While there are many things that can interfere with the sleep process it is possible to maximise the ability to sleep well by practising good sleep hygiene – which simply means implementing healthy sleep practices.
Fundamental to good sleep hygiene is keeping regular sleeping hours and not sleeping during the day. Avoidance of stimulants such as caffeinated drinks or nicotine is also essential as these signal the body to be awake. Alcohol also interferes with the processes of sleep and it is advisable to not to drink alcohol if there is any difficulty sleeping. Certain foods may also impact on a person's ability to sleep and so avoiding these foods after 6pm is recommended.
Exercising is really good for sleep and people who exercise regularly report the best sleep. However exercising too close to bedtime simply wakes the body up and often causes issues with getting to sleep. It is therefore advised not to exercise within 3 hours of bedtime and preferably before 6.30 pm. Likewise any mental stimulation, for example trying to solve a complex problem or any stressful situation, will alert the brain so it is recommended that one-two hours before bedtime, you begin to wind down and maintain a calm environment.
Lastly, sleep is a time of rest and recovery and an environment conducive to this is essential to good sleep. It is therefore important that attention is given to ensure that the bedroom is a quiet and calm space with a comfortable mattress and appropriate bedding for the climate.
Attention to sleep practices pays off. All too often, poor sleep practices are not recognised as the cause of sleeplessness. If in doubt about whether what you are doing during the wakeful hours is disturbing your sleep, keeping a sleep diary for a 2 week period is often very helpful.