It’s as important as eating and breathing, but for many people sleep often plays hard to get. 

World Sleep Day, March 14, aims to celebrate sleep. It’s an opportunity for people to consider their shut-eye – how much we’re getting, whether we need more – and to encourage better prevention and management of sleep disorders.

We spoke with leading sleep expert Professor David Hillman, Chair of the Sleep Health Foundation about how to maximise your eight hours a night. 

1. Set your alarm clock for the same time each day

Getting up in the morning is never pleasant but going to bed and getting up at similar times each day is the best way to train your body. This lets your internal body clock build a strong sleep wake cycle.  

If you’ve had a few late nights during the week it makes sense to catch up on lost sleep at the weekend, but try and stick to roughly the same schedule if you can.  

2. Make your bedroom as sleep friendly as possible

The bedroom should be quiet, dark and always comfortable. Getting the right room temperature is essential, along with a comfortable bed, pillows and bedding.

Electronic devices like mobile phones, tablets and laptops are a danger zone for distraction, so best to leave them outside the bedroom. If you have a clock that you can see in the night, turn it around to face the wall.

3. Start your sleep wind down at least two hours before bed

Many of us need to wind down before going to bed, so make sure your last meal of the day is at least two hours before bedtime. Exercise is great to clear your mind and help you sleep, but try and steer clear of it late in the evening.   

In the hour before sleep, avoid computer games and using any mobile devices. It also pays to keep the TV out of the bedroom, and avoid watching shows that overstimulate.

4. Don’t spend too much time napping during the day

Only nap if you really need to. If so, try to keep the nap short, no more than 20 minutes. Naps longer than this can make you feel groggy for a while afterwards.  Also try not to nap past mid-afternoon as this can make it harder to get to sleep at night.

5. Unable to sleep? Get up!

Staying in bed if you can’t sleep can often make you feel annoyed and frustrated. It’s better to get out of bed and go to another quiet, dimly lit room. Stay there until you feel sleepy. Sleepiness comes in waves, wait for yours and then go back to bed.

To stay in bed feeling upset can start to build a link in your mind between the bed and lack of sleep. This is the opposite of what you need to sleep. 

6. Try not to worry too much

Many people who find it hard to either get to sleep or stay asleep become more worried about it. It is also common for people to think they have less sleep than they really do.

Often poor sleepers are not good at knowing whether they are awake or asleep. Use relaxation as one of the techniques to help. Tell yourself that rest is good, even if you aren’t asleep. 

Remember sleep is ultimately the best medicine.

If you continue to have problems and can’t sort these out for yourself, there is plenty of help available and your doctor will know how to access it for you.