quickly we nod off.

Briscoe says, "One of the most important elements of a healthy sleep routine is teaching your body to wake up and go to sleep at the same time each day."

She adds, "Going to sleep at different times can affect your body's sleep-wake cycle, which is known as our circadian rhythm. Disrupting this cycle can make it difficult for our bodies to know when it's time for bed."

Hannigan also recommends consistency, but for the morning. "If someone is having a challenging time sleeping, getting up at a consistent time can help them build consistent sleep drive - which leads to falling asleep more easily."

However, if going to sleep at the same time each night just isn't working for you, she also offers an alternative method, suggesting, 'Avoid going to bed until truly sleepy, and avoid 'chasing sleep' by going to bed early. A strong association between sleepiness and the bed, that isn't interfered with by lots of wake time/tossing and turning in bed, is a highly reliable evidence-based approach to making sleep easier." But we can assume this doesn't include any ungodly hours.

Treat the day as your prevention tool

Woman making espresso coffee.
Say no to that third cup of coffee. (Getty Images)

"Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, reducing caffeine and taking regular exercise can all help our sleep quality," says Briscoe.

Taylor also emphasises that the "timing of caffeine and alcohol can affect our ability to fall asleep" explaining that "caffeine stays in our system for a long time – half life of six hours, so a late afternoon coffee or tea can affect bedtime."

Read more: Allergies keeping you awake? Here are the secrets of a sneeze-free sleep

Help children to help you

A cute little girl fast asleep in a double bed
A child that sleeps well is a parent that sleeps well. (Getty Images)

If you have kids, ensuring they manage to fall asleep peacefully is half the battle, as this help ensure you can fall asleep peacefully, without being disturbed.

Taylor, says, much like adults, children need a regular and structured bedtime routine, with screen-free time in the lead up to bedtime, and avoiding sugary foods in the evening to prevent sugar spikes.

Some top tips she has are, "If reliant on the presence of a parent in the room to fall asleep, slowly start shifting away from this, as often the distraction of this can be the cause of the sleep issue.

"Ensure the bedroom is not too bright as melatonin is produced in a dim environment and if too bright this can inhibit this production."

Watch: A helpful guide to pre-bedtime snacks that won't prevent a good night's sleep

Briscoe points out that while striving for a healthy lifestyle, or picking up healthy sleep habits can help us to drift off, as well as our sleep quality, "this can look different for everyone, so it's important to find out what works for you and stick to that".

She also adds, "Try not to overwhelm yourself with too many changes at once to your night-tome routine, start with small changes to work yourself towards healthier sleep habits."