Tired of tossing & turning at night? A more restful slumber is possible with our experts’ top sleep advice

Restless sleep is something most of us will experience at some point in our lives. In fact, according to a wellbeing report published by Aviva, two thirds of us suffer from disrupted sleep and nearly a quarter manage no more than five hours a night. While it’s normal to wake up a couple of times during the night, staying awake staring up at the ceiling or tossing and turning isn’t, which is why getting a decent night’s kip can feel like mission impossible.

But as we know, a good night’s sleep can make a huge difference to how we feel, both mentally and physically, which is why it’s important to get enough. We ask the experts to share their top tips on how to help us to fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer. From building a better sleep routine to cutting out alcohol, here’s what they have to say…

What is restless sleep?

Generally, restless sleep is when we have trouble falling and staying asleep. It can involve frequent tossing and turning, feeling like you’re half asleep or not sleeping deeply, as well as repeatedly waking up throughout the night. “Restless sleep can feel like no sleep at all,” says Tracy Hannigan qualified sleep therapist and coach.

What can cause restless sleep?

Increasingly busy lifestyles and hectic work schedules can play a part here. In our Boots Live Well Panel talk on sleep and sleep problems, Kathryn Pinkham, insomnia specialist and founder of The Insomnia Clinic, points out that “before tech and emails and 4G, people had tea breaks at work and, during those breaks, you would just rest. And when you finished work, you finished work.”

Now that the lines are more blurred, many of us are running at 100 miles an hour, without taking the time to rest. “It’s then quite a tall order when you get into bed to expect your body to switch off into a deep, quality sleep for eight hours,” continues Kathryn.

Other factors that may affect your sleep include napping during waking hours, sleeping in an environment that isn’t dark, quiet or cool, lack of exercise (or doing too intense a workout late in the evening) and eating a heavy meal or drinking caffeinated or alcoholic drinks too close to bedtime.

5 top tips for a more restful night’s sleep

The journey to a better night's sleep can feel overwhelming, but rest assured that a few simple tweaks to your day or evening routine can go a long way.

The experts break down what we can do before, during and after we hit the hay to encourage a more restful slumber.

1. Put pen to paper

“Restless sleep can be caused by having a hyper-aroused nervous system and a busy mind,” says Camilla Stoddart, sleep coach and insomnia therapist. To help quiet the mind, Camilla encourages her clients to write a ‘worry diary’ at the end of the working day. “This works to offload all the things, big and small, that circulate in your head, so that you can switch off and rest until the following day.”

Kathryn adds: “If we ignore what’s bothering us, or the things that we have to do, it can come back at 3am and that’s when our brain can sabotage us.” She recommends carving out 15 to 20 minutes every day to empty your mind. “Schedule time in your diary as this will make you more likely to actually do it,” she recommends.

2. Avoid drinking alcohol too late

If you’re experiencing restless sleep, you may want to cut back on the booze.

“Avoiding alcohol is a top tip for those wishing to have deeper and more solid sleep,” says Tracy. Research has shown that while drinking large amounts of alcohol before bed may result in you dropping off more quickly, it can end up reducing the quality of your REM sleep cycles (important for consolidating memories and working through emotions from the previous day), which can cause you to feel less rested the day after.

If, however, you do drink alcohol – stop several hours before you go to bed. This applies to caffeine, too. Experts advise against having caffeinated drinks a minimum of eight hours before bed.

 In order to sleep well, we have to have a really strong sleep drive

3. Go to bed later (if you can)

Contrary to what you may think, setting an earlier bedtime may not be the answer to a more restful night’s sleep. “In order to sleep well, we have to have a really strong sleep drive,” says Kathryn. “If you think of that drive as an appetite for sleep, the longer we’re out of bed, the stronger that appetite will be.”

The best thing to do is to “stay up until you feel sleepy”, advises Tracy. Otherwise, if we go to bed too early and spend time in bed awake, we’ll learn to associate being in bed with being awake, tossing and turning and feeling frustrated. “A later bedtime will allow us to build more sleep drive and help us to fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer,” she adds.

Focus on sleep quality over quantity. “Even if a later bedtime means you’re only in bed for six hours – if you can get six hours of good-quality sleep, that’s a better scenario than having eight hours of broken, stressful sleep,” says Kathryn.

Not a fan of going to bed late? That’s OK – the NHS recommends keeping regular sleep hours, so the best thing you can do is pick your timings and stick to them as much as possible. This leads us nicely to…

4. Keep consistent sleep hours

As good an idea as a nap or lie-in may seem, it’s more of a short-term fix. “The problem with not setting an alarm or having a lie-in, is that you lose your routine and that drive to go to sleep,” says Kathryn. “So, the first thing that I always advise people to do is to make sure you’re getting up nice and early.” And as tempting as it may be, try not to hit snooze.

“Getting up promptly and consistently at the same time every day will help build sleep drive for subsequent nights of sleep,” adds Tracy. Once you’re up, she recommends getting outside and moving the body as “exposure to light and physical activity can help build more sleep drive and help set our circadian rhythm.” 

5. If you wake up repeatedly in the night, get up

While some of us struggle to fall asleep, others fall asleep fine then wake up (and stay awake) during the night. If the latter speaks to you, leave the bedroom upon waking.  “Leave the bed, go to another room, put the telly on, read a book – whatever it is you like doing – and when you feel sleepy, go back to bed,” advises Kathryn.

“This will help ‘re-pair’ sleepy feelings with bed and wakeful feelings with other places in the house,” adds Tracy. And although it’s hard, try not to worry about waking in the night. “It’s not a problem, unless it becomes persistent,” says Tracy, “but it can become persistent if we allow ourselves to feel anxious about it. That anxiousness and arousal can override sleep drive and make it harder to get restful sleep.”

The restless sleeper’s SOS kit

Building in relaxation time into your day and creating a restful environment before bed can help you shift from day to night mode for a better night’s sleep.

Here are three top Team Boots-approved products to help you get into a good sleep routine and build healthier sleep habits.

Shop more great sleep products in our full range.

For a pillow spray

This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray

• Size: 75ml

• Cruelty-free
• Promotes calmness

Soothe your senses before you hit the hay with this award-winning Pillow Spray from This Works. Blended with camomile, lavender and vetivert, simply spritz the spray onto your pillow and take a deep breath in.

To write down your worries

Personalised notepad

• Choose a photo as the front cover

• Available in A5 or A4

• 80 sheets of paper

• Squared or lined paper

Weave ‘worry journaling’ into your bedtime routine by keeping this notepad on your bedside table. Designed to be adorned with your favourite photo on the cover, you won’t be able to hold back a smile every time you put pen to paper.

For a soothing soak

Westlab Mindful 100% Natural Bath Salts with CBD Oil

• Size: 1kg

• Vegan-friendly*

• Cruelty-free

• Contains Epsom and Himalayan salts

If you enjoy a bath before bed, add a few scoops of these Epsom salts into it. Getting out of a warm bath can help your core body temperature to dip before bed, which is believed to trigger the brain’s sleep response. Give it a go to help you drift off to a better night’s slumber.

For more great sleep tips and recommendations for helping you sleep through the night, watch the Boots Live Well Panel talk with Kathryn.

*Contains no animal-derived ingredients or by-products.